The weblog is dead, long live the blog. Or, if you're Paul Boutin, who wrote an obituary for blogging at Wired magazine the other day, blogging is just dead and we should bury it now:
"Thinking about starting your own blog? Here's some friendly advice: Don't. And if you've already got one, pull the plug."
Blimey, that's a cheerful start to the day, and the prognosis just gets worse:
"Writing a weblog today isn't the bright idea it was four years ago. The blogosphere, once a freshwater oasis of folksy self-expression and clever thought, has been flooded by a tsunami of paid bilge. Cut-rate journalists and underground marketing campaigns now drown out the authentic voices of amateur wordsmiths. It's almost impossible to get noticed, except by hecklers. And why bother? The time it takes to craft sharp, witty blog prose is better spent expressing yourself on Flickr, Facebook, or Twitter."
The article has caused quite a stir both on and offline and it looks as if BBC technology correspondent Rory Cellan-Jones will be doing a piece on this on Radio 4's Today programme tomorrow, asking if blogging is dead.
But the question itself seems somewhat tautologous. A blog post about blogging has got other blogs and non-blogs talking about the death of blogging. For a medium that, last time I checked, definitely wasn't six feet under, it's doing a remarkably good job of still getting itself noticed.
As the old saying goes, the only thing worse than being talked about is not being talked about, and nobody's stopped talking about it yet, so writing epitaphs seems a trifle premature.
The cynic in me suspects the post was written largely to get a reaction (and has succeeded), but rather than taking it to the extreme of death, it's worth asking what's different between blogging in 2008 than blogging, say, four years ago when citizen journalism was the new buzzword.
It's certainly true that there are more professional blogs, corporate blogs and group blogs than there were back then. Indeed, it seems like you're not a proper web 2.0-ed up company unless you've got yourself a company blog and are down with the proverbial kids.
Is this necessarily a bad thing? Far from it. In fact, I'd go as far as to say it's a positively encouraging one, as it shows the evolution and maturing of blogging.
Brands, companies and traditional media are starting to move to the same level as bloggers - interacting, acknowledging and treating some of them as they would any other source. That news can be broken almost instantaneously via the web, and that spurious claims can be easily disproved, should continue to excite.
It also continues to highlight the power of the web or, more accurately, the power of Google. Get negative comments on your service and this will have a significant impact on your brand name's Google juice - the last thing any company wants to see is the front page of results all criticising the product.
But get it right and a quick Google will produce pages of praise, which is as valuable to a brand's reputation as any offline campaign. By placing blogging at the heart of this, it further increases the democratisation of the web. Again, this can only be a good thing.
I've said before that I see blogging as a medium that fits neatly into Habermas' ideal of the public sphere. You have discussion about current events and those blogs that are the best informed, best written, or most entertaining will rise to the top. Those that sit ranting badly written rants will continue to attract just a small portion of readers. It is a free market in the currency of opinion.
A quick word about the negativity and vitriol Paul Boutin highlights in his article. This has been around since, really, day one of the internet and won't change. Trolls won't go away and there'll always be that slightly odd group of people who take a perverse delight in sitting in the comments spewing hatred.
But we can live with that. What they most crave is attention, so by ignoring them they're not getting the reaction they desire. And, if anything, the net seems to have increased in politeness.
Bloggers - and brands, companies and the like - are more willing to go into the comments and forums and politely put forward their point of view while there's an informal online etiquette that is still evolving. People are getting more willing to engage, and the nuttier online element can be ignored.
Although the Technorati State of the Blogosphere 2008 noted a fall in the number of blogs, this doesn't necessarily mean we're seeing the death of blogging. There are, perhaps, a few explanations for this:
- Many of the original bloggers are getting older, so are moving to more high-powered positions of responsibility in the real world and have less time to blog, but this doesn't mean they're any less committed or enthusiastic to using blogs outside of a personal setting.
- A few of the really good bloggers - in whatever field - have been snapped up by bigger companies and have started blogging there instead, be it for traditional media sites, or overseeing company blogs.
- Many of the niche bloggers have pooled resources. Why have five blogs about a topic when you can come together in a group blog, where there's less chance of lack of posting time and content, and a greater range of debates. Ultimately, every blogger wants to be read and joining forces to improve the Google juice increases the likelihood of this.
But Paul's certainly got a point when he alludes to Twitter, Facebook and Flickr being the future. However, it's worth pointing out that these aren't blogging and blogging isn't Twitter, Flickr or Facebook. Blogging is well-established enough not to be a passing fad.
Yes, all three offer a more concise immediacy that blogging, perhaps, can't offer. But while Flickr could be described as photoblogging, it's still different from blogging with words. They're too very difficult entities. Nobody said the rise of photography led to the death of journalism.
Facebook is, again, different from blogging in so many ways. Sure, you can publish your blog to Facebook, but it seems to have settled into a niche as a networking, email exchange and event organiser. If people blog in there, they're doing it for a specific audience.
And, more importantly, they're still engaging in blogging, even if it's in a more locked-out audience specific environment. But then, you could argue, this is just a more grown up version of Live Journal.
Finally, Twitter, which is the closest thing to blogging. It's even described as microblogging, to which it is. But it's still fundamentally different.
Twitter has probably been responsible for a decline in brief, one line blog posts. But take a look at the links being shared on Twitter, and then look at how many of them are, in fact, sharing ideas via blogs. Blogging and Twitter is symbiotic.
All of the above contributes to the conversation, and blogging is still very much a part of it. So the early adopters may not blog. So there are more personal blogs than ever before, and it may well be difficult to get your voice heard. That still doesn't mean it's a dying medium. Far from it.
This final snapshot may not be entirely reflective of the health of the blogosphere, but it, I think, provides a decent enough conclusion: in both a work and personal environment, I estimate I must get about half a dozen queries a week about blogging - how to set up a blog, what's best blog practice, how to pitch to a blog, how to write a blog, and the rest.
That, to me, shows a medium that's in rude health.