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Are blogs obsolete? December 5, 2008

Posted by Sarah in bloggers&blogging.
Tags: , , , , , ,

This morning a link to this Wired article came across my Facebook home page (via David).  An excerpt:

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.

My initial reaction was, “Um, no.”  I suppose, though, that it depends on what you consider to be the goal of blogging.  Is it about making your writing visible?  Is it about connecting with other people – whether they are known to you outside of blogging/the Internet or not?  Is it about making money?  It seems that Paul Boutin is excluding the last of these options… or is he?  He laments that if you look at the top 100 blogs according to Technorati, “you’ll find personal sites have been shoved aside by professional ones. Most are essentially online magazines: The Huffington Post. Engadget. TreeHugger. A stand-alone commentator can’t keep up with a team of pro writers cranking out up to 30 posts a day.”  And yet… at least one of those top 100 sitesdooce.com – is written by one person (with the occasional guest post), and is a money-making venture.

Four years ago, Alex suggested that within a year we would no longer be talking in terms of blogs – that “blog” was an umbrella term and was not sufficiently descriptive to be meaningful.  (Sorry, man, I remember these things.)  He was right about the meaninglessness of the term, of course, and that sentiment is some of what the Wired article is getting at.  If you define “blog” as a journal or a space for personal writing,   I see the same thing when I look at my survey data; some bloggers define the term based on software, some based on the presence or absence of RSS feeds, or the presence or absence of comments.  (Interestingly, this would for the most part eliminate dooce, as Heather rarely enables comments.)  A handful of my respondents distinguish between LiveJournals and blogs, claiming that the former are not blogs but journals.  So where does that leave us?  If anything, the number of types of documents that fall under the heading of “blog” has grown, rather than shrunk, in the last several years.  And yet, we are still using the umbrella term.  If anything, we prepend a modifier – my dissertation is a study of “personal blogs”; there are also a lot of “tech blog” and “political blogs” and “whatever-you-want-to-call-them blogs”.

Does this mean that blogs are obsolete, as Boutin would have us believe?  That if you have something to say, you’re better off saying it via Twitter, Facebook, or Flickr?  I, as well as many of the commenters at Wired, disagree.  As they rightly point out, you can’t say much in the 140 characters that Twitter allows.  Flickr and Facebook are much richer environments but even they are simply not the same as the long-form writing that blogging allows.  Facebook may allow more than 140 characters but it still favors short bursts of communication – a status update, a (super)poke, a wall post.  Yes, a person can use notes and posted items in much the same way that one uses a blog, but that is decidedly not the culture of Facebook.  On Flickr, everything is premised around the image.  Sure, you can write as long a description of the photo as you want, and include HTML.  There are plenty of people who use their Flickr photostreams in the way that a person could use a personal blog – a notable example is Eric Snowdeal, who posts identical entries on both Flickr and one section of his blog.  I have to come back to the fundamental difference, though, in that on Flickr the primary subject is the image.  On a blog, on the other hand, the written word is front and center.  Sure, there may be multimedia support of the written word.  In some posts, the multimedia elements may even take front stage.  But at some point, somewhere, a blog is about communicating and that communication is still best accomplished via language.