This month Wired magazine advises everyone to pull the plug on blogging. Last month, Technorati released the State of the Blogosphere 2008. Next month in the Atlantic, Andrew Sullivan will publish Why I Blog (well, it’s October right now, and Sullivan’s piece is clearly labeled “November”). Me, I blog less these days.

Wired · They like death notices; remember Kiss your browser goodbye!, announcing, in 1997, that “The Web browser itself is about to croak.” To be replaced by ...wait for it... PointCast. Which, for the vast majority who don’t remember it, was a screen-saver. The strength of Wired has always been engaged reportage, not prognostication. But really, Paul Boutin is a smart guy and he should know better.

Paul says blogging has been superseded by Facebook and Twitter. Just like painting has been superseded by photography, radio by television, and telephony by email. This is the great thing, and lots of us have written about it: the Net doesn’t supersede much, mostly it accretes stratum upon stratum of human communication, each of them alive, the whole growing richer and noisier and stinkier and, on the whole, better.

Technorati · Gosh, there sure are lots of bloggers; I remember when Dave Sifry was doing the Technorati survey and the number was doubling every few months. This latest one surprised me though. How many blogs are actually active? (As in, how recently have they been posted to?) Technorati knows about 7.4 million blogs active in the last 120 days, 1.5 million in the last week, and 900,000 in the last day.

On the one hand, I find those numbers shockingly low; clearly, blogging isn’t as widespread as we thought. On the other hand, this is a couple of million voices that have joined the world’s conversation, and I’m so glad they’re here.

Sullivan · For those who don’t know, Andrew Sullivan is a gay Christian self-proclaimed conservative who has, over the course of the new millennium, swung publicly and entertainingly from loathsome extremism (denouncing, in the aftermath of 9/11, liberals as members of bin Laden’s “fifth column”), to anguished rejection of the corrupt bumbling thuggery of the Bush administration, to strident Obama evangelism. He has an insanely huge audience, gets millions of visits a month.

His Atlantic piece is beautifully written and wholly worth reading. But you have to get past the opening’s absurd misstatements of the realities of the medium, for instance:

This form of instant and global self-publishing, made possible by technology widely available only for the past decade or so, allows for no retroactive editing (apart from fixing minor typos or small glitches) and removes from the act of writing any considered or lengthy review.

What the fuck!?!? Blogging, compared to any previous medium, is uniquely capable of in-place self-correction; this is one of its chief virtues. And as for that bit about removing “considered or lengthy review”, well speak for yourself, boyo.

Still, he paints an intensely intimate picture of what blogging feels like. You can’t see this, but when I’ve been working hard on a piece, and polishing and cutting and fixing and smoothing, wrestling with commas and semicolons, and eventually I’m ready to go, then if I’m particularly happy with it I type the magic “publish-it” incantation, hesitate (always) one last time, press Return, then bounce my hand up in the air like Yundi Li telegraphing a big Chopin flourish. Of course nobody’s watching, thank goodness.

Anyhow, I disagree with plenty of Sullivan’s essay but it’s still great.

Me · The numbers don’t lie, I’ve been blogging less. Twitter is part of the reason; in the Internet era, word-count doesn’t just measure column inches, it’s a qualitative differentiator that partitions the forms of prose. I now recognize three: Book, essay, and remark. I’d use the word “Tweet” for the latter but that’s proprietary, and the form will clearly outlive Twitter or any other company.

Books retain their essential nature and will do so even if they’re being delivered on a Kindle one of its successors. Blogs can be used for essays or remarks, except for the latter are migrating to Twitter.

Anyhow, having to stop writing would hurt me terribly, and if the other contributors of essayists and remarks were to fall silent, that of course would hurt me infinitely more.

It would greatly impoverish the world. Fortunately, it won’t happen.



Contributions

Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: Rob Allen (Oct 28 2008, at 00:54)

In some ways getting the remarks off the blogs and into Twitter/Tumble/Pounce/Facebook/MySpace etc is good. It leave the blogs free to concentrate on being on-line diaries and essays where thoughts can be developed without the limits of the short attention span culture of the remark.

Regards,

Rob...

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From: Arthur Clune (Oct 28 2008, at 03:56)

Is it relevant to the argument that Andrew Sullivan is gay? If so, maybe you could fill in the details? If not, maybe it's better left out?

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From: Ron Miller (Oct 28 2008, at 05:00)

Hey Tim:

I hope you'll keep blogging because this is a clear, well-written round-up and analysis of much of what we have been hearing about around blogging.

I use Twitter, but I still blog a lot. Twitter has a couple of issues for me. First of all, 140 characters is a fun exercise, but if you are writing about something substantial, it's not even a thesis statement. Sometimes you need the blog to air it out.

Secondly, you post to Twitter and your followers may see it or the Tweet may fall down the list and be lost forever. Sure, you can go to a profile and look at a person's Tweet history, but I don't think many people use Twitter that way.

With a blog, you have permanence and the ability to link to a post. Twitter is just fleeting thoughts floating on the breeze which then basically disappear.

Finally, I think Technorati is an interesting site, but I think it also misses quite a bit because it only deals with links from blogs to blogs, not web sites to blogs or Twitter to blogs. It's useful as far as it goes, but I don't think it necessarily represents a complete picture of the blogosphere.

Thanks again for a great post and please keep on blogging. You're good at it.

Ron Miller

By Ron Miller Blog

http://byronmiller.typepad.com

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From: BWJones (Oct 28 2008, at 05:11)

So, I think the question then becomes: If people are blogging less, what does the traffic tell us? Are people still visiting? Is there a shift from production of content to consuming content?

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From: Daniel Lucraft (Oct 28 2008, at 05:52)

I think that Sullivan meant that it is frowned upon to edit your posts without leaving the original content visible. This is a bigger deal for political bloggers - who treat stealth edits mercilessly - than technical ones.

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From: len (Oct 28 2008, at 06:18)

I've probably blogged more in the last ten months than the previous two years. The main change in style is I use more of the embed resources such as YouTube videos to highlight the topic and in one sense, am becoming a blog top forty oldies DJ.

The medium feels different because in many cases, blogging isn't a solo writing activity. It is a solo with a chorus of commenters. The action is in the commenting from the perspective of conversation. From one perspective, the role of the listservers moved over to the blog comments with the blog author serving as provacateur and moderator.

It is the moderating role that is becoming troublesome. Arianna Huffington blogs that the Internet means the end of Rovian politics. I think it means exactly the opposite. Rovian means have become ubiquitous even if amateur with the rage machine going out of control.

It isn't blogging specifically but the web as medium that is in trouble in the sense that as Berners-Lee said, it reflects culture and as that culture coarsens the conversation, so does the web. It is as if the Barger's became the elite cultivar, aggressively pushing aside any semblance or pretense to disagreeing without being disagreeable.

The bad example has become THE example and I find I don't want to moderate that. And so perhaps the conversation IS moving to tweets as blogs return to being monologues and the sound the web makes is evolving toward a screech.

I wonder if this is a phase or period influenced by events of the time just as tastes in music and film change, and if the technology is affecting this at all or is increasingly the least important part of the environment.

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From: len (Oct 28 2008, at 08:39)

By the way, if you believe in the wisdom of crowds notion and you want a fun collaborative environment for solving world problems, you ought to check out Superstruct.

http://www.superstructgame.org/Home1

We knew these were coming, and like so much we've seen in our careers, they come in half the time we expect. That may be the one prediction about the effect of the web that has been consistently reliable: things speed up.

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From: Andrew (Oct 28 2008, at 10:44)

I think blogging in general is going through a deflationary period right now. I don't write a blog (it's just not how I want to spend my time) but I do read plenty of them and I've noticed in the past year that my rate of adding subscriptions has dropped dramatically and the rate at which blogs go inactive is greater than the rate at which I'm finding new blogs that I want to read.

Blogging presented an unprecedented way for people who enjoyed writing to get their output in front of other people (writing for an actual readership is way more satisfying than writing a diary)and that pulled in a whole ton of wannabe authors. However I think what's happening now is that a bunch of those bloggers are getting bored and moving on. With its artificial length constraint twitter is the perfect escape hatch for people who want to feel like they are still writing without going to the actual effort of writing. And that's good, blogs will never disappear totally but I suspect that what is left will be of generally higher quality than it was in the inflationary period.

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From: piers (Oct 28 2008, at 10:56)

>>>The bad example has become THE example and I find I don't want to moderate that. And so perhaps the conversation IS moving to tweets as blogs return to being monologues and the sound the web makes is evolving toward a screech.

This is one thing that worries me about twitter; when the article's author links to it from twitter etc, a dialogue that at one time would take place exclusively around a blog article now becomes split between blog comments and semi-offline remarks (tweets). It's unfortunate that only the first remark in this external dialogue has an obvious link back to the article, and that the article doesn't directly feed back into this external dialogue.

A solution could be to disable comments and feed the discussion into twitter or an open-source alternative like identi.ca, but this seems exclusive; ie I don't need a livejournal account to comment there.

Twitter abides, but it fills a hole inexactly.

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From: Tony Fisk (Oct 28 2008, at 17:25)

I think the gay bit was just to highlight the paradoxical nature of Sullivan, and that he isn't just a right wing cipher.

Hello Len, from another superstructer.

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From: len (Oct 29 2008, at 06:28)

The single aspect of blogging that made it interesting to me was it's personalization as a writing medium short of building a complete web page. It focused the author away from graphical hypermedia into writing itself. So it stunted the hyper aspects and emphasized the hands on the keyboard. For a time, this is a good thing but it is just a step along the path of developing media skills.

If nothing else, this highlights the phenomenal morphability of the web as a medium transport. As each new mode of communication is fielded, it supplants, augments or competes with an existing mode and the communications can become richer, more precise, or more targeted. Different talents are accentuated and find a mode that suits them or which they can mold to the talent. For those who find the written word their best expression, there are plenty of different modes. For those who use pictures more effectively, a similar horn of plenty.

For the polymaths, it's never been better because historically, they have the most segmented opportunities with few enabling them to combine all of their skills, eg, historically, stage, film and TV were the big three and all too expensive for the amateur or soloist. Now they have any and all and combine these in different ways for different reasons as well as create many different paths through the content as well as use feedback to enable the consumer to absorb or even create a higher level experience.

So despite the downturn, which in my opinion has more to do with troubled times than technology, we have yet to tap the potentials even where we can see the possibilities.

Items like Superstruct are a glimpse.

And then the question is what it was in 1989: we are tool makers and are shaped by the act of making tools and the tools themselves. How shall we be changed by these and can we direct that change?

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From: Claire Giordano (Nov 01 2008, at 22:48)

I love your description of how you blog: the polishing and cutting and fixing and smoothing. Not to forget the wrestling with punctuation! Thank you for blogging, and for not giving it up for the ease of Twitter, Tim. :-)

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From: Mark Levison (Nov 05 2008, at 11:27)

Small gripe - technorati is no longer a good measure of the blog-o-sphere. It misses about 1/3 of the blogs that link to mine.

While my own ego isn't important here, what does matter is that Technorati under reports the size of things. Perhaps google's blog search sees more - we just them to write the equivalent of Dave's article.

Thanks also to pointing me to Andrew Sullivan's article.

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From: Nick Carr (Nov 06 2008, at 07:56)

Tim,

Nice post. I'm pretty sure there's a literary form (or two) between essay and remark, but I'm not sure what to call it (or them).

Re: "Books retain their essential nature and will do so even if they’re being delivered on a Kindle [or] one of its successors."

Maybe, maybe not. The essence of hypertext is surely different from the essence of text, and my sense is that the essence of online text will prove to be different from the essence of printed text. The delivery mechanism, ie, the medium, is not inert; it changes what it transmits, for both consumer and producer, or, as we used to say, reader and writer.

Nick

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