This post was prompted by The Extinction of Blogs and Prototypes for Blog Revival at Chris Bateman’s Only a Game, as well as several other blogs related to it ( The Day the Music Died and Whatever Happened to Class? as of this writing)
I have a couple of large things to say about blogging, it’s role, and if it’s working/how to make it work better. This post is just one of those things, and goes to my own history with blogging, which goes back to before there was the term “blogging”.
Back in ‘95 we called them “Online Journals”
Something happened web-wise in 1995. There was an influx of people who got web technologies. There were several free hosting platforms (Geocities and Tripod come to mind). It became possible for a pretty much ordinary non-technical person to put up a website and stick the things they were thinking about up there. I did it, and quickly joined a community of people who had nothing more in common than that they all posted their daily thoughts on a webpage somewhere. Back then there was no software for it — I edited the index page, the current page and the previous page every day to maintain links and often screwed it up.
I did it enough that about a year into it I broke down and bought a domain and wrote my own platform for managing journals, then rewrote it when php5 came out and let my friends join it. I didn’t incorporate usernames or anything that would allow the different users on my site to interact with each other — because I didn’t think anyone would want that. I also thought that the newest content should come at the bottom of the page, because it’s in chronological order, dammit. I was pretty obviously wrong about that as well.
The community that I joined in 1995, though, had a problem. Suppose I create a new blog and I want people to find out about it? How do I do that? You could submit yourself to the Yahoo Directory of online journals, and many of us did that, but really, how do you find people? Well that community had two ways. First we had a mailing list, and then we had a webring. Webrings linked sites in a sequence so that if you clicked on the next and previous links on it you’d go through all the sites on the webring. Ours was the Open Pages webring, and it still exists.
Then we went all Social
Eventually, a couple of things happened. First,posts became shorter and displayed all at once, and ‘weblogs” were born. Pretty quickly that was shortened to the unfortunate name of ‘blog’ and we’re where we are today with that. The other thing that happened was LiveJournal. We didn’t call it that then, but let’s face it — LiveJournal is a social network. You have an account, you can follow and friend people, and their posts come into your main page. You can comment, and it’s all tied to your identity. It was easy, supported some theming, and there you go — people migrated in droves. The handful of friends I was supporting either stopped journaling or went to LiveJournal. Eventually I went too (and good thing, too, I met one of my wives there.)
And it starts all over again
Eventually, there was better software. WordPress, and other blogging software made it so someone with a few bucks to spend on a hosting plan that had PHP (almost all of them) and mySQL (ditto) could create their own blogs and do their own thing. LiveJournal was still there, and a lot of people still use it (like most SF Authors I know, with a few exceptions, many of whom just mirror the content onto a main site.) Discoverability was still an issue, but we were back to a point where it was a few people, and there were tools for that as well.
You find a few like-minded blogs, you do linkbacks (Until those were perverted by spammers). You connect up with Technorati, and find more. You use RSS and the social aspects of GReader to find more people with shared interests. You comment on each other’s blogs, and you write blogs that reference theirs. For Gaming blogs, Corvus Elrod made the BoRT which guided some of the discussion, and let other people know who you were as well.
Then we slide back into social media again — twitter is great for sending links and having an open quick conversation about them. Facebook and Google+ do these things too. The latter two have their own comment systems (and often you can pull those comments and identities into your hosted blog). I’ve started writing things that felt too light for a blog on G+, and I get more commentary. People do take links for social media, they go and read, but they don’t comment. (Not on a median site, anyway, some sites do just fine, but there’ the 1% of blogging).
So what’s next?
I get more responses on Twitter and G+ to what I have to say because the fluidity of it is easier. You’re logged in, your identity is there, and your voice is easily accessible. For a blog, you’ve got a minimum to fill out: name, url, email, the comment itself If you want to post yoru own blog that’s an even higher hurdle. Does that mean that I think “Blogs are Dead” or that they’re over?
No, I think we’re at a point when they are at a lull. There’s something more needed— software of some kind — that is needed to push things over the hurdle. Right now our social media is fragmented, and while there’s more commentary there, it’s separate. RSS was largely maimed by Google Reader (and the the loss of social features there — GReader’s demise is probably good for RSS.) Yet blogs have advantages over social networks — they are owner-controlled, they have some longevity (try to find a tweet from last year), they allow for longer-form, more thought-out writing.
Whatever software gets created will have to keep those advantages but incorporate the ease, identity and networks of the social sites. I suspect it’s going to be some technology that makes it easier to be who you are online, to carry your identity around, and participate in your networks and blogs at the same time. That’s going to take a third party who is willing to merge these networks together into some new identity, and that’s going to be hard from a political/business standpoint, probably more than engineering of it.