The question whether blogging is dead was first posed years ago. At that time, some argued that long form personal writing on websites called “blogs” had lost its audience. Perhaps our attention spans were getting too short to tolerate lots of blah blah blah. Readers wanted Twitter and Facebook types of content. Even worse, some argued that reading itself was dead. It was just too much work compared to looking at shared pictures and watching video.
That was years ago. So what happened since then? Well, blogging has not become as popular as sex, drugs or rock and roll. Blogging has not become the career choice that parents push on their reluctant kids. But it has not died out either. Lots and lots of people still blog. And some (like me) have stuck with it for a long time.
So what is going on? We might think about this from a historical perspective. The early days of blogging produced endless chit chat about “scaling” and “monetizing” content generation. One was supposed to be able to get thousands of page views — or even better, unique visits — per post. And if you were able to pull this off, you could quit your day job and monetize your blog. Here is a link to a post from 2008 that discusses how this monetizing might pay off.
The reality is that the average blogger was not able to do any of this. The average blogger did his or her best to link personal experience and knowledge to the world via regular blog posts. This produced a tsunami of mediocre writing and a lot of frustration among folks who found out that writing is hard work and developing a wide following is not easy when everyone under the sun is trying to do the same thing. That led to the drum beat that blogging is dead. It exhausted its audience and did not live up to the promise.
Guilty as charged. At the same time, it is amusing to think back now how sure we all were that scaling and monetizing were in fact the appropriate measures of blogging success. The reality was that we all were newbies to the game of democratized content generation. Given how large the shift in mindset from passive consumers of media to active creators of media, it would have been amazing if everyone would figure out how to add value right from the get go. The fact that we didn’t should have been expected. Some did, and lots of us didn’t, despite our best efforts. So it goes.
In the meantime, we actually have figured out a few things about democratized content generation. Here are three reflections
- We were foolish to believe that we all could be broadcasters.
Broadcast media is a 20th century invention. It came about when technology (more specifically radio and TV) offered new channels for capitalized media outlets to bombard messages to massive numbers of consumers — advertising. Because there were high barriers to entry, and such large audiences, media outlets could control the flow of content and profit hugely as gatekeepers. Broadcasting appeared to be powerful.
But this model breaks down when we all can broadcast. We all exhaust ourselves shouting out to each other, while few of us listen. So democratizing media means we must get beyond the idea that media and broadcasting are the same. They are not. Effective use of digital media — blogging included — is more like conversation generation than broadcasting.
- When everyone is posting, we need more dynamic curation to be able to find great content. . Chris Brogan writes
(While blogging is not dead), … the act of visiting a specific website for a specific blog post (may be dead), unless you got there via Google search. People don’t eagerly work through their RSS readers (except the die hards). People are subscribing less and less to blogs outright.
They’re consuming blogs on places like Facebook and Twitter and Pinterest and elsewhere. They’re clicking through from lots of various sources instead of coming directly to the blog.
Chris has a point. Even assuming you can create valuable content on a regular basis on your blog, most of your target group will never find out about you without some sort of curation. And so far, our curation platforms basically suck.They are mired in conflicts of interest and they are not dynamic.
We are starting to think more clearly about curation. But we do not have a good model that treats it with the respect that it deserves. Good curation is like good party hosting — something that sounds old fashioned but has a lot to be said for it.
- People who want to create content will do it, but that doesn’t mean that they will learn from what they do.
One reason that blogging hasn’t died is that a lot of people feel compelled to write. They will continue to write, even if it does not pay off. That is both good and bad. The good part is that it seems that at least some humans like reaching out to others. The bad part is that without any real hope of a pay off, we lack an intuitive tool to “level up”. How do we assess what we are learning?
That leveling up has at least three components. The first is to write better. This is an obvious need. The second is to learn more from what we write. Less saying what we believe to be true and more discussing how we got there and how we could do better. The third is making better links between writer and readers. Writing should strengthen community not fragment it.
Starting conversations, party hosting and building eloquent communities. Three pillars of digital ecology building? Perhaps so. Ideally, this ecology would offer a person an easy way into a network. Something like membership. It would also offer the person a way to share life stories. Something like we do in party talk. It should also offer ways to raise questions that start off conversations. It should also offer ways to build threads of ideas that emerge from the conversation. And finally it should offer ways to turn these threads into “set pieces”. The compilation of knowledge that can serve broader audiences.
Membership, stories, questioning, conversation threads, and set pieces.Five steps towards using democratic content generation to add value And in each we need better connversations, better curation and better leveling up.
I think blogging can play a role in the above platforming. Indeed, it can play lots of roles. But more important than whether we call this blogging, is that we see its advantages as a daily activity.
Think of it this way. The Principia (1687) is one of the greatest books ever written. Newton created it, but publishing it was not his idea. It was Halley’s. In other words, the fact that we have it all is the result of an accidental encounter between the two men. Oops!
Using the vocabulary I have set forth here, the Pinciplia is a great set piece. In the 21st century, we might aspire to developing in a more systematic way to develop and distribute many more great set pieces that draw together many more people in the process. This would bring to life Steve Johnson’s interesting paradigm – great ideas evolve out of great conversations.
We are not there yet.