I, said the Fly

Who saw him die?

I, said the Fly

With my little eye,

I saw him die.

Cock Robin (nursery rhyme)

The Fly was lucky. My little eye isn’t doing too well. How come? Apparently the blogosphere has died and gone somewhere over the past few years, and I missed it. Completely. I did not see it die.

So what did I miss? Nicholas Carr gives a reasoned view of the demise of the blog in this post. Even though I don’t always agree with him, his is a must-read blog. Let me try and summarise what he says in the post:

  • Blogs are about two things, a style of writing and a set of tools.
  • If we concentrate on the style of writing, there’s been considerable change over the past few years.
  • The top blogs are now indistinguishable from mainstream news sites, down to landing page bloat and authorship by collections of professional writers.
  • Even if we include these collective pro-blogs, the actual number of blogs updated regularly is low, 7.4 million in the last 120 days and 1.5 million in the last week.
  • Different in style. Dominated by professionals. Indistinguishable from mainstream. High dormant rate.

Doesn’t sound too alive, does it?

I’m not so sure, I guess I see things differently.

Why do I say that? There are a number of reasons.

Growing irrelevance of the Technorati Top 100

I used to read a lot of people who were in the Technorati top 100. I don’t any more. Not because I’ve stopped reading them. But because they aren’t in the top 100 any more. Let’s look at what changed here. The people I used to read are still blogging. They haven’t stopped. So what has changed? What changed is that they stopped caring about their Technorati ranking. They were relaxed about changing their blog addresses, they blogged in more than one place, they blogged in more than one way. Rankings fell away.

Move towards aggregation

As the blogosphere was infiltrated by the mainstream, one of the tendencies I noticed was that a number of people that I used to read as individuals began to blog as groups. My guess is that it was a way to counter the attack of the mainstream. Many of the blogs in the top 100 are actually mainstream pseudoblogs; those that are authentic blogs are often multi-author blogs. The number of authentic blogs in the top 100 reduced as a result.

Reaction to trolls

As the blogosphere grew, so did the misuse of links. There were more and more instances of self-publicity through self-linking, trolling became more common, the ranking systems started getting gamed. One of the common reactions was to move away from “link love” and blogrolls and suchlike. That in turn affected rankings.

Growth in microblogging

As the blogosphere grew and began to get to Main Street, it started spawning other ways of blogging. Principal amongst this was Twitter, which some people see as microblogging. One thing’s for sure: Twitter sucked away a lot of the mini-posts people did in their blogs, which had two consequences. The average length of the blog post grew as a result; and the frequency of update of blogs fell away. That affected some of the statistics we are seeing.

People stopping blogging?

I’ve tried to think hard about all the people I read at the turn of the century, those I read when Technorati started ranking them (late 2002? early 2003?) , and those I read now. And you know something? I think I can come up with two names of people who aren’t posting as much now. Kathy Sierra. Clay Shirky. [And I am privileged to be able to say that in both cases, the conversation has continued. In person. And it probably wouldn’t have continued if I hadn’t continued to blog. Both of them have their reasons for changing their style and frequency of blogging, both of them have every right to those reasons. But their actions do not represent the death of blogging. Clay continues to do so via Here Comes Everybody. Kathy continues to be quiet, and has her reasons. We should respect them].

Maybe Nicholas Carr is right. Maybe all those who claim blogging is dead are right. I don’t know about that. But here’s what I think:

Most of the people who started blogging continue to blog, and that number is growing. It’s growing slowly as the blogosphere matures. There are a large number of dormant blogs, but that has always been the case. Always. There has been a change in the blogosphere when viewed through the lens of the Technorati 100, but that is because the ranking is irrelevant, not because people have stopped blogging. There has been an impact on size of post and frequency of update as a result of the growth of microblogging, but that should be seen as an extension of the blogosphere and not in competition with it. Twitter is part of the blogosphere.

I, said the Fly? I think not. The death of the blogosphere has more to do with the death of Mark Twain than that of Cock Robin.

7 thoughts on “I, said the Fly”

  1. JP

    Re: Microblogging – I’ve got into the habit of “centoblogging” on my blog on things that interest me in the passing parade – ie a paragraph or two on a single idea or subject – a quick sketch, if you like. Looks like you have as well.

    I just don’t have Big Ideas – and/or the time to really write longer essays – more than once a week or so, but there are always fascinating things going on, and I use these “centoblogs” as away of marking them.

    And like you, my RSS reader is full of people who interest me, rather than the Mainstream Blogs.

    As to the death of blogs, like you I hadn’t noticed – but then thats because the blog is clearly dead and I am a Blogging Zombie :)

  2. You know, just after I wrote the comment above, I had this vision of us individual bloggers being like all those “intellectuals” (in inverted commas) frequenting the Cafes of Paris, drinking absinthe and plotting seduction, sedition etc – Le Blog Epoque ;-)

  3. I would have to disagree with you about Nicholas Carr. I haven’t been a subscriber to his blog, but the stuff I have read from him (notably the article that came out before his book the “Big Switch”) all seems to be an exercise in identifying the “false consensus” cognitive bias.
    – People’s attention spans shortening? Spurred by a conversation with one friend. I could make the argument that the internet has helped me grow my attention span by a large margin
    – Death of blogs? Like you said, it’s increasingly moved to microblogging – but that’s for people who aren’t really cut out/have time for traditional blogging. Look at Tumblr! It’s spurned a whole community around blogging, and for the most part it’s well out of the reach of MSM. Look at the Rudius Media websites, all personal blogs of high quality.
    – He might be correct about the tight-knit blogosphere, but that’s because it’s increasingly been subdivided into more and more small communities instead of one umbrella called the “blogosphere”. The blogosphere is still alive and well, it’s just so much bigger than it used to be.

  4. Ryan, I’m not sure what we’re “disagreeing” about. I don’t always agree with him. More often than not I disagree. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t read him or that I won’t learn from him.

    The matteringness of IT, the behaviour of attention spans, the cloud and its implications, the changing nature of the blogosphere, each of these are important issues. In each case the things he says that are right get obscured by the ones that he gets wrong.

    I get things wrong regularly as well, probably more often than Carr. But then the blogosphere comes back to teach me. Which is what it’s all about.

    Inadvertently or advertently, as you say, Carr seems to get involved in exercises weakened by false consensus cognitive bias. While that suggests a tendency towards trolling, there are many more out there who are overt trollers; I rarely read them, and I never link to them.

  5. That’s a good point. I think I just disagreed so strongly with some of the ideas of the book that it is clouding analysis of his other work.

    Also to clarify, I meant inadvertently. I don’t mean to suggest the Carr is overtly trying to get a reaction.

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