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RIP blogging?

by henrycopeland
Sunday, February 27th, 2011

A lot of pixels have been sprayed since the New York Times story headlined “Blogs Wane as the Young Drift to Sites Like Twitter.”

The essential data: “The Internet and American Life Project at the Pew Research Center found that from 2006 to 2009, blogging among children ages 12 to 17 fell by half; now 14 percent of children those ages who use the Internet have blogs. Among 18-to-33-year-olds, the project said in a report last year, blogging dropped two percentage points in 2010 from two years earlier.”

Does this spell the end of blogging? In fact, the decline in blogs as a place for random musings and trivia is wonderful news for blogs and their readers. We already had WAY too much noise. Now with Twitter and Facebook siphoning off the trivia and momentary mind-burps, blogs are increasingly the safe-harbor for deeper dives into a topic, whether that topic is books or gossip or politics.

Clive Thompson captured the new blogging ecosystem perfectly a few weeks back in Wired:

When something newsworthy happens today — Brett Favre losing to the Jets, news of a new iPhone, a Brazilian election runoff — you get a sudden blizzard of status updates. These are just short takes, and they’re often half-baked or gossipy and may not even be entirely true. But that’s OK; they’re not intended to be carefully constructed. Society is just chewing over what happened, forming a quick impression of What It All Means.

The long take is the opposite: It’s a deeply considered report and analysis, and it often takes weeks, months, or years to produce. It used to be that only traditional media, like magazines or documentaries or books, delivered the long take. But now, some of the most in-depth stuff I read comes from academics or businesspeople penning big blog essays, Dexter fans writing 5,000-word exegeses of the show, and nonprofits like the Pew Charitable Trusts producing exhaustively researched reports on American life.

And Matt Mullenweg of Wordpress also noted that the data isn’t actually that dire. Fewer people may be blogging, but the number of people reading blogs is growing.

The title was probably written by an editor, not the author, because as soon as the article gets past the two token teenagers who tumble and Facebook instead of blogging, the stats show all the major blogging services growing — even Blogger whose global “unique visitors rose 9 percent, to 323 million,” meaning it grew about 6 Foursquares last year alone. (In the same timeframe WordPress.com grew about 80 million uniques according to Quantcast.)

Huffpo gives up the seriousness ghost?

by henrycopeland
Wednesday, July 15th, 2009

On Tuesday, the day when the HuffingtonPost‘s headline story was “SOTOMAYOR UNDER THE GUN” these were the site’s most popular stories:

Huffpo bills itself as a serious forum for liberal thinkers… I wonder what percentage of its clicks are purely skin? Huffpo’s always-sober lead story is a thin veneer of high-brow atop a smorgasbord of breasts, butts and assorted salaciousness.

When journalism becomes a popularity contest

by henrycopeland
Monday, July 13th, 2009

WaPo’s web columnist Dan Froomkin gets the ax because his online articles don’t get enough traffic.

Think about all the coverage that will disappear in coming years as this philosophy becomes standard.

Think about all the far away places about which the average person knows little and care less — Sudan, Kosovo, Bosnia, Pakistan, Ghana, Taiwan, South Korea, Peru — that won’t measure up to the web’s popularity standards and slowly disappear as take-it-or-leave-it bundle of The Newspaper is replaced by the “every word for itself” metrics of web publishing.

The HuffingtonPost has stepped up to hire Froomkin — no doubt garnering a nice little spike in page impressions and PR — but is itself on vanguard of the desperate commercial scramble to add frothy content to drive page impressions and revenues. (Right this second the most popular stories on Huffpo are #1 “Sarah Palin’s Most memorable style moments” #2 “Women’s iconic swimsuit movie moments” #3 “ADN confirms, Sarah Palin’s story doesn’t add up” and #4 “Emma Watson’s Wardrobe Malfunction.”)

I’m not arguing that Froomkin was a great journalist or deserved to stay at the Post. I’m just marking this small moment in the shifting climate of publishing, a moment in which web metrics nudge aside the editor’s judgement.

Twitter backlash

by henrycopeland
Thursday, June 11th, 2009

A couple of college buddies, still clinging to their AOL e-mail addresses, wrote yesterday to highlight the BBC’s article about Twitter being “hyped” and “one to many.”

Only 10% of tweeters really use the medium, says the Harvard study that served as the source for the BBC’s story.

Worse, “Twitter is a broadcast medium rather than an intimate conversation with friends,” the study’s author said. “It looks like a few people are creating content for a few people to read and share.”

Wow, “broadcast” is a serious indictment, coming from the Beeb and Harvard, two pre-eminent institutions of bombastic broadcast!

This Twitter backlash reminds me of the blog-bashing of 2001 and 2002, when journalists and academics were eager to “burst the blogging bubble” by identifying shortfalls, overreaches or variations from whatever standard of decency or probity they wanted it to live up to.

Back then, I had more time for blogging, so I’ll quote an old post about blogging backlash that outlines the basic rhetorical framework in play then and now:

What is it about blogs that so confuses and concerns newspaper columnists? I think most columnists lack the experiences and conceptual categories to understand “the blog.” Like a one-year-old baby grappling with the idea of other beings, the average newspaperman scribbling about bloggers can describe “the other” only as an ersatz version of himself.

In essence, the bashers complain that blogs don’t measure up to “real” media. The Boston Globe’s recent column “In the world of Web logs, talk is cheap” regurgitates the list of complaints. Individual blogs don’t appeal to a broad audience. They aren’t serious or objective or edited. They contain meaningless personal details. They can be trite, verbose, incoherent and/or self-aggrandizing.

We all know that none of these traits apply to newspaper columns, ergo, blogs must be bad. In fact, many blogs are so bad, Globe columnist Alex Beam concluded, that the most they can aspire to is being “mocked in a medium that people actually read,” ie the newspaper.

The weblog community has pummeled Beam, and blogging dean Glenn Reynolds does the best job of logging the individual punches. Also, don’t miss pre-publication e-mail exchanges between Beam and Virginia Postrel and James Lileks.

Here’s my own reaction to Beam and anyone else trying to understand blogs: measuring the blog against the newspaper is a waste of time.

For a start, let’s try measuring the blog against other media, ancient and modern.

Blogs compare rather well to an older and more widely used communications tool, talking. Anyone who complains about blogging as sloppy or fruitless might want to take a tape recorder along the next evening out with friends. The next morning, listen to the incoherence, grunting and mumbling that passes for scintillating communication. Not a fair test? As any newspaper reporter can tell you, even the most practiced, coherent and committed spokespeople rewind, elipsize and armwave their way through most points.

Most human verbal communication isn’t rocket science… it’s sloppy, looping, incoherent, and prolix… which is part of its appeal.

Then there’s the telephone. In its early days, “lack of seriousness” was a frequent complaint against telecommunication. As tech scholar Andrew Odlyzko writes:

Sociability was frequently dismissed as idle gossip, and especially in the early days of the telephone, was actively discouraged. For example, a 1909 study of telephone service commissioned by the city of Chicago advocated measured rate service as a way to reduce “useless calls.” Yet the most successful communication technologies, the mail and the telephone, reached their full potential only when they embraced sociability and those “useless calls” as their goal.

So forget about dissing blogs as chit chat. Forget about blasting blogs for unnewspaperness. The new order isn’t just a negation of the old, or a recombination of its components: the new media spawns new features and experiences which are indescribable in the old language. E-mail isn’t just “electronic mail,” it is bccing, subject lines, limitless dribble, forwarded jokes, FLAMING, writing a quick note when you don’t have the energy to engage in a full dialog, sig files. SMS is far more than “short messages sent by mobile telephone,” it’s a whole culture of instant feedback, global simultaneity, crooked thumbs, endorphined beeps announcing news and stimulation.

In the same way, blogging isn’t a diary, a reading log, a common place book, a collection of newspaper articles or opinion columns. But what is it?

Rather than asking how blogs fail, let’s enumerate what blogs do right. Let’s describe why they inspire so much passion. 500,000 bloggers can’t just be vain, right?

In February, I listed timeliness, willingness to credit others, passion, blogrolling, human interest, chronology, and devotion as the characteristics that make blogs so appealing and useful for readers. But a blog’s power comes also from its benefits to the blogger.

Blogs are a great tool for brainstorming and sharing knowledge. Blogs encourage us to write and think more clearly. Blogs force us to interact (intellectually and physically) with the texts we are reading. Blogs invite others to reward our creative effort with feedback and, sometimes, appreciation. Blogs weave new social networks, introducing us to people with common passions. Blogs disseminate “micro-opinions” that are important for a small audience but would never make it onto a newspaper’s op-ed or letters page. Blogs build a shared history of experience and opinion among friends and acquaintances.

Talk is cheap and so is blogging, which is what makes both such powerful social tools. Blogging confers the bonus benefits of searchability, and temporal and spacial scalability.

But enough comparisons and descriptions. The joy of tennis can’t be described, it must be played.

And so it goes with Twitter. There’s some strange new social experience being born amidst the @s and RTs and #s and bit.lyed URLs. Spending time grunting about Twitter’s shortfalls — only 10% really use it and most people are passive misses out on the amazing social experience some of us ARE having. If you want to learn what makes Twitter special, don’t look at the 9 million low-tweeters, looks at the 1 million people who love it and are helping to invent some new social codes.

Even if Tweets are not a true conversation, there’s something new going on in the vocabulary of @ and # and “d” messages betwixt and between folks. It will take us a long time to figure out exactly what and give it a name. But it won’t be along metrics defined (developed) by existing media. And folks who sit on the sidelines, fingers firmly in their ears and complain “this new stuff isn’t as good at what WE do” are missing the point entirely.

Perez’s Twitter followers are younger

by henrycopeland
Wednesday, June 3rd, 2009

Comparing the demographics of PerezHilton’s Twitter followers with those of his blog’s readers, we found Perez’s tweeps to be significantly younger than the blog’s readers. Also more female, Libertarian and comment-prone. Interesting eh?

We’d love to run more comparisons like this, so let us know if you’d like to run a parallel blog/twitter demographic survey.

Calacanis counts

by henrycopeland
Friday, March 27th, 2009

Jason Calacanis, the Donald Trump of the interwebs, has written an adrenalized chest-thumping column on living near the edge.

I’ve been to the precipice and faced the fall a couple of times. I’ve
learned a couple of things from the experience. I can tell you that
the first time it happens, you’re terrified, because everything you’ve
done–all the effort and dreams–will probably be lost (like tears in
the rain).

The second time it happens, you’re deeply concerned, but know it ain’t
over until you’re splattered on the boulders below.

The third time it happens, you smile and say “let’s get it on!”


No one… and everyone.

by henrycopeland
Friday, March 27th, 2009

Thank you Will!

Twitter Stewartized

by henrycopeland
Friday, March 6th, 2009

Happy birthday Google… and remote computing

by henrycopeland
Tuesday, September 9th, 2003

Google turns five today, or at least that’s what I think their birthday-caked logo suggests.

For those who ever had any doubts, Google.com proves the vast vitality and potent potential of web computing. Why use some silly Encyclopedia-on-a-CD when you can tap into the Google resources: 3.1 billion online documents sorted by 10,000 servers and 200 million linking minds?

Five years ago, Sun and Microsoft spent a lot of time debating the primacy of the network versus the PC. Quietly, without anyone making a big deal of it, it has become clear that the network is winning.

Yep, I’m one of those folks who believe that soon ALL interesting computing will be done by “the Internet” and not by local computers. I live this belief. My “to do” list sits on a server in Budapest. Junk e-mail aimed at my head is deflected by the spam filters at Messagefire’s server. My company sits on servers in Austin and caters to clients sitting in Mantes, Manhattan, Paris, Haddington, Vienna, Eu, Oban, Cleveland, Geneva, London, LA, Lisbon… and, if need be, the moon. My phone calls are answered by a computer in … I don’t even know where.

The Internet gives businesses incredible economies of scale AND unprecedented opportunities to create new connections among ideas, people, goods and services. The best is yet to come… and come and come.

Gelernter likes blogs, but doesn’t know it

by henrycopeland
Monday, June 23rd, 2003

Yale comsci prof David Gelernter gives a nice philosophical overview of print and online newspapers. Along the way, he offers a brilliant brief for blogging, although he appears not to know the word. On print papers:

A newsprint paper is a slab of space (even a closed tabloid is larger than most computer screens) that is browsable and transparent. Browsability is what a newspaper is for: to offer readers a smorgasbord of stories, pictures, ads and let them choose what looks good. “Transparent” means you can always tell from a distance what you’re getting into (Are there lots of pages here or not many? Important news today or nothing much?)–and you always know (as you read) where you are, how far you’ve come, and how much is left. The newsprint paper is an easy, comfortable, unfussy object. You can turn to the editorials, flip to the back page, or pull out the sports section without thinking. It’s light and simple and cheap: Spread it on the breakfast table and spill coffee on it, read it standing in a subway or flat on your back on sofa or lawn, on the beach or in bed. You can write on it, cut it up, pull it apart, fold it open to an interesting story, and stick it (folded) in your pocket to show to someone later. These small details add up to brilliant design.

On “online newspapers:”

The web-papers of tomorrow should be “objects in time,” and here is the picture. Imagine a parade of jumbo index cards standing like set-up dominoes. On your computer display, the parade of index cards stretches into the simulated depths of your screen, from the middle-bottom (where the front-most card stands, looking big) to the farthest-away card in the upper left corner (looking small). Now, something happens: Tony Blair makes a speech. A new card materializes in front (a report on the speech) and everyone else takes a step back–and the farthest-away card falls off the screen and (temporarily) disappears. So the parade is in constant motion. New stories keep popping up in front, and the parade streams backwards to the rear. Each card is a “news item”–text or photo, or (sometimes) audio or video. “Text” could mean an entire conventional news story or speech or interview. But the pressure in this medium is away from the long set-piece story, towards the continuing series of lapidary paragraphs. There’s room on a “news card” for a headline, a paragraph and a small photo. (If the news item is a long story or transcript, only the opening fits on the card–but you can read the whole thing if you want to, by clicking the proper mouse-buttons.) So: a moving parade (or flowing stream) of news items–new ones constantly arriving in front, older ones moving back.

In a footnote, Gelernter admits that the online newspaper (blog) sounds a lot like his company’s attempt to revamp the basic OS, Scopeware.

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