July 14th, Bastille Day, will mark my sixth year of blogging and quite a few of you all have been around for the ride. (Thanks!) I've had a comment section for five years, so you all have contributed quite a bit, too. A few years ago, I decided I wanted a hard copy of everything that I've written for posterity. But after copying a few months of posts over to Word, I gave up. It was using up too much paper.
What will happen to all these words in my posts and in the comment sections? Will anyone ever read it? Steve thinks that all these blogs will be most useful in the future for social historians, who will use all these thoughts to document ordinary life. I hope to polish up some of our better discussions and publish them elsewhere. We'll see.
But this morning, I just want to write about how blogging has changed in the past six years.
1. The A-List Doesn't Matter Anymore. I just read a really nice paper that came up with a new method for determining the top 20 bloggers. The problem is that those bloggers aren't nearly as influential as they used to be. Their ranks in Technorati and other lists are artificially high, because they are on the blogrolls of millions of blogs that were begun and quickly abandoned years ago. People used to read the A-list blogs because they were first on the scene to tell us what the hot articles and issues were. But now we get that information from Twitter, Facebook, and Google Reader. Does anybody still read Instapundit? Most of the A-List bloggers aren't all that influential. When I surveyed key journalists about what blogs they read, they rarely pointed to the traditional A-list blogs. They preferred the niche blogs, which brings me to the next topic.
2. It's all about niche blogs. If you have a particular expertise and unique perspective, they you can quickly gain a following. Everyone else is out of luck.
3. Norms and practices. Bloggers have undermined the blogosphere. Bloggers do not link to each other as much as they used to. It's a lot of work to look for good posts elsewhere, and most bloggers have become burnt out. Drezner and Farrell had a theory that even small potato bloggers would have their day in the sun, if they wrote something so great that it garnered the attention of the big guys. But the big guys are too burnt out to find the hidden gems. So, good stuff is being written all the time, and it isn't bubbling to the top.
Many have stopped using blogrolls, which means less love spread around the blogosphere. The politics of who should be on a blogroll was too much of a pain, so bloggers just deleted the whole thing.
4. Blogger Burn Out. Many of the top bloggers have been absorbed into some other professional enterprise or are burnt. It's a lot of work to blog. Most bloggers, and not just the A-listers, spend 3-5 hours every day blogging. That's hard to maintain, especially since there is no money in this. They used that time to not only write their posts and monitor their comment sections, but to read and foster other bloggers. Blogging survived based on the goodwill and generosity of others. It's probably no coincidence that every blogger that I've met face-to-face is an extraordinarily nice person. But it's hard to volunteer that much time over a long period of time. The spouses tend to get annoyed.
5. Reader burn out. You all are not clicking on the links like you used to. I'm not really sure why. In the past, if I was linked to by a big mega blogger, it meant 10,000 new readers in one afternoon. Now, a link by a mega blogger sends over a couple hundred readers. Readers are probably tired out of trying new stuff. Maybe we've sent you to too many crappy places over time and you're sick of it.
6. MSM yawns. All those articles in the NYT and the Wall Street Journal about blogging helped to drive much of the enthusiasm going among bloggers and readers. People really felt like they were part of something important. Blogging is no longer the cool, hot thing.
7. Huffington Post. It has sucked up all the readers. And HuffPo isn't a proper blog. It is run by people who don't link to other bloggers and do not get the old ways and norms that greased the system in the old days.
8. Twitter and Facebook. I don't really need to explain this one.
9. Link Monitoring. In the past, I could easily figure out which blogs had linked to me and then send them a reciprocal link. For whatever reasons, Google Blog and Technorati aren't picking up the smaller blogs, and I have no idea who's linking to me.
So, blogging has changed a lot in the past six years. It's still an excellent medium for self-expression and professional networking, but it will no longer make mega-stars. It's actually a good thing that the hoopla has died down. No one should spend that much time in front of a computer. The expectations were unrealistic. Use your blogs to target particular audiences and have a clear mission, and you'll get a following. Blogging should be the means to another goal — a rough draft for future articles/books, a way to network with professionals, a place to document your life for your children, a way to have fun. Those are very real and good outcomes of blogging and that's why I'm continuing to keep at.
UPDATE: More commentary from other oldie bloggers: Matt Yglesias, Megan McArdle, Kevin Drum, Russell Arben Fox, Adam Kotsko, (I hope I haven't guilted people into linking to me.) Manifest Destiny, Ezra Klein, (Not that I'm above using guilt. I'm Catholic. I do it well),
UPDATE2: Ezra Klein says, "I still miss Steven Den Beste, though." All those laughing at that statement have been around the blogosphere too long.
He also writes, "The place has professionalized." It has for a handful of people. And that's a good thing. We're all happy that you all have a larger stage for your work and are getting paid.
But it's not just that. The intense inter-linking that occurred in the past has slowed down for a variety of reasons. As a result, the blogosphere is less hierarchical. There are a great variety of communities, but they aren't really aware of each other. That may not be a bad thing; it just is.
UPDATE5: My post on blogosphere 2.0 has gotten a lot of attention over the past
few days. I'm a little embarrassed that I managed to garner so much
attention by employing guilt. More comments from Dan Drezner, In The Agora, and History News Network.
But is this really true? Among some of the biggest bloggers, this
notion is increasingly seen as suspect. In early July, Laura McKenna, a
widely respected and longtime blogger, argued on her site, 11D,
that blogging has perceptibly changed over the six years she’s been at
it. Many of blogging’s heavy hitters, she observed, have ended up
“absorbed into some other professional enterprise.” Meanwhile, newer or
lesser-known bloggers aren’t getting the kind of links and attention
they used to, which means that “good stuff” is no longer “bubbling to
the top.” Her post prompted a couple of the medium’s most legendary,
best-established hands to react: Matthew Yglesias (formerly of The Atlantic, now of ThinkProgress), confirmed that blogging has indeed become “institutionalized,” and Ezra Klein (formerly of The American Prospect, now of The Washington Post)
concurred, “The place has professionalized.” Almost everyone weighing
in agreed that blogging has become more corporate, more ossified, and
increasingly indistinguishable from the mainstream media. Even Glenn
Reynolds had a slight change of heart, admitting in a June interview
that the David-and-Goliath dynamic is eroding as blogs have become
“more big-media-ish.” All this has led Matthew Hindman, author of The Myth of Digital
Democracy, to declare that "The era when political comment on the Web
is dominated by solo bloggers writing for free is gone."
I've got to run out and meet the school bus, so I'll have to add more later. Wow. Still blushing.
Over the weekend, Michael Berube and LizardBreath commented on my post on how blogging has changed. Both made excellent points.
writes that my post was linked to and read, because I'm in the orbit of
A-list bloggers due to my ancient status in the blogosphere.
says blogger burn out is a huge factor, which means that group blogs
are the only way to go. He also points out that the Koufax awards,
which were an excellent means of bringing up new, excellent blogs, died
I started revising that post over the weekend, and their comments were hugely useful.
UPDATE8 (9/22/09): The view from the long tail: Curtis Schweitzer.