Friday, December 07, 2012

Is blogging dead?

Well, perhaps not dead, but it's certainly not healthy. Many - most - of the blogs that I've enjoyed reading over the past six or seven years have lapsed into very infrequent posting or have been abandoned altogether. And I've decided to quit the game myself very soon.

I suspect one of the factors that's leading some blog writers to lose enthusiasm for the activity is the death of commenting. Many people like the sense of community that can build up around a popular blog, the lively conversations that might develop between groups of regular readers. For some bloggers, I think, this is one of their main motivations. That seems to have disappeared almost everywhere. Even on the most popular blogs I follow, comments have become much rarer. The comment threads on my own two blogs were often quite busy in my first couple of years of writing them, but now I often go for two or three weeks at a time without getting a single response.

A shift to 'microblog' platforms like Twitter has often been blamed for the decline of true blogging, but I'm not convinced of that. In the early days, at any rate, there seemed to be a symbiotic relationship between blogging and microblogging, with many bloggers successfully using Twitter to promote their blogs to a wider audience, and lots of people using the new channel to share links to blog posts they'd enjoyed.

If the rise of Twitter et al is now taking time and attention away from proper blogs, I feel that this is not itself the true culprit, but simply a further symptom of the underlying problem. I'm convinced that what is killing blogging is the shift to using mobile devices.

I remember that when Blackberries first started becoming popular around ten years ago, I could tell which of my friends had got them because they stopped replying to e-mail - EVER. And usually they were quite oblivious of the fact. I believe that - if we have good habits about dealing with e-mail, and usually respond to messages promptly, immediately - we become accustomed to equating reading an e-mail to replying to it; if we've read your message, we assume we must have replied to it, we convince ourselves that we did so. But with a Blackberry - and all mobile devices, to a greater or lesser extent - it's too darned fiddly to write at any length; and so people read their e-mails, thought about replying but omitted to do so, and then deluded themselves into thinking that they had replied. And communication broke down. That was The Curse of the Blackberry.

On a mobile device, even a tablet computer, writing is off-puttingly difficult. Hence, if most people today are accessing the Internet and reading blogs on a mobile device, they are not going to be leaving comments any more.

Moreover, I am convinced that the wider use of mobile devices compromises the level of someone's engagement with online content - reduces the attention span, makes interaction more fleeting and superficial. Reading something on a mobile device, even a tablet computer, is difficult (and, if someone is accessing the Internet while out and about, there is going to be more distraction in the environment around them, their attention is going to be less exclusively focused on what they're looking at onscreen): people are not going to read extended articles via a mobile device. I suspect reading something more than a couple of hundred words long is going to tax the eyes and the stamina of most people. And if people are now doing most of their online browsing via mobile devices, I fear these habits of shorter, shallower engagement with content will persist even when they are browsing on a PC.

It's not just blogging. The Internet - as we have known it for the past decade or so - is dead. Or dying, anyway.

I find that very sad. It is one of the reasons that I will refuse to have anything to do with smartphones or other mobile devices.


moonrat said...

Definitely true, on all counts. I miss blogging a lot but when I try to re-start things it's just too daunting. Time consuming, but with significantly less reward than when I started in 2006.

But maybe there's an upside, if you're right? Maybe, if we're stepping away from computers, people will return to traditional long form media?

JES said...

Ah well... And yes, that heavy sigh is both for Froogville and for Moonie's place(s).

I'm not quite disillusioned enough, yet. Sometime in 2013 I'll hit a thousand posts and then I'll reassess. Of course, there are pleasures to be had simply from writing per se, and I'm counting on them to sustain me. But we'll see.

(My regular commenter who goes by the name of Jayne recently more or less shuttered her place as well, and had all but disappeared online in general (thank the gods for email). She's got a real reason for dropping out -- not frustration, or boredom, or anything like that. But right up to the time she knocked off, she was still getting 10-20 comments on each post -- and replying to them. For a social-networking aficionado, that muse sound heavenly. Not for me, however. That would be TOO MUCH.)

When I was in college in the '70s, one of the textbooks for a mass-media course discussed the case of The New Yorker. It said that the magazine had "only" around 125,000 subscribers, or whatever the figure was... but that the management had set that as an upper limit, by intention (boosting marketing efforts when subscriptions dropped off, and vice-versa). They could thus promise advertisers a select, non-willy-nilly audience base.

I'd like to believe I could do the same sort of fine-tuning with a blog audience. I'd like to flap my wings and fly to the moon, too.

Froog said...

Ah, dreams of power!

Yes, it could be very tempting to make a blog subscription-only, and cap the number of subscribers. And perhaps even track the activity of each, threatening to expel any who don't visit often enough or for long enough.

Ideas I might take up for the next blog....