This morning I typed the following search string into Google: Are blogs dying?
I thought I might get the odd hit or two but instead found a large number of hits. Many people are apparently asking themselves this very question. If you, like me, are sceptical about the ability of the Web to provide a straight answer to a straight question, then you will be unsurprised to learn that the Web’s answer in this case is a resounding “yes and no”.
What prompted me to pose the question was my own perception that, since I started blogging in September 2006, a change has come over blogs and the blogging community. Writing my first posts, I expected to be a lone scribbler sending his words, unnoticed and unread, into the void. Instead, I very soon found that I was part of a community whose members read and commented on one another’s blogs and carried conversations back and forth, discussing both the profound and the trivial, and enjoying it immensely.
Of course, things did naturally change with time. Blogs, like people, die and new ones are born. Some of my favourite blogs perished and I found new ones to add to my blogroll. It was fun to chase up blogs on other people’s blogrolls while new bloggers often announced themselves by leaving comments on my blog and those that I followed.
Over the last couple of years, however, I have noticed a big change. The number of visits to my blog and the number of comments has decreased (though it has begun to pick up again lately). Good blogs were disappearing faster than I could find new ones to replace them. What was happening: was the blog world dying on its feet? Not according to blog hosts like WordPress, who went on developing their platforms and cheerfully telling us how many hundreds of bloggers were signing up and how many thousands of words they were churning out daily.
On the other hand, when I consulted blog directories, I found that an astonishing number of the blogs listed, even those given the rank “top blogs”, “featured blogs” or some such accolade, where dead, their most recent posts dating to months or years before. Why, I wondered, would blog directories give prominent ranking to dead blogs? Could it be that they were finding it ever more difficult to replace them with quality live ones?
As time passed, I also noticed that a number of bloggers of my acquaintance had switched their allegiance, first to Facebook and then to Twitter. Some managed to maintain both but all too often, it was “F & T” that absorbed the major part of their energy to the detriment of their blogs.
“F & T” have their place in the scheme of things, I agree, and some people put them to good and even noble use, but they are not blogging, nor should they be thought of as such, any more than writing a pamphlet to advertise the local museum should be thought of as writing a history book. They are one form of self-expression and blogging is an entirely different form. Give me leave, however, to feel sad when a good blogger abandons blogging for this other activity.
Looking at the matter from another angle, however, “F & T” might even be a blessing to Blogworld. This is because I think that before their advent, many people started blogs who were not really bloggers at heart. It was all that was available to them in order to put themselves in the public sphere. The result was a plethora of very indifferent blogs cluttering up the blogosphere and attracting the admittedly ill-conceived criticisms of people like Andrew Marr.
With “F & T” providing an outlet for the short and spontaneous forms of self-expression, Blogworld can perhaps gain a new status as a sphere for more serious and carefully composed articles that invite thought and constructive comment. In that case, what we are seeing is not so much the death of the blogosphere as its consolidation.
I remain hopeful because there are some very good blogs out there, that deserve to be known and followed, not just by other bloggers but also by the public at large. There are also some bad ones, of course, bad both in the sense of not being very good and in that of being reprehensible in the views expressed. Caveat emptor. It is far better, though, that bloggers of every persuasion be allowed to practise than that arbitrary rules prevent the good but unconventional from making themselves known.
How do you find the good blogs? On the face of it, the answer should be “Look in blog directories” but in my experience, blog directories are generally pretty poor to the point of being virtually useless. As I mentioned above, many of the blogs they list don’t even still exist. This leads me to suppose that their raison d’être is other than the proclaimed one of helping you and me find good blogs to read.
Should bloggers then form an association for mutual benefit and to advertise themselves? This has been mooted many times before and it seems that bloggers are independent types who don’t join unions and associations but prefer to do their own thing independently. I must admit that I don’t see this as a weakness but rather as a virtue and I am not sure that I can envisage what sort of association would really be of benefit to bloggers. Perhaps someone can enlighten me.
So what is the answer to the question in the title? Are blogs dying and if not actually dying, should we at least regard them as being on the endangered list? Personally, I think not, but it does depend critically on bloggers themselves. As long as there are bloggers with something to say and readers who want to read what they say, then the blogosphere will survive. It may be large or it may be small, but what counts is not so much its size as the interest it evokes and whether it manages to maintain this.
I am optimistic that it will.