Omphaloskepsis for the nation
As happens every couple of months, there has been yet another outbreak of introspective navel-gazing amongst the blogging classes. You know how it goes, don’t you? In this case, it was prompted by a piece in the Sunday Times which …
As happens every couple of months, there has been yet another outbreak of introspective navel-gazing amongst the blogging classes. You know how it goes, don’t you? In this case, it was prompted by a piece in the Sunday Times which screamed from the rooftops that Irish blogging was, like, so over. This was followed by predictable huffing and puffing amongst those who blog or used to blog which always happens when The Sunday Times in particular decides to poke those who blog or tweet. Then, there was Una Mullally’s guest post on Twenty Major’s blog about the subject. That received a couple of hundred comments which sort of nixes the the notion that no-one really reads blogs any more. Naturally, there were other pieces about this too.
All of which means that it may be high time for me to have a look at my own belly fluff. It could get ugly. Hey, at least you have been warned.
Let’s start with the gist of the arguments doing the rounds about why there seems to be a whole lot less active blogging going on. There are many reasons for this (the weather, new Irish comedy on the telly, running out of things to say, joining Sinn Fein, winning the Lotto), but two seem to stick out.
The rise of Twitter means many who used to blog find that they can now easily say what used to take a whole blog post to say in 140 characters or less. After all, you don’t really need all that much space for a link to a photo of a rabbit wearing a Hooters’ baseball cap. It’s easier to pen a text message than to blog. Of course, you can do both but some prefer one to the other.
Then, there are those who were blogging like their lives depended on it a few years ago before the real world took over or, in some cases, their blogging lead accidentally or otherwise to other, better paying writing work. Many then abandonded WordPress faster than you could say “could you give us 600 words on what our blind panic reaction to snow and ice says about us?” A pity because, again, you can do both and, when it comes to excercising that writing muscle, blogging is sure better than a lot of other treadmills out there.
Whatever about such causes and effects, it’s probably a better idea (as it usually is) to look at the bigger picture. Ever since Johannes Gutenberg came up with his printing press, there have been constant innovations in how people broadcast and publicise their opinions, news and views.
While some view the arrival of the internet as a significant nail in the coffin of print, it was really another way of getting opinions, news and views across. Just because we migrated from print to a screen didn’t mean we’d reached some sort of “Game Over” level. Hell no, we were just at start of a process of constant attrition.
The rate of change really has sped up hugely in the intervening years. For instance, Twitter was still one of a gazillion newly-hatched web ideas doing the rounds four short years ago. Four years or less from now, you can bet that there will be a new Twitter taking up the slack and causing people to pen “Twitter is so over” articles. I’d say the lads in the Sunday Times have one scheduled for February 2014. By then, you’ll probably have to make a gap in Rupert’s pay-hedge to see it.
Yet whatever new technology comes along to usurp Twitter’s place in our love and affections will still do the same thing: communicate news, views and opinions. People may be using different tools and there may be far more bells and whistles attached, but those tools are basically doing the same task. Once we used newspapers, magazines and the DIY option of fanzines and newsletters; now, it’s web mags, publications, blogs, tweets and Facebook status updates. Different tools, the same job.
Because these internet tools are now easily and, by and large, freely accessible by all comers, there has been a huge bump in quantity and volume. Just as the democratisation and flat-earthing of recording and distribution methods means a band doesn’t necessarily need the assistance of a studio, label or distribution company to record, release and sell their album, the availability of a wide range of publishing and blogging software means anyone can be an online publisher, journalist and editor.
Yet just as having a Myspace profile doesn’t make you the next big thing, having a blog doesn’t make you the new Woodward. Or Bernstein. It takes a little more than just having the tools to type and publish to do that. This is where the quality benchmarks come into play.
Of course, the vast majority of the tens and hundreds of thousands who started blogs over the last five years probably never had any intention of taking their blog any further than being a channel for news, views and opinion from them to their friends. It was peercasting, not broadcasting.
On the other hand, there are bloggers who saw blogging as their golden pitch and who have thrived on the medium. These are writers, activists, analysts and smart folks who may not been able to, or didn’t want to, get on the radars of newspaper commissioning editors, for example, but who found blogging was an amazing way for them to get their news, views and opinions across – news, views and opinions which attracted lots and lots of readers in turn. They may have thought they were in the peercasting business, but what they had to say and the quality with which they said it attracted readers/fans/followers far beyond their immediate sphere of influence.
I think what we’re seeing right now is a natural shift rather than some sort of changing of the guard. For every couple of hundred bloggers who have abandonded blogging and embraced other ways of getting their news, views and opinions across, there are bloggers who just ain’t going anywhere else yet.
More importantly – and this is something which seems to have been overlooked – their readers aren’t going anywhere else either. Sure, there are other mediums competing for readers’ time and attention, but those readers keep coming back again and again and again to those bloggers/writers who provide them with the news, views and opinions they value.
In time, blogging will morph into something else – and again, it will be a natural shift rather than some radical all-off-this-bandwagon-now move – and those bloggers will move in that direction and board another micromedia vehicle. And, as long as those people are ‘casting quality news, views and opinions, the readers will probably follow.