The Death of the Blog, Again, Again

Jason Kottke declares the blog dead over at Neiman Journalism Lab, which makes him the umpteenth millionth person to do so. The actual piece is a bit more nuanced than its headline — Kottke notes that the blog is still an integral part of the online experience — but the overall tone of it is that the blog’s day in the sun is done, replaced by things fresher, less “streamy” and otherwise tuned to the Way Kids Do It Today.

A couple of things about this:

1. Kottke’s not wrong. I’ve noted before that I thought the many of the people who had blogs a few years ago were better served by things like Twitter and Facebook, which are easier for most folks to handle and actually do what they wanted their blog to do — i.e., keep them in contact with all their friends and family and let them share what they were doing (and also, pictures of their pets and children). I love my blog (hello!) but for the large majority of people, I wouldn’t recommend doing one. Even the closest new analog to the blog — Tumblr — is streamlined and connected in ways a standalone blog isn’t.

This isn’t to say that a blog can’t be useful for the people who have a need or interest in them — they absolutely can be. For the people who want to be able to write longer posts, keep a permanent self-branded outpost, and (importantly) have much more substantial control of their online persona, blogs have no real substitute. I recommend them for writers and other creative folks precisely because they’re your own space, and with a nod to the folks who host me, one of the great things about WordPress is that it’s made having and keeping a blog pretty dead simple. But for your mom, who just wants to keep up with the grandkids? Meh, Facebook is fine.

This doesn’t mean the blog format is actually dead. It does mean that its centrality to online life is substantially diminished. Mind you, this assumes that it actually ever was central, which is somewhat debatable — first there was AOL, then there was online chat, then MySpace and then Facebook/Twitter, along with Snapchat, Tumblr and all other manner of services and spaces, all of which, again, have been better tuned to the person who just wants to be online to see what friends are up to, and announce to the world what’s on the menu for lunch.

What does seem true no matter what is that the community of personalities that existed around blog seems to have substantially dispersed — the people who were best known as bloggers are off doing other things now or at least have their presence as personalities less tied to their blogs. I can certainly speak to that; I am these days rather better known as an author than as a blogger. I’m not the only one who has seen their “portfolio of presence” expand or at least diversify. I’m fine with that, personally — I was long ambivalent about calling myself a blogger because I thought was I did (writing) shouldn’t be defined by its medium.

2. What’s more important now, in the middle part of the second decade of the twenty-first century, appears to be an aggregate presence online — the ability to speak (or at least to be seen) across a number of online platforms. Or as Zach Weiner put it when he, Warren Ellis and I were chatting about it on Twitter:

How one does this is the interesting bit. Personally, I keep the blog here active, because it’s congenial to how I want to be online, but I also find myself participating very actively on Twitter, because that medium is also but differently congenial to my personality. Other media — Facebook, Google Plus, Tumblr — I have a presence on but am otherwise less active with, since at the end of the day I have to, you know, write books and experience the real world with my family. I have to pick and choose. But the point Zach makes — that you have to go to your audience rather than simply hang out an online shingle and wait for it come to you — is a valid one. Personally speaking I don’t find doing this particularly difficult since I like farting around online anyway.

Also, I suspect in many ways a distributed presence online for a writer or creative person is a little bit like having multiple revenue streams, which is to say, a way to buffer yourself against one stream dipping or drying up. For example, this year, my blog readership looks like it will end up lower than it was last year — about 7.5 million recorded visits for the year, as opposed to 8.1 million in 2012. I attribute this to a couple of month-long “semi-hiatuses,” during which I posted less while I was writing books or on tour, a theory borne out by looking at the monthly numbers (November, which was one of those months, had the lowest visitorship of any month in two years). However, this year I also added 15,000 Twitter followers, most of whom (so far as I can tell) are actual real live people and not Twitter bots, and my Facebook and Google Plus public pages also saw growth.

(I should note 7.5 million visits still means 2013 is Whatever’s second best year ever, so I’m not exactly panicking over here in that regard. But again, the fact that my other online presences showed substantial growth works as an offset in any event.)

I don’t see myself ever not doing Whatever, because at the end of the day I want to control my own space online and say what I want to be able to say, unencumbered by character limits or SEO-driven advertisements in the sidebars or any other sort of distraction. But if it turns out that it’s just one part of an overall online presence portfolio, well, that’s no different than it ever was (remember (or don’t) my other online presences as GameDad, MediaOne’s music reviewer, AOL’s “Blog Mayor” or AMC’s science fiction film columnist) and it’s part and parcel of the fact that my presence is distributed in other ways as well — namely that in addition to writing the blog, I write books, work in other media, and even do appearances in the real world from time to time.

So, yes. I suspect I and Whatever will continue on even after this latest death of the blog. At least until writing it stops being fun for me and/or I decide to just stop writing. Short of no longer drawing breath, I don’t see either of those as very likely.

48 thoughts on “The Death of the Blog, Again, Again

  1. As long as the lights are on, I’m still going to post to my LiveJournal. Same deal. It’s as much a place for me to work out ideas as it is for readers who like to hear what those ideas are.

  2. The blog is dead to those who have 10-second attention spans. But just think what this article and the one on self-loathing below it would look like chopped up on tiny little tweets. All the effect, and all the information, in both would be lost.
    Blogs are no more dead than novels. It just that some people lack the ability to appreciate them.

  3. I think what has died is the mercifully brief phase of history where the concept of a blog carried sufficient cachet that things that aren’t or shouldn’t be blogs, like professional news outlets, branded themselves as blogs or mimicked blog conventions. So, y’know, yay.

  4. My blog is my creative outlet where I can do anything I want. One thing I have been doing lately is adding more photography. Long live the blog! – in whatever form it morphs into.

  5. Not that anyone other than friends ever read my blog but I have found myself blogging a lot less than I used to. I would often write short paragraph length entries about something that I found interesting and friends would make a comment on the blog or email me or post a short blog post on the same topic to answer me, knowing I would read it. Now that same short blog post is a Twitter/Facebook post and friends reply on those services. I use my blog now for, as you said, longer posts or photographs.

  6. Glad to hear you plan on keeping this blog, Sir Scalzi. I do not do Facebook, Twitter, or any of the other social media applications; chalk that up to sheer laziness mostly. So if you are not here, then I just have to watch for your books as they are published in tree form.

  7. Blogging isn’t dead, instead, the “shiny object syndrome” of blogging has finally worn off. As things progress, we’ll probably be talking about “Twitter is dead” or “social media is dead” in 10 – 15 years, too.

    Plus…

    No one helps to make the creation and maintenance of a blog easy. Twitter, Facebook, etc… are much easier to use than creating, connecting to people with, and publishing a blog.

    Humans follow the path of least resistance, and right now, social media tools make it easy to connect and share stories, which is what we humans have wanted to do all along.

  8. Yeah. What it means for something to be “dead” in pop culture is that there is no longer so much mindless momentum associated with the area that any well-capitalized idiot can double their money in it.

  9. I’ve been thinking over my own need for “social media” lately. I don’t have a Twitter account, I don’t use MySpace, Tumblr, or any other social media site, except for Facebook, and I was using that back when it first started as a college kids’ network. I only used it because several of my friends from Toronto were using Facebook to post pictures, etc., of things in which we had a common interest – specifically, kendo (the martial art of Japanese swordfighting). As I’ve watched Facebook expand into what it is today, I’ve gotten more and more leery of being on it, but it’s also served as a means of reconnecting with friends that I had not contacted in years. I’m getting concerned about Facebook’s privacy policies, especially when I consider how Zuckerberg is a fanatic about HIS privacy, but not that of the Facebook users. Of course, we users aren’t paying for the service, his advertisers are, so you get what you pay for, I guess. I’d like to find a social medium that doesn’t require me to wade through a bunch of ads that seem to follow me around the internet like parasites.

    Anyway, most of what I read from you comes in my news feed to my email, and I can read it at leisure, and if I feel there’s a need for a comment, I can connect and make that comment. I happen to enjoy your blog here mainly because it ISN’T intrusive. You give me the choice either to read or to ignore the entries, and for that, I thank you.

    I, for one, would lament and mourn the demise of this blog.

  10. Our host writes:

    I can certainly speak to that; I am these days rather better known as an author than as a blogger.

    Does your case really reflect the general case? I’d suggest you’re better known as an author because you’ve become fairly well known as an author and have a best seller rather than because people who used to read your blog just buy your books instead.

    Blogs are dead in the same sense that web pages are dead.

    My way of looking at it is that blogs, like dedicated web pages, should be about something. that something might be commentary, or a repository of information about some subject, or some other thing that people visit because they want to see it.

    I have a personal web page. It mostly contains photos and hasn’t been updated in years. I built it when everyone was doing it. Since then everyone went to blogs and then to Facebook. When Geocities shut down, how many of its pages had gone for years without being updated?

    The world still has web pages, we have just learned that they aren’t a particularly convenient method for updating friends and family.

  11. I just started a blog called ‘My Last Blog Post” to capture the last post of long-gone bloggers. The blog community definitely seemed more active and relevant years ago. I think a lot of people jumped on board in hopes of transitioning to something bigger (books, career boost, etc..) I think of blogs as capturing moments in time, like written letters that give future historians insights into regular people’s lives and thoughts. The biggest problem for me is finding blogs that are still “live” after the blogger stops posting. Most are dead links, which is sad.

  12. Heh, as someone who doesn’t really have much to say (dropped out of art school for same reason: techniques can be learned but having a message? That’s hard!), Tumblr’s easy Reblog is perfect fit for me. It’s the electronic equivalent of defining myself through brand names and stickers but hey, not all of us are original. Only took a couple weeks use of tumblr before I ditched my LiveJournal.

  13. For what it’s worth, I’ve read David Brin’s blog for over a decade but have yet to read any of his fiction. With our host, books led me to his blog.

  14. It’s not that blogs are dead, it’s that we’ve don’t have to use our blogs for things they aren’t really good at these days. Before Twitter and Facebook existed, my blog was a mix of family type stuff, one liners and quick links, and my more thought out longer posts. Today only the longer posts are part of the blog. The one liners go to Twitter, and the pictures of the kids are on Facebook. Facebook, for all it’s security holes, is still more secure than a public blog and thus a better place to post stuff of interest primarily to family and known friends. Likewise, Twitter is a better tool for a quick link share that I don’t really care if I can find again in 3 months.

  15. This seems related to the general technology hype cycle to me (wikipedia has the classic graph for those who haven’t seen it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hype_cycle).

    The hype phase of blogging may be past. We may even be in the trough of disillusionment. But as you point out, John, there is real utility in blogging, and there may be another uptick in blogging as more people come to understand and appreciate what that real utility is.

  16. Agree on most of your thoughts. The nice thing now is that one has choices for using various media. It’s all there: Twitter, FB, blogs and email. Blogs are still very much alive per the reasons you’ve given. They provide a much deeper outlet for exposition.

  17. I keep my blog going though it’s sporadic because I’m just not that kind of blogger. I don’t feel the need or pressure to update it very often (I just posted my first post there in almost two months). I do like Twitter a lot so that’s where I lurk the most.

  18. John, however much I may occasionally disagree with your politics, you are among the best out there on analyses like this. In fact, I’ll just go ahead and say that you *are* the best out there.

    One question, though: I’ve noticed that you don’t have much of a presence on YouTube. Have you considered vlogging? Is this a medium that you’ve deliberately avoided, or something that you just haven’t gotten around to yet?

  19. I used to have a Blogger blog, but dropped it when they required more ways of getting their hooks into you, about 6 years ago. Meanwhile, I have found several author blogs with active communities and a couple of listservs that satisfy my minor need to connect. I have a currently inactive Twitter account, tried to sign up for Facebook but failed (grateful for that!), and really don’t need more ways to spend my time online.

  20. Todd:

    vlogging: It doesn’t hold that much interest to me, I have to say. There are people who do it really well, who I enjoy watching, but I don’t know if I would be interested in investing that much effort into it.

  21. I have a Blogger blog since May 2005 and I’m still pretty active there. It mostly focusses on my interests in history and archaeology and my travels to collect photos of old castles, Roman remains and whatever history-related fun I can catch with my camera. So the blog is a mix of illustrated essays and photos posts with a few lines of text, depending on how much time I have to prepare something. I got a faithful readership for years but it is not so easy to attract new followers. Those I get I find from commenting on other blogs, not via Twitter (I thought that would work out better) or like media. The blog format is perfect for what I want to do, and The Lost Fort will hopefully remain active for the next 8 years.

    I recently got me a Twitter account but after the ‘shiny’ faded off, I became less active there; there a days I don’t even open it. But I still use it to alert my followers to new blog posts and some other interesting things I found on the net, and sometimes I engange in a conversation. No Facebook, Tumblr and whatever else. My other online activities are a writer chat, and I post occasionally on Westeros and Malazan and of course, on other blogs.

  22. We all know the truth. The real reason you keep a blog is because it’s a requirement of membership in the Feminist Diversity Cabal.

  23. Well, your blog led me to your books, which have given me great delight. I, for one, enjoy reading your blog because of the coherent and intelligent thought you put into it. 140 characters is not enough (I don’t do Twitter because it’s just annoying, sorry to say). I move through life more slowly than the average person, perhaps, but I like taking the time to actually think through the ideas I am confronted with — adds value directly to my life. So thank you.

  24. My blog is about to turn 10. But the several times daily posting of whatever I see or think has migrated to Twitter and Facebook. Instead, now I gather up all those posts once a month and use them as a rough draft to write about the last month from a personal and family viewpoint. The added value is I blog on a WordPress instance on my personal domain, so I don’t have to worry about mergers and code changes deleting my past from the ether.

  25. Ah yes, the death of blogging, which has been declared since, what, 2005, 2006? Only a few years after we actually started having blogging as a common activity really. (WordPress was started in 2003, for example.) I remember that first giant destroyer of blogging as the Internet favorite communication — MySpace. What all these proclamations really mean is that the excitement of bloggers getting salaries from corporations or magazines, getting advertising money or book deals — all of which still occurs — wore off as a hot trend to be reported in the media. Which meant it was dead, of course, especially as only the commercial profit uses of blogging were considered important. That someone might want to blog about their knitting projects or vacation trips every once in a blue moon is not very tech exciting.

    I don’t really consider Tumblr and similar sites to be different from blogging. Yes, it is mixing blogging with more interactive community discussion forums, but that’s not particularly different from people having conversations across their blogs, guesting, commenting and pingbacking each other on topics from problems at conventions to the feasibility of surviving an invasion in Disneyland’s Cinderella’s castle. It’s basically following through on a concept half-conceived by LiveJournal and other sites. I also consider Twitter to be simply a briefer, more open linked form of social media like Facebook and Reddit, which also uses blogging and the old listservs, which blogging built off of originally.

    As for the kids today, they at first avoided Twitter like the plague, preferring social media like Facebook and leaving Twitter to older adults. Then Facebook became too full of their parents, so they migrated to Tumblr and other sites, got into pictures and photos. Then their cellphones became their world and texting the most important thing, so they migrated to Twitter after all, which is exactly like texting, just on a really big party line. Whatever they do from there will depend on what the phone companies do and how integrated all the devices we use become. (If the electricity stays on.) But given that I just bought my daughter a baggy onesie pj (longjohns,) which has become the rage (again after a few decades) among teens, along with ugly Christmas sweaters, I don’t really see teens as being a good indicator of what the Internet is going to look like a year from now.

    Twitter has a lot of useful commercial PR applications, so I figure it will stick around. But so will blogging, websites, news digests, video sites, places you can put your family photos and phones. Also pencils.

  26. I _HATE_ facebook because there is no good way to control the content. If I relied on FB to get to you and the other blogs I read I would have to filter through a lot of crap to see what I want & put up with FB deciding from time to time I don’t really wan to see your stuff but desperately NEED to see a photo of what my niece had for lunch. There are blogs that shifted to FB (and even one that went from FB to google+) that I just don’t see much of any more. Please never give up this blog for those really bad places.

    I do not see Twitter as a useful alternative to a blog. It has its place but imagine trying to have any of the conversations you have held here on twitter – it’s not happening.

  27. I appreciate places where the conversation is moderated. To that end, I love the conversations that happen on my blog – I’ve created a safe place for women in my sport (BJJ) to discuss things, and I get the chance to delete horrible and rude comments. Because of this, I get higher quality comments. I just can’t get the quality of conversation on twitter, on Facebook, or on any other medium other than forums.

    Agreed, though – I do miss some of the community that blogs like Livejournal had, but within my particular demographic – women BJJ bloggers – we essentially have our own community – supporting one another with comments and conversation. And for my needs – helping women new to my sport – it’s perfect because it’s easy to search and find what they’re looking for – something difficult or impossible in the other forms of social media.

  28. Just reading your post made me tired. Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Redtt, MySpace, Pinterest – there’s always some way to say something quickly, some way to respond with the witty, pithy comment. But…

    I want to create. I want write stuff with depth, I want to present my artwork to the world. I don’t want to *market*. To me, social media is mostly about self-promotion, i.e. marketing of self. The time I spend on social media maintaining a “presence” is time I’d prefer to spend on my personal creativity, which doesn’t lend itself to the witty, pithy comment or meme. So if all those social media sites just bit the dust, it wouldn’t bother me at all. And if blogging died with them – well okay. Too bad.

    I still want my work to be found on bookshelves and hanging on walls. I’m old fashioned that way.

  29. As an academic who is thinking about online communication, I think you’re pointing indirectly at a major flaw in today’s content architecture: that content is effictively “owned” by the distributors instead of by the creators. We think of twitter as a unit, and decide whether to produce/consume on twitter. It doesn’t have to be this way: really, I’ve made the decision to be a consumer of John Scalzi, and I’d like to be able to do that independent of the medium. RSS was an early example of this, that let you filter and aggregate content from many producers to get the stream of just what you wanted; I foresee a future where there will be a similar aggregation mechanism for our more modern content distribution tools. This will be very disruptive for current content distributors; when you no longer have to visit their site to get their content, their eyeballs revenue model breaks.

  30. As someone who also has a blog on WordPress, I find it incredibly useful as a platform for being creative and centering my whole Web presence. Twitter and Facebook are how I stay social, but my blog is where I shine.

  31. Long stuff and public-ish stuff here on the WordPress.

    Short stuff, following people, sharing silly links/family photos, stuff for smaller groups or privately: Google Plus, which is Facebook minus the stoopid and much easier to control who gets to see what.

    There’s never been more than a few people following my blog anyway, so the fact that the people who are looking to get famous and rich aren’t blogging means squat to me.

  32. I see my wordpress blog as a significant part of a chunk of my online presence: its what I use for discussions in the sci-fi and books space. Twitter is fine, but that’s closely linked to my real (and thus professional) identity.

    Personal stuff is still on my livejournal. Suddenly I feel old…

  33. It’s only a matter of time before blogs become retro cool like mustaches and 70s fashion. Just wait, all the hip kids will have one.

  34. Blogs are dead, they say, and YOUR blog specifically is an absoultely useless waste of storage space and transmission capacity (as I’m certain other people with other blogs – RSHDwaAMC! would no doubt contend).

    Yet, somehow, it had brought people, including ME, here to read, comment, interact, and (most important to a professional writer, I would imagine) LEARN ABOUT THIS GUY WHO WRITES GOOD STORIES THAT I WANT TO READ.

    Keep blogging, or not, as you see fit… just don’t stop keeping me entertained in exchange for some of my money!

  35. David Karger: “I foresee a future where there will be a similar aggregation mechanism for our more modern content distribution tools. This will be very disruptive for current content distributors; when you no longer have to visit their site to get their content, their eyeballs revenue model breaks.”

    So then creators’ stuff will be all over the Web via aggregate services who don’t pay the creator anything for it while racking in advertising and subscription revenue off of the stuff they took for free, and the creators will get even less for it than they do now. The distributors will go out of business, removing high profile venues for creative content, limiting creators’ options and revenue opportunities further. Creators will stop creating on-line because they can’t afford it, ceding the Internet to the advertisers and corporate hired writers. The servers and the aggregate services will decide that they want more money from customers for allowing access to the Internet and advertising stuffed content (already happening,) and customers will have no choice but to pay up as Internet access becomes more and more critical to being able to function in the economy, get a job, access educational materials, etc. Free blogging and websites will be gone, because even though it creates content, the sites know they can charge fees and still get content from sufficient upper economic levels.

    Any free content you can get access to will have you be mined as data for the marketing industry, (already happening,) with them tailoring creative content to a narrower and narrower generalized range and a few trendy niches, cutting out creators who don’t fit. Information shifts more and more to cloud networks whose access is controlled by servers and service companies for which they can charge more and more of a premium. People hunker down on the corners of the Net in increasingly polarized networks, with a few large public connections. International links become expensive as band width, satellites and electric power are dearer costs passed on to consumers. Creators who do try to work the Web are prey to Internet brokers who spring up, promising contacts to get creators stuff in prominent areas and/or advertising for fees and who may or may not deliver.

    I don’t like this future for creators or the rest of us. Find me another one. :)

  36. Blogs do one thing in particular that none of these other media do: let people find you via overall aggregation of your content.

    I get half my blog’s hits from people finding some of my older, durable-content posts via one search engine or another. And some of those people will proceed to browse around for quite a while, particularly on the collections, like the DIY Recording Studio Buildout and Music in the Post-Scarcity Environment series, but not just those.

    And the more posts of this sort I make, the more I get those kinds of hits.

    Tumblr – it’s possible, in theory, but I’m not really seeing it in practice. Twitter? Ha, that lasts five minutes. Facebook? Not much better, and the more they decide what people shouldn’t see – particularly from band/group pages, which have become utterly farcical – the less useful for that in particular it gets.

    So this long-tail effect is a real benefit that so far I am only seeing out of the standalone blog. I don’t see any of these services replicating that value… at all, really.

    Therefore, I blog, then replicate content (Tumblr, Livejournal, Dreamwidth) or links with summaries (Twitter, Facebook, Google+). Then, back on the blog, I’ll link in comments to discussions that get started on each service. I don’t know if that last step gains me much, but It’s weird seeing discussion move around over time, because it certainly does.

  37. Blogs are good focus points for making available potentially dense meaningful transfers of expertise which are useful to thoughtful people with attention spans and needs in some specialty. There is also of course some lower quality blogs and those which express view points rather than technical expertise. Lastly there are combinations of these and rants. Like people there are combinations.

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