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:
— Zach Wintersmith (@ZachWeiner) December 19, 2013
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.