Where have all the blogs gone?

This is something I’ve been meaning to post about for a while now and that has come up in a couple of different places recently:  is blogging, well, “over?”

No, but I do think it’s different than it was.

The other day, Bradley Beck asked on the tech-rhet emailing list if blogs were passe.  I riffed off of a comment from Sarah Robbins about how it’s important to concentrate on the technology of blogs and less on the genre.  This has been something I’ve thought about for a while now.  In a couple of different talks (and hopefully in a book or article or something one of these days), I’ve made the comparison between blogs and the way that Scott McCloud talks about comics in Understanding Comics. McCloud says when we think of comics in terms of genre, we potentially limit its possibilities and in usually unfavorable ways– super-heroes, the “funny pages,” and so forth.  But McCloud’s definition of comics is purposefully broad and studiously not about genre in order to account for the potential of comics.

The same is true with blogging.  If blogging is defined as a genre– diary-style entries, journals, op-ed pieces, “what I had for lunch today” updates– then the argument that blogging is passe is persuasive. Or I guess another way of putting it is we now have so-called “Micro-Blogging vs. Mega-Blogging,” as Matt Mullenweg put it on his blog. Mullenweg says the new forms of social media that foster short posts (Facebook and Twitter, most notably) are complimentary to blogging, that it is not a matter of “either/or” but “and/and.”

Well, I’m all for “and/and” styled inclusion, but I don’t think this quite right.  I can think of a number of folks in my Google reader feed who seem to have given up blogging but who still post various updates on Facebook or Twitter.  This might be an over-generalization, but I think that microblogging formats are more comfortable/easy spaces to share links and to write the personal/”what I had for lunch today” sort of posts.  The first place I posted a link to a Flickr set of our Thanksgiving trip to South Carolina wasn’t here; it was on Facebook.  That just made sense to me.  When I get done with this post, I’ll probably post a link to it to both Facebook and Twitter, and, to the extent that anybody reads this, I bet a lot of those readers come from those micro-services.

Also in the over-generalization department, I think people who blogged as a way of sharing personal information and links have migrated more to Facebook and Twitter. Sure, some people stop blogging because they have other things to do or they just generally run out of gas (in the previously mentioned tech-rhet conversation, Nick Carbone described this as a lack of pluck).  But I think a lot of people have given up entirely or slowed down on blogging because microblogging works better for “micro” thoughts.

It’s also worth noting that this topic and these various links came from an electronic mailing list, which suggests  maybe that format isn’t quite dead yet.  As I wrote in my “When Blogging Goes Bad” piece a while back:

In the end, I think this student made use of the emailing list in this instance because she understood something about the difference between a blog and an emailing list long before I did. If you have a piece of writing that you want to “deliver” or “publish” as a more or less finished text, put it on a blog. If you have something to say to a particular audience in order to enter into a discussion with them, put it on a mailing list.

I guess I still think I’m right. :-)  Bradley posted this to the tech-write mailing list because of its particular audience and because of the need to get an answer to a question.  He did not post it to his blog, where the number of potential readers and respondents is a wide variable, and didn’t post it to Facebook, I suspect because of the limited space and because it’s a question that doesn’t have the trivial feel of most Facebook posts.

Blogging, in contrast, is still a longer and “writerly” form.  I agree with what Dickie Selfe and others said on tech-rhet about blogging being a form of “data base” writing since that’s literally what happens:  content is separated from presentation HTML, CSS, some PHP, etc.) into a database of some sort (MySQL in the case of this blog– don’t ask me how it literally works), and then reassembled with software like WordPress (and don’t ask me how that works, either).  That is what makes the technology and form interesting to me because it can facilitate and support a lot more than a diary or an update on a sandwich.

But beyond the technology and form, as important as that is, I think there’s something about the writing potential of blogging and how that is different from microblogging formats.  I can think of at least a dozen books that came out of blogs; I have a hard time seeing a book coming out of the “twittersphere” that is anything but a stunt.

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