2006: Year of The Vanishing Blogger

The First Age of blogging – the age of novelty – is coming to an end.

It was fun, wasn’t it? The bloggers who blogged about blogging, the apoplectic glee over the beta releases of innocuous software tools, the autoerotic joy of being an “A-lister.” The professional communicators who urged their peers to start blogging, only to skewer them in a global display of schaedenfreude when they failed to follow some unwritten rule of blog etiquette.

Oh, and all the PR bloggers who now thought they were journalists because they were getting “pitched” stories, and then publicly complained about receiving poorly crafted or off-topic pitches – the same complaint made by journalists since the invention of the byline. I’ll miss that the most.

All good things must come to an end. The First Age was great, but now it’s time to move on.

From Novelty to Utility
2006 is the year when blogging moves from novelty into the “utility” phase, where the mere act of blogging is subsumed by what is being published, as well as how to find, use and participate in that information.

Blogging has produced a dizzying amount of content. It’s online to find, provided you have the patience, tenacity and time to look for it. Because most people also have jobs and only a basic level of technical skill, establishing some logical order is paramount for self-publishing to realize greater impact.

Already we can see this trend toward aggregation and organization of blog news and commentary. Tagging is a powerful tool that allows creators to categorize their own content. Commercial blog “networks” are being formed and expanded – Gawker Media, Weblogs, Inc., and Pajamas Media are just a few. Sites like J-Log and Corante find the best blog posts about specific topics and put them in one place – yes Virginia, there are still editors in the blogosphere. And then there are the Huffington Post and Truthdig, not traditional blogs but not traditional mainstream media, either.

This doesn’t mean fewer people will start their own blogs – on the contrary, I expect the meteoric growth of blogs and self-publishing to continue (this includes My Space, Gather and other social networking sites). People will still gossip, share recipes and debate “Lost” plotlines – and some will publish news and share their expertise on any number of topics, either by blogging themselves or by commenting, starting and joining conversations (blogging is still the ultimate “social” media – without links and conversations, blogs are just brochures).

But eventually, individual blogs will be less important, and likely less visible, than the content published by the creators and the conversations that ensue.

Is Cathy Seipp a blogger or a writer for Pajamas Media? Will that distinction matter as long as she attracts readers – more importantly, readers that advertisers want to reach? Bloggers are learning that they are not only more visible but also more financially appealing to business if they band together. Or as Spock would say, the good of the many is more important than the good of the few or the one.

(By the way, that was my first Star Trek reference in more than 80 posts – that’s got to be some kind of blogger record.)

No More Bloggers
As technology becomes more essential, it becomes more invisible – and when everyone is blogging, there are no more “bloggers,” just people interacting in ways they never before could have imagined. After all, someone who talks on a telephone isn’t called a “phoner,” any more than someone who communicates via a blog today will be called a “blogger” tomorrow.

“Bloggers” will become writers, publishers, producers, filmmakers and multicasters. More mainstream media will use blogs and more “just folks” will become part of larger citizen media publications such as Backfence or other hyper-local enterprises like Muncie Free-Press, the Missourian or Bayosphere.

The perception of blogging and blogs will change, too. Mainstream media will be less cynical and defensive (funny what loss of audience and revenue will do), and new efforts to marginalize inaccurate or untrustworthy content will move blogs up from the kids table of online discourse. As Jonathan Landman, Deputy Managing Editor at the New York Times, said in a memo to his staff: “Some blogs are lousy. So are some newspapers. Some blogs reject journalism. Some practice it.”

I agree. Some blogs are good, some are bad, and in 2006 we will pay more attention to banishing the bad and rewarding the good.

Rejoice. The Second Age has begun.

11 thoughts on “2006: Year of The Vanishing Blogger

  1. Great stuff Gary. With you all the way.
    Except – it would have been even better if you had added “Here in the United States” at the beginning of every paragraph.
    ‘You’ may be heading for the Second Age of Blogging where you are sitting but for many people, eg. here in the UK, the Novelty Stage has still to run its course.

  2. So many blogs are really just sloppily crafted promotions for one thing or another. Thanks for the observations, on point and you reinforce my thoughts about the blogs that are really ‘flogs’.

  3. Once again, you cut to the chase and keep us focused on what a blog really is: another communication tool and not some enthralling new technology that has commercial value or is all that newsworthy or simply a random act of “journalism.” I love the your point that people who use phones are not “phoners” anymore than people who blog are “bloggers.” Does that mean because I have a website as well that I am a “websiter”? If blogs help people make sense of their world, then their value is immeasurable. And beauty is indeed in the eye of the beholder. All the elitist crap that I see regarding blogging and technology from those who are now on top in the “blogosphere” is meaningless to those who want to show Aunt Lizzie’s pictures on a trip to Yosemite. They just want to have a conversation and they’re excited about it. Thanks again for another cogent and timely essay.

  4. Neil — You are absolutely correct, shame on me for the narrow focus, my European friends and clients will not let me live that down anytime soon 🙂 Why do you think blogging has been slow to pick up steam in the UK? Europe is much more advanced that the US with regard to SMS/text messaging, as well as mobile technology overall, so we have a lot of catching up to do there. Thanks for the comment and the clarification.

  5. There’s no simple answer, Gary, but the strength of the UK press probably has something to do with it. We’re still slavishly consuming rather than contributing. No other country has a newsstand quite like ours. Or a popular loyalty to newspapers which almost equates with supporting your favourite football team (some people would rather eat their own feet than buy the Daily Telegraph or News of the World). However, as Murdoch and others have realised, regardless of the numbers of copies sold – and even if the advertising future didn’t look as bleak as a Charles Dickens prison scene – the influence of the mainstream press is waning. Or at least that’s what I tell my clients. And that offers a great opportunity for citizen generated content.
    Ergo, there’s a big bright future for blogging over here. But like I said, we’ve still got a long way to go to catch up with you lot.

  6. I agree. Yet, every new technology or other novelty has its penetration statistics. The “bloggers” are the early adopters, while the rest of the population is the masses that follow slower. So looking from that perspective, the process of the vanishing blogs described here is a normal one.
    Still it’s always hard to give up on uniqueness, especially when it comes to the mystery and elusiveness lying behind the nick ‘bloggers’.

  7. Hey Gary- Thanks for calling-out Gather.com! At Gather, we are taking a different approach, I think, from the “group of selected bloggers” (Pajamas, Huffington Post, etc). We let anyone publish, rely on community organization, then let the Gather community identify the best of what is written through quality rankings and traffic.
    We see this bottom-up/community driven editorial process as equally important to the bottom-up/community driven content creation that has made the blogosphere interesting. We also think it’s the only way to truly go hunting for interesting stuff out there. Editors can only read so much.
    Anyway, I’m really glad you signed-up for a Gather.com account. If you want to cross post content on your Gather account from belowthefold, we not only allow it, we encourage it. Thanks, in any case, for checking us out!

  8. Please tell me the typo in this sentence was intentional:
    “– yes Virginia, there and still editors in the blogosphere.”

  9. Brian, no it wasn’t intentional, but pretty darn funny in hindsight 🙂 Thanks for proving my point that there are editors in the blogosphere, and for catching the goof. I’ve made the correction to “are still editors…”

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