Thursday, 25 June 2009

Mid-Summer Blog Post

By way of explanation...

I am very aware that I have not written something on the European Elections, as promised in my last post. In my mind I am having a big debate in recent weeks about where this blog is going & what I want from it. Should it concentrate on current, day-to-day stuff or be a bit more about political theory and big ideas? Should I make a serious effort to be more cultural in my posts? What is the blog trying to achieve and who is it meant to reach out to? (Apart from present company!)In short, I need a re-think and I need time to do so. Otherwise there would be no point in carrying on.

I am off to Nice in a couple of weeks time for my annual holidays. Going to visit Monaco (to see if it does seem smaller than Hyde Park!), Cannes and maybe cross over into Italy. One big consequence is that I am currently re-learning my French (1981-86 GCE O Level Grade D; 1998-99 GCSE Grade A) so that I can survive without constantly saying 'Parlez-vous Anglais?'. As I want to make a decent fist of this, it is taking up a lot of my spare time. Consequently, I'm leaving the big and final decisions about my blog until after my grand vacance.

Nice at Night- Bigger Than Hyde Park..

Refreshed and relaxed, I hope to start again seriously with this blogging lark towards the end of July. Before I go, I do hope to post my short story for the latest (well, the first since early 2007) short story competition at work. I will wait until the result (or at least until voting has finished) before it appears here. I think it is good- but I would say that!

In the meantime (and one of the reasons that my guilty conscience forced my to put something up here today), I saw this today about the nature of blogging. It made me think: just by keeping going, I am a blogging success!

The long tail of blogging is dying: The popularity of blogging seems to be fading as people turn to the easier aspects of social media: status updates and tweeting
Charles Arthur, The Guardian, 25 June 2009

Blogging is dying. Actually, no, let me qualify that. The long tail of blogging is dying. I say this with confidence. That confidence is based on two things: my anecdotal, but wide-ranging, analysis of what and how people remark on content from this section, and the surveys carried out by Technorati – which provides the Guardian with the feedback data that appears on our web pages. The interesting question is, what has replaced that blogging?

First, to my anecdotal analysis. Since the relaunch of this section in September 2005, we've included blog pingbacks among the "letters" section, recognising that people might not want to write a letter, or even send us an email (to when they have an opinion about something we've written. Instead, they might write a post on their own blog. Since January 2006 I've automated the process of searching for those blogposts. (Put simply: collect the links from the section – which I do anyway, stored on a MySQL database on my laptop – then input them into blog search engines via a preconfigured script.)

I'd then follow these posts. There were always a certain number of splogs – spam blogs – which simply pick up keywords and dress them with Google AdSense adverts. Boring, but easily ignored. Then there would be the blogs that copied entire articles – annoying (it denies us page views and advertising revenue), though usually they're easily persuaded not to persist. Then there would be those who had read the piece and had comments and insight, which we could extract for inclusion in the Letters and blogs section. Of course, the number of physical letters we received about what appeared here was absolutely tiny: months would go by without any arriving. Email remained the principal source, though blogs quickly began to make up the majority of content.

But recently – over the past six months – I've noticed a new trend: fewer blogs with links, and fewer with any contextual comment. (I'm defining a blog here as an individual site, whether on Blogger or Wordpress or an individual domain, with regular entries.) Some weeks, apart from the splogs, there would be hardly anything. I didn't think we'd suddenly become dull. Nor was it for want of searching: mining for blog comments, I use and Google's Blogsearch.

Where is everybody? Anecdotally and experimentally, they've all gone to Facebook, and especially Twitter. At least with Twitter, one can search for comments via – though it's still quite rare for people to make a comment on a piece in a tweet; more usually it's a "retweet", echoing the headline. The New York Times also noticed this trend, with a piece on 9 June about "Blogs Falling In An Empty Forest", which pointed to Technorati's 2008 survey of the state of the blogosphere, which found that only 7.4m out of the 133m blogs it tracks had been updated in the past 120 days. As the New York Times put it, "that translates to 95% of blogs being essentially abandoned".

I see it: NetNewsWire, my RSS feed reader, has nearly 500 feeds. When one of them hasn't been updated for 60 days, it turns brown, like a plant dying for lack of water. More and more of the feeds I follow are turning brown. Why? Because blogging isn't easy. More precisely, other things are easier – and it's to easier things that people are turning. Facebook's success is built on the ease of doing everything in one place. (Search tools can't index it to see who's talking about what, which may be a benefit or a failing.) Twitter offers instant content and reaction. Writing a blog post is a lot harder than posting a status update, putting a funny link on someone's Wall, or tweeting. People are still reading blogs, and other content. But for the creation of amateur content, their heyday for the wider population has, I think, already passed. The short head of blogging thrives. Its long tail, though, has lapsed into desuetude.

PS Another conundrum I am wrestling with is how to integrate my Facebook postings and musings with those of this blog...Tootle pip for the mo!

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