I'm currently working on a paper to be presented to the Blogtalk Downunder conference in Sydney in May.
Basically, my thesis that as the blogosphere matures it will increasingly come to resemble 'traditional' media.
I'd really appreciate comments on the synopsis below - either as a comment or an email.
- Do you think my argument is basically sound, or just reactionary crap?
- Do you know of any evidence that supports or undercuts my thesis and key points?]
The problems of maturity.
Can blogging retain its revolutionary fervour?
By Trevor Cook
Proponents of blogging emphasise its revolutionary aspects:
- Makes the creation of news active and participatory rather than passive and disempowering
- Overcomes the didactic approach embedded in much of traditional media, replacing that approach with a more conversational one.
- Low (or non-existent) barriers to entry mean everyone can publish
Yet, as blogging begins to mature as a medium there are reasons to question the extent to which this utopia might be realised.
Four emerging chicanes
1. We, the audience?
Recent survey evidence from the Pew Centre suggests that the size of the audience for blogging is now increasing at a far faster rate than the creation of new blogs. At one level, this is very good news for the future of blogging because audience size equals power and influence. It also means that more bloggers will make at least some money from their blogs and more may be able to make a living from it.
Yet, ‘audience equals power’ is a criticism of old media which blogging was going to subvert by removing the distinction between reader and author. If these audience trends continue then blogs will begin to look like old media with smaller audiences.
Re-inforcing this is the compulsion many (perhaps most) bloggers feel to build their audience. As they build their audiences, they will deprive other bloggers (the long tail) of worthwhile readerships. This will lead to a growing drop-out and many new bloggers will quickly become former bloggers, and once again readers rather than reader / writers.
2. Rigidity: the solidifying online social patterns
Research done by Drezner (Chicago) and others suggests that online relationship patterns closely resemble offline relationships. We already see a pattern emerging where alpha bloggers attract a disproportionately large share of the traffic and new bloggers re-emphasise and solidify these power lines by linking to high-traffic bloggers in preference to low-traffic bloggers. This feature of blogging relationships will also give early bloggers a significant first-mover advantage, solidifying readership patterns and further discouraging new bloggers from starting and low-traffic bloggers from continuing.
3. The corporates move-in: Is blogging becoming a marketing medium?
The Cluetrain Manifesto by Doc Searles and others has encapsulated a code for bloggers which emphasises the virtues of amateurism, honesty and transparency. Although dominant at the moment, how long will this ethos survive the rise of corporate blogs and the use of blogging for marketing, pr and other corporate activities. It is possible that blogging will take the same trajectory as the early Internet itself, as early revolutionary enthusiasm gets substantially displaced by the more prosaic concerns of commerce. If this happens, many bloggers will lose their enthusiasm for a medium which seems to look a fair bit like the old mediums.
4. Content costs money
Finally, blogging is hard work. Fresh, compelling content is the principal driver of audience size. Few people have the time, skills and resources to do this, especially if they have to do it on top of earning an income. The battle to keep creating content over a significant period of time will be an uphill one for many early enthusiasts and we may see more and more fall by the wayside over the next few years.