I was digging through some of my old columns the other day, trying to see if I had predicted anything right. Here’s what I had to say 10 years ago this month, about a new and still obscure habit called blogging:
I’d like to think that blogs do what the much vaunted portal of the dotcom boom failed to do: collate, filter and present information from other sources, alongside comment. Bloggers — those that blog — will be respected as folk who aren’t journalists, or experts in their field, but have sufficient knowledge and experience to serve as informal guides to the rest of us hunting for stuff on the World Wide Web.
There’s not much money in this, though doubtless they’re likely to upset the media barons who realize that their carefully presented, graphics-strewn home pages are being bypassed by blog-surfers stopping by only long enough to grab one article. But that may be the future: The editor that determines the content of our daily read may not be a salaried Webmaster or a war-weathered newspaper editor, but a bleary-eyed blogger in his undershirt willing to put in the surfing time on our behalf.
I called it, to the bemusement of my friends and media colleagues, the blogging revolution. I was, it turns out, both right and wrong.
Blogging was huge: so big, in fact, it led to the publisher I was then working for being bought by another, and me looking for another job. Blogging, it turned out, was the spearhead of a much bigger assault on the citadel of the media barons and we all know the results of that. But blogs themselves have themelves been superseded: Those companies that got rich realised that, like the people selling shovels and buckets to gold diggers, it was better to make money from the process of generating content than to actually produce the content itself. Facebook, Amazon and Google, of course, don’t actually produce any of their own content, but they seem to be doing well monetizing the distribution of it.
But that doesn’t mean blogging is dead. Although no one got into trouble for suggesting it: A survey by the University of Massachusetts shows that for the first time since it started looking five years ago, fewer of the fastest growing companies of the Fortune 500 are blogging—in 2010 half were, and now only 37% are. Pew found something similar among younger people.
Of course, blogs were never about quantity. Indeed, the more blogs there were, the harder it was to follow them. In that sense, microblogging—twitter, Google+, etc, where the emphasis is on a limited number of words—and presence sharing tools such as Facebook, where you’re encouraged not to write at length but simply to share brief thoughts, commentary or media, are an indirect reaction to the explosion of blogs.
Frederic Filloux, a French newspaper man, looked at mainstream media’s use of blogs and calculated recently that "too many blogs hosted by large media brands seem loose or rarely updated."
But I was also wrong about another thing: I thought blogs would serve as guides to the web. And many do: They highlight interesting stuff that others are saying. They curate, in the argot of the web. But actually the really good ones—the ones that keep traditional media on their toes—are those which actually dig up new stuff. They actually break news: Florian Mueller, a German patent consultant and campaigner, runs a blog about the ongoing patent wars between mobile phone manufacturers like Apple and Samsung that is based on original reporting from the court rooms and documents. It’s considered the place to go to learn about and understand what is going on. His twitter feed has 10,000 followers.
Then there’s the anonymous blogger who has doggedly pursued the financial problems of Glasgow Rangers football club for a year, laying out in detail the decline of the club—details the mainstream press seemed reluctant to carry themselves. The blog gets 100,000 page views a day, and the most recent post has more than 3,000 comments. In a recent piece he wrote for the Guardian the author of the blog wrote:
In a world of free information, where most blogs die alone and ignored shortly after birth, the very popularity of rangerstaxcase.com carries a message about modern Scotland. It is a story of the unmet need for the straight story, uncorrupted by the sinister Triangle of Trade that renders most of what passes as news in Scotland’s media outlets as worthless.
There are not many of these examples, but that, perhaps, is the point. These people are amateurs in the sense that they don’t make money from their work, usually. But they’re professional in that they rise or fall on their words—the research they put in, the clarity they bring to the subject—and while the blogging revolution may be over, but if all we’re left with are these blogs, I reckon it was more than worth it.