Tag Archives: Blogging

The Rise and Fall of Blogging, Twitter and Facebook

A lot of people ask me whether they should blog. Usually I give them the stock answer: blog because you’ve got something to say, because you feel you’ve got to write, and because you want to connect to other people on the same subject. But now I think I’d add another suggestion: don’t bother.

Here, in a nutshell is a history of blogging: a few years back someone invented the idea of software that would make it really easy to add text and links to a website. It could also add them atop the existing material, so the fresh, new stuff was on top, not the bottom. Blogging was born.

Geeks were of course the first bloggers, and while political blogging is now hugely influential, it’s geeks who have led the pack, adding innovations like voice, video, and mobile blogging (where you can blog from lots of different devices, like phones.) Geeks define the way blogging is going outside political blogging, for the simple reason that geek blogging tends to branch out into other subjects, whereas political blogging is mainly political (more like pamphleteering, I’d say.)

Which is why blogging is now changing. In the past year it’s started to morph into something else. There’s been a rise in something called microblogging (sometimes called tumblelogs), where services allow you and me to post and share little snippets of information about ourselves, whether it’s what we’re doing, thinking, reading or listening to, where we are or who we’re talking to. The best known of these is Twitter, but there are others: Jaiku, Pownce, for example.

These microblogs may not look much like blogs – they’re just streams of 150-character consciousness, from the mundane to the slightly less mundane, to which other users subscribe — but for a lot of people they perform the same function: link them into a broader social network where they can both broadcast their doings and find out what others are doing too. As we in Asia found with SMS, North America has found that an enforced limit on the number of letters you can use in a message is a blessing, not a curse.

Twitter et al have not been for everybody. But as with most technology, its usage has evolved into a new medium. Technology rarely replaces another in direct succession, but creates a new category of its own, as users make it their own (or reject it.) Old technologies might fall by the wayside, but rarely because another technology replaced it overnight.)

So with Twitter. Twitter did lots of things, but probably its most lasting impact was to push blogging away from writing and more into connecting. Most people read blogs because they wanted to feel connected to other people by reading what they were thinking. But it’s time consuming, and as blogs proliferated, and as blog posts tended to get longer, readers had less and less time to read these things. Twitter made a perfect alternative: a palatable buffet of updates, without the indigestion that comes from having to read blogs.

The next step in this process (and all this is happening within the space of a few months) has been the rise of Facebook. Facebook started out as U.S. college yearbook type application in 2005, but last year opened up to all users of he Internet. In the past couple of months I’ve noticed a big jump in the number of new users, at least in my little neck of the woods.

What’s interesting about this is that Facebook, among many of its features, focuses again on what I would pompously call the “networked awareness” aspect of blogging and twittering. The most important part of Facebook is becoming someone else’s friend, which then allows you to see what the other person is saying (whether in their blog, or in a one line ‘status message’ on their homepage.) There’s nothing new about this — the music-oriented MySpace does it, the business-oriented LinkedIn does it – but Facebook revolves around the something we all have in common: a past.

In other words, we build our Facebook address book around people we used to work with, people we went to school with, people who are already in our other address books. Enter your previous jobs and schools and you can easily find familiar faces and names, and add them to your buddy list. As I’m sure you have found, it’s much easier to connect with someone you already know than someone you don’t.

Not that Facebook is a sort of gallery of the past — it also allows you to connect to people via shared interests, or shared friends, or people you worked with but didn’t know at the time. All of the communication involved in this can be done publicly or privately, and can be done individually or as part of a group. Facebook occupies a middle ground between MySpace and LinkedIn because it’s restrained in design (something that could not be said for most MySpace pages) and because it’s not too businessy, which is what LinkedIn is all about.

So Facebook finds itself sharing part of a wave with Twitter, which in turn shared part of a wave with blogging. In a year we’ve found ourselves moving on from simply blogging to make ourselves heard, to building Facebook pages to reach out to those we’d like to connect to more closely. I’m not a huge fan of Facebook but it does connect me to way more interesting people (and long lost friends) than blogging ever did.

So is blogging dead? Some bloggers like Shel Israel, who co-wrote blogging’s defining book “Naked Conversations“ have noticed a fall in readers in recent months, and his comments have quickly led to another blogging “meme” (an idea that spreads, which is what blogging does well). The truth is that more people are blogging, more people competing for attention (leading to a terrible rise in Shameless Self Promotion, where instead of commenting on other posts in the space provided, a lot of folk simply try to point readers to their own sites.) Blogging long ago reached critical mass: Now it’s reached saturation point, and something has to (to mix a metaphor) give.

So expect things to evolve further. I’m not saying there aren’t some great blogs out there — blogs aren’t just about social networks, they’re also about great writing, and about information, both of which blogs also do very well. But blogs will continue to branch off into new areas as our needs, and the devices we use, evolve.

Blogging in short, never dies: It’s just the start of a road that goes we know not where. So if you’re thinking of blogging, ask yourself why you want to do it, and whether you might not be better off twittering, powncing, jaikuing or facebooking. Or waiting until the next Big Thing. It shouldn’t be long.

The Blogosphere’s Soul Has a Buyer

The blogosphere is reaching its moment of truth sooner than one might have expected — in the form of a website that offers a marketplace for bloggers willing to write about a product in return for money. What’s revealing is the discussion that follows news about PayPerPost.com on TechCrunch — comments that not only bring into sharp relief the, er, varied, attitudes about not only PayPerPost, but other blogs and websites — including TechCrunch itself.

First off, the owner of the service, Ted Murphy, adds his own comment, in which he tries to clarify what the site does and does not do: “Advertisers will post all sorts of Opportunities, from a simple “link back to this site” to product reviews with pictures. Each Opportunity will have different compensation based on the advertiser. It’s up to you to pick the Opportunities that best suit you. If it doesn’t feel right, if you don’t own the product, or if you can’t be honest we ask you to pass on the Opportunity.” As he sees it, it’s a chance for bloggers to “make a buck for all the benefit they provide to companies. Celebrities get paid millions to wear products and be seen with their favorite drink. It’s up to the celebs to choose what they wear and drink and if they are being true to the fans. If they love the product and they can make a buck at the same time everyone wins.”

TechCrunch’s Marshall Kirkpatrick is suitably horrified about the new service, which he says requires not that the payment for coverage be disclosed, but only that PayPerPost.com must approve your post before you are paid: “Is this a bad joke designed to torpedo the blogosphere’s credibility in general? It doesn’t appear to be. If we’re all trying to negotiate a space between Hollywood and mainstream journalism, this is taking things way too far towards the most insipid parts of Hollywood.”

Which is pretty much my response. Murphy’s idea is flawed for a simple reason: If you as a blogger love a product, it’s your lack of financial and professional link with the company behind that product that gives your opinion some weight. That’s why media exists — to pay a salary to people who act as a medium between company, government or individual and the public. The public buys the media product because they believe that what they’re reading/seeing/hearing has some credibility, some independence from the subject they’re covering. As soon as someone acting as a medium accepts money to promote one item, their credibility is shot, not only for that item, but every single other thing they discuss.

What is interesting, though somewhat depressing, is the range of views of those who posted comments. Several of those betrayed a very weird understanding of what mainstream media is. Juan Luis wrote: “I really don’t see any difference with real old media… Or do you really think that advertisers don´t pay for reviews and articles in all sort of magazines,newspapers, tv, radio etc… Has the blogosphere more credibility than the CNN or Car&Driver??” Another: “Do you listen the radio? If you do then you’ve probably heard this type of advertising 1,000 times per day, when the host’s voice tells you about a product or service which they endorse and love. Ever read magazines? Then you’ve seen this kind of coverage all the time– when a major advertiser spends major dough, editorial coverage is all but ensured. Obviously it’s unseemly in many regards, especially if someone is running a tech blog and the advertisers are tech bloggers. But, if this website for example had a post by Marshall or Michael saying that he refi’d his mortgage through Ditech, and he had a positive experience, and that he’s being paid to write this post, I don’t think I would have a real problem with it. Using the cred you’ve gained from blogging to endorse a product is not that awful.”

Others pointed to blog sponsorship and ads as a sign this day has already come: “Product placement is everywhere and it’s already been happening for free in the Blogosphere since its inception. The only difference is that now a handful of people will make a few dollars off it … go to almost any bloggers site and you’ll see an ad already on there, including the sponsors of this page. They pay for ads here becaise it gets traffic – and exposire is what advertisers pay for.” (Sorry, haven’t corrected all the grammar here.) Another: “Why is it ethical to put Google Adwords in your blog, and it’s not ethical to write a paid post from time to time (provided that you openly disclose at the beginning of the post that the post is advertising).”

Others pointed to the widely perceived venality of some bloggers who only write about products that they get freebies of: “And allready there are a lot of bloggers who receive gifts and products to review them.This is the same as paying, or not? Perhaps this could be a more transparent way to get relations between bloggers and advertisers.”

OK. I acknowledge there are some gray areas here, born out of the fact that bloggers need to make money, and advertising is the obvious way to do it. This is no different from old media. What is different is that there are none of the usual Chinese walls that keep editorial and advertising apart (in theory), so that journalists are not influenced by, or even aware of, the advertisers that are buying ads next to their copy. True, these lines can get blurry, especially on radio and in “advertorials”, but they do exist. Blogs that carry ads are not Hollywood stars wearing company products as endorsement; they are a continuation of MSM’s advertising. Every ad is (or should be) clearly marked as sponsorship or ad. Of course, the proof is in the pudding; Will that site be objective about that sponsoring company in its writing, and, if it is, will the sponsor see that as a betrayal of sponsorship?

In MSM, individual journalists are sought after and influenced into writing about a product, but a good journalist — hell, a real journalist — will never write anything other than a fair, detached and balanced review of the product. There is no cash in exchange for reviews in old media; well, none that I know of. If bloggers aspiring to replace old media don’t know that, they need to. Otherwise the blogosphere truly is riding to hell.

There’s another point here. The very debate about this seems to me to be different to the kind of debate we’d have seen in the blogosphere a year or 18 months ago. It’s a much more pragmatic debate now, less utopian, less principled. As one commenter wrote: “If your writing is not objective enough, people are gonna know that you’re probably getting paid, and over time they’ll be less inclined to stay subscribed to your blog: which means that in the end it’ll all balance out.” While I would have said that would have been true a couple of years ago, I’m not so sure now.

The Escalating TrackBack Spam Wars

I’ve been noticing what I think is an upgrade in TrackBack Spam on my blog. Uusally they’re pretty easy to spot — a load of links spattered across some gibberish. But the ones I’ve received today seem to be better, like this one:

Trackback1

Looks innocent enough, right? Except the words are actually mine, from another, unrelated post, and the from link is a pharmaeceutical website. It’s the fourth trackback (update while writing this: sixth; update again, 13th) the site has sent me in the last hour, and each one is a little bit different, always using text from one of my postings. The revamped TypePad trackback notifications give one pause for thought, too: could it be legitimate? Like this one:

A new TrackBack has been submitted to your weblog “loose wire,” on the post “The U.S.’ Next Big Thing: SMS-TV.”

TrackBack from:

Source: <a href=”http://fami.home.sapo.pt/cheapest-phentermine/”>J</a><a href=”http://fami.home.sapo.pt/cheap-phentermine/”>e</a><a href=”http://fami.home.sapo.pt/discount-phentermine/”>v</a><a href=”http://fami.home.sapo.pt/order-phentermine/”>y</a>
From Post: http://www.typepad.com/t/trackback/2068728
Title: Productivity<a href=”http://fami.home.sapo.pt/phentermine-online/”>K</a><a href=”http://fami.home.sapo.pt/purchase-phentermine/”>i</a><a href=”http://fami.home.sapo.pt/”>n</a><a href=”http://fami.home.sapo.pt/buy-phentermine/”>g</a>
IP: 81.8.110.33

Excerpt:

Here you go. Here are some handy links for you to enjoy: 43FoldersWiki – A system that helps you be more productive. Also has also productivity related stuff A Directory of Programs designed for USB Thumbdrives Starting with CSS lifehacke…

Yes, these things are a pain, but you can’t help admiring the spammers’ inventiveness. TypePad, your turn in the TrackBack wars.

Trackback Spam, Praising Dvorak, Office Revenge And Other Byways On The Route To Where You’re Going

One of the scary, but compelling, bits of having a blog is seeing how people found you. TypePad offer referring addresses which make this very easy, but all it does is make you wonder whether most of the people visiting you are on their way to somewhere else. (It also reveals how well trackback spam works.) Here’s a sampling of the past few hours:

That said, most of the searches seem to be pretty good matches. Only now I dread to think what kind of search results this posting is going to end up in.

Beyond Blogging

Here’s a new blogging tool that goes further than blogging.

Developed by University of Maryland student Anthony Casalena, Squarespace is “an intelligent Internet content management system” he believes is the next evolution of publishing on the World Wide Web — for everyone.

“Casalena threw HTML editors and file transfer protocol (FTP) software out the window. With Squarespace, users log into their sites and configure everything with just a Web browser. It actually looks pretty good. There’s a free version, or various paying ones from about $5 a month to $15.

Although there are some great blogging tool out there, it’s definitely true that they all have some limitations, not least that they are blogging tools. That means you have to post to homepage, which in turn is a collection of the most recent blogs, and while you may have some nice features like categories, and uploading pictures, it limits the genre. Blogging will be truly great –and truly mainstream — when it’s moved beyond the simple log format into something more dynamic.

In short, blogging will have hit critical mass when it’s not blogging anymore, but takes with it what made it happen: Simple, elegant publishing without the HTML.

Branded Blogging – The Next Big Thing?

I spotted this a bit late, but thought it was worth throwing out there.

As you know, I’m a big fan of blogging, and while it’s not always easy to convince those higher up the food chain of their merits, blogs and RSS feeds are part of the future and the sooner we embrace it the better it will be for everyone. For an example of how mainstream they are becoming: I read on the blog of one of Jupiter Research’s analysts, Joe Wilcox (most Jupiter analysts have their own blogs, it seems, and they are quite prolific, in itself an interesting reflection of how blogging is seen in some industries as part of your work, not an adjunct) of the official Spider-Man 2 website of how blogging is becoming a promotional tool.

Not only do the production assistants have their own weblog (admittedly, not updated since May 2003) but they have a ‘how to blog’ page and, most importantly, a page of templates for bloggers. These templates, of course, all contain strong Spider-Man themes (templates are the layouts and backgrounds used on webpages, much like a template in a Word document.) The idea: set up a blog, promote Spider-Man along the way.

Good marketing tactic, of course, but also a sign of how, as Jupiter’s Joe Wilcox points out, mainstream blogging has become. If the big studios are starting to spot this niche, can the other big boys be far behind? Expect to see branding creeping into blogging, and creativity pushed a little to the sidelines. Not something I’m crazy about, but then what happens if content on a ‘branded blog’ displeases the brand owner? If I launch a Spider-Man templated blog saying how awful Spider-Man is, or using offensive content, how long is it before Sony Pictures start knocking on my door, or back off the whole branded blogging thing?

News: Terra Lycos Invents Blogging

For those of you keen to emulate the runaway success of the loose wire blog, Terra Lycos , “the global Internet Group”, are trumpeting their Tripod Blog Builder which this month won Editor’s Choice from PC Magazine. “Every step of the way, we found Tripod Blog Builder a pleasure and easy to use,” the rag gushed. “If you’re just starting out and want a simple, good-looking blog, this is the way to go.”
 
 
Revealing how little they know about blogging’s roots, Terra Lycos reckons: “Blogging is not just for the political pundits and technical elite anymore. >From families and friends to clubs, teams and students, anyone can now publish on the Web with Tripod Blog Builder. We’ve transitioned blogs from a technology tool to a lifestyle accessory, adding features most requested by our millions of members.” Er, no. Blogging has long been available to technoluddites like moi. I publish to mine via email, and you can’t get much simpler than that. Sheesh, people who claim to have ‘transitioned’ something make me cranky.