The Blogging Revolution is Over, But That’s Not the Point

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 But blogs themselves have themelves been superseded: Those companies that got rich realised that, like the people selling shovels and buckets to gold diggers, it was better to make money from the process of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.

Technorati’s Decline, Death of Blogging?

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Technorati Japan home page, Nov 2009

Technorati used to be one of the sites to see and be seen at. Your ranking there was highly prized; you’d add technorati tags to your blog posts and their State of the Blogosphere was a highly valued insight into blogging.

But now it’s a pale shadow of its former self, having recently closed its Tokyo office, and with dramatically lower traffic, from more than 400K visitors per day to today’s 40K:

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technorati.com traffic, Google Trends, Nov 2009

Indeed, in early 2009 Technorati was overtaken by a blogging search engine I must confess I’ve never heard of, blogcatalog.com in traffic:

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technorati.com vs blogcatalog.com traffic, Google Trends, Nov 2009

This despite calling itself the #1 blog search engine:

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Richard Jalichandra, Technorati Media CEO, says that while the company is now an ad network, Technorati.com is still a major component of the business, with 1.3 million registered users. Well, those 1.3 million registered users aren’t visiting or pinging the site very much, and the other two websites he mentions, blogcritics.org and twittorati.com, don’t seem to be making much of an impression either:

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blogcritics.org and twittorati.com traffic, Google Trends, Nov 2009

Richard, who has just raised another $2 million in funding, describes the business model thus:

Our model is often misunderstood or viewed as one part vs. the actual whole, but it’s relatively simple: an ad network focused on social media, the world’s largest blog search engine [sic] and directory, a large and passionate author community, and our newest site which tracks the tweets of the most influential bloggers.

Users, however, aren’t impressed. Some have noticed what they think is spam in the technorati search results. Others have noticed that despite their claims to index 100 million blogs, in 2007, they now seem to index less than 1 million. (The current number seems to be 853,799.)  Maybe this would explain why their State of the Blogosphere this year, despite claiming to be a “deeper dive into the entire blogosphere,” was all comment, survey and no data (presentation to Blog World Expo here.)

Now is this just Technorati, or is something bigger afoot? Is Technorati’s decline a reflection of its own failings or the broader decline of blogging?

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How to Monitor Your Flickr Album

The best way to keep tabs on who is linking to your Flickr photo album is through Technorati, the blog-tracking service. But it’s not as straightforward as it could be, so here’s a guide, based almost entirely on that provided by the Technology Evangelist Ed Kohler, for which I offer grateful thanks.

Setting up the Technorati end

Sign up for Technorati if you don’t already have an account.

Go to Technorati’s start claim page, and click on the Blogs tab:

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Scroll to the bottom of the page to the Claim a Blog section and paste in your Flickr.com page into the URL box:

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Click on the Begin Claim button:

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You’ll be taken through a four step process, the next stage of which is to choose your “claim method”. Use the Post Claim method if you’re offered more than one, by clicking on the blue link, as per below:

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In the next screen follow the instructions by selecting the prepared code in the light green box:

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Setting up the Flickr end

This is where it gets trickier: open a second browser window, go to your Flickr account and choose a recent photo that’s public. Choose the “Edit title, description, and tags” link on the right hand side:

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In the description box of the photo delete all existing descriptions (copy them if you like to a text file — you can always paste them back later.)

Copy the code from the Technorati box into the Description field of your Flickr photo, deleting all the stuff that isn’t the link:

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(Removing both other descriptions and the HTML code seems to be important. Without it, it might not work.)

Save changes to the photo:

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Wrapping it Up

Now go back to the Technorati page you were on before and click on the button “Release the Spiders!” This will instruct Technorati to go look at your Flickr page and look for the code:

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When this is complete you should receive a message on the Technorati page saying it’s successfully added your Flickr page to your list of monitored blogs. If it’s unsuccessful, go back to the Flickr image and check

  • the photo is public 
  • you’ve removed all other Description text 
  • you’ve removed the HTML from the link

and try releasing the spiders again.

Monitoring your Flickr photos

So how do you actually keep tabs on the Technorati page?

Once your Flickr page is “claimed” it should appear on your Technorati page (http://technorati.com/people/technorati/[YOURNAME]). Click on the green Authority button below the link to your Flickr page:

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You should see a list of those blogs and websites linking to your photos:

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Either bookmark this page, or else subscribe to its RSS feed. Either way, you should now be able to keep tabs on who’s linking to your Flickr photos.

Sleazy Linkers Lose An Ally

Seems as if there’s a bit of a groundswell building against internal links, which I got all upset about a few months ago. (internal linking is where you place a link on a word like, say, Google, but instead of actually linking to Google you link to another page on your own blog about Google.) Amit from Digital Inspiration points out that

Valleywag, the Silicon Valley gossip blog that everyone hates but still reads, always practiced excessive internal linking but good sense prevailed at Gawker and they have suddenly changed that habit.

Amit also points to Shane at the Daily Telegraph, who is complaining about the same practice. Etre.com points out how brazen TechCrunch are at doing it, but points out that Mashable and Engadget continue to do so.

I find it personally annoying because I tend to drag links into PersonalBrain or elsewhere and expect a link that says ‘Flock’ to go to Flock. But it’s also dishonest, like putting an EXIT sign over a door in a shop which instead goes into another part of the shop. It’s against the principles of the net, and, frankly, tells me that something is wrong in the state of Web 2.0 if this kind of thing is considered acceptable or even good practice.

What to do? Maybe a name-and-shame list until these recalcitrants start respecting the intelligence of their readers?

A Lesson from Valleywag – Good Linking Etiquettes | India Inc.

Blogged with Flock

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The Sleazy Practice of Internal Linking

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It’s a small bugbear but I find it increasingly irritating, and I think it reflects a cynical intent to mislead on the part of the people who do it, so I’m going to vent my spleen on it: websites which turn links in their content, not to the site itself, but to another page on their own website.

An example: TechCrunch reviews Helium, a directory of user-generated articles. But click on the word Helium, and it doesn’t take you, as you might reasonably expect, to the website Helium, but to a TechCrunch page about Helium. If you want to actually find a link to the Helium page, you need to go there first.

I find this misleading, annoying and cynical on the part of the websites that do this. First off, time-honored tradition of the net would dictate a website name which is linked to something would be to the website itself. Secondly, clearly TechCrunch and its ilk are trying to keep eyeballs by forcing readers to go to another internal page, with all the ads, before finding the link itself. Thirdly, because I’m a PersonalBrain user and I like to drag links into my plex (that’s what we PBers call it) it’s a pain.

Fourthly, it’s clearly a policy that even TechCrunch has trouble enforcing. In the case above, the original post had the word Helium directly linking to the website itself, but which was subsequently edited to link to the internal TechCrunch page (as noticed by a reader of the site). If you subscribe to the TechCrunch feed, that’s what you’ll still see:

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TechCrunch isn’t alone in this, by the way. StartupSquad does it (a particularly egregious example here of five links in a row which don’t link to the actual sites). For an example of how it should be done, check out Webware, which has the word linking to the site itself, and an internal review as a parenthetical link following. Like this, in Rafe Needleman’s look at companionship websites. Click on Hitchsters and you go to the site; click on ‘review’ and you go to a review.

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It’s a nuisance more than a crime, but to me it still undermines a central tenet of the web: links should be informative and not misleading. If you are linking to anything other than what your reader would expect, then you’re just messing around with them.

The End of Blogging Utopia

Blogs are great, but is it just a vast honeycomb of echo-chambers, where we talk to and listen to only those nearby?

Author and funny guy David Weinberger comments on Ethan Zuckerman’s remarks (both interesting fellas, and well worth reading; David in particular an antidote to the relentless and humorless self-promotion of many A-list bloggers) about how blogging grows in the developing world, the bloggers there start to write for their local audience, muting the ‘Global Voices’ effect that was Ethan’s dream.

I’ve watched this happen in Indonesia in the last year, as blogging takes off and hits critical mass, in terms of writers, readers and commenters. Quickly the issues become more local, the discussion more localized, the topics less interesting to outsiders. This is probably being mirrored all over the world.

The truth is that Global Voices — where people write from different corners of the world, and are read all over it — is always going to be just a small minority. The distortion in the first five years of the Blogging Revolution was that this small minority was the blogosphere. These were the early adopters who helped introduce blogging to each culture by looking, and talking, outwards. As critical mass was reached, the later bloggers had no need, or interest, to ‘talk outwards’: instead they addressed a larger subset of the audience they knew and wanted to reach — the people around them.

It’s not that bloggers changed their audience as blogs went mainstream on their home turf. It’s that the bloggers who came later just saw the medium differently — as another tool to participate locally. And because they are in larger numbers than the early adopters, and because they wrote about stuff relevant to their peers, they became the new norm.

There are exceptions, of course. Some bloggers have an audience that spans borders because they write about issues that aren’t geographically constrained: Richard MacManus has built a thriving business writing about Silicon Valley from New Zealand; my old chum Ong writes as much about Malaysia as he does Indonesia (and if you think those two places sound like more or less the same topic you’d need to spend some time in one to know how far apart they are.) Even this blog has tried to address a perhaps overly large topic (technology and the individual) with limited success.

That’s because the general trend of blogging is towards the specific — writing about things that the writer cares enough about to write, and the readers enough of interest to stick around to help make the blog a success. But I don’t see this as a bad thing. The impetus in newspapers is the same — those newspapers that survive are going to be those who understand and reflect their readership, which means giving as much attention to their specific concerns — however banal — as to international events.

The point here is that we read blogs who write about things we care about. The truth is that we tend to lean towards the familiar, and attach ourselves to those who can best tell us what just happened to something or someone we know (Paris Hilton, our local football team) and point us to things we care about (the bus service, relationships, dogs.) This may often mean geographically localised, but actually it’s really about being culturally localised: We read stuff that speaks to us. If we’re interested in dogs, but more specifically the Dandie Dinmont Terrier, we’ll read anyone who writes about that breed, whether they’re down the street or in Vientiane. As in all things, we tend to blogs that write about what we care about.

I think this is not a bad thing. Blogs are compelling because they’re personal: They’re a window into people’s souls, because for some reason the lingua franca of blogs has become not pretension but authenticity. So we learn huge amounts about people and about ourselves from reading blogs (and blog comments, the afterglow of blogging). Of course it would be great if we included into our daily blog-reading diet stuff from places we’d not been, cultures and issues we’d not been familiar with before, but that’s a tall order. Only a few of us are wired that way.

We should thank Ethan and his Global Voices team for helping spread the word of blogs. But I suspect from here on the revolution is going to take on a life of its own. It may not be as heady and utopian as the early days, but it means the medium is putting down roots. Which means it’s here to stay.

How to Really Read Blogs

People often ask me what blogs to read. So I thought I’d put together some thoughts on why some blogs are better than others, and how to get the most out of the blogs that you do read. There are five basic rules:

Rule #1: A blog isn’t a publication. It’s a person

Joi1The thing about blogs is that the most interesting ones are interesting because of the people who write them and the people who read them. You’ll find that while you’re drawn to a writer because of his/her interest in a particular subject, quite often they’ll write about something else which you’re also interested in. Take a guy called Joi Ito, for example, who is a Japan-based entrepreneur and investor in tech companies. Joi is a fascinating guy and his blog makes for great reading. But it’s not always about tech stuff. One post I read recently was about his reading a book by a woman called Betty Edwards about learning to draw. Joi is no artist, but this book was recommended to him as a way of relaxing. Now I know the book, and I know what he’s talking about. And because I like what he has to say about technology, I’m happy to read about his thoughts on meditation and drawing.

Rule #2: Never read someone who is “excited” about everything

Blogs don’t have to be brutally honest, but they can’t be fake. What makes Joi’s comments about drawing interesting is not just the fact that he has credibility in a field I care about (tech) but because what he writes is frank and, well, real. He’s not your average CEO type talking about how much money he’s invested in stuff and how excited he is by everything. We all have our ups and downs and they should be reflected in our blogs (I don’t do enough of this, to be honest. There, I’m being frank about not being frank enough.) The point is this: If we’re interested in reading someone’s thoughts on a subject, chances are we’re interested in their more life-oriented thoughts and experiences too. Without overdoing, it of course: I am very interested in Joi’s musings, but if he starts cutting his toe nails on his blog, even metaphorically speaking, I might not stick around.

Rule #3: Let a million flowers bloom, and then read them

Blogs thrive on the ability for readers to add comments. A great blog will have great, thoughtful readers, who add their comments on each article, or post. These comments will appear one after the other at the bottom of each post. Sometimes the comments are more interesting than the original article. Sometimes they’re not. But they’re definitely worth reading if you found the original article interesting. Joi’s post on drawing elicited a handful of comments which really added to the topic, especially after Joi added his comments to the comments. This is what the techie world calls a conversation. It’s not unlike a real conversation, actually, so it’s a good term.

Rule #4: Come in, the water’s lovely

If you’re reading blogs that interest you then you will quickly feel that you have some opinion to share. Share it. Still a startlingly small number of people comment on blogs but you really should. Chances are other people will love what you have to say, especially if you express it in a neutral way, as if you were joining a group of friendly looking people at a party. Of course, you have the advantage of knowing what they were already talking about before you sidled up, so be sure to read the original article and comments before throwing in your tupennies’ worth.

Rule #5: Follow the trail

Chances are if you like one person’s blog, you’ll like the blogs they read and the blogs they link to. Experiment. Try adding more blogs to your list of favorites and see whether you like them. If a couple of boring or off-color posts appear, you can always remove the feed from your list.

Remember: with blogs it’s not so much what you read, as who you read, and how you read ‘em.

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Is Old Media Killing Itself by Blogging?

Interesting point implicit in Technorati’s new State of the Live Web: as newspaper and other mainstream media use blogs more, does the public’s distinction between traditional journalism and blogging blur further? And if that happens, isn’t it counterproductive for old media to adopt blogs, since it erodes their distinctiveness and competitive advantage? In other words, by using blogs to try to keep eyeballs, do they merely devalue their core product, namely news coverage with heavy investments and commitment in core journalistic values? As a newspaper wouldn’t it make more sense to stress their distinctiveness from bloggers — lots of trained journalists, lots of resources, lots of experience — rather than try the ‘me-too’ of blogdom? 
clipped from www.sifry.com

In Q4, however, there were 22 blogs on the list — further evidence of the continuing maturation of the Blogosphere. Blogs continue to become more and more viable news and information outlets. For instance, information not shown in our data but revealed in our own user testing in Q1 2007 indicates that the audience is less and less likely to distinguish a blog from, say, nytimes.com — for a growing base of users, these are all sites for news, information, entertainment, gossip, etc. and not a “blog” or a “MSM site”.

Bloggers Bash Into Chinese Walls, Part XVI

Once again, the non-journalist end of blogging is finding that its world is surprisingly like the old world of media. TechCrunch, a widely read blog of things going on in the social media world of Web 2.0, has run into the kind of conflicts that traditional media grappled with (and are still grappling with) since time immemorial (well at least since last Wednesday.)

The story, in a nutshell is this: TechCrunch sets up a UK version of its site. TechCrunch, itself heavily sponsored by Web 2.0 startup advertising, co-sponsors a Web 2.0 conference in Paris. TechCrunch UK editor attends said confab, which ends in controversy and accusations that the organiser, one Loic Lemeur, messed up. Organiser lambasts TechCrunch UK editor’s own accusations. Sparks fly, one thing leads to another, and TechCrunch UK editor is fired by TechCrunch owner and the UK website suspended. Much wailing and gnashing of teeth within blogosphere and talk of raging ethical debate.

I can’t pretend to have read all of the raging ethical debate (as raging ethical debates go, you want to set aside a good chunk of time for one that rages in the blogosphere: Harrington’s post on the subject currently has 78 comments, a few dozen more here before its suspension. Even Journalist.co.uk and The Guardian wrote about it, although judging from the headline I don’t think it was for the front page.)

Now there’s plenty of fodder for good debates here, and it’s not only Arrington who is getting a fair amount of flack for all this. But there’s an easy way of looking at this: Arrington is the publisher of TechCrunch. He’s Murdoch, Maxwell, whoever you want. TechCrunch is his brand. Anything that damages that brand, or appears to be damaging that brand, needs crushing, and that trumps everything else. You can’t blame him for that; if the editor of The Guardian starts damaging the brand of the paper you’d expect him to come in for some flak from the owner.

It gets complicated further in, however. Arrington is also an editor and writer. He’s also in the advertising and circulation department, since he’s out there drumming up business (often with the people he writes about, but that’s another story). So his role as publisher clashes with his role as editor, since a good editor will demand the independence necessary to criticise anyone, whether it’s sponsors, advertisers, even (and we’re talking theory here) the owners or publisher. Arrington in his role as editor was in conflict with his role as publisher and owner.

This is why traditional media separate these functions, and why, inevitably, TechCrunch and its ilk will have to too, as these kinds of crises occur. Editorial departments in traditional media have little or no contact with other departments, so oftentimes have no idea whether they’re sponsoring an event they’re attending. That’s how it should be, although it does perhaps contribute to the notion that journalists occupy their own little dreamworld.

Who knows where the truth lies in this particular mess, but if it awakens the blogosphere to the need to have Chinese Walls between advertising/sponsoring departments and the editorial side then that can only be good. In this case, if I were Arrington, I would start building them quickly. TechCrunch has at least 144,000 readers, a very respectable circulation, and that, whether he likes it or not, puts the publication into the realm of an outfit that needs to clearly demarcate the boundaries of its interests.

Asia’s Obsession With Lists

Last week the WSJ asked me to dig around for sites in Asia-Pacific that are building on the new Obsession with List making, as reported by Katherine Rosman. Here is the result (subscription only), and are some of the sites I came up with. I’d love to hear more from readers, as I’m sure I’ve missed lots.

  • China’s answer to 43thingsAimi — looks a lot like it, right down to the colors and design. Compare 43things
     
    with Aimi:
  • Japan has been more creative, with some pretty cool looking sites including Ultra Simple Reminder, check*pad and ReminderMailer.
  • Australia’s reminder service Remember the Milk is Big in Japan — 15,000 active Japanese users have signed up since its launch in July. Omar Kilani, the guy behind it, tells me “the service is also available in both Simplified and Traditional Chinese and we have a soon-to-be launched Korean version as well.” I’ll keep you posted on that.
  •  Jon Anthony Yongfook Cockle, a 26-year-old Briton based in Tokyo, has developed a very cool, simple reminder page called OrchestrateHQ, where users can enter quick reminders in either English or Japanese. He’s also about to launch a suite of simple Web-based applications called Jonkenpon (nothing up there at the time of writing).
  • Lastly, from the guys at Alien Camel, a new service called Monkey On Your Back which allows users to make a to-do list for things that they want other people to do:
     
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