I’m currently thinking a lot about the suggestion that “blogs are dead.” It’s coming at a time in which I’m considering the direction I want to take Productive Flourishing with regards to the type of content engine I want it to be. (Don’t worry, I’m not selling it or anything crazy.)
Blogs are far from dead, but what has changed is the role they play in the web of content we live in. The rise of the Big 3 social networking sites – LinkedIn, Twitter, and Facebook – gives us different options for where we want to put content. And then there’s microblogging platforms like Tumblr and Posterous.
To wit, when I started blogging four years ago, I would’ve had to write this thought on my blog. It was the only place to do so. Now I can consciously decide to post it here instead.
We creators have more choices but each choice creates a different channel for us to maintain. And, for our tribes, it creates another channel to have to watch. In some ways, I preferred when I could show up to one place and stay in the conversation. At the same time, I preferred having one place to start conversations.
What technology gives, it takes away. And as technological options change, so do social norms and expectations. How blessed we are to live in such tumultuous times!
I’m bringing it here because there are a few threads I’d like to weave into that conversation…
Harder Does Not Equal Dead
As soon as a technology or practice becomes well-established enough that it’s adopted en masse, it’s harder to stand out using that technology. The sheer number of blogs now make it harder for the next new blog to gain any mindshare just because it’s being written in the content web of so many other blogs.
It’s especially hard for newer bloggers because we’ve had to become more conscious about committing to a new blog. I’ve been around for a while, and I’ve seen plenty of awesome blogs that lasted about three months. In other cases, writers who were serious contributors stopped blogging because they had to choose between an intensive jobby (hat tip to Michele Woodward) and having a career that actually paid them to create and contribute.
Those first few months of blogging have always been hard because it feels like you’re writing to no one. The seductive lure of social media is a double-edged sword for new bloggers – on the one hand, it allows creators to connect with an audience already “out there,” and, on the other hand, it fractures the conversation and deeper content development as people tweet away their best ideas.
We Get Fractured Conversations Now – If We’re Lucky
The aforementioned Big 3 are having a bigger effect on mature blogs than many people realize. A few years ago, if you had a thought, you shared it on your blog. You didn’t have to decide whether to tweet it or make a status update or add it Tumblr.
And, while I can’t speak for what that did for other people, I know that it made me really think about what I wanted to say. A half-thought that I might tweet now would become a full thought when I could only write it here. I couldn’t not develop the thought, and a smart group of great people were patient enough to both bear with me as I worked out the ideas and expect and encourage me doing so via their comments and direct support.
As the Big 3 rose in connectivity and usability, those conversations got fractured. I no longer expected every idea I shared to be robust, insightful, and clear, and that same group of people started spending more time on Twitter than on blogs. Instead of commenting and encouraging the conversation, it became easier to hit “like” or “RT” and move on to the next thing.
And, so that you don’t read this as another creative moaning about his audience leaving him, I want to be very clear that I did the same thing to my friends and favorite writers. When Twitter was still in the early adopter phase, each individual tweet had more weight and you could seriously shine some light on great content. What started as a great way to find out what was going on, share great content, and have fun conversations morphed into something completely different, and one of the casualties of that transformation was that I “shared” rather than commenting. (I honor that your experience may have been completely different.)
I could have easily shared and commented, but that would have required slowing down and thinking about something that contributed to the conversation. It was easier to click a button and move on to the next thing. And, I rationalized, that click helped them with what really mattered – getting more people to see their content.
I appreciate each and every one of those button clicks. Please do share my work with other people. My commentary isn’t a disparagement of sharing as much as it is an illumination of the fact that we started sharing in lieu of commenting.
As we moved our conversations from our blogs to the Big 3, the Big 3 also gave us different ways to share content. Facebook, for example, has notes, which could just as easily serve the same publishing role as this website does, meaning I could just as easily write this post there as I could here.
Except the expectations would be different. I don’t think people are showing up to Facebook to read something like this. I have a hard enough time figuring out whether you’re showing up here to read stuff like this.
I doubt anyone would link back to or directly send a friend to a Facebook status, either. One of the reasons blogs aren’t dead is that they’re still probably the lowest level of content that are link-worthy. I admit I might have a blindspot here, but I’m not sure you could build your thought leadership on the Big 3 alone unless your area of thought leadership was social media.
At the same time we stopped commenting and supporting each other “on page,” we started fracturing our conversations and thoughts into different channels. The idea of unified conversations has a lot going for it, but I worry that they’re a thing of the past unless we take a more active role ensuring that the “easy” way of social media doesn’t become the only way we talk.
For what it’s worth, I’ve been more actively practicing commenting and sharing. It’s made me read and share slower, so that means I’m not skimming and clicking as much, but it’s been a refreshing change. It’s a challenging practice, too.
Technology Gives Choices, Not Directions
One of my simple rules is “just because you can doesn’t mean you should.” You can spend a lot of time looking into all the different technological options without ever figuring out what direction you need to be going first. It’s about like looking at all the ways you might get to Manhattan, Kansas without assessing whether you actually need to go there in the first place.
The more we go with the technological flow, though, the more we have to be mindful about whether or not we have our own flow anymore. I’ve talked to many people who went with the technology only to figure out that the technology didn’t suit the strategy that made sense for them.
I don’t pretend to know any better than you do, either. As I mentioned, I’ve been thinking a lot about the direction I want Productive Flourishing to go. What makes it especially challenging is that, though I’m sure I could play the blogging game circa 2011, I’m not sure that I want to or that it’s the right thing for me. In some senses, the standard blogging game has never been right for me.
I’ll provide a little context here. Short and sweet posts tend to get more content and traffic than longer pieces like this one. When a post starts to reach about 1200 words, I know going into it that it’ll get fewer comments, shares, and love than one of the shorter pieces, and that’s mainly because I know that one of the first things people will do is look to see how long the post is before they commit to reading it. If there’s a lot of scrolling involved, they’ll either decide to “read it later” or just opt out of it altogether. Again, no judgment here, as I’m prone to do the same thing.
If my goal was simply more traffic and comments, it would make sense to write shorter and sweeter posts. Strategy aside, it’s significantly harder, emotionally, to commit to spending the time simplifying a complex thought when you know that you’ll hear crickets chirping when it’s published, especially when you know that a quick piece that takes 30 minutes to develop will get more love, in general. In the busyness of business and life, easy options win more often than not.
And therein is how the technology changes us. Continually taking the easy options unconsciously also means we take the consequences unconsciously. It’s not that taking the easy option is bad – I’m a fan of simple and easy – but rather that not thinking about the downstream effects is what becomes a challenge. We look up to find that the easy bus has taken us a few stops further than we intended.
Blogs aren’t dead, but the way in which they sit in the web of content is different than it was a mere year ago. The new technological options are just that, and it’s our use of them that we need to be more aware of. Continually fracturing our communities and conversations and then blaming technology misses the point that we build the web that then affects us.
At the same time, though we could be bull-headed about the way in which we’ll create, if you’re doing it in the marketplace of ideas and attention, you need to be adaptable enough to meet the wants and needs of the people you’re creating with and for. If you’re creating “just for you,” create however you please, wherever you please, when you please, and whatever you please – but don’t have hurt feelings if no one shows up to the party you haven’t invited anyone to.
As always, thanks for your time. I hope this scratches an itch you’ve been having.