When I first heard Jason Calacanisâ€™ announcement about retiring from blogging last week I thought (like many) it was a joke. After all, heâ€™s had considerable involvement in blogs over the years (cofounder of Weblogs Inc, etc). And leaving blogs to go toâ€¦ email â€“ well hello?
But no, it seems heâ€™s serious, so it made me stop and think. Perhaps, heâ€™s on to something. Personally Iâ€™ve noticed that my own blogging has dropped in the last few months â€“ maybe itâ€™s indicative of a wider trendâ€¦
If my blog writing is down, what about my blog reading? My blog reading stats back in April had an unread count of over 50,000:
Hereâ€™s my stats in July. Youâ€™ll notice more feeds (and items), but less unread.
Now, admittedly in April I was getting a little behind in my reading, but in general my unread count is always going up.
My reading habits havenâ€™t changed (in general I read blogs for about 1.5 hours per day – 30 minutes going into work on the train, 30 minutes coming home, and an additional 30 minutes at night.)
So with similar reading habits, and being subscribed to more feeds, why are there less unread items?
Are the posts getting shorter? Am I less interested? Am I reading quicker !?
To me itâ€™s clear that the reason is: the frequency of posting is decreasing. People are blogging less.
Is this the death of blogging?
So whatâ€™s caused this?
The main reason has to be the increased uptake of social networking tools, predominantly (in the technology space) Twitter and its variants. People are no longer blogging about stuff, they are Twittering about it. (More on this later)
(Note, I consider blogging and micro-blogging to be two totally different outlets)
The question then is: does this mean blogging is on the way out?
Are we perhaps witnessing the early stages of the death of blogging?
My answer: No, in fact just the opposite.
But first, letâ€™s quickly agree on what a blog isâ€¦
What makes a blog?
Itâ€™s always easy to pick on throw-away comments on Twitter, and this one caught my eye (from one of my favourite Twitterers btw).
Summary: blogs without comments arenâ€™t blogs â€“ theyâ€™re just web sites.
Thatâ€™s one definition. But I personally think blogs are really only about one way communication.
Yeah, itâ€™s easy to get sucked into the whole â€˜need for communityâ€™ side of blogging. â€œItâ€™s about a conversationâ€, â€œThe comments are the contentâ€, â€œSome of the best gems come from the commentsâ€, etc. But letâ€™s take a step back and consider this.
Where did blogs come from? They started as online diaries â€“ an outlet for (usually boring) musings by uni students. They became popular due to their ease of publishing. Anyone could have their own regularly updated website. Putting up â€˜contentâ€™ was simple, and spreading the word was standardised (in as much as RSS is a standard). Thus: Blogs are web sites. Thatâ€™s the point of them.
Letâ€™s break down what the main components of blogging are these days (at least in the technology sphere I inhabit):
Many posts have great content â€“ perhaps original, perhaps added-value, perhaps entertaining â€“ but information.
There are posts will all the personal stuff (what Iâ€™ve read, watched and listened too, where Iâ€™ve been, what Iâ€™ve been up to, etc)
And then thereâ€™s the link posts â€“ pointing to another post or article, and usually not offering much original content. At best some added value.
Finally thereâ€™s the comments where people interact – sometimes helpfully, sometimes not – on the content of the post. More on this later.
(Iâ€™ve deliberately left Advertising, Widgets and other so-called â€˜contentâ€™ out of the discussion)
The SNR of blogs
All of these components are valid (Iâ€™m not saying otherwise) and my own blogs have had all these elements to various degrees. But I think the Signal-to-Noise Ratio (SNR) is an important concept when it comes to blogs.
Hereâ€™s how we see SNR in the blogosphere:
- Signal = Content
- Noise = Personal stuff, Links, Comments
Ideally we want the SNR to be high, with lots of useful, original content.
A few comments aboutâ€¦ comments
To be honest I hardly ever read comments. The reason being, when I do Iâ€™ve noticed the following general categories:
- Intelligent and useful comments â€“ these are rare, and usually on posts that are dealing with a specific problem, with the comments helping find the solution
- Off-the-cuff ramblings â€“ ill thought out, ill informed and often mis-reading the post, these are the blog equivalent of people who call talk-back radio shows â€“ often little more than ignorance parading as opinion, and usually referring to the authority of self
- Trolling â€“ these are people with nothing better to do than cause trouble
- Thank you notes â€“ where people add their note of thanks for a well written post
- Google juicers â€“ this is probably the majority â€“ since just about every SEO article tells you to get out and add comments to blogs as a way of increasing your own Search engine juice. So, off we go, adding zero value comments to high profile blogs in order to get that little bit of back link love.
Do your own analysis, and let me know if Iâ€™m wrong (via the comments please :-)).
Yes, there may be some gems, but hereâ€™s my point: Comments are predominantly noise.
Twitter has gained massive traction in the last year. And as I alluded to earlier peopleâ€™s blogging habits have changed as a result.
What weâ€™ve seen is all the Personal Stuff, Linking, and to a large extent, Comments, move to Twitter and other Social networking utilities.
The net effect: Blogs are much higher on Signal. The quality of blogs has improved.
Are comments dead?
Not withstanding Scobleâ€™s often misquoted post – Blog comments are dead (heâ€™s talking about comments residing on blog platforms, not comments about the blog post contents) – the best we can hope for is that the quality of comments improve.
However, thatâ€™s unlikely to happen. If (as I contend), the Google Juicers are the majority of commenters, then they wonâ€™t be moving to Twitter any time soon (since thereâ€™s no SEO benefit). Sadly, weâ€™ll likely see the % of Google Juice comments rise.
Twitter is the saviour of Blogs
So hereâ€™s whatâ€™s happening. People are realising that blogs arenâ€™t the best medium for valuable interaction (note: social media strategists have been saying this for years!) and they are moving those interaction bits to other platforms. In addition, all the Personal stuff and Link blog posts are moving to Twitter (and its variants) as well.
So, far from Twitter being the death of blogging, itâ€™s the exact opposite.
The result: Blogs are left with just the Content. The SNR is getting higher and the value of the blogs is increasing.
Back to Jason
So back to Jason retiring from blogging. Has he seen something weâ€™re missing? Is he mistaken?
Jason has his reasons (which he articulates well in his blog post â€“ eg his response to Allen Stern), and for a person in his shoes they are probably relevant.
But for the rest of us â€“ blogging will be of growing importance.
Thanks to Twitter the Signal in blogs is increasing and an opportunity to be heard above the Noise is opening. Youâ€™ll no doubt have dozens of different social networking outlets, but youâ€™ll probably only have one or two blogs. Make sure you donâ€™t neglect the value they hold.