Making it Work Perspective
Thinking about Blogging: 1
Where would we be without metamedia—newspaper stories about problems with newspapers, movies about movie-making, TV shows about TV shows (consider 30 Rock), an endless array of websites devoted to building better websites and, of course, metablogging: Blogging about blogging.
This essay isn’t metablogging but it’s primarily based on metablogging, taking some of the more interesting posts about aspects of blogging I’ve seen over the past months. Most of the posts are from liblogs but some are from elsewhere—and most of them aren’t specifically about liblogs or libraries.
I see several themes in this mass of metablogging. Some of those themes make this a followup to the February 2009 “Shiny toys or useful tools?”:
Do comments make a blog a blog—and can you deal with the realities of comments (and lack thereof)? Have conversations moved elsewhere?
▪ Are blogs here to stay? Is the “blogosphere” imploding? If blogging is a maturing medium, how does that affect individual bloggers?
▪ Why do we blog?
▪ How should we blog—and what about the auxiliary tools?
▪ Are blogs plausible replacements for journals?
While there could be a section for each of those themes, it’s not that simple—the threads of an odd multiway conversation run through many posts, and a post about the why of blogging may include pertinent notes about comments.
Does blogging deserve as much space and thought as it gets in Cites & Insights? I believe so. Liblogs are at a three-way intersection of libraries, media and technology—and policy issues play out in blogs in ways rarely seen in more traditional media. I think blogs are in an interesting sweet spot in a casual media hierarchy of length, thought and formality:
▪ Ultra-short and ultra-immediate items: Twitter and its ilk, whether one-to-many or one-to-one, with a typical limit of one relatively short sentence per post. I believe these media serve primarily the “what’s up?” and “where are you?” functions—as well as “go look at this.” I don’t like the term “microblogging” but that’s what some people call these.
▪ Brief, fast and aimed at quick response: FriendFeed messages and Facebook notes may be the prime examples of this (although FriendFeed is also a portal for other areas and Facebook has many other aspects), with a typical limit of one brief paragraph, messages reaching out to a small (or not-so-small) circle of friends and colleagues and easy ways to respond, building conversational threads. I won’t suggest “miniblogging”—but these and similar media can reward terse ideas and issues with extended multipart conversations.
▪ Frequently deeper, usually longer, sometimes more thoughtful: Blogs are in the middle. It’s rare to find one-sentence posts these days (except in special cases and linkblogs). It’s not uncommon to find posts that run to a thousand or more words (sometimes several thousand), some of those posts clearly reflecting deep thought and probably extended editing. A blog can be anything from a set of tiny links to a series of refereed articles, but most blogs are in the middle—longer and deeper than the first two categories, more personal, less formal, more conversational and more rapid than the next two.
▪ Typically longer, more formal, less immediate and conversational: Journal papers, magazine articles and columns and electronic equivalents—”traditional media” even if in a new guise. Some of these are peculiar hybrids (what you’re reading now, for example), and such hybrids are likely to grow over time. It’s a wild oversimplification, but this fourth level tends to involve more thought, more editing, frequently more length, almost always a longer gap between writing and public appearance—and typically less feedback and conversation.
▪ Longest, most formal, least immediate and conversational: Books and monographs, which should reflect the most thought, highest degree of editorial checking and revision and most attention to the longer term.
For some people, one medium does it all, at least as far as “publishing” goes. They’re tweeting, or writing items on Facebook—or blogging. Or they disdain less formal media and write proper articles and books.
Increasingly, though, we make choices—some of us more than others. I’ve backed away from the shortest form but I’m active in the others. That makes for interesting choices. Should I discuss Topic X in a post or should I note it on FriendFeed and see what happens? Is a post on Topic Y enough—or does it deserve a C&I article? Is a C&I article the best approach—or would this fit neatly into a print-magazine column? (One column is deliberately designed to take previous C&I items and bring them up to date: There are no firm barriers in this hierarchy!) And that nasty decision: Should Big Topic Z be a long C&I article, maybe even a special issue—or should it become a book?
Posts become columns and articles. Posts expand on columns and articles—and expand on bits of raw thinking tossed out on FriendFeed and elsewhere. But I think the hierarchy remains—and I think blogs are in a sweet spot, the place with the most room for experimentation. It’s also the sweet spot in terms of likely readership and persistence. A blog post should stay around semi-permanently (as is true with “lower” levels) and can achieve readership in the thousands or tens of thousands (also true of lower levels)—but can also be as immediate and conversational as the upper levels. (I know a few edge cases have thousands of Twitter followers or FriendFeed subscribers—but there will always be edge cases.)
A day after writing that section, I realized you can use the same hierarchy for conversational intensity—the extent to which readers are likely to respond to the writer (and the writer’s likely to see those responses). But it’s reversed: The most conversational intensity—and the extent to which the medium depends on conversations—is at the top, with blogs once again in a middle position.
That’s more random thinking on the topic than I’d intended to do. On to some interesting posts and my thoughts on them.
Robert J. Lackie posted “Blogs that attract comments: Are you in the active ‘1%’? Do you want to be?” on September 16, 2008 at Library garden (librarygarden.blogspot.com). He cites Nielsen’s 1:9:90 “rule” for interactive online communities—that is, 90% of users never contribute, 9% rarely contribute and 1% actively contribute. (That’s best case: As Wikipedia and other sites show, it can also be 990:9:1 or worse.)
Lackie quotes from “Why doesn’t anyone comment on your blog?” by Lindy Dreyer and Maddie Grant, which appeared in the September 2008 associations now. That article is mostly a set of tips on how to make an “association blog” effective. Here’s the paragraph following the Nielsen ratio:
What does this mean for you? It means that most of your audience is reading, not commenting—and that’s normal. Many of those readers think about commenting, but something stops them. Help them conquer that fear. Strive to write content that is more than just relevant. Dare to be unique, to stir the pot sometimes, to write in a way that resonates.
Lackie urges people to read the article and use the tips—so as to increase the extent of commenting on their blogs. But there’s more to the post’s title than the story covers, namely “Do you want to be?” (The title’s a little misleading. It’s not that 1% of blogs attract comments; it’s that most blogs are lucky to attract comments from more than 1% of readers.)
I commented that one of the biggest barriers to commenting is a signin procedure—the need to be registered with a blog (or its software) before you can comment. I’m more likely to comment on Blogger blogs (because I already have a Google account) than on others that require signin, but I’d rather avoid them altogether. Then there are all the flavors of Capcha, which are secondary nuisances.
But… “Do you want to be?” is a key question, and should be followed by “Is it vital for your blog to draw comments?” Sometimes it is. More often, it’s almost irrelevant. The worst case is when the blogger uses techniques designed to draw comments—and gets few or none of them. Asking direct questions, for example, is great when you get answers but makes your blog look unread when you don’t.
My takeaway: If you regard comments as vital for your blog, go read the Dreyer/Grant article and as many other articles as you can find offering tips for increasing your conversational intensity. But as you’re doing that, think carefully about the downside. A blog that works well without comments looks even better when it draws them; a blog that requires comments can only go downhill.
This post appeared on librarytwopointzero on September 28, 2008 (librarytwopointzero.blogspot.com), beginning with a double link—which leads to the same association now article. Tame the web quoted ten types of “posts that can rock”—but this blogger chooses to quote the section on keeping comments open and easy. It’s good advice—and “no moderation” is part of that good advice. Again, as with signins and capchas, it’s advice you can only safely take if you have first-rate spam filters in your software. Otherwise, if your blog ever becomes popular (I’d say 50-100 subscribers or a Google Page Rank of 3 is enough), you can guarantee that your comments and trackback will be full of spam, all of it annoying and some of it nasty.
In one of those ironic cases—or two of them—neither the “Why no comments?” post on Tame the web nor this post (which ends “Please feel free to comment ;)”)…has any comments.
Christina Pikas asks this question in a November 1, 2008 post at Christina’s LIS rant (christinaslibraryrant.blogspot.com). This post did draw comments—seven of them. Pikas rarely gets comments.
Yet from the earliest days of blogs there have been pronouncements that you need to post so many times per time period (once a day? three times a week? no less than 4 times per month?) and do all other sorts of things to build and grow readership. Some people do all sorts of stunts to get readers. Likewise, there are all sorts of pronouncements (and in another place this week) that you have to have comments and trackbacks to have community and without communities blogs are pointless.
Pikas has decent readership stats but isn’t relying on either readers or comments. Her own reasons for blogging are worth quoting:
1. to park ideas for later or so that I can think of something else
2. for personal information management
3. to try out new ideas
So it’s all about me :) I go through long stretches when I don’t post anything… I think people find me via searches and subscribe to my feed...so I’m not really worried that people forget about my blog and I’m not going to write posts in some—what I think is vain—attempt to get people to actually visit the site.
This is a healthy attitude. Actually, many of us believe that the easiest way to lose readership is to post out of obligation rather than need: People unsubscribe.
Commenters noted that in a Nature Network comment stream on blog comments, some people emphasized that comments are not the main signifier of quality blogging. One commenter raised an interesting question: Is there value in blogging when no one reads your blog? (The commenter answers the question as I would: “I think there is.”)
Kate Davis had an extended “life trumps blogging” period on virtually a librarian in 2008, with no posts from April through October. She returned with this post on November 9, 2008 (virtuallyalibrarian.com). She’s thinking about how to evaluate a recently founded blog at her library and asks, “What, in general terms, makes a blog successful?” Which leads her to conversational intensity.
This is something I think a lot of bloggers get hung up on, so it gets its own sub heading. To what extent is success in blogging about “conversational intensity”?
We’re not getting a great deal of comments…and I’m not particularly fazed by that at this point. I had a chat with a colleague about the appropriateness of using blogs without being too concerned about generating conversation. She indicated she thought that a blog without multi-way conversation (ie with little commenting) misses the point of blogging. Her feeling is that conversation is a fundamental element of blogging.
I think I agree, to a certain extent, but I’m not convinced that blogs that exist without active commenting don’t have their own role to play. After all, we know that there are lots of different types of participants in this participatory web: consumers of information; occasional content producers (commenters); active content producers; and so on… Does it really matter if you don’t get a whole host of comments? Is there a ratio of comments to page views* that indicates a blog is successful in facilitating conversation?
In my opinion, level of conversation is a measure you should get hung up on only if it’s a primary aim for your blogging project.
There’s more to this post regarding plausible measures for an effective blog, but I’ll stop with this section. (If you’re thinking about how to measure the effectiveness of a blog, go read this post. Davis may not have the answers but she has worthwhile questions.)
I’m not surprised that some people still feel that blogs without comments, or without lots of comments, “miss the point of blogging”—but that attitude is unfortunate and, I think, just plain wrong. It’s a definitional attitude: This is blogging, this other thing isn’t—even though it looks and reads like a blog. I don’t buy that at all.
Based on the searches I’ve done, it appears I was the first to use that term in the sense of “ratio of comments to posts in blogs” (as opposed to, for example, the loudness of conversation in a party). I’m certainly happy to claim the term. Mitch Ratcliffe used “Conversational intensity” as the title of a February 5, 2006 post on Rational rants, his ZDNet blog, which I’m sure has many times the readers that I do—and I’m equally certain he didn’t pick the term up from me. (He actually refers to a measure that’s the inverse of conversational intensity, with the number being lower if there are more comments.) As with Michael Casey and “Library 2.0,” I disclaim any trademark or proprietary interest in the term “conversational intensity” or the metric itself. I don’t own it; I just used it first in this context.
Iris Jastram asked this question on November 17, 2008 at Pegasus librarian (pegasuslibrarian.blogspot. com). She thinks “the landscape and function of librarians’ blogs is in the process of a transformation.”
Two years ago, I mentioned that participating in the biblioblogosphere was like attending a conference every day. A year ago, a good portion of my evenings were spent reading, thinking about, and responding to other librarians’ blogs. This was what kept me feeling connected to the larger world of librarianship. This was what made me feel useful beyond my own patron community. And this was a major source of contact with librarians whom I had come to regard as friends.
But lately, I wake up to find that my RSS aggregator has very few new posts from this once-prolific core of librarian bloggers, and I certainly haven’t been contributing to anyone’s aggregator overload recently. Not by a long stretch.
My first reaction at that point would be to test the hypothesis (has the “once-prolific core of librarian bloggers” become far less prolific?), but to some extent I’ve already done that on a more general basis, and it raises a tricky question: What’s that core?
On a general basis, the answer is yes—most libloggers post less often in 2008 than they did in 2007, with roughly 60% showing significant decreases. Trying to define a “core,” taking 82 liblogs that have posts in both March-May 2007 and March-May 2008 and that have Google Page Ranks higher than 5 (a good crude indicator of wide visibility), here’s what I get for March-May 2008 posts compared to March-May 2007 posts: 21 blogs had significantly more posts in 2008, 19 had roughly the same number, and 42 had significantly fewer.
If you reduce that group of 82 by eliminating blogs with fewer than two posts per week in 2007, and further remove seven very prolific but also fairly specialized blogs, you get a group of 52 blogs that might be one definition of a “core group” of prolific libloggers. Among those 52, only nine had significantly more posts; 13 were at roughly the same level (81% to 120%); and 30—considerably more than half—had significantly fewer posts in 2008.)
That ignores the next paragraph, where Jastram starts by worrying whether we’re a little bit burned up or have given up on blogging and continues:
While there may be some of this at work, I think it has more to do with a shift in communication patterns. Two years ago, blogs provided a venue for people’s carefully thought-out ideas as well as for their off-the-cuff thoughts, gut reactions and general banter. In this way, they were like the sessions and the between- and after-session banter at a conference. Today I think that blogs have begun to take on the more focused character of the actual sessions at a conference while places like Twitter and FriendFeed have become the venue for the between-and after-session banter. We pass each other in the micro-blogging hallway, have conversations…shout hello to other passers-by, and show each other our pictures or the latest new gadget we’re playing with. Then, when we have something more formal to say, we take the time to sit down and compose a blog post to present to our peers.
I believe Jastram gets it exactly right here. With more tools in the top two rungs of the “immediate and casual” hierarchy, liblogs have shifted toward “slower and more thoughtful”—and less frequent.
The first comment agrees and says “This medium doesn’t seem to meet the attention span of some of us anymore.” I’m not sure that’s a good thing: Should we celebrate short attention spans?
Rachel Singer Gordon writes in a related vein in this essay, posted January 10, 2009 on The luminal librarian (www.lisjobs.com/blog/). She’d been using FriendFeed for a month or so and enjoys it, but notes a small potential problem:
One thing that nags at me, though, is the way in which using multiple sites fragments conversation. Someone might comment on my Facebook status on FriendFeed, for instance, but my Facebook friends won’t see that comment or be able to join in the conversation. Someone might comment on a blog post on Facebook, but readers over here will miss that discussion entirely. (Let alone, I haven’t even made it to twitter yet—and probably won’t, since I can’t afford another time suck!)
Over at Walt at Random, Steve Lawson comments on the usefulness of FriendFeed, saying in part:
You will see that some blog posts that got very few comment have actually sparked a discussion on FF. Also helpful for blogs like Caveat Lector that don’t have comments enabled.
I pull blog posts into both FriendFeed and Facebook, and notice that posts (and Flickr photos, for that matter) that garner no comments at “home” may get comments elsewhere. This is neat, but again leaves no record here and doesn’t inspire blog readers to join in the conversation.
I offered the only comment on this post:
I’m finding that, not only do blog conversations seem somewhat attenuated these days, but–so far–I have mixed feelings about FB and FF as substitutes. The noise-to-signal ratios seem so much higher than in blogs (even as I keep hiding more and more categories in FriendFeed–so far I don’t have any useful conversations in Facebook) that I’m already wondering whether it will prove worthwhile. Once in a while, it’s great–but there’s just so much!...
It’s not just fragmentation. It’s also attenuation. To use an in-person analogy, I try to avoid dinners with more than half a dozen people and prefer small social gatherings to very large ones; otherwise, the noise-to-signal ratio is just too high.
On one hand, many briefer, more spur-of-the-moment posts have moved to other platforms, which is where they probably belong. On the other, conversations related to blog posts may take place elsewhere, becoming more fragmented and attenuated. There may be tools to help, and it’s not an entirely new problem, but it is a little frustrating.
Just as I was preparing this section, Iris Jastram chimed in with “Preserving the zeitgeist” on February 15, 2009 (again on Pegasus librarian)—a post that goes off in another related direction and is so cogent I’m quoting the whole thing:
The internet is a weird place. It seems like nothing that you’d prefer to forget ever dies while whole chunks of your life can disappear into the cloud with very little warning. People worry about preserving all the digital ephemera that we produce, or about deciding which categories of ephemera are worthy of these efforts. And while actually losing content is the stuff of librarianish nightmares, it seems to me that there’s another aspect of internet life that we are continually losing without even realizing that we had it, and that’s the thread of public conversation that holds all the individual streams of blog posts and news feeds together.
In other words, even though my blog and my friends’ blogs haven’t disappeared off the face of the internet, it would take a lot of work to recreate the moment in time in which any given post was written and see the broader environment of posts and discussions that make up any given posts’ context. Even this post is part of a conversational environment that includes the post I linked to above (and the posts to which it links), one other blog post that I can’t find any more, a couple of conversations on FriendFeed, the simple fact that an issue of Walt Crawford’s Cites & Insights came out recently, Greg Schwartz’s weekly requests for “newsworthy” content to talk about on Uncontrolled Vocabulary, and an IM conversation with Steve Lawson. That’s a lot of conversational context, each piece of which will be preserved in its own space (each blog’s archives, the Cites & Insights archives, the Uncontrolled Vocabulary audio, blog and wiki archives, FriendFeed and chat logs). But the moment that brought them all together, that asynchronous conversation, that zeitgeist will probably melt into the cloud and render each piece of the conversation less rich for those coming back to them later. In fact, this context is already melting since there’s one piece of it that I can no longer remember well enough to find.
There are a few vehicles that I know of that preserve these conversational contexts to varying degrees. Cites & Insights is one of them (and the one that I think defines the genre I’m imagining), Uncontrolled Vocabulary is sometimes another, This Week In LibraryBlogLand will be a third if it ever resurrects, and the now-defunct Carnival of the InfoSciences was often a fourth. Each of these gathers together the posts of others and strings them into some sort of narrative about contemporary issues in librarianship. But each also has its weakness as a Preserver of Zeitgeist. Cites & Insights preserves the issues that interested Walt, for example, and Uncontrolled Vocabulary preserves issues that Greg deems newsworthy. These foci are necessary and by no means a fault, but it leaves me wishing that more people had the time, energy, inclination, and ability to take on the task of this kind of preservation so that more pieces of the internet conversation would get named, recorded and preserved.
Of course I added a comment! I’d never thought of “preserving the zeitgeist” as a principal function of C&I, and that certainly isn’t its sole or primary function—but I think Jastram is right: It has become a significant function (see this article—and also see the most widely-read C&I ever). Here’s what I also found necessary to say, after noting that two of the four zeitgeist-preserver mentioned are either moribund or defunct (and a third has since gone dark): “Weaving these things together is actual work, and unless you’re a little strange (like the proprietor of Cites & Insights), it may not be particularly rewarding work. The group of half a dozen library ezine/newsletter publishers that was briefly COWLZ is now down to...well, one.” If I was sensible, either financially or in a desire to build the kind of reputation that leads to fame etc. (e.g., narrowly defined expertise), C&I would not exist. Weaving together informal zeitgeist preservation is not only hard work, it’s unusually thankless: the standard response is that you’re just copying what other people said.
So, no, I don’t really expect to see other similar ejournals popping up all over the place. And I’m going to try to ignore any “responsibility” for preserving the zeitgeist.
Getting back to the comment theme, Nina Simon asked this on December 2, 2008 at Museum 2.0 (museumtwo.blogspot.com). She begins: “When people ask about blogging, the question of comments comes up more frequently than any other. It’s a bit strange. Why not ask more typical website questions, ‘why don’t more people visit my blog?’ or ‘why don’t more people link to my blog?’” To Simon—unlike some other bloggers—”somewhere inside ourselves, we feel that comments are the thing that validate a blog’s existence.”
But here’s the problem: the vast majority of people who read your blog aren’t reading it because they want or plan to comment on it. They are reading it to read it--to learn, absorb, and gain awareness of new things.
Simon notes that she rarely comments on other blogs (and notes why) and says:
95% of the blog posts I read are exciting to me because they provide me with useful, interesting windows into new information. They’re like magazine articles. I may talk about them with friends or pass them on, but only once in a blue moon will I write a letter “to the editor” to share my thoughts back to the author.
Simon thinks her blog has a lousy comment rate, averaging seven comments per post. By my standards, a conversational intensity of seven is terrific (only 14 liblogs did that well in The Liblog Landscape, and Museum 2.0 wasn’t one of them, as its conversational intensity was 4.83 for March-May 2008), but she’s looking at her 10,000 unique readers per month as a basis for comparison. She also thinks that’s not crucial—that it doesn’t devalue the posts.
The other reason not to let comments drive your efforts is that the posts which elicit the most comments are not necessarily the ones that readers value most. It’s easy as the blogger to feel this way--after all, I get the most value as a content recipient when you comment back to me, so I (probably incorrectly) inflate the value of those posts.
Simon notes her most commented-on posts—all of which are “personal and provocative,” but “certainly less informative” than many other posts.
Of course, if you are writing your blog for marketing purposes, you should care about the number of readers. If you are writing to have industry impact, you should care about the number of people who link to you. And if you are writing your blog for conversational purposes, you should care about the quantity and quality of comments. So think about why you are writing before you worry about how to get more comments.
Simon knows why bloggers care about comments: “They are the most obvious way that you can see that all of your hard work has had impact on someone. Someone cares! Blogging means giving a lot to a faceless community, and every comment fills in a face.”
Still, as Simon says, for most expository blogs—blogs that are more about topics than about friends & family—comments shouldn’t be the primary measure of success. That said, I’m sure Simon was happy with the results of this exposition: 23 comments (including only one response by Simon herself).
Comments are nice. Conversations are even better. Neither is essential to the nature of the Platonic blog, although either or both may be essential to specific blogs.
Many of us, particularly in the library field, are blogging less and meaning it more. The general level of conversational intensity has gone up a little, I believe (although, unlike number of posts, that one’s harder to prove)—but that’s only as measured within blogs themselves. FriendFeed offers a rich new arena to comment on posts in a highly conversational mode, although it’s still a niche product (about one million repeat users at the end of 2008). There are other arenas and have been for some time. Posts draw comments on lists, on Facebook, on Twitter and in chat rooms. Posts draw other posts—and just as some of us don’t allow comments for very good reasons, some of us don’t show trackbacks for very good reasons.
If your only or primary reason for blogging is feedback, you’re as unlikely to succeed as if your primary reason is fame or advertising revenue. But sure, those of us who allow comments always appreciate them: That, after all, is human nature.
Kay Johnson asks “Are blogs here to stay?” in the September 2008 Serials Review. The rest of the article title: “An examination of the longevity and currency of a static list of library and information science weblogs.” I saw the article as a preprint; I see no way to obtain it on the open web, so won’t provide a URL.
It’s an odd article in some ways. Johnson uses Susan Herzog’s BlogBib (blog-bib.blogspot.com) as a reference point and states flatly, “It is a tribute to her selection criteria that “BlogBib” continues to be of use as a library blog bibliography” 21 months after it was last updated. I won’t argue the point, although substantial portions of the eight-part bibliography deal with blogging in general and the whole was seriously out of date by mid-2008 (Herzog explicitly stopped maintaining the site). I find it interesting that the “Studies on blogging” section mentions neither the 2005 nor 2006 Cites & Insights studies—but that may be indicative of the literature gulf, the extent to which gray literature simply does not exist from certain perspectives. (Herzog comments on a 2004 study of 55 library-related blogs in three countries in late 2003; that study appeared in a print journal. There’s nothing newer related to studies of liblogs and library blogs.)
Johnson’s mostly using Part 7, a list of 82 “select librarian/library blogs.” The new research project consisted of clicking on the URL for each blog (or searching for it if the URL didn’t work) and noting the latest update date. She calls blogs “very active” if they were updated any time in April 2008 (she did the observations on April 25) and hadn’t changed URLs; 49 of the 82 fit these criteria. Using an extremely generous definition of “active”—updated any time in 2008—Johnson adds another nine “active” blogs. Ten more were active but had changed URLs. In all, that’s 68 blogs out of 82 (83%) that remained at least marginally active and findable after a 16-month gap, which I’d regard as excellent longevity.
The rest? Most were moribund (nine most recently updated in 2007, two most recently updated in 2006 and two most recently updated in 2005).
Johnson feels the 80% activity rate (she includes three sites in her calculations that aren’t blogs at all) is low, partly because she asserts these blogs “are of higher quality and interest than many on the Web.” Why so? Apparently because they’re in Herzog’s list, since I see no other basis for such an assertion.
It’s an interesting study with loads of footnotes, but it raises a number of flags even apart from editorial oddities such as consistently adding a “c” to Richard Akerman’s last name. (I wouldn’t notice that in a blog post, but this is an article in a professional journal, she repeats the error twice—and Akerman’s name is spelled properly at BlogBib and, of course, on Akerman’s blog itself.)
▪ She did not do the small amount of extra work to measure longevity—that is, how long active blogs have been around. (It’s rarely difficult to find the start date of a blog.) In practice, this is a report on currency, not longevity.
▪ “Very active” seems an excessively generous term for blogs updated within a 25-day period.
▪ Here’s the biggie: She finishes by thanking Susan Herzog for creating BlogBib and saying “Perhaps I or someone else will examine the longevity and other aspects of these blogs in a few years.” Why? Someone else has examined survival and currency, and other aspects, of much larger populations of library and librarian blogs, although it appears that those examinations aren’t on Johnson’s radar screen. (Not in the formal literature, and not by an appropriate expert, equals does not exist.) Of course, my examinations took more than a day to complete, but I’ll warrant that those examinations, and the readily available lists of blogs involved, are far more suitable for future studies than Herzog’s set of 82.
What’s really odd here is that Johnson did go to the web for further research and she’s researching a web-based phenomenon—but seems to credit only the formal literature as being worth review. Maybe if I charged $30 per issue for Cites & Insights (roughly the personal rate for Serials Review; the institutional rate is $91.50 per issue)? An earlier part of the article asks “Are blogs strictly ephemera, or are they culturally and historically important?” after asking “Does it matter if blogs disappear?” I would respond that, if the formal gray literature (of which this journal is definitely part) is disregarded, then there may be a presumption about the significance of blogs—a presumption I regard as incorrect but common.
The news on a broader range of liblogs is pretty good. As noted in the preface to the bound Volume 6 of Cites & Insights, 90% of the blogs discussed in “Investigating the biblioblogosphere” (which appeared in 2005) were still active 27 months later; 79% of the much larger group in “Looking at liblogs: The great middle” (August 2006) were active 17 months later. Those are all liblogs, not library blogs. Of the latter, 92% of academic library blogs that were active in March-May 2007 were still active in late December 2008 (using a 120-day limit for activity), as were 89% of public library blogs. Of 475 liblogs with posts in March-May 2007 that were still visible on the web in December 2008, 87% qualify as active. These are all better figures than the 83%, and reflect a much larger and, I would argue, more meaningful universe. (The latter figures appeared in the February 2009 Cites & Insights.)
Is it worth looking at those blogs in a year, in two years, in three years to consider longevity? Maybe—but I have this sinking feeling that such studies, no matter how large, well constructed and carefully carried out, will be invisible within the halls of Proper Librarianship.
Rant off. Let’s look at comments within liblogs about the staying power of blogs and liblogs.
That’s how Marcus Banks puts it in this November 2, 2008 post at Marcus’ world (mbanks.typepad.com/my_ weblog/). He’s one of several to note the absurd Wired piece saying you should “pull the plug” on your blog and use Twitter instead—a piece that, since it appears in the national chronicle of Ooh! Shiny!, strongly suggests that blogs will do just fine as useful tools. His response:
When I started this blog almost four years ago, blogging was hot. The 2004 election had just concluded, and during that campaign there was breathless talk about how the blogosphere would take down the “mainstream media.” I didn’t have such ambitions, but did want to jump into the fray.
Back then I often had short posts, sometimes annotated with pictures taken by Helen. I also had longer posts, but the joy of the blog was that it could have anything--silly, serious, short, long, in between.
These days blogging has become more of a chore. If I want to be flippant I’ll just craft a snarky Facebook status. And If I want to post pictures I can do that in Facebook too… So what’s left for the blog? Those long, thoughtful passages that are hard to craft….
…Back in 2005 blogs were hip because they offered a low-bandwidth way to get words online. In 2008 many people have stronger Internet connections, and words and links alone are boring.
So why do I still blog? Precisely because it still offers an outlet for that more “serious” writing. You won’t see the short, silly posts these days; for that you have to follow my Facebook status feed…But hopefully this blog still offers a good place for reasonable and insightful commentary on a variety of topics.
For as much as I love them, it’s hard to fit nuances and complexity into a Facebook status.
Maybe my comment on his post said it better than my sentence above:
You mean people still read Wired? It’s only sensible that, as library-related blogs transition from Shiny New Toy to established useful tool, blogs in general become irrelevant to Wired: They’ve entered the real world and aren’t that shiny any more.
Harking back to my rant above, this one’s by Richard Akerman, posted November 7, 2008 on Science Library Pad (scilib.typepad.com/science_library_pad/), although if you go there now the title’s “blogging (becomes ordinary).” Excerpts, from a post that mentions Wired’s “typically hyperbolic” piece and a more reasonable Economist piece, “Blogging grows up”:
Once you strip the hype away, [both pieces] basically say that blogging is a part of the commodity infrastructure of the Internet now, it’s just one communication option. This is not too surprising, considering that blogging will reach its 10th anniversary next year (by my estimation anyway)… 10 years, that’s what, 70 years in Internet time?
Blogging: not dead, just resting. Just an experienced old man, actually.
I’ve found that as I’m using Twitter and FriendFeed more, I’m doing more content consumption and less content generation, which is unfortunate… I have recognized a need to blog more…
I must admit, I prefer “matures” to “(becomes ordinary).” If anything, I think the proliferation of shorter-faster media has made blogs more interesting and less ordinary—but also less shiny. Otherwise, I’d note that I’ve seen that happen elsewhere—people who used to be active bloggers shifting more to faster media and, after a while, showing up again but with longer, more thoughtful posts. Which is all to the good.
Moving away from liblogs for the moment, we come to this post on November 7, 2008, by Nicholas Carr at Rough type (www.roughtype.com). Excerpts with commentary:
Blogging seems to have entered its midlife crisis, with much existential gnashing-of-teeth about the state and fate of a literary form that once seemed new and fresh and now seems familiar and tired. And there’s good reason for the teeth-gnashing. While there continue to be many blogs, including a lot of very good ones, it seems to me that one would be hard pressed to make the case that there’s still a “blogosphere.” That vast, free-wheeling, and surprisingly intimate forum where individual writers shared their observations, thoughts, and arguments outside the bounds of the traditional media is gone. Almost all of the popular blogs today are commercial ventures with teams of writers, aggressive ad-sales operations, bloated sites, and strategies of self-linking. Some are good, some are boring, but to argue that they’re part of a “blogosphere” that is distinguishable from the “mainstream media” seems more and more like an act of nostalgia, if not self-delusion.
I agree that “blogosphere” is a meaningless term today—but it always was a meaningless term, or at least it was once there were more than, say, 50 blogs. There’s no more a blogosphere than there is a meaningful “bookosphere” linking all currently published books or a “magasphere” that finds all magazines related to one another. Blogs are several media with millions of distinctive examples. On the other, for Carr to focus on the “popular blogs” is nonsensical: If there’s a heart to blogging, it’s not in the monster blogs but in the hundreds of thousands of midrange blogs, those read by a few dozen to a few tens of thousands of people.
And that’s why there’s so much angst today among the blogging set….
“Blogging” has always had two very different definitions, of course. One is technical: a simple system for managing and publishing content online… The other involves a distinctive style of writing: a personal diary, or “log,” of observations and links, unspooling in a near-real-time chronology. When we used to talk about blogging, the stress was on the style. Today, what blogs have in common is mainly just the underlying technology…
Always? Bull. For many of us (possibly most of us), blogging never implied one distinctive style of writing, at least not in the areas I’ve followed.
Stylewise, little distinguishes today’s popular blogs from ordinary news sites. One good indicator is page bloat…Among the top 100 blogs, as listed by the blog search engine Technorati, the average “front page” (note, by the way, how the mainstream-media term is pushing aside the more personal “home page”) is nearly a megabyte, and three-quarters of the blogs have front pages larger than a half megabyte…
Once again, by focusing on the most popular blogs (almost all multi-author, commercial magazines-in-blog-form), Carr’s abandoning serious discussion of blogs as a medium.
I was a latecomer to blogging, launching Rough Type in the spring of 2005. But even then, the feel of blogging was completely different than it is today. The top blogs were still largely written by individuals. They were quirky and informal. Such blogs still exist (and long may they thrive!), but…they’ve been pushed to the periphery.
They haven’t been “pushed” anywhere. Most individually written blogs probably have more readers now than they did in 2005, at least if the bloggers have something interesting or worthwhile to say. The fact that mediablogs have more readers is meaningless—unless, I suppose, only primacy matters to you as a blogger (or you’re depending on ad sales).
It’s no surprise, then, that the vast majority of blogs have been abandoned. Technorati has identified 133 million blogs since it started indexing them in 2002. But at least 94 percent of them have gone dormant, the company reports in its most recent “state of the blogosphere” study. Only 7.4 million blogs had any postings in the last 120 days, and only 1.5 million had any postings in the last seven days. Now, as longtime blogger Tim Bray notes, 7.4 million and 1.5 million are still sizable numbers, but they’re a whole lot lower than we’ve been led to believe. “I find those numbers shockingly low,” writes Bray; “clearly, blogging isn’t as widespread as we thought.” Call it the Long Curtail: For the lion’s share of bloggers, the rewards just aren’t worth the effort.
But it’s been true for years now that most blogs are abandoned shortly after birth. If Carr is suggesting there actually were 133 million active blogs (or even 74 million active blogs) at some point, there would be a historical case here—but that’s not what the Technorati reports show. (In fact, you can’t determine the number of active blogs from pre-2008 Technorati reports.)
[Carr then suggests a relationship between amateur radio and blogging.]
Who killed the blogosphere? No one did. Its death was natural, and foretold.
Nobody killed the blogosphere; a silly term just ceased to have any meaning at all. As for blogs, they’re alive and doing fine—but they’re not shiny (and, despite Carr’s closing line that “blogging is new and sexy,” they’re neither new nor sexy).
Tim Bray offers a telling comment, even if he understates the number of active bloggers by a few million:
So, we now have a couple of million voices, with mid-level individual presences such as my own having a few tens of thousands of readers, and with regular outbursts of blog-to-blog conversation. I’m not sure what the right word for this landscape is, but I’m pretty sure that “dead” isn’t it.
There it is. Blogging is doing just fine. The blogosphere may be dead, but it was an artificial construct in any case. (Iindeed, Carr responds to Bray in a way that suggests his post really was about the term, which really does make it much ado about very little.)
This post had lots of comments including a couple from Seth Finkelstein—and this is an area in which he and I simply disagree. He sees little or no value in blogs that reach a few hundred or a few thousand of one’s peers; I see considerable value in such blogs, which is one reason I read them and write one of them. (One other commenter feels much as I did when reading this post: the term “blogosphere” never existed “as anything more than a shared hallucination.”
We’ll close this section with Angel Rivera offering another exemplar of how other media (and life!) change blogging—posted December 3, 2008 at The gypsy librarian (gypsylibrarian.blogspot.com). Rivera begins with the same Wired nonsense:
The argument is that you can express yourself faster with tools like Flickr, Facebook, or Twitter. I will admit there may be a point to that. I have been blogging less. Part of it for me is the lack of time, but it also the feeling that I actually need to have something of substance to post. Writing does take some time and effort; this post was written a few days ago, and I let it simmer before posting here. The obstacle for me when it comes to blogging is time, or the lack of it.
In addition, I have discovered that I can use Facebook, post a link, and make a brief comment about the item I linked. It is much less effort than opening Blogger… [Notes uses of various “microbologging” tools as an alternative.]
Not that I am giving up blogging. When I started this blog, I did not start with any great aspirations. Over time, it has become a tool for reflection along with a way to make notes on things of interest or that I thought are useful. That has worked for me…
I guess the bottom line for now is that my blogging habits are changing somewhat, or at least evolving…. I like that idea, the idea of one’s writing evolving. We’ll see how it goes.
Blogging isn’t dying—but the uses of blogs are evolving. I like that idea too, just as I like the idea that your own writing could keep evolving (and hope mine does, at least some of the time).
The so-called outline for this article includes four more sections (plus conclusions), based on groups of posts I thought worth noting and commenting on.
But I can see by that word count at the bottom of the screen that I’m already over 8,000 words, which is one-third of a thick issue—and that means I need to postpone the rest to another time.
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