A question that has cropped up a good few times over the course of the last few years is whether or not social networking sites will ultimately win out over the humble weblog. Except people often use much more extreme language for this, so perhaps I should say will social networks kill blogging. Well, no, I don’t think so. In some ways they’re probably helping blogging (in the classical sense) along its evolutionary journey. And here’s why.
Having decided to be more active on Facebook, Nate [Lanxon, Wired Magazine] stressed that just pushing an automated headline feed wasn’t good enough. On Twitter he said you can pretty much publish “Wow! Look at this!” and a link and generate click-throughs. If you do that on Facebook though, people don’t feel like you are actually talking to them. He made a vital point about the way that the Facebook newsfeed algorithm works. The chance of your content appearing increases when people interact with your content, and one interaction is likely to lead to more interactions.
Nate said that one of their key learnings was that having a presence on Facebook wasn’t about driving fans to Wired, it was about driving Wired to fans.
The problem is, the media is not built for relationships because our industry was born in a time of factories, not services. We rarely know who our readers are (and we still call them just readers or at best commenters, not creators or collaborators). We do not have the means to gather, analyse and act on data about their activities and interests at an individual level. Thus we cannot serve them as individuals.
Right now the social networking sites occupy a similar position to CompuServe, Prodigy, or AOL in the mid 90’s. At that time each company was trying to figure out how to become a mass-market gateway to the Internet. Looking back now, their early attempts look ridiculous and doomed to failure, for we have seen the Web, and we have tasted of the blogroll and the lolcat and found that they were good.
But at the time no one knew what it would feel like to have a big global network. We were all waiting for the Information Superhighway to arrive in our TV set, and meanwhile these big sites were trying to design an online experience from the ground up. Thank God we left ourselves the freedom to blunder into the series of fortuitous decisions that gave us the Web.
I thought I’d write something of a normal post for a change, so here it is and you’re welcome to it. Regular readers may have noticed that my posts tend to exist at the extremes (either short links or spectacularly long passages) so I thought I’d attempt something in between. I should warn you that I may include a classic new-year cliché, around about the beginning of the second paragraph.
So, 2009, eh? Phfff. Where does the time go. Even if, like me, you’re entirely sceptical about the meaning of a new year, it seems impossible not to reflect on things that have happened and things that could be approaching. If you’ve been anywhere near any kind of current-affairs broadcast in the last twelve months, you’ll be only too aware that there could be many things to be miserable about right now. But here on the web, and specifically in the wacky world of the weblog, it’s a very positive time. There are plenty of reasons why this is the case — here’s the first five that came to my mind:
- Lists are okay again now. Seriously. For a time it seemed like they weren’t, given that almost every blog post in the world had adopted a list-like format, but that’s now calmed down. It’s nice to have lists back. Yay!
- Isn’t WordPress great. For a time it seemed like it wasn’t, but the latest version’s really good. Yay!
- Hasn’t the web become a pretty place of late. For a time it seemed it never would be, but now that modern browsers are really rather good, and thanks to the tireless efforts of many thousands of talented people, it’s mostly looking rather nice. Yay!
- If RSS killed blogging, then microblogging brought it back to life. The social, personal side has returned with force, be it on Twitter or elsewhere. Even the status line on Facebook has rejuvinated personal publishing. Yay!
- Isn’t there a lot to write about, all of a sudden. For a time it seemed like there wasn’t — you could either talk about Iraq or what your cat’s been up to. But right now there are loads of things to worry about! Yay!
So that’s not so bad, is it? Exactly. Plenty of reason to be cheerful there, even for a miserable sod like me. The global economy may be skirting around the pan, the energy crisis is still looming, but at least blogging’s in good shape again. Of course, this doesn’t quite stack up, but it might help to take your mind off the more pressing issues of the day once in a while, and everyone needs a little mental space from time to time. Anyone fancy a pint?
It’s been about a month now since I quit Facebook, and I am happy to report that I haven’t lost a single friend, nor have I missed out on a single important announcement! And I’m not terrifyingly annoyed at everyone I know every time I open my inbox! Hurray!