A rare positioning of planets Venus (top left) and Jupiter (top right) and the crescent moon of the Earth provides a 'smiley' effect that captivated Asia Monday night Dec. 1, 2008 in Manila, Philppines.
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Oh, grow up
Blogging is no longer what it was, because it has entered the mainstream
IN THE anthropologically isolated subculture of elite bloggers, it was the equivalent of a watershed, and certainly a tear-shed. With “a heavy heart, and much consideration”, Jason Calacanis this summer announced his “retirement from blogging”, which he believed was “the right decision for me and my family”. Mr Calacanis, a founder of Weblogs, Inc., a blog network that he later sold to AOL, an internet portal, had been a member of the “A-list”—those bloggers with the most incoming links and the highest “authority” on blog-search engines such as Technorati. With the bathos of Napoleon departing for Elba or Michael Jordan bidding adieu to basketball, Mr Calacanis bowed out, reverting to the ancient medium of e-mail to disseminate his opinions.
“Blogging is simply too big, too impersonal, and lacks the intimacy that drew me to it,” he offered by way of explanation. It was, he said, “the pressure” of staying on the A-list—ie, of keeping his blog so big and impersonal—that got him. Only a few years ago, so few people blogged that being a blogosphere celebrity required little more than showing up. Now it takes hard work. And vitriol. “Today the blogosphere is so charged, so polarised, and so filled with haters hating that it’s simply not worth it,” Mr Calacanis lamented.
The rest of the world may well have missed the unfolding of his tragedy. Behind it, however, is a bigger trend. Blogging has entered the mainstream, which—as with every new medium in history—looks to its pioneers suspiciously like death. To the earliest practitioners, over a decade ago, blogging was the regular posting of text updates, and later photos and videos, about themselves and their thoughts to a few friends and family members. Today lots of internet users do this, only they may not think of it as blogging. Instead, they update their profile pages on Facebook, MySpace or other social networks.
They may also “micro-blog” on services such as Twitter, which recreate the raw, immediate and intimate feel of early blogs. Twitter messages, usually sent from mobile phones, are fewer than 140 characters long and answer the question “What are you doing?” Tellingly, Evan Williams, the co-founder of Blogger—an early blogging service that is now owned by Google, the Wal-Mart of the internet—now runs Twitter, which he regards as the future.
As for traditional (if that is the word) blog pages, these tend increasingly to belong to conventional media organisations. Nearly every newspaper, radio and television channel now runs blogs and updates them faster than any individual blogger ever could. Professional blogs such as HuffingtonPost.com for liberals (with 4.5m visitors in September) or FreeRepublic.com for conservatives (with 1m visitors in that month) have played a big role in America’s election season, according to comScore, an online-measurement firm. These “new media” firms are now suffering from the same advertising slowdown as their offline rivals. Gawker, a gossip-blog empire, has already begun laying off bloggers.
Simultaneously, companies far outside the media industry have embraced blogging as just another business tool. They are using blogs both to get corporate messages to the public and as an internal medium for staff. Companies like Six Apart, which provides Movable Type, TypePad and other blogging tools, see firms as their most promising market.
Gone, in other words, is any sense that blogging as a technology is revolutionary, subversive or otherwise exalted, and this upsets some of its pioneers. Confirmed, however, is the idea that blogging is useful and versatile. In essence, it is a straightforward content-management system that posts updates in reverse-chronological order and allows comments and other social interactions. Viewed as such, blogging may “die” in much the same way that personal-digital assistants (PDAs) have died. A decade ago, PDAs were the preserve of digerati who liked using electronic address books and calendars. Now they are gone, but they are also ubiquitous, as features of almost every mobile phone.