the future of blogs + mediums and content

Someone said Bruce Sterling said something the other day about blogs being dead.

That got me to thinking. I came pretty close to folding this site last time domain renewals were due. Something is different, at least for me.

Anyway, I think that in a way, he is right, and in a way, he is wrong.

Blogs happened a few years back. Users flocked to them, they were the thing. Now, there are new things – Facebook, Twitter, whatever. And yeah, a lot of blogging can be subsumed by these other tools. Blogging, in a sense, is dead.

But most blogs are and were kind of shit from an information perspective. Seriously. Most blogs never really got beyond people talking about their cats, drunkenly posting general angst, or inane comments on whatever flavour of pop trivia floats the blogger’s boat, etc. This all has value as a sort of social lubrication, but has no wider relevance or value outside of one’s immediate social context. So a certain proportion of “blog” functionality and content is the kind of social conversation which can easily be replaced by other social media platforms.

However, blogs are also a medium for putting information onto the internet, out to the world. The basic principle of being able to publish content directly onto a searchable web is incredibly powerful and should survive. It is simple, elegant and open. The medium is not dead – the numbers may inevitably decline – but its content is refining.

I expect that surviving blogs will evolve into something more like a personal magazine, with as much variety as is possible in the magazine world. Narrow point focused exercises in obsessive expertise. Ongoing commentary and reflection – a public conversation about the times. Open diaries, insights into the lives of others. Or curations of modern ephemera, with original commentary. To that extent, groupblogs are probably a more sensible modality. Few personal bloggers have the time or obsession to churn out enough content to make a site something really exceptional. And the value comes through the niche focused content. It is the long tail of information on the net – stuff that is not necessarily commercially viable in the traditional delivery mediums, but about which a distributed community shares passion. By its nature, this information will come from distributed sources rather than commerce – that is the power and value of the blog medium.

That value could be incorporated into some other platform, but the beauty of blogs is precisely the openness the medium provides.

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This all also makes me think about the relationships between medium and content. This fascinating piece argues that books – print in general – was never about content.

…consumers never really were paying for content, and publishers weren’t really selling it either. If the content was what they were selling, why has the price of books or music or movies always depended mostly on the format? Why didn’t better content cost more?

A copy of Time costs $5 for 58 pages, or 8.6 cents a page. The Economist costs $7 for 86 pages, or 8.1 cents a page. Better journalism is actually slightly cheaper.

Almost every form of publishing has been organized as if the medium was what they were selling, and the content was irrelevant. Book publishers, for example, set prices based on the cost of producing and distributing books. They treat the words printed in the book the same way a textile manufacturer treats the patterns printed on its fabrics.

Not sure how much I agree with everything in it, but the article is brief and interesting.

So yeah. The medium of blogs is one thing. The content is another. But the medium retains some value for some purposes even if most of the content vanishes to another medium. I am not at all sure how much that principle can generalise. Not sure I have a pithy summing up, either. Just thinking online…

3 Responses to “the future of blogs + mediums and content”

  1.   bruce
    September 25th, 2009 | 6:06 pm

    Well said– a lot of blogs can disappear because the facebook status line is better for that content. For the rest, the medium is easy and accessible.

    Sterling’s job is basically to generate attention for himself by making pronouncements. I saw him speak once for an hour and a half on how there would be no singularity, only to hear him admit in passing during the Q&A that something singularity like would be occuring in the biology field in about 50 years. All the invective and clever remarks were just a show, albeit an entertaining one.

  2.   Scott C
    October 4th, 2009 | 3:47 pm

    Excellent post Billy – I’ve been looking at the same thing with some of my courses at Uni and it’s definatly something which you can see occuring.

    Those blogs which I do return too are the ones where there is interesting information being posted and usually a good roster of comments on topic (which is why I keep coming back here).

  3. January 20th, 2011 | 7:23 am

    Nice one! If I could write like this I would be well chuffed. The more I read articles of such quality as this (which is rare), the more I think there might be a future for the Net. Keep it up, as it were.