It’s a tough question to answer because I don’t think everyone is on the same page when it comes to understanding what “blogging” means. Four years ago I took a pass at this in a post titled: Are We Heading to a Post-Blogging World? The irony of publishing that post on a third-party site (Social Media Today), instead of my own blog, had everything to do with my point.
I feel the same way today as I did then: many people think “blogging” is synonymous with “audience.” This is a fundamental mistake. In its barest form, unpopulated with smart thoughts and good writing, a “blog” is just a web-based, technological means to publish.
The story of the rise of the web (and the story that connects Web 1.0 to Web 2.) is in large part the story of ever-evolving tools to make it easy to publish. In the early days, we had HTML editors, FTP, servers, domain name registration via Byzantine processes including sending off your registration information by fax.
Today, we have a text editor easily available in a browser and a button that says “Publish” for when we are done. Between the time of hand-coded HTML and FTP mastery and today, blogs arrived to make online publishing easy.
Since those early days of the web, much excitement and interest in online opportunity have been colored by a misperception that lives through today, summed up best by the old rallying cry: “If you build it they will come.”
Not true. At least, for most, not true enough. And today that misperception manifests around the primary means for quick and easy online publishing (blogs) when most people think that having a blog is the same as having an audience. A blog is no more and no less than a technological means to build and engage an audience – and building a blog is not the same thing as building an audience.
Bloggers build audiences – yes they do – but busy people also do what they can to put their work in front of audiences where they are proven to gather. So I think blogging might not be dead but certainly has evolved. For many who like to engage friends and colleagues on important matters of the day – much of the writing might take place not on blogs, but where people actually gather.
This is my longwinded way of saying that I don’t think blogs are dead, but I do believe people who have been paying attention expect something different from them. For the last five years, we have seen a rise of third-party websites of every shape and color that give people the means to say something and the audience to appreciate it. [Disclaimer: of course I see things this way, JD Supra exists as a way to make it very easy for writers – including bloggers – to actually be read and noticed by people after the hard work of putting pen to paper, as it were. It is fairly common for new clients to come to us because “We spent all this time starting a blog and now we want readers.”]
Since I wrote that article four years ago, we have seen the rise of even more third-party platforms that, in their own way, can help to answer the problem of readership (or, more specifically, can deliver the readers you’re looking for).
(In parallel, we have also seen the rise of a new type of platform that VCs seem to love to fund: the marketplace. Uber is a marketplace. Airbnb is a marketplace. They connect people who need something with people who have what’s needed. Think of third-party sites for publishing your writing as knowledge marketplaces that connect people who have something to say with people who need to know something…)
However, in the years since I wrote that post, we have also seen the inevitable, steady rise of noise (in the constant dance between signal and noise) because, while more and more people have the means to publish, for most organizations, the model for making money from it has not changed. That is to say: for the majority of producers of content (mainstream media), it is an eyeball model. Content is produced to generate eyeballs against which to sell advertising. This is a race to the bottom, causing (as we see today) clickbait that is skewing the balance between signal and noise – and the landscape has never been noisier.
Most bloggers (or professionals who happen to be bloggers) don’t write to sell ads against eyeballs, but they do compete for readership in a noisy landscape in which the competition is very good at making you click … so I say all of this to make the point that building your own readership remains a challenge today. It’s doable, but your readers are pulled in many directions by many other destinations. Bloggers build readers, they do – but it seems to me that there has always been a minority of bloggers who do this. It requires, in my view, a commitment beyond the desire simply to write and be read.
I don’t think blogging is dead – but I do believe that, for those who are paying attention and learning as they go, the meaning of blogging has changed.
Is the concept that if I have a blog, I have an audience dead? I hope so.
People will correctly argue on the other side that one needs a destination, a home of one’s own for your own writing. I agree with that. But lately, that has not been my dominant way of thinking. Sometime between that 2012 post I wrote and today, I started caring more about being read – by the right people, period – versus being read on my blog … and so our own blog faltered. We don’t publish there anymore. We publish where we know we can guarantee an audience.
I keep all of my shirts in a closet at home that few people have seen. But I wear my shirts out in public and that’s where they are seen by whomever I encounter. That’s my view on content. For many people, to think that way requires a re-consideration of what blogging means.