Today, there is increasing evidence that the art of blog writing is losing ground to even faster forms of communication, from 140-character Twitter blasts to one-sentence status updates on Facebook and MySpace. Nielsen Media Research estimates that of the 126 million blogs counted by its crawlers, the vast majority are rarely – if ever – updated.
According to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, blogging activity has dropped drastically among young adults in the United States, a demographic that traditionally helps define the tenor of the online conversation. In December 2007, for instance, 28 percent of all 18-to-29-year-olds with an Internet connection kept some sort of blog. By the same time last year, that number hovered around 15 percent. Meanwhile, the number of teens who say they blog regularly continues to shrink, as the Web’s youngest users ditch the blogosphere for the frantic pace of the social-media world.
“Sites like Twitter are offering this other way to maintain a similar social connection, but without the concerted effort of a detailed, four-paragraph blog post,” says Amanda Lenhart, a senior research analyst at the Pew Research Center.
Of course, the plain old blog – a term that can encapsulate content as diverse as a collection of short-form Tumblr posts or embedded YouTube videos – isn’t going to vanish anytime soon. Companies around the world continue to launch blogs as a way of reaching out to consumers, as do major media outlets.
BlogPulse, an analytics company operated by Nielsen, shows hundreds of new blogs launched every week. In fact, as the Pew study indicates, blogging has actually climbed slightly in popularity among American adults over the age of 30, from 7 percent in 2007 to 11 percent last year.
But many longtime bloggers say that the blog is entering a period of important transition – from one-size-fits-all soapbox to just one more tool in the cluttered Internet toolbox.
Facebook and Twitter, and not the blog, are now “the glue that holds online communities together,” says Dylan Wilbanks, a Web producer in Seattle. Gone are the days when Mr. Wilbanks would take to his blog to describe quotidian events or record passing fancies. “Sharing small pieces of data like links over blogs was like owning a heavy-duty pickup that you only used to pick up bread and milk at the grocery store,” he says. “Blogs are meant for people for whom being a writer, being a creator, is a passion, or perhaps a requirement of life. They’re meant for people for whom Facebook’s ‘What’s on your mind?’ question can’t always be answered in 500 characters or less.” As Wilbanks is quick to point out, not everyone has that passion, which is why blogging is losing its luster.
In June 2008, Wilbanks published a post to his personal blog, The Client and Server. The 985-word post was a humorous take on the hyperscrutinized nature of the presidential race, which was then in full swing; Wilbanks titled his work, “It ain’t over til it’s over... or is it?” It ended up being the final post on The Client and Server. Wilbanks says he meant to fold the blog into his personal site, DylanWilbanks.com, but work and home life got the better of him and the integration remains unfinished. “Meanwhile,” Wilbanks says, “I just haven’t sat down and written anything.” He continues to update his Twitter and Facebook feeds. Those sites, he says, allow him to trade “small thoughts with my community, and right now all I can manage is small thoughts.”
In a way, of course, it’s not just blogging that’s changing – it’s the very way we communicate our thoughts online. In the past, blogs were the prime vehicle for pour-your-guts-out self-expression, often of an uncomfortably intimate variety. Bloggers wrote 3,000 words on a recent breakup, or 17 paragraphs on anxiety over law school applications. Many bloggers haven’t stopped mining their personal lives for long-form blog fodder. But younger users seem to be turning en masse toward social-media sites, where it’s quicker to broadcast information, and easier to receive instant feedback.
There’s a “flagging desire to blog that I feel in myself and see in other late-20s, early-30s people in my friend circle,” says Jessica Newton, a writer based in Asheville, N.C. Ms. Newton continues to post to her blog, although she says the site “doesn’t serve the purpose in my life I once hoped it would.”
Michael Banks, the author of “Blogging Heroes: Interviews with 30 of the World’s Top Bloggers,” says that many bloggers have simply realized that the energy and dedication to maintain a blog far exceeded their expectations.
When Mr. Banks published “Blogging Heroes” in 2007, there was still a widely shared belief that one could instantly become rich and famous through blogging. Eventually, Banks says, “people sort of woke up to the fact that blogging required tremendous dedication and effort. The best bloggers are there at the keyboard every day, 12 hours a day sometimes, no matter what.” Good blogging he says, is intensive. “You can’t just blurt anything out. You have to think it through.”
Anthony Chung, a dentist in Toronto, says his personal blogging began to taper off in 2007. “From what I’ve seen online,” Mr. Chung says, “few bloggers with personal blogs tend to remain interested in blogging after two to three years. This was true before Facebook, and is especially true now. Our priorities and time commitments change.” Chung points out that when you first start a blog, “all who listen are strangers.” But as time passes, your audience grows, and your identity is more fully exposed. “That’s a pretty big throttle to the momentum of a blog,” Chung says. “Blogging from that point forward requires more thought and less impulsiveness. And that requires more time.”
For his part, Chung now spends a lot of his time with a photography company he calls Enfoto, which he uses Facebook, Flickr, and Twitter to promote. He maintains one blog for Enfoto, and contributes to another group dentistry blog, but keeps his digital scribbling focused on professional matters. New-media prognosticators say Chung’s digital path – from personal blog to an array of platforms, each designated for a specific purpose – is likely to be a common one in coming years.
“I think what might be happening is that something [that] blogging wasn’t very good at – instant notification, status updates, quick conversation – is shifting to the platforms where it is better handled,” says Jay Rosen, a professor of journalism at New York University. “People who once started blogs to be part of the online conversation probably wouldn’t do that today. They would use Facebook or Twitter. But the combination of a Twitter feed for constant contact and a blog for persistent writing over time is too effective for it to wholly disappear.”