The End of Substance, or: Is Blogging Dead?

A worrying trend is becoming increasingly obvious: Many of the very best and most interesting bloggers are writing less and less.

Some examples: Nick Carr is down to maybe a couple of posts per month, and there’s a similar pattern on the blogs of Dharmesh Shah and the always controversial Andrew Keen. Jason Calacanis recently decided to send out his more substantial pieces through his e-mail list only, and his former blog is now just a photo stream. Marc Andreessen and John Hagel seem to have disappeared entirely. And online PR guru Steve Rubel just officially gave up blogging and instead wants us to read his “lifestream” on Posterous — which is nice, but hardly a replacement for his deeper analytical posts.

It’s a striking pattern that particularly well-known tech bloggers (i.e. real thought leaders) who specialize in longer analytical pieces (i.e. real substance) are pulling back. It feels like well thought-out content is increasingly replaced by noisy, relatively random short bursts of information on Twitter, FriendFeed, Tumblr and similar platforms.

What’s going on here? Based on my own experience as a much less important blogger, I think there are three main reasons for this trend:

1. Blogging is hard work. Twittering is not.
Let’s be honest: I can easily reach about three times as many people on Twitter (and, through a feed, on Facebook) as with this blog post. And the ratio is probably even more dramatic for A list bloggers. Writing a smart Tweet that will grab people’s attention takes seconds, writing a good blog post takes hours. And the difference in the level of attention and positive feedback you’re getting might not be large. Twittering and lifestreaming are simply a more efficient way to get attention. And yes, people do blog to get attention.

2. The quality of feedback on blogs decreases with audience size.
One of the most motivating things about blogging are the comments and resulting discussions with the really smart people who read your blog. When you have a couple of hundred readers, the quality of this interaction tends to be very high. Unfortunately, it always seems to decrease as you get more readers. Suddenly “trolls” show up, you get more and more spam, and in many cases people simply seem to comment because they want to get some attention for their own blog, not because they have something to contribute. This kills one of the most important reasons for blogging.

3. You don’t necessarily get rewarded for quality.
I still remember what a thrill it was to get my first blog comments or get linked on other blogs. On Rivva.de, the German equivalent to Techmeme, I was for a while in the Top 15 most influential blogs and news sources, with a higher ranking than some well-known mainstream news outlets. How cool is that? Blogging can be very rewarding. I guess most people feel the same, even if they’re well-known authors. Traditional media doesn’t offer the same kind of instant gratification feedback loop that blogging provides.

But, you know, it gets old. And what’s even worse, the positive feedback doesn’t necessarily increase with the quality of your output. Commercial blog publishers (one of which I’m a co-founder of) know that the pure posting frequency is often more important for success than the quality of your posts. And most bloggers probably have experienced that a really strong post that they put a lot of work in hardly got any feedback, while sometimes the more fluffy pieces get picked up like crazy.

So it’s not surprising that quality-oriented bloggers in particular are looking for the next mountain to climb, the next reward curve, the next shiny new toy. And that’s not necessarily just in social media. Several popular bloggers have published books recently, are working on their speaking careers or are focusing on their startup projects.

For a while, blogs were probably the best source for breakthrough thinking about technology and entrepreneurship issues. I think this short era is coming to an end, at least for some time.

Social media, and maybe online media in general, is currently in the cambrian explosion phase. We see new concepts and channels almost every day, and the market is changing very rapidly. It probably will need a few years to settle down, for the winners to emerge, for more constant structures to evolve.

People who contribute substantial content to any medium don’t just do that because it’s fun, but because they can expect certain rewards, either in money or status. The reward equation in social media is currently changing too rapidly. That’s fine for some experimentation, but in order to create long-term incentives for deep thinkers, the ecosystem has to cool down quite a bit. In the meantime, read a good book.

7 thoughts on “The End of Substance, or: Is Blogging Dead?”

  1. Yes, I agree. There are more and more blog authors that stop blogging.

    But I also see two other directions:
    After four to five months of removing blogs and news sources from my Google Reader I have started adding blogs, again. Twitter is nice and I use it a lot more than before, but there is only twittering (in the word’s meaning), no reliable information.

    If you want to show your technological profession, you need a blog. Business and society topics can be more easily compressed to 140 or 280 letters. But I want to see, how you do it with i.e. source code. 😉

    Philip

  2. Damn! I once knew about this site, but it somehow got lost in my Feedreader.

    ad 1) Yes! And that ist great … if you blog for the right reasons. I love blogging for myself. My future me is my most important reader, and he loves great Articles.

    ad 2) Yes. So get rid of the masses! Write less! Ban Googlebots from you site! I did. And it’s great.

    ad 3) Yes and I am sorry about that also. Especially as Blogs get.

    Blogs may have left their golden years behind them. But. I think there are a few things that will stay and continue to evolve.

    1. Selfhosted Applications.
    The longer the Web 2.0 thing will continues, the more obvious is it to me that hosting your content somewhere else, at some profit oriented company is a pretty bad idea. WordPress and Drupal empowered so many People to die “Personal Publishing” that I prefer this term in the meanwhile over “Blogging”. Shaun Inmans “Fever” is another proof of that Idea.

    2. Magazine Style
    Blogger like Jason Santa Maria in the US and Christian Mücke at coldheat.de have proven, that blogs are the real successors of print journalism, when it comes to layout and design.

    3. Your personal Semantic Weblog
    The Semantic Web is here. Now. A it offers a great opportunity to those who understand their Personal Publishing Tool also as a personal Knowledge Management Tool.

  3. Hi Andreas,

    thank you very much for this interesting post. I escpecially made the same experience as you mentioned it in §3. That was also the reason why I stopped blogging for a certain time. Now I started over once again with a clear focus on quality and the knowledge that I won’t reach the masses with that kind of content. But it’s ok to me that way.

  4. I agree with regard to gadget, marking, etc. bloggers, i.e. bloggers with a short attention span and minimal substance in their postings. The can tweet now and it doesn’t make a difference. I don’t agree for other blogs, however, in many fields, blogs have replaced my former media reading, e.g. in business and economics or science. 140 characters are simply not enough for substantial texts. Most users are probably not able to read and understand longer texts, but that still lefts a large number of other users with the necessary comprehension.

  5. I agree with your points – blogging is hard, quality does not necessarily get rewarded – but I’m pretty sure blogging is not dead. There sure are a few A-list bloggers who have quit blogging, but I wouldn’t know of any statistic that shows a decline in blogging activity worldwide. Blogs are not dying I guess, they have just become established – which means they’re used for some forms of publishing while Twitter and Co. are used for others.

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