There has been a lot of discussion recently about the changing face of the blogging landscape. On one hand many bloggers have turned to the likes of FriendFeed and Twitter to express themselves, instead of their blogs. On the other hand we have a group of professional blogs that are becoming more and more like 'old media'. But interestingly, in both cases, there are complaints about how 'social media' is failing them.
Media in general has been undergoing a seachange ever since the Internet arrived on the scene in the 90's. But this year, 2008, that change has intensified. Everyone is racing to adopt and adapt to social media - the read/write web as some of us call it. But social media is not a panacea; in fact it produces just as many problems as solutions.
2008: Jostling, Elbowing
For a few years now 'big media' companies have been scrambling to adapt to the new Web-powered world of blogs, wikis and aggregators. This has led to a lot of jostling for position amongst both old and new media. This year we've begun to see old media acquisitions of new media - two recent examples are Ars Technica being acquired by Conde Naste and PaidContent acquired by The Guardian's owners. There's also been some talk of "roll-ups" among some of the leading blogs (personally I think this is highly unlikely, due to the the issues listed below for pro blogs).
Meanwhile, the art of personal blogging has experienced its own seachange. This year we've seen the emergence of even more personal forms of web publishing than blogs, specifically Twitter ("micro-blogging" that has taken the blogosphere by storm this year) and FriendFeed (a lifestreaming service that enables users to aggregate and comment on a wide variety of Web media). Many people have reduced their blogging or switched completely to FriendFeed and Twitter, along with the plethora of web publishing platforms where they can create content (social networks, content aggregators like Tumblr and Soup.io, family-friendly blog platforms like Vox, and so on).
The only trouble is, these new new media have most of the same problems of the old new media (blogs): A-List dominance, information overload, petty feuds, gaming, too much noise, scrambling for attention, overabundance of options (what should I 'like'? how many feeds can I cram into FriendFeed, etc).
Darren Rowse, who runs the impressive ProBlogger blog, wondered recently whether blogging has "lost its relational focus?" Darren started blogging 6 years ago (about the same time as me) and he says that back then "there was a real community spirit among bloggers". But he notes that "the blogosphere is a different place now in many ways." He points to the increasing competition among blogs and that some bloggers are "developing relationships more out of strategy rather than just because they want to connect."
I don't think there's reason for alarm though. The fact is, pro blogs are full fledged - albeit niche - media businesses and they need to be run as such. As Sarah Perez mentioned in her personal blog recently, that is damn hard work. If you're in the pro blog business, you have to care about page views, advertising, business development and strategy, and yes - the "competition". What it boils down to is that new media is becoming more like old media - e.g. pro blogs run adverts and pay their writers. At the same time of course, old media is implementing social software such as blogs, widgets and more.
A personal blog by comparison is a hobby and most of its value is in being part of a conversation. I know, because that's exactly how RWW started out 6-odd years ago! ;-) That's not to say that personal blogs don't produce professional content - because many of them do.
Pro Blog Friction
The world of professional blogging is a fast-moving, non-stop, social, competitive (sometimes even ruthless) world. Ultimately it produces a lot of value in the media world because of those things - analysis that comes from people who are passionate about and actually use the products they're writing about, fast-breaking news, thought-provoking discussions in the comments, and so on. Old Media wants a piece of all that action.
But there are disconnects between the new and old media worlds - and social media is the cause.
Professional blogs rely on social software for their success, and often a big part of the 'social' aspect is a blogger's opinions and how he/she voices them. Basically the more opinionated a blogger is, the more attention they get (good and bad). This is good for page views, good for business. However the flip side is that the blogger's personal brand can become more important than the blog's brand. It also causes friction in the blogging community, as people resort to provocative opinions and personal attacks to gain attention.
While ultimately professional blogging is reliant on social media, if it becomes too reliant on the 'social' part then it implodes. We've seen a lot of the symptoms over the past year: burnt out bloggers, 'bitchmemes' (when lots of bloggers complain loudly about something usually inconsequential), hints of corruption as bloggers write about things they've invested in or have an interest in, stirring up controversy as a business tactic. We've even seen a kind of mafia mentality emerge - vendettas, ring-kissing, sychophants surrounding power bloggers, etc.
Is social media causing more problems than it's worth? My answer is no. In professional blogs, the acquisitions of Ars Technica and PaidContent have shown what can happen when social media technologies are balanced with professional branding, community and business acumen. And there are plenty of independent professional blogs exhibiting the same characteristics (not that I'm claiming that for RWW, but obviously we strive for this).
And for personal blogs, as always there is so much vitality and interesting content to be found in a blog that is run by a passionate individual who wants to connect with like-minded people. Whether you use blogging, FriendFeed, Twitter - or any combination of those and similar platforms - the blogosphere remains a great place to make friends and achieve your own personal and/or professional goals. If, that is, you can learn how to deal with information overload, too many choices, the A-List issue, etc etc!
Some of my own biases as a pro blogger have come out in this article, but at the end of the day I love blogging, I love that I can do it for a living, and I enjoy the hyper-competitive nature of this industry. So what are your thoughts on new and old media and how they're intermingling?
Image credit: Jayel Aheram