Blogs are failing for a couple of reasons:
- They no longer serve as a person’s online identity.
- They are unsuitable for polyglots: blogs tend to attract a particular niche audience; anything that mixes topics is not a good fit for a blog.
- People don’t comment on blogs.
- There’s no easy way to follow blogs.
I’ll explain these below, and propose some solutions.
Blogs no longer serve as a person’s online identity
That is, they no longer represent “you” on the web. When blogs started taking off in the late 1990s, a blog was where you represented yourself on the web. Anything and everything about you was your blog. That’s how you got yourself, your identity, on the web.
Example: I’ve been running for almost a decade now my religious blog, Kineti, but it was not called “Kineti” originally, it was just the JudahGabriel blog. My first and middle name. It’s because it was to represent me; my identity online. But that’s changed; blogs aren’t about people, now, they’re about topics, so it forced me to take my blog into a narrower direction. More on that in a moment.
Today, Facebook is your identity on the web. Or if you’re a tin-foil-cap holdout, email is your identity on the web.
The great thing about the web is that everyone on the web is a producer. You produce things. You produce pictures of your family. You produce status updates, you produce information about yourself. You produce thoughts on theology, or technology, or photography, or whatever interests you. You are the producer. Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of the web is that it made everyone a producer.
And when you produce your stuff, where do you put it? On your blog? Nope. You go straight to the social networks. You’ll post pictures of your Thanksgiving holiday on Facebook. You might tweet your pictures. If you’re old fashioned, you might email them out. Almost no one uses their blogs for this stuff.
Blogs are unsuitable for polyglots
When I started my religious blog nearly a decade ago, my tagline was “Tech, life, family, and faith.” Initially, that’s exactly what I posted about: technology thoughts. Stuff about my life and my family. And occasionally, thoughts about faith in God.
This resulted in a scatter-brained smattering of posts; today, CSS gradient techniques, tomorrow, Biblical Torah theology!
Worse, there was no audience for this. Who wants to read a blog where half the posts are [thing I care about] and the other half is [things I don't care about]?
Nobody, that’s who.
And that’s how my religious blog morphed: I realized that to get a consistent audience, I needed to blog about a particular topic. A blog is Place for Topic X, not Person X’s Place. judahgabriel.blogspot.com is about Messianic Judaism and Hebrew Roots Christianity; it is no longer Judah’s place for tech, life, family, and faith.
This problem has exacerbated since then. You see, a major part of my life is technology. It’s what I do for a living. I give talks on technology. I have insight into the future of technology. If I posted all those technology posts over on my religious blog, we’d be back to square one: a smattering of posts on unrelated topics, with no audience caring to read them. It’s for that reason I started this blog: Debugger.Break(), where I post all things on my technologically-inclined mind.
But this is all part of the problem: blogs no longer serve as [Your Place]. They serve as [Place for topic X]. Topic Y goes elsewhere: another blog, Facebook, Twitter, Google Plus, whatever, but not on Your Place. This has resulted in a decline in blog relevance.
People don’t comment on blogs
Today, bloggers will write a post, then immediately spam it on Facebook via a status update like this:
New blog: What’s this crap Stallman just posted? http://debuggerdotbreak.wordpress.com
But here’s the amusing phenomenon: instead of commenting on the blog, everyone comments on the Facebook status update! I’ve seen this now with several of my latest posts: my Facebook status about the blog gets more comments than the blog itself. Likewise, for other bloggers, I’ve seen this same phenomenon.
Yes, the Facebook status updates get more comments than the blog itself.
Why? I see at three reasons:
- Ease of commenting: people are already signed into Facebook; it’s easy to comment there. But to comment on the blog, you might have to authenticate with WordPress or Blogger orDisqus, or some other less trusted authority, maybe enter a hard-to-read CAPTCHA, hit preview, then submit. Yikes.
- Visibility: everyone checks Facebook a few times a day, maybe more. How often do they fire up their web browser, type in your web address, and hit enter? Rarely. Your Facebook status update is more visible than your actual blog post. Heck, even direct email is more visible than blog posts.
- Casual conduciveness: Blogs aren’t conducive to casual answers. People are afraid to comment on blogs. “Oh no, I’m going to get sucked into a big debate thread!”, or, “Oh no, my ‘nice post, I enjoyed the bit about X’ comment will look foolish compared to all these multi-paragraph responses!”
These things result in blogs with few or no comments.
There’s no easy way to follow blogs
When you log onto your computer in the morning, what’s the first thing you do? Check your email. Maybe check Facebook. Maybe you’ve got some email notifications from Facebook or Twitter. Oh, who sent me funny har har emails? Oh, who wrote on my Facebook wall? Who retweeted my wisdom-filled, perfectly-numbered twoosh?
Where does that leave blogs? Well, some dedicated fellow will eventually load up his web browser, type in the address to your lonesome blog, and hit enter. If you’re extra lucky, he might just leave a comment.
On Facebook, you automatically see your friend’s stuff: his pictures, status updates, all of it.
On Twitter, the Tweeple you follow show up in the flow of updates automatically.
For email, you automatically get all the stuff your friends send to you.
For blogs, there’s no “automatically.” It’s all manual. There’s no easy way to follow blogs.
Truth be told, there is something: RSS. Subscribe to this blog’s RSS feed, and you’ll automatically be notified of new posts. But, unless you’re a techie, most people don’t know about RSS, let alone what to do with it. First, you need an RSS reader, like Google Reader. Go sign up for that. Ok. Now come back to my blog, search the page for the little RSS syndication icon, and copy the feed URL. Then go back to Google Reader and hit subscribe. Paste in my link. Hit OK.
Congratulations, with only 17 easy steps, you’ve subscribed to my blog!
There’s no easy way for people to follow blogs. And for that, blogs suffer.
In the next post, I’ll talk about some things we can do to make blogs relevant again. I’ll also make some predictions about future directions for blog publishers like WordPress and Blogger; they are ultimately in control of blogging relevance; it’s important for publishers to evolve, lest they, along with us content-producing bloggers, face death-by-irrelevance.