Laura McKenna has an excellent post up about how the blogosphere (does that word mean anything anymore?) has changed since she got into it about six years ago. I started blogging at about the same time she did. Back then there was a sense of being part of a new, vibrant, open community. Even as a 21-year-old DC intern with a poorly designed website it seemed easy to break into. We had monthly Blog-o-Rama happy hours at which local bloggers could meet. Now blogging has evolved from a world unto itself into just another medium; merely having a blog no longer counts as much of a point of commonality.
McKenna’s third observation hits the mark:
Bloggers have undermined the blogosphere. Bloggers do not link to each other as much as they used to. It’s a lot of work to look for good posts elsewhere, and most bloggers have become burnt out. Drezner and Farrell had a theory that even small potato bloggers would have their day in the sun, if they wrote something so great that it garnered the attention of the big guys. But the big guys are too burnt out to find the hidden gems. So, good stuff is being written all the time, and it isn’t bubbling to the top.
Many have stopped using blogrolls, which means less love spread around the blogosphere. The politics of who should be on a blogroll was too much of a pain, so bloggers just deleted the whole thing.
I’m as guilty of this as anyone given the impracticality of including hat tips with my morning links. On the other hand, the links do allow me to spread some traffic to people who write interesting posts.
I’ve noticed over the past year or so that it’s become more difficult for posts to draw attention to themselves. It used to be that I could count on a particularly good entry getting linked elsewhere without much further effort on my part. Now if I don’t also promote it through Facebook, Twitter, or other means it’s not likely to get much of a boost. This is perhaps a good thing: No longer must we bloggers skim through each other’s long-winded posts. Now we can just skim through each other’s 140-character tweets and only click on the best stuff.
Another consequence of this is that’s it much harder to track how much influence a post has. Site traffic and comments used to be a reliable measure. Now much of a post’s reach extends far off the blog itself: into RSS readers, Facebook, and tweets. My blog is probably reaching more people now than it ever has, but it’s much harder to know this.
So why blog? That’s a question I’ve been coming back to lately. It’s less obviously worthwhile than it used to be. Keeping up a blog takes time, time that might be better spent writing longer pieces for established publications. Still, there are benefits:
Self-promotion — Writing this blog is how I got my last job in DC and it helped immensely with my job search in Portland. My bar resume was rather thin when I got here, but my cocktail writing put me on the radar of several people in the local bar community and helped establish myself in the industry. The blog has also helped with my writing, giving me a product to send to editors and sometimes prompting editors to contact me for articles. It’s also led to a few media requests from other writers stumbling across my site.
Social networking — Facebook is great for keeping up with existing friends, but blogging and microblogging seem far better for meeting new people, especially in niche communities. A successful blog can also cross-promote one’s other online activities.
Extended discussion — For most bloggers, publishing an article elsewhere is the best way to reach a larger audience. But for continuing a discussion far into the future, responding to feedback from readers, and approaching a topic from multiple angles, nothing beats a blog.
Hits from search engines — Though a blog may not be generally popular, it can become a leading source on search engines for selected niche topics. Or in my case, become an impromptu support group for people scared of camel crickets.
It’s fun! — Since I’m not making money at this and don’t expect to do so anytime soon, there must be other compensating benefits.
These are all good reasons to keep blogging. That said, they’re not necessarily great reasons for someone to start a new blog, or to continue blogging with the goal of building a larger readership. A combination of devoting more time to published pieces coupled with attentive social networking might be a more productive way to reach people. So might joining a group blog rather than trying to go it alone.
If you do blog, why do you do so?
[Hat tip – remember those? — to Megan McArdle.]