What sucks about blogging and how to fix it

Andrew Sullivan’s ending of his 15 years of blogging has sparked discussion about the health of blogging in 2015. I started blogging in 2004, pre-Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and the like. A friend and I created a group blog about foreign and current affairs. It was an auspicious time for blogging and I made many contacts and friends through the blog. At its height, we would post a few times a day, and had a decent amount of traffic. But things changed.

A few years later “blog networks” became a thing — think of Nick Denton’s Gawker network. The only way to collect on the so-called “digital dimes” was to gather together under a banner, pool audiences and centralize advertising (This has been recently happening in podcasting too). Later, news organizations started to blog. Blogosphere centralization started to set in. Professionalism of the writing (theoretically) increased, but the real number of independent bloggers began to fall (again, see podcasting).

Then social media happened.

I find blogging now to be a wholly different beast. Kottke says it is dead. It certainly has changed, mainly in terms of engagement.

For example, the media critiques I have produced recently received a fair bit of feedback… but none in the comments. All the engagement happened on Twitter and Google+ (lest we forget, I don’t use Facebook). Referring to Ben Thompson’s Social/Communications map below, engagement has gone symmetric.

Social communications map by Ben Thompson

This is a shame. On my media pieces, a lot of the feedback I got contributed to what I wrote. Rather than having a one-on-one communication with me, if the feedback had been posted as a comment on the original post, everyone would have benefitted.

The main difference between blogging then and blogging now is the disintermediation of engagement.

When you distribute your work out onto various social channels to “where your readers are”, they engage with you on those channels. RSS wasn’t interactive. Blog comments used to be a watering hole where everyone coalesced for group discussion. In the age of social media, this is no longer.

Vox co-founder Ezra Klein notes points out:

Blogging encourages interjections into conversations, and it thrives off of familiarity. Social media encourages content that can travel all on its own.

“[B]logging is a conversation,” says Klein, “and conversations don’t go viral.” Yet he is bullish on blogging, and talks about how both Vox and Gawker are “bringing back blogging” in 2015. I certainly have tried to up my output and blog more since late last year, so I am doing my part.

Okay, so old school blogging is a different modality. That’s fine. In the age of social media, how do we incentive the conversationality (even at the expense of virality)?

Novel commenting systems like what Medium uses, where comments are annotations, might be a solution. Inline comments are by definition in context. This makes comments on the post more valuable than their social media equivalents.

Another approach that I haven’t seen would be some sort of clipping service. Imagine a bookmarklet allowing a blogger to instantly send a social media post to the related blog post, appending it to the comments section. The blogger can harvest symmetric feedback, curating and aggregating the best commentary to the relevant post for the benefit of everyone.

The best solution may just be culture. Fred Wilson has no problem getting feedback on his blog. The comments section there is very lively. Using Disqus and social sign in certainly lowers the barrier to commenting on the page. But having a core group of commenters to show someone the ropes certainly helps. Like many things, the solution might be social rather than technological. From now on, when I get good feedback on social media, I intend to personally encourage those people to comment on the relevant post, and contribute to building that culture around my own blog.

To blog in 2015 like we did in 2005 takes a bit of strategy and audience education. The blogosphere now has to compete with social media. This is just another evolution of a web-native medium, and a sign of its maturity. Different is not dead.

Author: Chad Kohalyk

Bellatrist, communitarian, tech contrarian. Generous with Likes. http://chadkohalyk.com

3 thoughts on “What sucks about blogging and how to fix it”

  1. So of course I felt compelled to comment after reading your post. Funny thing is I couldn’t find the button to post a comment, until scrolling to the top. Intuitively most users will look at the bottom of a post for comments, but yours are right at the top. I know, not a big deal, but not everyone is like me. Some people won’t see the comment section where they think it should be and just move on. The number one rule of information architecture is ‘don’t make the user think’.

    Anyways, I think I personally comment less because I am usually required to sign in with my facebook, twitter or some other social media account. My problem with this is a.) some people don’t have such accounts and b.) I don’t necessarily want to be giving my social media information to 3rd party websites.

    Sometimes you’ll have to register an account, and I don’t have time for that. Even if you require only my e-mail, I still don’t want to give that out on many sites. I understand that many of these are necessary to both reduce spam and verify that you are a person, but it makes me second guess whether I really want to comment or not. As you put it, it sets a sort of barrier to commenting, albeit minimal but a barrier nonetheless. It reduces the fluidity of commenting right after reading a post.

    Anyways, great post. You raise a lot of great points.

    Like

    1. I agree, this template is meant to focus on the writing rather than the commenting. It could be more obvious.

      For every site I always try to give the widest variety of logins. Everyone has a different comfort level.

      Like

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