12 October 2010

Is Blogging Stagnating?


   When I started this blog, it wasn’t in my intent to do meta-blogging (blogging about blogging), though a few days ago, while browsing through Linkedin posts, Nic Oliver’s question “Where have all the bloggers and commenters gone?”  draw my attention. The question is rooted in his observation that a few social sites, he was member of, are registering an apparent decrease in the number of blogs and comments. Is it really this happening? The question preoccupies me not only as blogger and owner of a blog on web-related theme, but also as I’m interesting in the evolution of web and its trends. Until now I had no reasons to pose such a question, I mean even if the current blog had few visitors in the past month, this was also a consequence of the fact that lately I haven’t managed to post something new, however my sql-troubles blog acknowledges a considerable increase in the number of visitors, from about 50 users per week at the beginning of this year to about 250 users currently. I know that’s not a big number when compared with other professional blogs, though for beginning that’s even a little more than I expected. I could corroborate the increase in the number of visitors with the increase in the number of posts and the fact that I tried to post each week something.

A Look at Personal Navigation History

  Looking back at my navigation history of the past months I have to recognize that I focused more on professional blogs, mainly on the MSDN blogs which are going through a considerable boom, probably a result of a change in strategy coming from Microsoft. Spending more time on content creation and reading of a several profession-related books, the time spent on reading others’ blogs decreased considerably. I even kind of neglected Linkedin in the detriment of Facebook, though the time spent on Facebook decreased considerably lately because of the lack of time corroborated with saturation in what concerns the wanted and not wanted content, from the later category I remark the Farm Ville and Mafia games content. I could add also the relatively small number of new features added to Facebook, feeling that something more could be done in this direction, especially in what concerns content filtering, categorizing and aggregation. I am remarking these facts also because the respective problems could apply to other social networks or blogging too, and from this point of view I have several person observations.

Personal Blogging Concerns

   I’m using Blogspot since almost 5 years now, it’s a nice blogging platform, though with a few exceptions the number of important new features since then is quite small, lacking several important features. The best example is the editor which provides few built-in html functionality when compared with the HTML tags available in HTML4 or newly HTML5. Sure, the HTML editor supports in theory all HTML tags though they need to be entered manually, and this equates with considerable effort from my part in some cases, especially when I consider the programming language code that needs special formatting in order to be easily readable. I found myself in the position to appeal from necessity to an editor like Windows Live Writer, though it has its issues too. To content formatting adds content presentation, in this category falling blog’s layout, quite inflexible from some points of view, and content categorization. Labeling and clouds are great in order to highlight important keywords, though I feel something more could be done in this direction, for example aggregating labels in categories or in Knowledge Maps.

   Another important problem for myself is commenting, and here are several aspects. First, and maybe the most important aspect related to users authentication for commentaries, some of the blogs request a user to be logged in in order to comment, sure some of the websites are integrated with Facebook, Twitter or myOpenID credentials, though not all the users have and want to create a new account for this purpose (SideWiki it’s out of discussion here as it’s not integrated directly in the blogs). Secondly, the comments have poor or inexistent rich formatting, often resuming to text messages. Third aspect: it would be useful to have more flexibility in what concerns the notification when a new comment is posted.  Fourth aspect: also comments require sometimes some categorization, especially in what concerns in filtering out adulatory or irrelevant content. Fifth aspect: annotation, one of the important features of the Read-Write web is almost inexistent.

Saturation Point

   All the above aspects could in theory make users a little unsatisfied with the blogging experience and reflect thus in a possible decrease in the number of blogs, posts or comments. In order to understand what’s happening we have to go deeper and understand the value of blogs for both, bloggers and readers, the important link between the two being the content. I was thinking that maybe we reached a content saturation point in which bloggers have less to say, the important subjects being exhausted. Maybe we reached also a break-even point between request and demand in what concerns the content reached an equilibrium in some domains, the variety and coverage of content facilitating this. Maybe the readers lost their interest, in definitive they want to be entertained, otherwise they’ll find another entertainer. Now not sure how many bloggers want to be in the position of an entertainer…

Time and Satisfaction as Drivers

   As I was highlighting above, also the available time for blogging is a problem as good content and comments requires time, often some research in addition to the personal experience, from the later perspective the subjects could drain, bloggers having nothing more important to say (I actually have seen a few blogs closed because of that). The inverse ratio between time spent on one side and financial or personal satisfaction on the other side is possible to have depleted over time. For sure many people are blogging because they have something important to tell the world on professional and non-professional themes. It’s not only the interest but also some satisfaction involved, either financial or appreciative. The financial outcomes are quite small, resulting from ads and number of clicks gathered, the relevance of ads’ content being quite an important factor, and here I’m having some personal complaints too. The appreciative satisfaction is somewhat reflected in the number of visitors, the comments they post and the value they have for the blogger, and I would say that’s quite an important factor. I have also to remark the destructive/pejorative intent of some of the comments, many readers lacking in some basic blogging and social web ethics, being inclined to denigrate rather than criticize constructively. To this adds the volume of spam, the use of captchas, excepting their role of reducing the quota of spam, have the side effect of annoying the commenter, in some situation the use of captchas being totally badly-designed.

Content Absorption

  A considerable number of blogs were just reflecting personal non-technical events from bloggers’ life, social networks like Facebook absorbing increasingly such content, and from this perspective I have to recognize that they are more appropriate for this purpose. Probably many commenters moved to the (social) professional networks, having more freedom in posting the questions, and potentially more experts, and thus a higher number and diversity of opinions, plus the feedback seems to function better. In addition, the professional nature of such networks could bring in theory more value than the blogs, the marriage between blogs and professional networks being the logical and maybe necessary move, though this requires a richer integration between the two platforms.

Behavioral Change

   Maybe readers have started to do some research by themselves or learned to use online encyclopedias like Wikipedia that offer a good inverse ratio between content on one side and complexity, variety, spread, navigation on the other side. Maybe the users moved to the video content, richer in visual and auditive experience, many universities, companies, professionals and non-professional posting their webcasts or radiocasts online, collections like YouTube/Edu being a good example. Or maybe the users are too demoralized because of the crisis, sure that’s a forced possible cause, though in the end also the socio-economical factors should be considered.

Some Statistics

   I was wondering how many bloggers moved their blogs between the various platforms or they totally abandoned their blogs or how many readers comment actually what they read. Even if I’m a little reticent to the way some statistics on the web reflect the reality as long I don’t know the background and the way they were collected, they could be used at least as approximation/trending. Technorati through its State of Blogosphere annual report seems the most quoted source for such statistics, though the report for 2010 it’s not already available, while the statistics for the previous years seems to be dispersed across several posts. Here are some important facts related indirectly to the current topic quoted by SEJ from Technorati:

- 77% of Internet users read blogs
- 70% of all respondents say that personal satisfaction is a way they measure the success of their blog
- the most common rate of updating is 2-3 times per week

     Unfortunately no number in what concerns my three above concerns. Anyway, several blogs, for example Caslon Analytics blogging and PCMag.com, are quoting an old report coming from Perseus, in which is estimated that about 66% of the blogs are temporarily or permanently abandoned after two months. I wanted to dig more into the topic but the time and the ocean of information, in which is still difficult to search for relevant information, made me stop here…

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