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Sunday, July 15, 2007

Is Blogging Wrong? I Don't Think So.

A lot of people ask me whether they should blog.

Usually I give them a stock reply: Blog because you've got something to say, because you feel you've got to write, and because you want to connect to other people on the same subject. But now I think I'd add another suggestion: Don't bother.

Here, in a nutshell, is a history of blogging: A few years back someone invented the idea of software that would make it really easy to add text and links to a website. It could also add them atop the existing material, so the fresh, new stuff was on top, not the bottom. Blogging was born.

Geeks were of course the first bloggers; while political blogging is now hugely influential, it's geeks who have led the pack, adding innovations like voice, video and mobile blogging (where you can blog from lots of different devices, like phones.)

Geeks define the way blogging is going outside political blogging, for the simple reason that geek blogging tends to branch out into other subjects, whereas political blogging is mainly political (more like pamphleteering, say.)

Which is why blogging is now changing. In the past year it's started to morph into something else.

There's been a rise in something called microblogging (sometimes called tumblelogs), where services allow you and I to post and share little snippets of information about ourselves, whether it's what we're doing, thinking, reading or listening to, where we are or who we're talking to. The best known of these is Twitter, but there are others: Jaiku, Pownce, for example.

These microblogs may not look much like blogs -- they're just 150-character streams of consciousness, from the mundane to the slightly less mundane, to which other users subscribe -- but for a lot of people they perform the same function.

They link them into a broader social network where they can both broadcast their doings and find out what others are doing, too. As we in Asia found with the SMS (cell phone text messaging), North America has learned that an enforced limit on the number of characters you can use in a single message is a blessing, not a curse.

Twitter et. al. have not been for everybody. But as with most technology, its usage has evolved into a new medium. Technology rarely replaces another in direct succession, but creates a new category, as users make it their own (or reject it). Old technologies might fall by the wayside, but rarely because another technology replaced it overnight.

So with Twitter. Twitter did lots of things, but probably its most lasting impact was to push blogging away from writing and more into connecting. Most people read blogs because they wanted to feel connected to other people by reading what they were thinking.

However, it's time-consuming, and as blogs proliferated, and as blog posts tended to get longer, readers had less and less time to read these things. Twitter made a perfect alternative: a palatable buffet of updates, without the indigestion that comes from having to read whole blogs.

*****

The next step in this process (and all this is happening within the space of a few months) has been the rise of Facebook.

Facebook started out as U.S. college yearbook-type application in 2005, but last year opened up to all users of the Internet. In the past couple of months I've noticed a big jump in the number of new users, at least in my little neck of the woods.

What's interesting about this is that Facebook, among many of its features, focuses again on what I would pompously call the "networked awareness" aspect of blogging and twittering.

The most important part of Facebook is becoming someone else's friend, which then allows you to see what the other person is saying (whether in their blog, or in a one-line "status message" on their homepage).

There's nothing new about this -- music-oriented MySpace does it, business-oriented LinkedIn does it -- but Facebook revolves around the something we all have in common: a past.

In other words, we build our Facebook address book around people we used to work with, people we went to school with, people who are already in our other address books.

Enter your previous jobs and schools and you can easily find familiar faces and names, and add them to your buddy list. As I'm sure you have found, it's much easier to connect with someone you already know than someone you don't.

Not that Facebook is a sort of gallery of the past -- it also allows you to connect to people via shared interests, or shared friends, or people you worked with but didn't know at the time. All of the communication involved in this can be done publicly or privately, and can be done individually or as part of a group.

Facebook occupies a middle ground between MySpace and LinkedIn because it's restrained in design (something that could not be said for most MySpace pages) and because it's not too "businessy", which is what LinkedIn is all about.

So Facebook finds itself sharing part of a wave with Twitter, which in turn shared part of a wave with blogging. In a year we've found ourselves moving on from simply blogging to make ourselves heard, to building Facebook pages to reach out to those we'd like to connect to more closely.

I'm not a huge fan of Facebook but it does connect me to way more interesting people (and long lost friends) than blogging ever did.

So is blogging dead? Some bloggers like Shel Israel, who co-wrote blogging's defining book Naked Conversations have noticed a fall in readers in recent months, and his comments have quickly led to another blogging "meme" (an idea that spreads, which is what blogging does well).

The truth is that more people are blogging, more people competing for attention (leading to a terrible rise in Shameless Self Promotion, where instead of commenting on other posts in the space provided, a lot of folk simply try to point readers to their own sites.)

Blogging long ago reached critical mass: Now it's reached saturation point, and something has to (to mix a metaphor) give.

So expect things to evolve further. I'm not saying there aren't some great blogs out there -- blogs aren't just about social networks, they're also about great writing, and about information, both of which blogs also do very well. But blogs will continue to branch off into new areas as our needs, and the devices we use, evolve.

Blogging in short, never dies: It's just the start of a road that goes we know not where. So if you're thinking of blogging, ask yourself why you want to do it, and whether you might not be better off twittering, powncing, jaikuing or facebooking.

Or waiting until the next Big Thing.

***THE JAKARTA POST

It shouldn't be long.

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