Last week, this blog hit five years and 400 posts, just as it became apparent that blogs are history.
As this momentous milestone approached, there was a flurry of coverage of the latest Pew Internet Project report, on social media and young adults, picking up on the decline of interest in blogging – at least among young Americans. The Guardian reported that:
Blogging, on the other hand, may become more and more of a side issue. In fact, among all the content creating activities the decline in blogging among teens and young adults is striking as it looks like the youth may be exchanging “macro-blogging” for microblogging with status updates. Since 2006 blogging among teens has dropped from 28% to 14% and among young adults (aged 18 to 29) by 24% to 15%. Some 11% of those aged 30 and over now maintain a personal blog, and 14% of them maintain a personal website.
There is nothing terribly surprising about that: maintaining a blog is not a trivial undertaking, and it has always been true that a lot more people are consumers of online material than are producers of it. Kathryn Corrick recently picked up on some Forrester analysis (again based on the US) which shows this very clearly:
What has changed, perhaps, is that tools have become better tuned to what it turns out people actually want to do. As John Scalzi puts it:
For the vast majority of what people (not just teens, but teens also) used blogs for — quick updates on line to friends and family — Facebook and Twitter offer an easier, friendlier and therefore better solution than starting up a blog. If you’re starting out in social media, for most folks it makes sense to go there. Later, if you want the ability for customization and a format beyond 140-character tweets and status updates, you can always start a blog. But I suspect most people don’t need to get to that point, and certainly not most younger users of social media.
Also, you know. Blogs have been social media’s Last Year’s Model for a spell now; heck, they were Last Year’s Model when Friendster hit. And it’s certainly true that when I note that I’ve been blogging since 1998, certain younger folks get that look in their eye that says No! No one was even alive then! That’s when I hit them with the concept of “newsgroups.” Good times, good times.
Or, more pithily:
Great content is really, really hard to make. That’s why so few blogs have it, but that’s not the medium’s fault. The same is true for any other media.
And so back to the discussion of the state of the UK gov blogosphere kicked off by Dave Briggs, continued before and at UK Govcamp. Now Dave is back with some fresh thoughts (and with a great comment from Steph Gray), most importantly and perceptively that none of this is really about blogs:
I was wrong to mention blogs. A lot of the resultant discussion in the comments of that post and other chats have focused on blogging, which is of course just the medium. It’s the content I am interested in. What we seem to lack is an ecosystem of ideas in public services. Discussions about new ways of doing things, how to change the way things are, how ideas get progressed into prototypes and then into actual delivered services or ways of working. Whether this happens on a blog, in a social network, on a wiki or over a cup of tea is neither here nor there.
I think that’s a good way to approach the question, not least because the first incarnation of this blog was as the only available tool for the job I really wanted to do. Its original purpose was to act as an informal knowledge management exchange for me and my team at work. In the absence of any official way of doing that, a group blog – with access restricted to members of the group – seemed as good a way forward as any. For a whole range of reasons, it never quite took off in the way I had hoped, so it fairly quickly became more of a personal notebook of things I had found interesting or thought I might want to remember. That meant I wrote largely for myself – if anybody else found it interesting, that was a bonus, but their absence didn’t stop me (which is just as well).
Large organisations tend to be predominantly inward looking: there is so much going on and calling for attention on the inside that it can sometimes be hard to remember even that there is an outside, let alone that that is where challenge and innovation is most likely to be found (I read something interesting and thought provoking on that, using the pattern of email usage as the way in to the question, just in the last few days, but now I can’t find it to add a link here – which is itself a measure of one part of the problem). Blogs are one good way of countering that trend, for readers but perhaps particularly for writers, but its not the only way nor even the best way for many people and many ideas. As Steph says, there is an existing ecosystem (and set of assumptions) which long predates the world of social media. The challenge for government – and probably the challenge for any large-ish, non-technology focused organisation – is to recognise and embrace the additional power which comes from widening that ecosystem and, critically, to accept the loss of control which comes with it.
In the meantime, there’s a few more years blogging to be done.