Monday, February 21, 2011

Blogs v. The Social Networks

So there's this New York Times article today about the way that blogs are fading away as a medium as younger people focus their time and attention on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. These social media sites have a built in audience where the readers are likely to end up getting a look at a person's content via some sort of feed without having to go out of their way to visit a separate site, so the argument goes that these social media sites are superior to blogs because people are more likely to see what you have to say.
So, as someone who recently finished 2000 posts, I have to admit that this has given me a moment of pause. I mean, for all but the most self important blogger, how can it not?
I mean, sure- there are always the typical arguments that blogs allow for more in depth conversation, a platform for a more well developed, reasoned, and well articulated point of view. Blogs don't lock you into a small status update dialogue box or limit the number of characters in your tweet.
But as a blogger myself, I inevitably come back to the question of whether I really have enough to say to justify the existence of a blog over the simple use of a Facebook or Twitter account. I mean, I can talk and talk ad nauseum, to be sure, but are there enough people interested in what I'm saying to justify the publication of my thoughts in a blog format? More people would definitely catch wind of my opinions and so forth if I just stuck to Facebook. My readership is small, and since I'm the only person producing content for my blog, I have to assume that a big part of that is because my writing is of limited interest to the public at large.
But, I guess, that's sort of a issue that anyone faces who publishes (or seeks to publish) their writing in any sort of format, I guess. There's always the chance that you'll pour out your thoughts and interests and feelings and no one will really care. Authors in more traditional formats write things all of the time and aren't able to get them published, or if their works do get published, they fail to sell copies or attract a readership.
Blogs can be even more daunting/frustrating because the bloggers typically have almost instant feedback in terms of how many people are looking at their work. Sitemeters (and yes, I have one on this blog) let bloggers know how many people are looking at their site and give them quick feedback on the nature of their readership (my sitemeter gives me my number of readers, their internet service providers, and the city that the person is checking in from. I don't get exact names or anything).
Anyway, if no one is interested in your blog, you can usually find that out readership info in a hurry if you're so inclined. With social media sites, you can usually assume that most of the people on your list of friends have immediately been sent your message.
Personally, my blog readership has never been all that large at any one time. Occasionally I get spikes in how many people are checking in, but this is usually when some other, more popular site links back to mine as a blog of interest (this has actually happened off the CNN site a few times, and suddenly I triple or quadruple my readership for the whole year within the span of a day).
But, I genuinely am pretty much okay with having a small readership. For starters, I tend to imagine that my blog will only appeal to a small society of hyperintelligent, super elite geniuses (yeah, I joke, but you guys know that I think you rock!), but I also know that my blog is often quite personal, and my subject matter is wide ranging and extremely unfocused. Readers can't reliably go to my blog if they have an interest in some particular subject (e.g., politics or film or anything else) and expect to find an article on a particular topic on any given day. I'm not consistent in my subject matter, so the people who come to my blog are mostly just united by the fact that they know me personally (or through my writing) and believe/hope that I might have something kind of interesting to say on a particular day. I just write about whatever suits me.
This is fun for me, but probably not so great for building a readership. Still, my ability to write about whatever's on my mind is probably why I've stuck with blogging as long as I have.

Anyway, who am I kidding? I'm too much of a blowhard to quit blogging. Plus, it helps keep me sane.
I'm sane, right?
(Amy, stop laughing)

Also, and maybe this has a small element of sour grapes to it, but in some ways I find blogging just a little bit more... respectful than the Facebook and Twitter thing.
Facebook and Twitter involve status updates, tweets, and feeds that just sort of dump your thoughts onto people whether they want to hear them or not. Granted, people sign up to be your "friend" in the first place knowing that you might pop up in their feed, and most social media programs allow you to "hide" particularly annoying people, but still- sometimes people want to be your friend, but they still don't necessarily want to be subjected to all of your opinions. Just because someone has felt like being your "friend" (perhaps because they genuinely want to be your friend, but perhaps because of social norm or obligation) doesn't mean they care about whatever you're saying in print. Updates and tweets tend to be short, so I guess that helps to mitigate some of the annoyance (although some people just make up for this brevity with increased frequency), but in some ways these social media updates are the equivalent of shouting at someone through the window of a passing car as opposed to taking the time to have an actual conversation (or writing graffiti on a public wall as opposed to reading an editorial? I don't know- I'm grasping here). The fact that readers don't actually have to seek out someone's site out of personal interest, that the content provider is, in effect, making an unsolicited broadcast into someone else's internet space, makes the whole social media experience a very different animal as opposed to creating a blog (note that I'm not saying that social media has no role- I'm just saying that it doesn't really fill the same niche as a blog).
So if all of your friends aren't coming to check out your blog site because they don't necessarily dig what you're up to, as a blogger you might want to consider just coming to terms with that fact and appreciating the friends even more who do show up. Moving to social media so you can broadcast those same thoughts to people who didn't want to click over to read your stuff in the first place? Well, I'm not sure that's the way to go...
I guess what I'm saying here is that, even if my writing isn't always interesting to people, at least I have the comfort of knowing that my blog wasn't forced upon them. If they don't like a particular piece (or the whole thing), at least I can take comfort in the fact that my readers clicked their way onto my site as a matter of personal choice. I didn't just insert my opinions into the update stream of some social media site, dumping y views upon readers who might really just want to see pictures of kids and stuff like that.
So I think social media and blogs play different roles, and it's not just because you can ramble on at greater length on a blog.

And now, it's President Day, so I'm going to go get an oil change for my car. How's that for unfocused and personal?

Peace, Adventurers!


The League said...

I'm not sure, when these articles are written, that they take into account that the definition of "blogging" has also really changed very rapidly as the tools used for routine updates became much more flexible and moved beyond text-only, "dear diary" sorts of sites. I know when I (and likely, you) started blogging, blogger didn't support either images of comments, two of the key tools used every single day in blogging.

It may not have become as useful for corporations, etc... to exploit blogging as initially thought. But its also become the newsgathering method of very successful aggregated sites, of everything from iO9 to Gawker to, let's be honest, Salon and Huffington Post. Those are group sites with a business model, but collecting opinion columns is still blogging.

I also see Tumblr and other sites/ tools that use blogging and social media so tightly wound that its hard to say where one stops and the other starts.

I agree with what you say about the longform discussion. But I do think many, many people burn out after a while, and so it gives the illusion that blogs are "going away".

Kristen said...

Hi Steanso,

I've been following your blog for at least 6 months, but haven't commented on anything until now. I guess this topic did grab my attention. That's what I like about blogs, sometimes someone will post something that really hits a nerve.

I really agree with you on all aspects. I am on Facebook myself, but am becoming more and more disheartened of it. I am very close to deleting my account, but what's keeping me there is that my family from states far away post images and tid bits almost on a weekly basis that would make me feel I am otherwise totally missing out on things. It's a tough choice.

It's really funny how one new piece of social media/networking replaces another. When I first got on the internet through AOL, it was all about the chat rooms. Now, a chat room is just really for kinda, hmm, I am not sure who they're for anymore. Chat rooms usually led me to arguing with really annoying people, so they didn't last too long with me.

Then I got into messageboards. I garnered a 10,000 post count on one of them, thank you very much, lol. Then I had to stop doing that since I had left my job and I did a lot of messageboard posts at work (we had a lot of down time, lol) But, then myspace became popular. I got sucked in. Tried not to, but did. Then Facebook came around and it became the next big thing. Surprisingly, Facebook seems to have pretty much taken over myspace's audience. I haven't been on myspace except maybe twice in the last year.

So, Facebook is now the one. With Twitter right behind it.

I believe blogging will remain a popular form of social networking and I think you're very right about it being more respectful. Facebook is really just a tempting place (in a lot of ways) to brag about things. It's so easy to write on your wall and describe the amazing dinner you had with an aged merlot wine, and then playing Yahtzee afterwards with your "amazing" friends. It just becomes nauseating at times.

Well, that's my two cents!

Keep on blogging :)

aedavis4 said...
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J.S. said...

@ The League- Yeah, I definitely think that things have gotten linked together a bit, but personally, I still draw differentiations between the two mediums, and I really don't use them interchangeably (although I know that other people don't really draw the distinction as much). I know that lots of people also use the social media to try to draw readership to their blogs. There's nothing wrong with that, but personally, I'm actually sort of glad that there's some separation between my "friends" on FB and the people who read my blog. To be honest, I'm sort of glad that most of my FB friends don't take the time to read my blog. In my mind the FB group and the blog group are two separate sets of people that I communicate with for different reasons, while they're free to overlap, of course (and most probably do), but it's actually sort of a relief that most of my FB friends rarely, if ever, read my blog.
I totally agree that fewer people are blogging, and if they only were using their blogs for social media purposes in the first place, I guess that's fine. I still feel like social media sites aren't really a great place for much depth of communication, but there are probably a lot of people out there who just aren't concerned about such things. (which is okay- those same people would probably look at my blog and just see me as a windbag)

@ Kristen- It's very nice to meet you, and welcome to The Adventures! I agree with your observations about the social media sites. They seem more geared toward briefly highlighting things that are going on in people's lives (and yeah, they frequently border on bragging), while I just as often use my blog to reflect upon and react to things that are going on in the world but which might have little or nothing to do with me, personally. I also write about what's going on in my life on my blog, but hopefully with a bit more detail, description, and insight than I might include on a social media site.
Maybe this whole post about the blog/social media distinction will provide me with more motivation to do better with my blog in the future so that I will more clearly differentiate it from the sort of stuff you might find on social media.
At any rate, it's nice to meet you, Kristen! I checked out your profile, and it looks like you have some interesting blog work of your own going on!

aedavis4 said...
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