A Return to Blogging? A Prediction for 2010

Over the holidays I spent a lot of time thinking about what 2010 was going to look like both for me, the ‘industry’ and the world as a whole. Overall I’m optimistic and on some levels, it be pretty hard to be worse than 2009. As I dug through my overflowing feedreader queue I noticed a trend starting to emerge, a whole bunch of voices were back in there – the once regular bloggers who almost vanished12-18 months  ago had unread items in my queue and the posts were actually of some length, well thought out  and made for good reading.

Blogging Has Never Been Dead, Twitter isn’t Dying

Image: newton64 on Flickr

First off, I should say, I don’t think Blogging has ever truly been dead, but I think Twitter effectively killed it for some people (myself included). It became really easy to put ideas out in a tweet or two, rather than spending a hour or two cranking out a blog post (not to mention the hours of head time leading up to the actual writing). As a result a lot of people, people who up until that point had been blogging as often as daily, essentially abandoned long-form blogging and suddenly started posting weekly, then monthly and eventually “whenever”.

Also, while the next little bit of this post may seem to indicate I think Twitter is over and done with, I don’t – I just think it’s moving into it’s next stage. And that’s a good thing.

Twitter Has it’s Limits.

Blasphemy I know, but as I’ve thought more and more about how I push content out onto the web, I’ve started to see the cracks in Twitter’s shell. Twitter serves an awesome purpose and it has its uses, but it makes a really crappy substitute for blogging. I’ll take it a step further and say Twitter is a really bad tool for sharing ideas beyond simply throwing them out there  and doesn’t actually create effective, lasting dialog.

This should have been obvious: 140-character limited messages vs. free-form, put as many words in as you want, which do you think lets you better outline your ideas – but I think a lot of us fell into the hype and the real-time exchange of ideas and conversation were awfully tempting (especially for those of us with smaller ‘audiences’ – hi Mom!).

Twitter’s biggest problem is also it’s biggest strength.

This isn’t to say twitter is fundamentally flawed or otherwise “wrong” – on the flip side I think we’ve been using the right tool the wrong way. Twitter is great for easily pushing out snippets of information and engaging in the rapid exchange of basic ideas.  If we think of content as water twitter rates somewhere between a stream or a raging river depending on how many people you’re following.

If you’re standing at the water you’re seeing what flows by, but if you walk away that water is gone – and it’s not coming back. This is great for the inconsequential, real-time events or proximity/location based updates. When I check twitter at 2pm it’s no longer relevant that you were at Starbucks three hours ago, or that you forgot your Macbook Pro adapter this morning.

Through the web interface my first page in the tweet stream spans 17 minutes but that’s at 8 in the morning on the first Monday after the holidays. I’ve seen that span get as low as 1-3 minutes. At that point you can’t even look at all the water rushing past you. Sure apps like Tweetdeck help you reduce the noise, but the reality is the shelf life of a tweet is probably minutes, at most a day or two.

No one goes looking for old tweets.

That’s the reality, chances are if someone doesn’t see your tweet as it flows past, they never will – it’s gone.

The Blog as a Pond

To parallel the twitter “stream” analogy I consider blogging more like a pond. Each time you create a piece of content you fill it up a little more, gradually building a larger and larger body of water.   If you don’t put fresh “water” in it will get stagnant but a little top up now and again keeps it healthy. The important thing is the water is always there for people to see they can stop and stare at it for a while, taking in all its nuances or just look at what’s interesting to them and just move on.

Here’s the key thing to remember: Ponds can feed streams, and that makes a nice segue into the next part of this thought.

A Re-balancing of Effort. Awareness of Content Flow

“A return to blogging” is actually over-simplifying what I see as the next trend emerging. There’s two components. The first, as I’ve discussed above, is the realization that twitter is not a wildcard publishing tool but rather has specific uses and there are better tools to create content on if you want it to have a lasting presence. The second I’ve touched on it in the past, but I can see it starting to take hold. It’s the idea of being aware of what content you’re creating, where you create and publish it, and how it gets syndicated out. The latter will become an issue for everyone going forward as more and more sites give you the option to publish/retrieve content from one application to another.

How to get your house in order

  1. Take Inventory of Your Content Production
    Ask yourself: What are you (or should you be) producing? Is it long format, short snippets, something in between?
  2. Evaluate your Publishing Tools
    Take a look at the tools you’re using, are you currently publishing to them? What content are you putting on each service? Step back and think about whether that tool is the best place for each piece of content you’re putting out there, if not, what should you be using?
  3. Map the Flow of Content
    Lay all the services or apps you use out on a piece of paper, now draw lines between them to show where content syndicates out to other services. Put yourself in the shoes of someone who consumes your content, are they getting the kind of content they expect at each point? Are there more efficient ways to get it to them (or to reduce your noise to them)? As an example here’s a flow I made when considering my own content flow:

Personal Content Flow

My Rules for Content Flow

While you go through the process above I’d suggest you keep a few key rules in mind:

  1. Add Value
    When syndicating your content across services, ensure the viewer gets additional value when they click through from one site to another. I personally view twitter solely as an end-point for just this reason – if I put it somewhere else, there’s no value to be had by clicking through to it.*
  2. Reduce/Avoid Duplication
    Think about your network. Are your twitter followers also your Facebook or Tumblr friends? These days some duplication is inevitable but do what you can to reduce it wherever possible. If people have to see content twice make sure one of the two instances adds value (i.e. where one is a tweet and one is the blog post the tweet was linking to)
  3. Allow people to Focus
    We’re all people but also professionals, family members, friends, colleagues etc. – We can roll our relationships up any number of ways. Think about how people can opt-in or out of your content depending on their contextual relationship to you. This may mean multiple blogs, different tools all together, or something in between – but ensure you give people options so they don’t have to drink from the firehose (if not, they’ll likely just choose not to follow/subscribe to your feed)

A Return to Blogging

So how does this tie back to a return to blogging? I think as people start to step back and consider their content more carefully, and what kind of return they get on their effort invested they’ll likely find that blogging is still a killer way to share your ideas and put them out there in a lasting form. I know I’ve had the sense of having lost something since I’ve stopped blogging regularly, both in how satisfied I feel with getting my ideas out there but also in how engaged I feel with people and even how I’m perceived by others.

I’m looking forward to making another go of it in 2010 – I hope you do too… I’d be keen to hear your thoughts in the comments below (or as an @ reply on twitter)

– Ryan

(For the record, an hour later, my front page on twitter spans only 6 minutes now.)

*Admittedly my Twitter feed does republish to Facebook as status updates and into Friendfeed, the former is just laziness as I’d largely put the same content there if they weren’t sync’d the latter is an app that has the sole goal of being a content feed dumping ground.