There’s something up in blog-ville
Over the last few months there have been recurring phrases in cyberspace. Have you noticed? There’s the tendency for various writers to ‘take a break’, or to profess to writer’s block.
Some, like the much-admired 1+1=3 blog, have simply closed their CMS and stopped altogether. Others who were regular, almost obsessive commentators have slowed down, just posting occasional pieces when the mood takes them. Some trail-blazers, like Rick Poynor on Design Observer (who contributed 30,000 words to its early days [update: 70,000]) can still be read, but only rarely.
Technorati’s 2008 ‘State of the Blogosphere‘ notes that since its records began in 2002 they have logged and indexed 133 million blogs. That’s a big number. But only 7.4 million have been updated in the last 120 days. Now that’s a lot of idle web pages.
So what’s up?
Writing a while ago in Wired, Paul Boutin offered a fierce perspective. ‘Writing a weblog today isn’t the bright idea it was four years ago. The blogosphere, once a freshwater oasis of folksy self-expression and clever thought, has been flooded by a tsunami of paid bilge. Cut-rate journalists and underground marketing campaigns now drown out the authentic voices of amateur wordsmiths. It’s almost impossible to get noticed, except by hecklers. And why bother? The time it takes to craft sharp, witty blog prose is better spent expressing yourself on Flickr, Facebook, or Twitter.’
His analysis seems a little harsh, but think about it? Those epic days of long, amazing discussion strings on Design Observer feel like they’ve gone. Paula Scher’s great blog diagram doesn’t feel so appropriate anymore as discussions are simply liable to collapse into personal insults, rather than informed opinions. Even the regular commentators whose life-purpose seemed to be inclusion in every discussion string going (such as ‘Design Maven’) are quieter, or have retired altogether (like the Maven himself).
On this side of the Atlantic, Creative Review’s admirable blog goes from strength to strength, but is regularly hijacked by a handful anonymous posters who glory in throwing rotten tomatoes at virtually anything posted on the site. This leaves its editors in the difficult position of either having to sift out the vitriol or leave it in, as much for the controversy it then creates.
Some of the original design blog stars are still there, like Swiss Miss, but the charm of observing the batty observations of a European in Manhattan are now regularly peppered with posts about it’s editor being featured here, or there, or speaking somewhere. But no-one can blame Tina Roth Eisenberg for turning her anonymity into some more marketable – she doubtless felt that years of posting about cool products had to lead somewhere, eventually, and her blog-fame may well help her design-fame. Maybe it makes sense to ‘monetize’ after all.
Just the pure fact that The Economist is even discussing blogging probably signals its move into the mainstream. It reported recently how one of the original and most revered bloggers (Jason Calacanis, a founder of Weblogs Inc) has moved away from the medium. ‘’Blogging is simply too big, too impersonal, and lacks the intimacy that drew me to it. It was, he said, ‘the pressure’ of staying on the A-list’”ie, of keeping his blog so big and impersonal’”that got him. Only a few years ago, so few people blogged that being a blogosphere celebrity required little more than showing up. Now it takes hard work. And vitriol. ‘Today the blogosphere is so charged, so polarised, and so filled with haters hating that it’s simply not worth it.’’
Whilst personal blogs seem to be on the wane, corporate, or ‘collective’ blogs get stronger and stronger. From what seemed a gentle start years ago, sites like Design Boom, with just a handful of full-time staff in Milan, offers up dozens of amazing examples of contemporary design, every day. Frankly it’s an amazing destination and almost worth the price of the internet on its own. Meanwhile, corporate blogs like Wieden and Kennedy’s in London offer insights into life at one of London’s most creative agencies, and most regular readers are probably charmed by the general (albeit self-obsessed) musings of its team. It will merrily veer from reports on in-house baking competitions to updates on weekends spent on pitches, and occasionally launches a bit of critique (even getting itself into occasional hot water).
Whilst blogs are under pressure, and other, quicker mediums are taking over, it’s still possible to see a post and its attendant comments go into uncharted territory. Michael Bierut’s post on the late Lou Dorfsman attracted genuinely touching comments, as did Creative Review’s page on Alan Fletcher a few years ago. More amazingly, a piece posted nearly two years about Barney Bubbles‘¦ got added to and added to… until (198 comments later) it finally led to a book on Bubbles’ work. Fantastic.
You see, the internet still works the way it should (sometimes).