Thursday, August 18, 2005

BLOGGING TRENDS -- GOOD AND BAD

The blogosphere -- that name we give to the nebulous and loose community of individuals who blog -- is changing fast. Are you prepared for the changes?

People talk about the growth of blogs with some awe. According to one count, there are 70 million blogs worldwide.

What does that growth really mean to the individual blogger or the person trying to find blogs? Both good and bad.

First, the bad:
  • If you are just now starting to blog, it's going to be harder to get noticed by other bloggers and have your voice stand out. It just stands to reason. It's harder to stand out of 70 million blogs than it was to stand out from a few thousand blogs in 2000 or even a few hundred thousand blogs in 2001.

    The newer bloggers who want to get noticed will have to work harder. They will have to visit established blogs, comment regularly, write good content and let other bloggers know about that content by sending emails to friendly bloggers. They will have to participate in as many blog directories as they can find and participate in legitimate traffic generating initiatives such as BlogExplosion.


  • The early pioneers will have to adjust to the new faces entering the blogosphere and the new ideas about blogging they bring with them. Not everyone sees eye to eye. For instance, some bloggers are purists and do not agree with advertising on blogs or using blogs for commercial purposes. Whereas, for some of the more recent entrants the potential to monetize a blog or promote a business or gain good search engine position are primary motivations. According to a recent survey, 46% of bloggers have financial motives at least in part.

    I read with amusement recently a blogger suggesting that the blogosphere is now -- finally -- starting to address the issue of bloggers being paid to write about products. What I don't think he realized is, that train has left the station, and bloggers are well on their way to promoting products on blogs. It is no longer discussed -- it just happens. Company blogs are proliferating, and naturally on those blogs they are writing about their own products. Blogging jobs and freelance blogging contracts are relatively common. And, it is rarer and rarer to run across blogs without at least some Google AdSense or affiliate links on them. Indeed, another recent survey found that 73% of bloggers felt it was OK to at least include affiliate links in their blogs, to make a few bucks.


  • The smell of money has led to gaming of the system. New inexpensive software tools and the potential to earn Google AdSense revenue have resulted in an explosion in spam blogs in 2005. You've probably run into some auto-generated blogs that were created using these software packages to scrape content from sites or from RSS feeds. The results are nonsensical sites that vaguely resemble blogs. Yuk.

    Just as bad are the unscrupulous types who will set up a blog and write in it for a few months and wheedle links from legitimate bloggers, only to turn around and convert their site into a spam blog or link farm as soon as they have Google Page Rank. And dare I mention comment and trackback spam?


  • Worse, the explosion in spam blogs is having another negative effect: in my view it is undermining the effectiveness of keyword searches that form the basis of the major search engines like Google. Of what benefit is a keyword search if it turns up spam blogs ahead of legitimate sites? The potential for spam sites has always existed, but the problem is an order of magnitude greater now, because the cost of setting up blogs is free or nearly free. Let's hope the search engine companies can get this problem under control.


  • Then there is the Hype Cycle. The Hype Cycle is a phenomenon identified by Gartner Research concerning adoption of a new technology. The Hype Cycle says that initially there is a period of irrational exuberance with wildly raised expectations. Then sentiment lunges into the trough of disillusionment for a period as the unrealistically high expectations cannot be met, before evening out and achieving a positive growth pace once again. We will go through the Hype Cycle and the trough of disillusionment with blogging, before it evens out.
OK, now that I have thoroughly depressed you, by listing problems, let me show the positive side of things. There is a sun behind those dark clouds.
  • First, blogs have started a revolution in personal publishing and self-expression. Never in history has it been easier for the average person to set up a site, publish regularly, and have their words be read around the world. No matter what changes we go through, this revolution will never be undone. It will only pick up steam and grow. What power individuals are armed with now!


  • Blogging software and associated technologies like RSS will be vastly improved. As much as I love blogs for their freshness and simplicity and genuineness, I'll be the first to admit that most blogging software makes for rather primitive sites. The navigation is rudimentary; it can be hard to find anything in the archives of many blogs due to lack of categories or integrated search; adding additional non-blog pages can be challenging; and blogs are filled with techno-lingo that make them unintelligible gibberish to the uninitiated (exhibit A: "trackbacks"). Mind you, I'm not just finger-pointing at other people's blogs -- the same goes for my own blogs. But I look forward to getting improved blogging software.


  • Certain blogging customs that made sense when the blogosphere was a sort of underground phenomenon will have to change as blogs become mainstream. Take, for instance, the concept of blogrolling. Blogrolls made sense when there were few tools to find other blogs -- blogrolls were a word of mouth method to keep track. But anyone who has been blogging for a long time eventually reaches a point where to link to every interesting or useful blog you encounter becomes impossible. The home pages of some blogs have gotten untenably long, some of them with a couple hundred outbound links between the blogrolls and posts.

    Luckily there are alternatives. We've seen vast improvements during 2005 in specialty blog and RSS search engines, such as Technorati, Bloglines, IceRocket and BlogPulse to name a few. As these search engines get better, they can take the place of blogrolls for finding blogs. Of course, we also need to get better blog directories, so that people can search for blogs by topic rather than just by keyword. That way if you want to locate all the business blogs, you can -- something keyword searches are not much help for.
We can expect many changes as the blogosphere matures. I have confidence that these changes will ultimately lead to a more exciting landscape of sites. It will be a landscape where individuals and small businesses can easily set up and maintain sites where it is easy to express themselves -- in text, voice or video. And that's exciting.