The Stone Age of Blogging is Over – What’s Next?
Lately many influential bloggers have written about the end of the golden age of tech blogging. They say "tech" but in a way they mean blogging in general it seems. Some people were furious and asked whether "over" is the new dead. I didn't really care.
Then over the recent weeks as I considered my own blogging "career" I realized that indeed an era is over. It's the stone age of blogging that is over now. Also I recognized partially what replaced the Neanderthals of blogging and what's next.
I want to summarize what really happened in the first decade of blogging.
Who am I to look back at a decade of blog history? I was quite late to blogging. I think I tried Blogger when it came out in 2001 but I was only reading blogs for two years when I finally started my first real blog in 2003. It was a private blog about art, design and activism. I had written it in German. I remember that at some point in 2004 I was even among the top 100 German blogs in two separate Technorati-like lists.
I tried to convince my very first SEO client in 2004 to establish a blog and even started one for him. In 2005 I finally started to blog professionally aka for money and clients. One of the clients back then was the largest union of the world. I created a whole blogging portal with dozens of blogs for the youth organization of the union. Ironically I worked up to 80h a week for the union or the "agency" that actually paid me. This union is known for the "35h work week" demand.
In 2006 I created my first full fledged blog for a personal client of mine. In 2007 I started this blog - SEO 2.0 and the rest is history.
I'm still one of the most well known bloggers in the SEO industry, mostly due to my contribution over at SEOptimise. From 2008 to 2011 I have written hundreds of flagship blog articles for them and made them the best SEO blog in the UK, both by the number one ranking in Google.co.uk and by winning the UK Search Awards. Sadly I wasn't even notified or invited to the ceremony. The SEOptimise team has received the price instead of mine. I only got an email a few weeks later that they don't need me anymore in 2012.
Meanwhile I have established and written for two flagship blogs for German clients. One of them is profitable for more than 2.5 years now. The other is the top ranking cycling blog in Germany despite me not really having the time to take care of it a lot. Additionally I have started a blog about science fiction in 2011. Last but not least I update a private Tumblr blog for two years now.
Internationally I have written for all kinds of SEO blogs and beyond like the Hubspot inbound marketing blog, Google Blogoscoped when it was in the top 30 of the most successful blogs worldwide. There many many more I can't even remember. So indeed I know something about blogging despite being a late adopter.
So what has actually changed in the last decade, the time I consider the stone age of blogging?
The definition of a blog has changed itself
When you look at the Technorati Top 100 blogs these days and compare it to those from just a few years ago you will wonder why there are almost no blogs on the list or in other words how a blog is defined now. A blog seems to be a popular corporate news site with a team of writers who publish items almost every hour. Real blogs like BoingBoing or Kottke are the exception. Even they have transformed or lost in popularity.
Blogging is a multimillion business not personal anymore
In the early days blogs were not much more than personal diaries. Over time they become more and more like corporate media until corporate media swallowed them or outmatched them on their own turf. The CNN Political Ticker is the #11 most popular blog these days. Some blogs were bought and sold for many millions of dollars. Others earn millions of dollars or venture capital by the millions. I rarely see personal diary-like blogs of importance now anymore. People still care for opinion but not for the person behind it.
Blogs are about topics and teams not bloggers
I was really astounded when AOL bough the seemingly anti-corporate activist site Huffington Post. When they sacked Michael Arrington, the original founder of TechCrunch I was still somehow shocked but when it happened to myself on SEOptimise I wasn't even surprised anymore. Blog readers today don't care anymore who writes the stuff they read on their favorite "blog". It's just a site or news source like any other. The unthinkable, removing the main blogger from a blog, is not an issue by now. Bloggers get hired and fired. People read blogs not bloggers. The teams are interchangeable as long as the topic stays the same.
Everybody blogs today but people do not consider it blogging
What do people on Facebook, Google+, Tumblr, Twitter? They blog. When I started blogging a blog posts was the size of the typical status update of today. A short sentence with a link was a perfect usual blog posting for years. The flagship blog post aka huge well written article is a relatively new phenomenon. So in a way most people have embraced blogging but without the attitude attached to it. Today companies like Facebook or Google own your updates and they can remove them any day. They even decide what you are allowed to write about or what "profile" picture you use.
WordPress is a full fledged advanced CMS
When I first used WordPress I was late again. I think I switched to WP when it was in version 1.2. It was clumsy and ugly back then but still it was the most advanced, user friendly and popular blogging tool at the time. I didn't like the backend code of it but I was glad that I didn't have to code everything myself. Yes, I have coded my websites by myself! Today WordPress is a full fledged CMS you rather use for your whole site where the blog is just part of it. Many people do not use the blog "module" at all. WordPress is really advanced when it comes to features, extensibility and customization.
WordPress themes are high quality web design today
In the early years I hated all WordPress themes. I'd take a theme and styled it completely new until it looked a bit better. As I'm not a designer I just stripped most styles. Over the years the themes got better and better but most of them still looked like diaries for teenage girls and poor poets. I've recently been looking around again for a great clean and minimalist theme and I was overwhelmed be the sheer number of highest quality themes that look a design for a few thousands of dollars. Many of the best are premium themes but you also get outstanding free themes.
Blog writing is almost of journalistic length and depth
As noted above blogging in the early days was often like tweeting or writing Facebook updates today. Short sentences with a link were quite common. Adding images or even videos did not happen a lot at first. I remember that I rarely added images in the first months of my blog in 2003. Blogging and journalism were like two opposite sides of the same coin, they never touched each other.
Over the years not only journalists have embraced blogging but blogging itself has become more journalistic and in-depth. Some blog posts over at Search Engine Land are so long I rarely have the time to read them in their entirety. Also journalism itself has degenerated. Today most journalistic articles are just republished agency news reports from AP, Reuters or DPA. Blogs posts are often much better than actual newspaper articles.
Blogs are interfaces and hubs in a social Web environment
Without a blog a site is like a dead end. There is nothing really you can offer to make people used to social media engage with your site unless you have at least a blog. Forums or communities are of course even better but a blog is the easiest one of them to set up and maintain. In a social Web environment people are not keen on reading your sales copy or pseudo-objective press releases and news articles. They want to know who you are and how you think. Blogs are interfaces between companies and customers. Journalists and readers. A site that doesn't have such an interface is effectively dead. The blog is also a hub for all your media related endeavors. You cover or announce it on a blog. You get popular via your blog, the rest of the website is just the structure.
There is no such thing as a blogosphere anymore
I seldom hear the term blogosphere anymore. Do you know what it is? It was something I felt in the early days of blogging in Germany. The blogosphere was like a virtual family. Whenever you wrote a post you knew everybody else in that huge family will in some way relate to it, even by not reading or noticing it. When a post didn't get linked by other bloggers, when it did not become part of the blogosphere everybody knew that it wasn't really on point. When I started blogging in English around 2007 I didn't feel really as a part of it but I felt that it was still there. Today I feel nothing. There are people who write for blogs they work for. There are many blogosphere if there are at all.
Every niche and industry has its own blogosphere and rules
Every niche, industry or topic seems to have a blogosphere of its own these days. When I started this blog I wanted to cover many topics at once, blogging, social media, SEO but also "make money online" topics or web design. Later I added usability, freelancing, self improvement. Today there is a whole sphere of blogs for each of these topics, some of them already imploded, for instance there are just a few good and active freelancing blogs left.
On the other hand I can't "compete" with all social media all the time blogs anymore. Web design blogs are filled to the brim with resources lists I can't match either. Every topic requires a different kind of writing, strategy and even design it seems. Self improvement blogs are clean and sell ebooks. Architecture blogs show off building by architects all the time instead of writing about architecture. Web design blogs do now describe the practice of web design either but they list tools and resources on how to design for the Web yourself. Every niches has its own rules of blogging.
Consolidation, a few blogs dominate each niche or topic
Every blogging topic has one or a few blogs that dominate it. Search Engine Land dominates search blogging, SEOmoz does it for SEO, Mashable for social media and Social Media Examiner for social media marketing. TechCrunch still dominates tech blogging even though the founder is gone. Nobody needs him, his new blog is nowhere as popular as his old one. There are few other blogs who still try to compete but unless you have a team of dedicated bloggers you can't really compete for attention with them.
I follow people on social media who share SEOmoz articles every day it seems. I've followed those who did it with Mashable. I prefer to use an RSS reader for that purpose. I don't need people to shove the most popular blog down my throat each day. Most other people seem to like it and use Twitter instead of RSS. So even a renowned figure like Arrington can't compete with the giants anymore.
Commercial blogs that use blog software and are full of ads abound
There are not only the huge corporate blogs you have to compete with for attention these days. There also myriads of blogs that are technically blogs, as they use WordPress or Blogger but they are just a collection of keyword driven commercial content mixed with undisclosed affiliate links to lure search engine users and make them click. Finding a real blog with a real human behind it gets more and more difficult. Either the authors are not really associated with that particular blog or you don't even know who the "Admin" is.
Blogging is the new normal, nothing to talk about
What I have noticed about blogging in recent years that you don't have to talk and write about it that much anymore. In the early years blogging was new, amazing and still unfolding. Right now blogs are the most common form of regularly updated publication on the Web. Corporations websites add blogs because people are used to read like that. Almost everything about blogging has been already said and written numerous times. That was one of the reasons why I didn't even care for the "golden age of blogging" meme.
Blogging is about personal branding not writing anonymously
My first blog was anonymous in a way. I just didn't mention my real name on it. It was like Tumblr today. Nobody cared for my name. Also I didn't want people to expect certain kind of content and opinion beacuse I was a pole. Today blogging is personal branding. You are somebody if you blog. Or at least you should try to be somebody when you blog. Otherwise blogging will become frustrating quickly.
People won't trust you as much as they trust bloggers with real names. Even Google won't rank you as high as an author who discloses who s/he is. These seems to contradict same of my former points when I wrote that people do not care about the bloggers abnymore. They indeed don't unless you make them. You have to highlight the fact that you write and not "Admin".
These are the changes that came to my mind right now. I could write on for hours. What I want to stress is that as you see above some of the changes are rather positive, others can be viewed as negative, some are ambiguous. Overall they show that blogging has evolved beyond the stone age.
We do not live in cages anymore. Indeed a new WordPress with a modern theme is like a condo compared to a cage of WP from a few years ago. I welcome this change.
On the other hand I do not consider AOL or CNN to be bloggers thus I don't have to identify or even compete with them. It's a bit sad that the categorization of weblog is a bit meaningless these days. It can mean anything and everything.
- So what's next?
- Will only corporations blog?
- Will we just "blog" for corporations like Facebook or Google?
Remember that some things haven't changed. What I have learned over the years is that bloggers care for other bloggers. Not all of them some will actually attack you just to position themselves in a better light but overall blogging connects.
I may not be a particularly gifted writer but people who like me, other bloggers, tell their friends and followers and thus my blog posts get shared. It's as simple as that. I read and share postings by other whenever I can.
Half a year ago I wrote about what I called then "smart mob SEO". The smart mobs of the early blogging era are still there. They might occupy public places but they also can form and support bloggers. Often when other bloggers link to me or I link to them we outrank huge corporate sites. So it's possible. Real people are always better than mindless corporate drones or just employees who happen to blog.
I don't want to return to my cage but I still like sitting occasionally around the virtual fireplace
and convene with other bloggers to change the world. Facebook and Google are not replacements for blogs, they just parrot them without the inherent meaning. For real bloggers Facebook and Google are only tools to promote their own blogs.
You can still or now more than ever create your audience. You won't get as much traffic as the AOL blogs but you don't need that much. You want a small but dedicated audience. The 1000 true fans who can feed you are not a myth.
* CC image by Roger Smith.