A blog has been a focal point of discussion for a while now in the fringe of the SA Web community. It isn’t anything new and the novelty has pretty much worn off and those people who continue to blog regularly do so because they are more committed to the platform as a medium for their messages than because blogging is the new Big Thing. Of course this is not indicative of the state of the SA Web generally because the mainstream is only really becoming aware of this “blogging thing” in addition to arguably the better known “Facebook thing”. For the mainstream blogging still represents potential for online interaction although somewhat shrouded in mystery. This, at least, is my sense of things at the moment.
Turning back to those of us who have been blogging for a while now (I will have been blogging for 4 years in December), some of us may be re-examining the value of a blog in the context of the broader social Web. Most of us use Twitter/Identi.ca/FriendFeed/Plurk/insert-name-of-new-thing-here daily, often far more often than we actually post longer form blogs. I have a strong leaning towards a more distributed approach to social media through lifestreaming and I have my various content streams feeding into Jaiku, Pulse, FriendFeed and, recently, Facebook in more stripped down format (mainly because I don’t seem to have much luck getting the Facebook apps I use to present my stuff the way I want it presented).
A blog’s success depends on persuading readers to either visit the blog regularly or subscribe to its feed. In that sense it can be somewhat limited in its reach and, ultimately, its influence. You may have the best written posts on your blog but if no-one reads them, do they exist in any meaningful way on the Web? Anyone who has watched a presentation given by any of the social media gurus doing the rounds knows that the appeal of a blog is its ability to reach out to potentially huge audiences. That potential is still there but with the growing number of blogs, it is that much harder to stand out. That being said the usual ways of building blog traffic still apply. If you post regularly on your blog, engage with your readers, establish a regular and persistent presence on other blogs through commenting or trackbacks (and so on), you may well find your readership growing.
Short of achieving a sizable readership another way to expand your reach is to cultivate networks of contacts either across a number of properties or by focussing your efforts on more pervasive platforms. We do talk about social networking after all. These properties include Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, FriendFeed and any number of more obscure or focussed networks. A more distributed approach means you have a better chance of reaching more people although the further afield you go the more difficult it is to maintain a cohesive network. Maintaining meaningful relationships takes time and there is only so much of that available so it becomes important to limit your scope to the networks that will best support your intentions. This is a big reason why people tend to stick with the likes of Twitter despite it having a sad history of poor reliability. The fact is people who have been using Twitter have a sizable network on Twitter and that is an incentive to keep using the service. People may try out a range of new services but ultimately return to their bigger networks.
On the other hand you can have a longer reach using single services that have a more integrated approach to and which may even require a redefinition of all your social media activities. The very concept of a blog has to change and Nic posted a pretty good take on this distinction a little while ago in his post titled ‘Facebook’s “Note Bloggers” must outnumber us “Real Bloggers”‘ where he talked about how Facebook users who publish their thoughts using Facebook Notes may well outnumber so called “real bloggers” who publish on the more traditional platforms like WordPress, TypePad and Movable Type. At the time I commented that the distinction Nic drew was a false distinction:
I didn’t really think about Facebook notes as “blog” posts but you do have a point. I probably do have a fair number of my friends seeing my notes and other entries so from a visibility perspective that is pretty potent.
Another factor is that most of my friends have a stronger connection to me and interest in what I am doing than many of the visitors to my blog which makes the views more meaningful.
I also think the distinction you draw between Note Bloggers and Real Bloggers is probably the wrong distinction to draw. Real bloggers are bloggers who, among other things, share a strong personal connection to their readers. If Note Bloggers can achieve that on Facebook and we struggle to achieve that on our islands in the blogosphere, who are the *real* Real Bloggers?
I do think he made a good point about not underestimating Facebook Notes users. If you divorce the concept of a blog from the specific platform the content is published on and rather focus on the activity of publishing your thoughts on the Web in a way that enables and facilitates feedback from readers (my Mac’s dictionary defines a blog as “a Web site on which an individual or group of users produces an ongoing narrative”) then blogging extends to Facebook and pretty much any other platform that allows for this sort of publishing. The point is that when you consider “blogging” in this light the so-called “regular blogs” Nic spoke about become less significant in the context of the broader local blogosphere. When you add a variety of lifestreaming services and online contact points to a person’s profile you can imagine the reach an average person can have just by updating her status or publishing a photo.
In a sense my Facebook example isn’t the best example. Facebook is a pretty self-contained ecosystem from a user perspective. Facebook may import a variety of content from various sources using Facebook Apps but Facebook’s outputs are pretty limited. The idea with Facebook is to concentrate activity in Facebook. I read a while ago about how Facebook is the biggest photo sharing website, as an example. You could probably do all your social networking in Facebook alone and never step outside into the broader Web.
That form of interaction we spoke about in the context of blogging last year and the year before that is available on a bigger scale in services like Facebook (which has continued to see tremendous growth recently) and FriendFeed. Between these sorts of services the relevance of a blog in the conventional sense, as opposed to the broader definition I suggested above, requires some thought. Dave Duarte wrote about a perspective of blogs as amateur publishing tools on his blog last month. Nic commented on this idea and wrote a bit about how his blogs have proven to be valuable networking tools in their own right.
I am not sure I agree with Dave’s portrayal of blogs as amateurish because I think this devalues blogging as an activity in the broader sense. I do wonder about the absolute value of a blog in the broader sense though and while there are many blogs (in the narrower sense) that are tremendously successful both in South Africa and elsewhere, when it comes to the social Web, blogs are not the only or even most effective way of engaging effectively with people in our social networks.
Taking it all a step further I am beginning to wonder if it is possible to establish and maintain an effective and coherent presence on the Web using a more distributed approach in a business context. I have been mulling over a variety of options for my business presence on the Web which has primarily been focussed on a WordPress blog. Could that change to a more decentralised model where I maintain a presence on a variety of sites ranging from the high density Facebook to lower density spaces out there, whatever they may be? Is a single content-based focal point necessary for a modern business or could something like this serve as a focal point for an effective and pervasive Web presence?