The blogosphere, circa 2012 (Hint: it ain’t dead or dying)

One could argue, I suppose, that blogging has always been a cry for attention, but then you’d have to admit the same for all forms of media. As Dave Winer so brilliantly points out, “the readers are the product, and the customers are the advertisers,” so who can blame content creators for wanting attention? It’s one thing to have an idea and to put that on paper, but it’s like the proverbial tree falling in the forest unless somebody else reads it. However, when money is exchanged for content creation, everything changes, because the paradigm moves from just being read to the number of people reading. This is called mass marketing. Media has always thought it was the content business, but Dave rightly discerns, attention for advertisers is the real business.

Much has been written over the last few years about blogging and blogging’s future since the dawn of social media. The latest is Jeremiah Owyang’s “End of an Era: The Golden Age of Tech Blogging is Over.” I won’t attempt to deconstruct this view, because others with greater credentials than mine have already done so. I do wish to comment about what’s happened to blogging, however, because 2012 will be my 10th year with The Pomo Blog.

There are many definitions of blogging, but mine most closely resembles, again, Dave Winer’s. He’s writing here about how some tech blogs, most notably TechCrunch, moved from being “blogs” to being media companies writing about technology, like CNET.

It’s understandable because they earn their salaries based on how much they please advertisers. It’s like the hamster-farms they write about — the readers are the product, and the customers are the advertisers. Bloggers, as I use the term, are the product without bothering with the advertisers. It’s people and their ideas, for better or worse, and nothing more than that.

This is The Pomo Blog. You won’t see any advertising here, because this blog isn’t about attention; it’s about ideas and the challenging of assumptions. It’s a teaching vehicle, and the student is me. That’s all it is, and this brings me to the social media disruption.

Technology spawned the personal media revolution — the “Great Horizontal” to which Jay Rosen refers — which has given voice to the formerly voiceless. Telling the world what you think only requires time. Everything else is free. If you follow closely (from a distance) all that’s taken place with this in the past ten years, however, you’ll find thousands of people who’ve interpreted this as a way to “make their mark” and pursue dreams that aren’t so horizontal as much as they are hierarchical.

I always used to argue that bloggers were not really competing with traditional media companies until I began seeing the various A‑list, B‑list, C‑list rankings. It was clear that some people were in it for the rankings, and in that sense — and just as Dave asserts — they were trying to generate a mass following. But regular blogging takes time, so when social media came along, these people fled the blogosphere to find the audience — the “Klout” — they were seeking elsewhere, because, well, it was more efficient and a whole lot easier to grow a reputation using connected social media.

Personal branding burst onto the scene, and we started seeing stories, posts, tweets about how to advance our personal brands. I wrote a tongue-in-cheek post “How to ‘be somebody’ on Twitter” that was based entirely on practices I had observed from those whose primary purpose on Twitter (and especially when tied together with Facebook) appeared to be growing an audience. There’s, of course, nothing wrong with that, but it has separated the wheat from the chaff in terms of blogging and the blogosphere.

I’m not suggesting anything untoward or disingenuous about this. It simply is what it is.

What I am trying to suggest is that this wing of the blogosphere has indeed vanished or transformed into plain old fashioned media designed to accrue an audience, and as long as this continues to be its goal, I’m not sure it’s all that sustainable, because their product — the audience — isn’t as necessary as it once was. That’s because the people who used to want that product — the advertisers — are now using the same technology to route around inefficient middlemen and go directly to the customers they seek. Further carving up the same old pie nets only smaller pieces and more confusion for the people who have the money in the first place. Any business model today based on traditional advertising has a rude awakening ahead.

I’ll never disrespect or discourage anyone for crying for attention, but if the end game is an audience for advertising, you might want to rethink your future.

(Disclosure: The Pomo Blog wouldn’t be here had it not been for the direct assistance of Dave Winer in getting me started.)

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