The strange death of the liberal blogosphere

There’s an interesting discussion going on a number of Lib Dem blogs about the declining number of Lib Dem blogs.

Mark Valladares has collated some figures on the number of active blogs on the aggregator site Lib Dem blogs. He finds this peaked at 235 in 2011 but is now down to 109. This is the lowest level since 2007.

He largely attributes this to the decline of the party in general. By contrast, Alex Marsh and Jonathan Calder suggest that this is more a reflection of the shrinking of the blogosphere as a whole.

I’m inclined to the later view. Firstly, because I think Marsh provides better evidence. Secondly, because of the news that the godfather of blogging Andrew Sullivan is retiring, I’ve been mulling precisely this broader issue. Particularly interesting was a piece I read by Ezra Klein arguing:

….at this moment in the media, scale means social traffic. Links from other bloggers — the original currency of the blogosphere, and the one that drove its collaborative, conversational nature — just don’t deliver the numbers that Facebook does. But blogging is a conversation, and conversations don’t go viral. People share things their friends will understand, not things that you need to have read six other posts to understand.

Blogging encourages interjections into conversations, and it thrives off of familiarity. Social media encourages content that can travel all on its own. Alyssa Rosenberg put it well at the Washington Post. “I no longer write with the expectation that you all are going to read every post and pick up on every twist and turn in my thinking. Instead, each piece feels like it has to stand alone, with a thesis, supporting paragraphs and a clear conclusion.”

There is a dilemma here: do bloggers conform to the conventions of social media or reject it? Do we follow Rosenberg and write posts that are easy to disseminate on facebook or twitter? Or do we instead retain all the kinks that make blogging distinct from tweeting or posting?

Sullivan himself seems to argue for the later approach:

“Since I’ll be out of blogging soon and won’t have to immediately recant and correct myself, let me conjecture a different future. We may be at peak scale in terms of opinion/aggregation/curation websites right now. At some point, the sponsored content machine in which magazines moonlight as advertising and p.r. companies will sputter as readers cannot tell the difference between propaganda and honest argument, and have long since forgotten which site they read anything on. A site that lacks a cohering and distinct identity can become simply a competitor for an endless and often fruitless search for links, tweets and likes. At some point, readers will want a place they know and love and trust and that they will support with their own money. And they will want a return to more of the intimacy and personality of the original blogosphere.

In other words: I think blogging will have a big revival in the near future. I think the more successful sites will be those with smaller scale and more identity and a stronger connection with readers.”

And I can see the logic of that applied to the Lib Dem blogs. For example, if each post has to be freestanding then one couldn’t have running jokes like Jonathan Calder’s alter ego as Lord Bonkers. And part of the value of a post on electoral law by Mark Pack derives from the fact that most of his readers know his reputation and therefore trust that the post’s contents are broadly accurate.

There is, however, a flipside. It may be true that in the future we will see readers seek out something closer to the original blogosphere but for the time being going down that road probably means fewer readers.

I have seen this with my own outpost. When I resumed blogging 18 months ago I put a lot of effort into creating interconnected series of posts on particular topics. They just weren’t getting the attention to justify the extra effort involved.

By contrast, my posts that did get read were those that could be used as a source to pack up a post on social media. So, for example, my post with the self-explanatory title ‘Joss Whedon co-wrote Toy Story’ has on occasion got thousands of views a day after being shared widely on reddit, twitter and a tumblr with another self-explanatory title ‘Facts and Chicks’. A fraction of the tremendous number of people seeing the fact on those sites want to explore it further. That produces a still substantial flow of views to my site.

So why don’t I write all my posts about similar things? It’s the same reason I generally write posts that are longer than many readers would ideally want. I’m only partly writing to be read. Much of the appeal of keeping a blog is that I enjoy writing and the sense of having an audience is an impetus to sit down and type. The size of that audience is therefore not of overriding importance for me. I’d therefore suggest that any discussion of blogging ought to take account of the fact that there may well be a supply where there is not necessarily a huge demand.

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2 thoughts on “The strange death of the liberal blogosphere

  1. You make some good points – and nicely illustrate what we’re missing due to the relative paucity of discussions like this which span several blogs and posts.

    One thing I wonder if whether the route you speculate about will indeed bring few readers. Like you, my immediate experience usually is that the shorter posts get more readers than the weightier ones, but not always – and overall I suspect that readership of Lib Dem blogs may be going up (see what I wrote in http://www.markpack.org.uk/128957/lib-dem-blogging-growing-shrinking/) which suggests that even if they are fewer of us writing, there are more people reading.

    PS Thanks for the kind comment too!

  2. Pingback: Why twitter is irrelevant to bloggers | Matter Of Facts

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