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Why Blogs Need To Be Social

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Earlier this week, San Francisco-based web publishing software company Six Apart released the newest version of its flagship product, Moveable Type, and pushed the blogging community into taking the first step toward a very social future. [digg=]

It is not a new concept — since their early days blogs were all about sociability. Late last year, we backed Chris Messina’s wild idea that WordPress, the open-source blogging software that we use to power majority of our network blogs, could be become the underpinning for a social network. In January, Automattic, the company behind WordPress and the free hosted blogging service, bought BuddyPress to help bring sociability to blogs. (Disclosure: Automattic was started by Matt Mullenweg, a close friend of mine. We share True Ventures as an investor.)

Our friends at ReadWriteWeb theorize that in order for blogging to evolve, the blogging systems need to embrace the newly popular life-streaming services such as Twitter and FriendFeed, along with a growing panoply of personal web services (including the most fabulous, Dopplr). The team at Six Apart has combined the above-mentioned ideas to create Moveable Type Pro, a blog-publishing system with extremely social DNA. (Check out the Six Apart blog for details.)

Blogging Needs To Evolve

Six Apart is making the right move, for it is time for blogging to evolve. Many of us have forgotten that blogging is not just an act of publishing but also a communal activity. It is more than leaving comments; it is about creating connections. For instance, through comments I met folks like Robert Young, who in turn wrote for the blog, and then in the process became a friend. It is time to re-embrace and extend that philosophy.

Establishing those kinds of relationships becomes an even bigger challenge as newer tools emerge, enabling new kinds of sharing. Whether it is Friendfeed or Dopplr, videos or photos, we are constantly figuring out ways to share information about us on the web. In other words, our digital life is spreading out across the web.

Blog = Digital Life Aggregator

We have two choices in order to consolidate these — either opt for all-purpose services such as Facebook (as tens of millions have done) or use our blogs as the aggregation point or hub for all these various services. Facebook, for instance allows you to share photos, aggregate your digital droppings, share comments with friends and exchange messages, but it doesn’t give you a unique identity on the web. In contrast, blogs with social features could allow you to do exactly that.

Marc Canter has been talking about this digital aggregator forever and has been ahead of the curve, though now pieces have started to fall in place. Robert Scoble is a good example of how and where things might be headed. He uses multiple services, and they are all easily consumable on his blog, where he writes longer, more engaging posts. His short conversational posts of yesteryear have migrated to FriendFeed, his video has bifurcated into long-form or live, short-form videos. I know Scoble is an outlier of this trend, but he was also ahead of the curve six years ago as far as blogging is concerned.

The Demographic Shift

As a society, we are entering an increasingly narcissistic phase, enabled by web technologies — a theory that is articulated in Wired’s recent cover story. As the Wired writer quips, “Like it or not, we are all public figures now — famous, as the new cliché goes, for 15 people.”

The evolution of blogging platforms needs to match these societal and demographic changes. I think folks who are blogging now (no, not just tech bloggers) are different from some of us early bloggers — they use different tools and services and have different views of sharing. In many ways MySpace and Facebook have changed what is OK, and what is not OK online.

With that as a sub-text, it is good to see the blogging systems start to evolve. Kudos to Six Apart for making the first major move. Suddenly, blogging tools are more fun — and social.

Open Question: How will you build the next-generation blogging system? I am going to be discussing this question with various attendees of WordCamp 2008 that is being held in San Francisco this weekend. I am speaking at the camp and have a exciting announcement as well.

PS: Get ready for by registering your blogs, watch the new video, and become part of the movement that is about blogs making a change in our world.

61 Responses to “Why Blogs Need To Be Social”

  1. Om – great post! I’m starting to think about blogs the same way as I look at online communities – they are opens forms of communication that are powered by interaction among employees, customers, and more. If these communities were one way streets, then they would not be successful. What makes them successful is engagement among the members to foster better, more productive relationships with employees, customers and partners which should ultimately lead to improved business results.

    While blogs started as a means to express opinions, I 100% agree that blogs are now about making connections and fostering relationships just like online communities. Connecting them with other “life streaming” apps like FF, Twitter, and Dopplr is a marvelous idea and one that I hope I see more people adopt (Scoble-style). Thanks for continuing to bring the great insights.

    Aaron | @astrout

  2. Spot on, Om… as usual. And to support Om’s mention of how we became friends, it was indeed a *great* way to light up our friendship… something blogs, as an extension of one’s very being into the digital sphere, should facilitate with increased ease and benefit. Blogs were meant to be social!

  3. My blog automatically imports into Facebook – you can ‘Notes’ to pull in an RSS feed, no need to hit any ‘update’ button.

    More importantly, what I am saying we need is interoperability and then let users CHOOSE what they want to use. I would choose to use Facebook because it has worked quite fine for me so far.

    Choice never hurt anyone and just like how you can use Hotmail, Yahoo, Gmail, etc. or MSN, ICQ, AIM, etc., I just want to choose without worrying about interoperability.

  4. how would I build the new blogging service ? – I think I would integrate all the comments you make on the web in the backend of the software. I think “comments” is a part of the online life that blogging hasn’t grasped ( even though it’s also a large part of blogging in itself)… =)

  5. moneymanagement

    Am I old fashioned??
    I find Marc’s blog soooo difficult to read and so pointless. I guess I still like to read in continuity and not disjointed unedited statements.
    Will twitter last?
    I don’t think it will in its current awtaar but then what does on the social media space. I for one would not be want to be bombarded with constant feeds even after subscribing to them. Nope don’t want to know who is on the shit pot and who is having difficulty catching a cab.

  6. OM, I remember reading that post that you wrote last year about Automattic,purchasing BP, and it got me very excited about the possibilities.

    I for one cannot wait to see, what Automattic, have got instore. They have been trend setters, re blogging platforms up to this point.

  7. Om, there are a number of different ways to reach the objective, and I’ve been experimenting with Google sites and widgets (my own attempt to aggregate and mash-up social media).

    If you’re a gypsy blogger, like me, and you have a tendency to wander from platform to platform — there’s currently no easy way to bring it all together in one place. At least, not yet.

    Perhaps the one thing that most needs to transcend space and time online is an authentic reputation. I’m not so sure that we’ll ever capture that in a single application. Frankly, I’m not convinced that we really need to.

  8. Well-articulated, Om. I agree with some others that there has indeed been a spreading meme here for awhile now, but this post does a great job of pulling together some old ideas and adding new emphasis (albeit indirect) on the tools and specs that are going to pull us forward like OAuth, OpenID, and DataPortability. Thanks!

  9. I agree most heartedly Om, but this idea is certainly nothing new. There are other blogs like mine that have been preaching this mantra for a very long time now. Maybe you should come out of the vacuum and read someone else for a change besides Scoble and the gang. :-)

    Just a suggestion. Cheers!

  10. I’ve been thinking about this challenge for a while now – how to combine/integrate the various content creation channels I use into my personal website without loosing the value of the individual channels. Slapping on widgets from each site into the right column isn’t pretty.

    As a father, another aspect I’m also concerned about privacy when posting about family items. I’d like the ability to easily control which content is public vs. private but still have it integrated under my personal brand (my site).

  11. Todd Spraggins

    Mash, Don’t Integrate

    I think it would be a big mistake to create a monolithic entity like blogging or micro-blogging self-contained within FaceBook or visa-versa with WordPress trying to be an all out SNS. I completely agree that blogging needs to go to the next level by becoming more social – a part of the flow – and allow that personal level of connectivity as part of the dialogue.

    This can and should be done by opening up the connectivity between the SNS, blogging and micro-blogging worlds. Put the control with the user and put the flexibility with the design community.

  12. Dax Brady Sheehan

    I like what your saying Dave ^ but I think your trying to operate in the garden with the highest walls, no? And what app automatically updates your facebook account? Are you sure you still don’t have to hit update from within facebook?

    We need to the walls to come down operating inside of facebook I can not imagine is the answer to that imho.

  13. Wouldn’t the first question be. What is social or social behavior?
    Is social just sharing or talking/writing with no result.
    Or is social behavior sharing and influencing with a shared result/understanding?
    If it’s the later, we have a long ways to go and most of these so called social nets are on the wrong track.
    BTW, the noise level normally goes down if the people realize they do not have have any influence on the shared result. Except the few who have no clue, but can be easily filtered out.
    To make you work more the later would also have you share your thoughts (changed or influenced) at the end of social interaction.

    Or maybe, I just need more coffee.

  14. Great post and great comments.

    Many of us feel overwhelmed by all of the methods and means we have to publish digital content and also the fragmentation that results form consolidating our digital lives in one area.

    I think that taking a nod from the customization that the internet has brought us via the ability to personalize the content we wish to receive in having a much greater choice in selecting the shows we wish to watch, music we wish to hear and articles we wish to read – blogging is going to enter a new phase in which we will be able to micro-blog-cast segments of digital content (new blog posts, status updates, places/location of interest, etc.) that readers can pick and choose which areas they wish to follow. The revolution will be ‘lifestreamed’

    Blogging is truly about conversations and relationships. Kudos to Six Apart’s initiative to provide bloggers with the tools to share more information and ideas.

  15. I am trying to deal with information overload thanks to all these services.

    You ask a great question and I will answer it by explaining what I think I need to solve my info vs. noise problem.

    I use Facebook a whole lot, way more than anything else, and my blog automatically imports into it. Now if Facebook could interface with blogging platforms and allow me to manage my blog from INSIDE Facebook, allowing me to also manage the ‘friends’ who comment and the community that has slowly formed, then that would be nice.

    It would be even better if anyone would be able to comment without having to register. Just use opensocial or your facebook id (I know this is all coming).

    What I need is:
    – a central place to login
    – manage the content I create
    – connect with the community
    – click a tab to see what my twitter friends are saying and tabs for the other services I sign up for

    I liken it to how gmail can check all my email accounts or how IM went from walled gardens to clients that allow me to manage ALL my im accounts with different services.

    Aggregation is what I need. Am I alone?

  16. I agree some blogs may benefit from lifestreaming, but I personally worry there is too much noise from twitter type streams invading too many of my information sources already. When I want to get inside smart people’s heads, nothing is better than twitter and lifestreaming. However, I don’t want it on every blog or news source I visit, causing detraction from the real content I’m seeking.

    Lets harness lifestreaming where it makes sense, but maintain appropriate control. I’m not lacking for information and opinions from the masses, but I’m loosing the ability to find more valuable, well explored reporting amidst the expanding social media noise.

  17. I am not sure any one site will ever be able to capture all the facets of the internet but this is a very important topic. I strongly believe that the power of the internet is as a collaborative platform and that the key is to have all the tools service that need rather than be slaves to the limitations of current technology.

  18. PXLated

    I have 100 friends that blog, does this mean I’m going to have to join 100 new social networks, fill out 100 profiles, etc? Personally, I’m not going there.

  19. It’s great to see these ideas gain prominence. We’ve been talking about this for four years, and they’re built directly into the core of Elgg, our open source social networking platform.

    There are a couple of important issues that A Taylor touches on above, which boil down to audience. Not only are you going to want to filter content by overall topic (itself a hard thing to do when you’re talking about a variety of data from different facets of your life), but not everything needs to be, or should be, public. While self-publishing is interesting and exciting in the global space alone, it comes into its own when you can decide exactly who can see what, and when you can use that audience information to allow certain groups of people to interact on a deeper level.

    Maybe I want to share more specific information with my partner and my family than I do with my business colleagues or Joe Random out there on the web. Similarly, why shouldn’t I be able to add people as friends across networks (particularly as social networks decentralize), or invite someone over on another network to edit a document with me, without having to create a mirror account? (And then only making it public when both people are happy with it?)

    All of these ideas lead to huge possibilities, and they’re not far off. We’re certainly trying hard to build them into Elgg and the Open Data Definition, and I hope that Movable Type, BuddyPress, Marc Canter’s People Aggregator and others continue to push the boundaries with us.

  20. Excellent post, Om. I think you shine a light on some interesting ideas. Aggregating, Life Streaming and Community Building feel like foundational concepts for Web 3.0.

    Somewhat related to the Facebook versus Social Blogging tools question is whether the masses ultimately want to create or consume information (in addition to practicing adornment).

    Food for thought. Whereas blogging just takes a bit of discipline to keep it going, building a community is a lot of work. It’s a daily care and feeding exercise.

    I blogged on this point recently from a lessons learned perspective in:

    Online Community Building: Three Critical Ingredients

    Check it out if interested.



  21. Good Post Om,

    In my opinion lifecasting as a possible evolution in blogging will need to be focused on a readers interests. If one if interested in the latest news about Web 2.0 in Japan, then that person should be able to filter FriendFeed or Twitter content to find exactly that topic and not have to wade through Web 2.0 in Europe content.

    Using Blogs as a lifecasting aggregation point will work as long as blog readers are able to filter and focus on content and bloggers of interest as opposed to having to wade through post after post of fluff and nonsense as we do today to find the nuggets of useful information on Twitter and on FriendFeed.