The Evolution of Blogging

139 Comments

istock_000006184805xsmall Dave Winer’s ability to peer into the future is uncanny. He was talking about a river of news long before the current activity streams became popular. He was evangelizing RSS long before there were blogs. I could go on and on about his prescient observations, but it’s his warnings that are especially prophetic.

For as long as I can remember, he’s been warning that users of new social web technologies need to be in control of their own destiny. He sounded the alarm about Feedburner and how it was hijacking an open standard, RSS, and inserting itself between content creators and consumers. And he’s long cited the need for open social communication platforms, often voicing his displeasure with newer services such as Twitter.

People have ignored Winer at their own peril, as two events over the last week have made clear. First was the shutdown drama around a little-known URL-shortening service called Tr.im. While it’s since been resurrected, the incident showed me how by championing these URL-shortening services, we’re essentially putting the entire link economy in the hands of companies that are skating on thin ice during the peak of summer.

Second was FriendFeed becoming a Mark Zuckerberg Production thanks to a $50 million buyout by Facebook. The likelihood of Zuckerberg & Co. shutting down the upstart social aggregation service has brought into the spotlight the misalignment between the needs of online communities and the companies that provide them.

The cynical me believes that it’s foolish for any of us to expect that Web 2.0 companies be in the business of providing services for charity. They are, after all, for-profit entities and when opportunity arises, everyone looks out for themselves. That’s just the way of the world. But somewhere between my cynicism and people’s Utopian desires lies a happy place. It’s called the blog.

Blogging: The Evolution

Late last year, following the Bombay terrorist attacks, I wrote about Twitter’s growing influence as a source of breaking news and how, in order to make sense of it all, we need more context. The best place to provide that context is now in blogs. To be sure, most people view Twitter as a microblogging service, but I’ve always seen it as micromessaging service — and the more I used it, the more I realized what a disjointed conversation it can produce.

As Twitter has become increasingly ingrained in our everyday lives, its value as as source of information tidbits has become clear. Think of it like that plate of chips and salsa you get before the entree arrives: tasty — spicy, even — but not entirely satisfying. Meanwhile, blogging has become the main course — the source of context. And the evolution into that role has injected new life into the blogosphere.

Earlier this week, while at dinner with Matt Mullenweg (Disclosure: Matt, a close friend of mine, started Automattic, whose WordPress platform powers our network. Both Automattic and the GigaOM Network are backed by True Ventures, where I am also a venture partner.), we talked about how many amazing blog posts we’ve read in just the past month alone, such as:

And these are just the ones that I hastily jotted down on the back of the dinner receipt. Now it would be easy for “blogging” to be satisfied with this information-sharing role. But that won’t be enough. Blogs need to evolve even further.

Why? Because the nature of content sharing (call it publishing) and content consumption is changing.

Blogging needs to be social. There are many reasons for this, but the most important one — in my mind — is the changing nature of content. “We will all be streaming life moments as more and more bandwidth is available both at home and on the go,” I wrote two years ago. It’s already happening. Today most of us walk around with newfangled smartphones that are nothing short of multitasking computers, essentially content creation points. And they’re networked, which means creating and sharing content is becoming absurdly simple to do. With the increased number of content creation points –- phones, camera, Flip video cameras, Twitter -– we are publishing more and more content.

Most of this content is disjointed, like random atoms. In the past, I (and others) have referred to this as the atomization of content. These atoms need to be brought together in order to make sense. But while many have argued that self-hosted Facebook- or FriendFeed-styled services could fill this role, I disagree. As I’ve said in the past, “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.”

The Next Step

Millions of Facebook users will have no reason to use any other service for the foreseeable future. And even when they decide to leave, they’ll realize they can’t, for they’ll have stored their photos and videos into the service, which has no visible way of exporting such data. It’s the ultimate lock-in: control consumers’ data and you control everything.

For others — whom I would loosely define as “power users” — today’s blogging software and services are the best option for becoming a repository of our digital creations, because they are more open, more extensible and at the end of the day, give us more control. Chris Messina, a technology evangelist, has been promoting this vision for nearly two and a half years, including starting a project dedicated to it called DiSo.

What Facebook and FriendFeed have shown is that people want to consume and publish content in a more dynamic fashion — more in real time, so to speak.

At the risk of repeating myself, I will quote from a previous post. “As a society, we are entering an increasingly narcissistic phase, enabled by web technologies…The evolution of blogging platforms needs to match these societal and demographic changes.” What I meant was that blogging platforms need to evolve from the hierarchical content-management systems of today to more fluid, free-flowing, more socially relevant and real-time lifestreaming systems.

Two services — Posterous and Tumblr — are taking a shot at this. WordPress, with its P2 theme, has showed that it’s thinking along these lines as well; we tried it out with the GigaOM Daily plugin. But these are not enough. There needs to be more real-time collaboration built into these systems. They need to become socially relevant. They need to take into account that today, consumption and creation happen not just on traditional computing systems like a laptop, but also on highly mobile devices. Imagine the volume of information we’re going to create and consume when we have broadband speeds on our on-the-go devices.

The next generation of blogging systems needs to account for the fact that information — and most importantly, conversations — flow via email, Twitter, instant messages and other formats. In order to do that, the innards of blogging systems need to be rethought. Perhaps the older, relational database models will need to be replaced by more nimble data stores. We may see XMPP become the layer that facilitates collaboration and real-time communications. But these are complex topics for my more esteemed colleagues to tackle, the ones who are builders and creators. I am merely a thinker, who is firm in his belief that this real-time social collaboration is a powerful force, and blogging, if it wants to move further forward, needs to embrace it.

139 Comments

Omid Mirshafiei

It would be interesting to have a system where the daily content IS the centerpiece (read: does not take a backseat to the discussions), but through elegant data visualization we could see what points of the article are causing the most ruckus. Something like a trend graph to illustrate “hot spot” ideas that are generating buzz.

As a reader, if I see a long piece, I will definitely read it to join the discussion, but I know that maybe 30% of the commotion in the discussion section could be caused by one obscure sentence that wouldn’t normally stand out on its own.

Not sure if that made any sense or if I’m the only one that would be interested in seeing that represented visually.

pucit

Yeah .. you are quite right.
But don’t you think that a summary provide the crucks of whole content.That have been a main source foe getting the main idea.

Louisa

As great Facebook is for sharing photos, videos etc with loved ones who may live far away, what Facebook does with the data we give so easily is starting to become a huge concern.

I do agree that web technologies are enabling us to become narcissistic but I think that this may be short lived as people tire of everyone knowing what they’re up to and having so much information available in the public domain. Particularly with more and more employers Googling potential employees etc, I think there could be a mini-backlash and children/teenagers will grow up more savvy and suspicious of the internet and social media.

David Hopkins

I also feel that what we call blogging is evolving into a more automated and simple way of sharing what we do. In that sense believe the lifestream concept is where we are heading to. Blog software such as WordPress should be web “glue”, aggregating our activities on different web 2.0 services and bringing them together. On my personal blog I have been using the Lifestream Plugin for WP, which can communicate with many API’s and consolidate my online activities in a chronological flow. I feel it’s such an important aspect of blogging now days that Matt and Co. should make it a core function in WordPress – as well as on WP.com. The reason for this is that although many people actively post and write on their blog, the vast majority of people would rather have their blog do the updating by itself, collecting and presenting a lifestream of their comments, uploads, favorites, notes etc.

Jarrod Skeggs

Thanks for sharing your insight on the evolution of blogging. Our firm has been really pushing our clients to leverage their Blog/Website as a Hub, like you mentioned in this post. I’m encouraged to think that we are on the right track with that advice.

I really like your forward thinking and appreciate the fact that you shared it and also the tone with which you shared it. I’m now a subscriber, Twitter follower, and Facebook fan.

Thanks…

Lucien Burm

well, for starters, we could figure out how to make certain comments stand out more, because I might like em. It’s difficult to wade through all in time and keep the chain of thought. And this is just in one blogpost. You can imagine how it works if you read many posts or tweets. There are conversation blindspots, you know. We should fix that! ;-)

Anyway, not my point, just an observation on popular posts.

This IS my point: We are actually talking about a distributed identity here, a caleidoscope of avatars that make up (a part of the online) you. We want them loosely connected, but the content distrbuted thoroughly. And we want them all in one place if we or our connections want them to be.

We need NOT to rethink blogs, but to rethink the web as a whole. Where Berners-Lee came up with an author created linking system (the www), it is clear that is failing in this era of sliced content , the many online identities that people have and high paced production and consumption.

The web, including blogs, should be expanded on three layers.
1. the read/write web
2. the semantic web
3. the social web

All three provide a different kind of connection that will make up the next web. The read/write takes into account that people both read and write the web. what you read should be gathered next to what you write in a natural, seamless way. The Semantic web would help me makes sense of the connection between many topics in and out of blogs, microblogs and networks. The Social Web will use my AND your connections to provide better linking between content that i and you should know about at a certain time. This timing part might be attributed to a fourth web, the realtime web. This is not for providing connections but to filter them time-based and keep the flow of consuming content optimal.

As soon as we have services that make these automatic, managed connections from the three new webs available, we will see whole new web emerge. You will be able to share what you produce and consume in a highly dynamic, caleidoscopic way on your blog, in your social network or through your tweets

I am not making this all up of course. We are working on it like many of you do, i assume. Curious what it will be like in 5 yrs or so. Keep it flowing.

Lucien
CEO Kimengi.com | f»dforward

Bill Colliere

If information were food we would all be lining up at the troff. But I believe there is a cut off point in which population will reach enough, if not just stop with the information feed train altogether. I would be careful to consider into the equation the possibility of this information age to just simply fall back into its proper place of use as people begin to miss their privacy of mind and life. It all will fall into the gauntlet of entertainment once again, because of the laborious consumption and distraction from more important things such as life.

Bill Collier

ronald

Information is more like a mild Drug, i.e. a Stimulus, which can in some cases lead to addiction. Like multi tasking, or physical activities like Running. All depends on the brain involved.
But like all stimuli if you feed the normal brain to much it will not only block it, but get used to blocking it.
Which still leaves curiosity which needs to be satisfied in our bland world, and news is just part of that.
Now a feedback or involvement system to news has a social part which will most likely feed back into the Drug part, or feel good part of the brain.

Disclaimer, I’m not a Physiologist, I do math. But we have math models which proof the first part , I don’t understand the social part at all (in math).

ronald

Since Om twisted my right arm (and he knows what that means):

In my opinion it’s not a link economy.
It’s an intent economy.

Business Value = Eyeballs * intent

If Intent is “0” Eyeballs don’t help. Even if you do brand marketing it
would help to identify me as a Lexus (2) driver instead of putting a KIA ad in
front of me and reduce my intent to 0.
Google and Microsoft (took a while) know this. Search is all about
intent, get that right and eyeballs follow. The news people really have
to read up on what we know about the brain.

Second:
In your article you did not mention information overflow, we can either
ignore it and do what I do when it gets to much, just stop reading
anything with marginal information value to me. Or build a system to
filter out what I don’t need but keep me reading what I’m generally
interested in, which also helps the intent part (to make you guys some
money).

Tom Foremski

There seems to be an implicit belief that there will be one way to wrap everything together, that it will be possible to build that holy grail of publishing/conversational platforms. I don’t agree. If there is one thing that’s clear over the past decade is that the fragmentation of media continues, and it continues to accelerate. We might go through times when the fragmentation might seem to so slow down, but that is often a red herring. Fragmentation of our current publishing/conversational systems will continue because it can, and there is no reason to think it should stop, or can be made to stop, by the creation of some super-duper real-time enabled blogging system. One ring to bind them all only exists in fairy tales, imho :)

Anonymous

This was a very enlightening e-mail for me. I really hadn’t grasped exactly what I wanted until I got about half way through your post and finally grasped the power of consolidating my lifestream and posted content locally where I have control over the content. I currently follow a typical trend of posting all my content to friendfeed which then dumps to facebook and twitter. Most of my conversation then happens on FB and Twitter. However I want control over that activity and want the equivalent of an open and owned posterous that will scour and lifestream my activity in a collaborative platform, and also push out my posted content to whatever service I wish. In addition I need to pull in and manage comments from all services on any of my content. Throw all this into the wordpress architecture and I think you have a winner.

I agree that all the services manage the flow in different ways and certainly, nothing truly captures what we need to centrally manage and own our content.

Paramvir Singh

I completely agree with Om! I HAVE a facebook account, but am not active. I have always wondered, its MY content, MY pictures, MY videos, MY friends, but Facebook makes the money and I have no control over data once its uploaded?

John Borthwick

Om / Great post. I have read through it and the comments, a couple of times today — thoughtful all around. I do wish you would go further — at the end you left me hanging.

Posterous and tumblr and p2 are all great steps forward but they are in a sense more of the same — different representations of the flow, but still single services seeking to aggregate the flow and associated gestures into one experience. Does something end up breaking the mold?

Did you ever see sweetcron — Jon yongfook’s wonderful host your own friend feed, he is in Asia and it got lost a little in the mix — but it was interesting, I think its now open source. What else is breaking the mold here? The other direction is in my mind a collection of loosely coupled pieces — yes as someone said in the comments there is an ebb and flow from centralization to decentralization — but the trend is one way — decentralize. Bet on the edge. Fascinating times.

Om Malik

John

I think the next post is coming up and that would answer some of your questions. I appreciate the top on Sweetcron. I have been following that for a while.

We should catch up on the next evolution here.

David Banes

We’re 100% behind this and believe that people and businesses need to think more clearly about their online content and federation.

That’s why we’ve put together Cleartext ESM (Enterprise Social Messaging) a service not unlike managed and hosted email and email security.

The service is based on XMPP and includes archiving, security & compliance measures and soon a native URL shortening and expanding service.

Free online services are great, but should we trust them with our data, or should we all be responsible for our own data and federate?

tourpro

This is really cool. I think we are in another period of intense change – dare I say into a true Web 3.0?

For me, P2 is the closest thing to combining both lifestreaming and blogging, but there is still something missing (besides the ability to post a title on the form…). Perhaps it is the ability to connect like FB and Twitter?

As it is, I’m reaching my carrying capacity for information intake. Efficient sharing and consuming is what I’m really seeking.

Anonymous

I commented earlier on: ‘The(physical)Paper’ vs OnLine Newspaper & Magazine perusers…but somehow my comment published here under: “Anonymous”. ::smiling::: .

Perhaps because FACEBOOK knows me as ‘Frank Lee’ rather than Frank L. {Willow-Rogers Jr.}

Jim

To date myself, all of this seems eerily reminiscent of the UNIX wars. While all the cognoscenti were endlessly debating which obscure UNIX APIs were most likely to take over the world, Microsoft captured 90% of the market …. let’s hope history does not repeat itself in the blogosphere …

David Gadarian

Very interesting post! I think this space is fascinating. Open standards are certainly important, truthfully crucial, and I’d say that the consumers desires might only be trumped by emerging technologies whatever they may be. It appears that with each new technology more established companies are either thrown on their heels (think MySpace), they forced to adjust (Facebook), or they are purchased (YouTube)… I’m sure there is a great thought process out there studying the emergence of new social technologies that “break through” every X months, similar to Moore’s Law. If not maybe I’ll blog about it!
Thanks,
Dave

ROBERTBRUCE

Thank goodness bloggers have the deep thinkers, the hypothesisers , shamans & sangomas (bone throwers) to highlight the way forward.

The debate about the demise of blogging has ebbed and flowed for many moons but thankfully it has survived the many wannabe trendier but transient social apps.

Blogging is social media’s cockroach! It’ll survive being nuked. You can put in with a colors wash and a container of bleach at 70 degrees and it’ll go through the entire wash, rinse and spindry cyles unblemished, unscathed, unwrinkled and exit the process radiantly bright. Well, someone will have to use WP to blog about the use of non-eco wash rinse!

Add to, weld on, plugin and reshape blogging – this cockroach will survive as the stand alone channel to exemplify and carry glorious wordsmithying to the future. The art of proper conversation in any of its forms will not die.

Viva the blog, viva!

Indus Khaitan

Good read.

While we do need to connect the data — we also need to trim the deluge. Too many posts carrying the same data points eventually create a very-very fat head — We no longer follow through the blogs carrying the chatter through the tail thinking it’s the same story with 0.5 cents!

Another problem is normalization & dedupe — a la my tweets showing up on Facebook status (via apps) but also showing via FriendFeed (another app) — Just like we are talking collaboration between people, we need to talk collaboration between apps — notch more than what OAuth does for data sharing — we need to go cross the boundaries to make the discovery process more efficient. The web needs to get more social — so do the apps which are enabling this.

Wallace

I love this idea! I feel like most people fall in love with one communication medium or another, AIM, Twitter, Facebook, whatever. It would be great if there was a website that could grab these streams (through collected login information?) and thread them all together- this way we’re all comfortable and all of the information is collected, tagged, and organized, but nothing is lost. Somehow a hybrid of Google Wave, Facebook, and basecamphq.com

MDH

endless cycle: when “homebase” is centralized, we want decentralization, then back to centralization.

Centralization – dictatorships, Decentralization – democracies

Next stop – we’ll throw our hands up and suggest Facebook, Google, et all are the new IBM & Microsoft and they have too much control… we will flock to new, fragmented, open standards.

Mainframes -> workstations & PC’s -> “cloud computing” -> back to user controlled pieces powered by easier management & provisioning, better visibility, and increased reliability… cheaper, faster, better.

Compuserve/AOL -> a different web service for every function -> Facebook -> our own data stores powered by underlying standards which links them.

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