One of my very first posts back in 2002 looked at whether blogging was a fad like CB radio and came to the conclusion that it wasn’t. Four years and tens of millions of blogs later, Guy Rundle at Crikey asks the same question and reaches the opposite answer (reprinted at Mark Bahnisch). The main evidence he offers is the proliferation of dead and still-born blogs. Rundle draws an analogy with 17th century pamphlets, which he presents as a transitional technology, paving the way for newspapers.
A much better analogy, and one that’s obviously in Rundle’s mind as an editor of Arena is the “little magazine”. If you go through the stacks of any good library, you’ll find huge numbers of dead magazines, with lifespans running from decades to a single optimistic issue. There are almost certainly far more dead magazines than live ones. But the little magazine form has persisted up to the present, and is now migrating to the Internet.
Reading between the lines, it seems clear that Rundle hopes and expects that the future of online publishing will belong to magazine-style publications “well-edited moderate circulation outlets [that] can charge and get subscriptions” rather than to blogs. There are a few examples, including Crikey itself, New Matilda and Gawker and Salon in the US (also Opinion Online, but that’s free). Still, there’s very little evidence that such publications are displacing blogs, and serious doubts about whether the model as a whole is viable. The biggest attempt to organise a bunch of blogs into a media empire has been, as far as anyone can see, an expensive disaster.
It would be a pity for the little magazine format to disappear, but it seems likely that some fairly radical changes are needed if it is to survive the shift to the Internet, which renders many of the traditional gatekeeping functions of editors obsolete. Rather than bagging blogs, Guy Rundle would be better off thinking about questions like this.
Update While I was thinking about this, I looked about for a bit of evidence and found this survey on people’s familiarity with Internet terms. Unfortunately blogs weren’t included, but 9 per cent of respondents claimed to have a good idea what an RSS feed is (compared to 13 per cent for podcasting, which is new, but also much more directly accessible to anyone with an iPod). Blog reading isn’t the only use for an RSS feed, but it was the first big one, and still probably the most important, and using an RSS feed is still a sign of a hardcore reader. Of course, some people may have answered incorrectly, but I was still favorably surprised by this.
fn1. Mind you, I thought, and still think SMS is like CB radio, so all opinions should be taken with a grain of salt.