When it comes to making predictions about internet usage and blog-reading, I am not a prophet nor the son of a prophet. However, in the past few years, I have noticed some recent trends in the blogosphere – developments that will probably become more pronounced as we enter the next decade.
Because each of these trends follows a logical progression, I suggest you read them in order.
#1. The Slow Death of a Large Number of Blogs
Back in 2005-07, blogs were popping up all over the place. Many people discovered that starting a blog is quick and easy. Few realized how difficult it is to maintain one.
Today, millions of blog start-ups still exist on the web, but much of the blogosphere is beginning to look like a graveyard. “Sorry I haven’t posted lately” is the first line of many a front-page post.
People who began blogging as a way of keeping friends and family up to date about their goings on have now discovered other avenues of communication, which brings me to point #2…
#2. The Turn to Other Social Media for Connection
Back in 2007, a college friend of mine took a road trip to Montana. I told him I wanted to see the pictures. He said, “They’re on FaceBook.”
My response: “I don’t have FaceBook. Can you send me the pics on email?”
His answer: “No. Get a FaceBook.”
I held out another year, but finally relented. I’m not the only one who eventually gave in.
In the past five years, we have seen an explosion in social media through sites like MySpace, FaceBook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. These sites enabled former bloggers (who didn’t always feel inspired to write long blog posts) to access other ways of communication.
Why keep up a blog for friends and family? FaceBook is much simpler. Twitter is even faster.
Blogs are content-heavy. The other social media sites keep it simple and light. With the turn to other social media, the number of active blogs is on the decline. The explosion in social media leads to development #3…
#3. The Solidifying Reading Patterns of Blog Readers
When I first discovered Google Reader, I thought I had died and gone to blog heaven. No more clicking through to visit each blog I wanted to read, I now could read blogs without ever leaving one page. I could conveniently scroll through dozens (even hundreds) of blogs and find the content that most interested me.
When “RSS” first came on the scene a few years ago, Google Reader, Bloglines and other blogging services became tools for millions of blog readers. But many of these RSS feed readers are like me. For awhile, we added blogs to our Reader. But now, I rarely add a new blog to my RSS unless I know the blogger or have seen the blog highly recommended by another well-respected blog.
What does this habit signal? Simply this. Patterns for blog reading are solidifying. People find a comfortable number of blogs they consider worthwhile reading and then stop looking for new additions. Some have abandoned Google Reader altogether and rely solely on Twitter for their blog perusal. These facts lead to another development…
#4. The Difficulty of Beginning a Successful Blog without an Already-Existing Platform
I have no doubt that it is more difficult today for an unknown blogger to begin a successful blog than it was five years ago. In the early 2000′s, anyone and everyone could begin a blog. If you wrote well and figured out your audience, you could build a following. Just ask Hugh Hewitt, Tim Challies, or Justin Taylor.
But today, with the social media revolution and the solidifying reading habits of many blog readers, it is much more difficult to carve out an audience. Blog saturation makes it difficult to start a new blog.
Most of the evangelical blogs that have popped up in the past year (and seen success) are from people who already have platforms: Kevin DeYoung, for example, coming off the success of Why We’re Not Emergent or the “Evangel” blog that includes a number of popular bloggers, including Joe Carter.
At the beginning of the blog wave, bloggers were rogue. They stood against the mainstream media, delighting in the democratization of information. Today, many blogs are as respectable as their mainstream counterparts.
In Southern Baptist life, bloggers were once criticized as troublemakers. Today, a surprising number of SBC leaders have started blogging themselves. There’s no one-size-fits-all category “blogger” anymore (not that there ever was).
More and more, blogging is a tool of the “establishment,” not just the “fringe.” This leads to one more development…
#5. The Building of Blog Congregations at the Expense of Blog Conversation
Since it is harder for new blogs to build a following, it becomes more common for people with already-existing platforms to maintain successful blogs. The people who subscribe to these blogs already know what kind of information they are going to receive. They subscribe because they know and like what this person has to say.
Unfortunately, congregation-building diminishes conversations that cross through different streams of religious life. Popular blogs build big congregations – hundreds or thousands of readers who agree in large part with the bloggers they read. Blogs continue to be a place for in-house conversation, but they are less likely to be places for serious conversation with people from other groups.
Blogs create people who agree – whether they be Reformed, Emerging, Republican, or converted Catholics. You find a niche, write for that niche, and then get pats on the back from the readers who enjoy your writing.
Where to Now?
Where will blogging go in the 2010′s? I’m not sure. I suspect that the initial stage of the blog wave is over. What we are seeing now is the maturation of the blogosphere, as blogging continues to take on characteristics of traditional media, while leaving the door cracked open for newcomers to make their voices heard.