|This is the first of five articles in a series that will be published intermittently this month. This article summarizes what I believe were the most important ideas of 2003 in the world of blogs and blogging. The other articles in the series will propose the most important ideas of the year in:
- politics & economics,
- arts & science, and
- the environment.
BLOGS & BLOGGING — THE TEN MOST IMPORTANT IDEAS OF 2003
During the year, the blogosphere doubled in size, and began to mature into a true alternative medium for information and connection. My nominations for the most important ideas of the year* in blogs & blogging are:
- The Internet is a World of Ends – Doc Searls and David Weinberger finally explained to bloggers and to e-business what the Internet is and how it works. As a result, bloggers (and blogging tool developers) now realize that there will never be ‘standards’ for blogs, blog censorship, clear rules on what is and isn’t appropriate in citing others’ work on your blog, standard blog taxonomy and categories, an official definition or list of blogs, unarguable or untamperable rankings of blog popularity, or controls of any kind. It’s a jungle out here. There are no rules. The blogosphere, like the Internet, is owned by no one, open to everyone, and made better by each of us. A cornucopia of unrestricted and open innovation. Its value flowers at the ends, and, fellow bloggers, we are the ends.
- Blog popularity is subject to Shirky’s Power Law – “In systems where many people are free to choose between many options, a small subset of the whole will always get a disproportionate amount of traffic (or attention, or income), by the very act of choosing”. It’s the old 80/20 rule. The later you are starting to blog, the harder it becomes to find an audience. Not impossible, just harder. There are anomalies: new blogging communities and new ‘hot topics’ can allow savvy bloggers to quickly galvanize a readership. But if you want to be popular in the blogosphere, it’s more important to be first than best.
- Blogs have Tipping Points and manifest the Strength of Weak Ties – Ever noticed how hard it is to get your family and close friends (‘strong ties’) to read your blog? That’s because they see no incremental value in doing so. But friends of friends, people two or three degrees removed from your network, do. Weak ties probably got you your job, found your life partner, provoked your most innovative ideas, and sourced most of your blog’s readership. And you can exploit these weak ties to push a new idea, find new readers, perhaps even save the world. It’s easy: Just Test the credibility of and degree of interest in what you’re saying by sending messages to selected mavens (bloggers who incubate new ideas and stick with them until they catch), A-listers (bloggers who already have a huge audience), and connectors (bloggers, like me, who have an audience that crosses diverse communities of interest); focus on a few subjects and address them profoundly and creatively, instead of talking a bit about everything under the sun; and believe: persevere until your message finds its audience.
- Blog functionality is a critical component of Social Networking, and Social Networking will transform blogging (and also transform the Internet, the media, the way we communicate, and even the evolution of business) – Social Networking Applications (recently voted Technology of the Year by Business 2.0 magazine) will go beyond just allowing you to publish what’s on your mind and browse what’s on other people’s. They will allow you to map and manage your networks, the communities to which you belong, your strong and weak ties. They will evolve blogging from clumsy, mostly one-way communication to a rich, two-way seamless multi-media communications medium that will allow you to identify and connect simply and powerfully with people you want to know better (for personal, practical or business reasons). Build deep relationships. Collaborate on awesome projects. Find the next president.
- Blogs could be the platform for a proxy for each of us as individuals, our electronic filing cabinet and electronic identity – A blog consists of information about you, and knowledge you’ve accumulated. What if you expanded it to be a repository for all the information about you and all the knowledge you’ve accumulated, your ‘locked’ filing cabinet. You control it, you decide what does and doesn’t go into it, and who can have a temporary key to what parts of it. Then at work, it could be your proxy, the repository of knowledge that shows your value to your employer and the value you’ve added to the company. And it could be your resume. At home it could be your medical patient record. Your bookshelf catalogue and refrigerator/pantry inventory and recipe book. Your bio for the dating service. Imagine the applications that could be built on this knowledge. Your intellectual property, under your control. Amazing. Scary.
- The abandonment of 80-90% of blogs is a positive phenomenon – Media who just don’t ‘get it’ have pointed to the abandonment of most blogs as an indication they’re too technologically complex, or have no broad appeal, no staying power. What this abandonment really represents is a large number of people deciding that writing really isn’t that important to them. The focus should instead be on the 10-20% who are still blogging. That’s millions, potentially hundreds of millions of people regularly honing their writing skills, getting valuable commentary from readers on their writing and their ideas. Instead of a wasteland of abandoned effort, the blogosphere (along with perhaps IM) could actually be the most important development in written language since the printing press. As newspaper readership plummets and the next generation opts for oral communications over written, the timing of this phenomenon could not be more significant.
- Blogging is increasingly a platform for achieving mainstream recognition – Just as the main readers of most business websites are competitors, not customers, the mainstream media are perusing blogs for new ideas and trends. So far they haven’t really caught on to how the blogosphere works, so the process is serendipitous, creating brief fame mainly for A-listers who provide alternative viewpoints to stories of the day where no mainstream media pundits are at hand. But the mainstream media and bloggers are both learning how to use each other. Some bloggers have launched books based on their blogs, and some blogging self-promoters now have columns or spots in regular media. Those who think there’s no money and fame in blogging are too quick to judge blogs’ importance in the information society.
- The culture of blogging is evolving faster than the technology – The frustration of bloggers with the tools available to them is palpable. That’s not the tool designers’ fault: They operate on a shoestring and their ‘customers’ all want something different. They’ll eventually build tools that are both simple and flexible, as both the technology, and the understanding of its use, mature. In the meantime, impatient bloggers are working around the impediments, learning about HTML and CSS themselves. This is World of Ends innovation at work, producing a proliferation of new blog ‘products’ and hybrids. Group blogs are one example of a blog phenomenon that will only last until more dynamic mechanisms for cross-posting and guest privileging are developed in next generation blogs. The key is to go with the flow. Be part of the evolution or be left behind.
- Blogs, like diaries, are a substitute for intimacy – Bloggers (and perhaps all writers) are a million voices howling in the dark. There is an inherent loneliness in writing, and the blogosphere provides an opportunity to make new connections with little risk. You don’t need to reveal your identity. You can throw ideas out there that you might not dare voice face-to-face, for fear of being laughed at, or carted away. You can reveal things to ‘strangers’ that you might not be willing to tell those close to you. You can think out loud. You can test the waters, safely. The only consequence is that when you meet a fellow blogger or reader face-to-face, or even voice-to-voice, it can be psychologically jarring. It’s almost as if you’ve broken the rules.
- RSS is blurring the distinction between blogs and other media – RSS, the ability to syndicate your posts and let people subscribe to them, transforms the metaphor of a blog from a diary to a publication. That crosses the main divide that separates it from mainstream media. Although the future of any medium is impossible to predict, I believe RSS has played a pivotal role in forestalling, and perhaps completely subverting, the plan of many of the major print media to start charging money for their on-line editions. I know for a fact that was in the cards as recently as a year ago.
What do you think? Have I missed some important ideas?
* Yes, I know some of these ideas are themselves not new this year. There is nothing new under the sun. But I would argue that the application and implications of these ideas were first manifest some time in 2003