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February 28, 2006

The Blogobubble

The Blogosphere is a bubble!  Well, you should have known.  It’s round; it doubles every five and a half months (according to Dave Sifry at Technorati); it makes people crazy with greed and has even made some money for some people.  It has caused irrational exuberance.  Good thing Alan Greenspan isn’t at the Fed any more or he’d probably administer a stern slap on the wrist.

But bubbles are a good thing.  It was a bubble that raised the capital and enthusiasm (not in that order) which launched the popular Internet and the WorldWideWeb.  Despite the collapse of that bubble, the Internet and the WorldWideWeb are still around.  The blogobubble hasn’t been accompanied by a stock market mania; the participating companies are mainly still private unless they’ve been acquired by public companies; so the bursting of this bubble will cause less pain than the last one.

But is the blogobubble bursting?  The question has caused a burst of blogging and some anticipatory lick smacking in the beleaguered traditional media.

If you chewed bubblegum (I know you don’t) and if you blew a bubble that kept doubling, you would know that you would soon have bubblegum on your nose and perhaps even in your eyebrows.  If we define “collapse” as an end to the current growth rate, then collapse must be nearly upon us if not already here.  We’ll have to discover universes full of literate extraterrestrial beings and get them online and set up with TypePad accounts immediately if the growth rate in blogs or bloggers is going to continue.

According to a recent Gallup poll quoted in a WSJ article by Jason Fry, growth in US blog READERS is “somewhere between nil and negative.”  It’s always been somewhat questionable whether there are as many blog readers as blog writers.  48.4% of respondents to a poll of readers of my blog also blog themselves.

Fry also cites the poll in saying: “just 9% of Internet users read blogs frequently, 11% do so occasionally, 13% rarely bother, and 66% never do.”  But, Fry, who blogs himself, points out correctly that many people read blogs without knowing that’s what they’re doing.

26.5% of the people who visited this blog site last week came through Google US. This is by far the largest source of new readers.  Most of them weren’t looking for a blog; they were looking for information or opinion on something or other and the magical Google algorithm suggested they look here.  Can’t tell but I bet most of them don’t know or care that the web site the search engine led them to is actually a blog.

If the number of blogs is still doubling every five and half months and US readership is constant, it would seem that blogging may no longer be the easiest route to fame and fortune, at least in the US.  But, also according to Technorati, less than half of new blogs get any new posts after three months and only 10% are updated more than weekly.  Maybe it’s discouraging not to have any readers.  It is work – although enjoyable work – to keep to a regular posting schedule.

OK.  Here’s what I think is happening: the bubble phase of blog growth is ending.  The rational growth phase – jumpstarted by the inflation of the blogobubble – is now beginning from a significant base of both bloggers and readers and has a wealth of technology to build on.

Blog writing for broad consumption will decline.  The shakeout is beginning.  People do tire of the discipline – especially if it doesn’t result in instant fame or wealth.  People do have to go back to their day jobs.  Something else will come along that’s trendy to try.  This pending decline in the absolute number of “broad consumption” blogs is a good thing.  The survivors get more readers.  Readers will still have a huge but perhaps not as daunting a choice of blogs to read.

Blog writing for narrow consumption has just begun.  A blog is a great refrigerator door for a dispersed family or group of friends and all kinds of organizations.  These narrowcast blogs don’t care whether they can get enough links from a-band bloggers for a high Technorati ranking; they may not even make themselves broadly accessible.  They are a way to implement one-to-a-few communication with some feedback for existing groups.  They are a way to form and maintain interest groups regardless of physical location.

Blog technology will be rapidly adopted by existing and new websites.  There are two main things which distinguish blog technology: ease of authoring and, most important, the automatic prominence of new information.  By contrast, older web technology usually requires at least semi-technical skills for initial setup and even update and DOESN’T make it easy for visitors to see what’s new since their last visit.  Because blogs make new information prominent, most marketing websites will have a blog component.

Blog technology and technology developed to support blogging will increasingly be used to support subscription service.  RSS (Real Simple Syndication) is still a mystery to most people although 69.5% of those who responded to my survey do say they use it (you’re a techie bunch).  But even the traditional media know that they already lose significant market share if they don’t make RSS feeds of their content available.  We’ve found that RSS-based email subscription offered by FeedBlitz is an effective way to shield readers of the hackoff.com serialization from having to know anything about RSS.  RSS-based subscription capability is being built into new browsers.  FeedBurner does a particularly good job of making RSS technology more capable to the benefit of both writers and readers.  Money will continue to be made by providing blog technology, usually in the form of low cost services.

Blogging is the current manifestation of Internet disintermediation, the flattening of almost everything.  There are no visible intermediaries between a blogger and her readers.  Anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can write a blog; anyone with a computer and an Internet connection can read any publicly accessible blog.  Readers discovering writers, however, do require intermediaries. Typically these are friends, already-read blogs, or, very important and pretty democratic, search engines.  This direct access diminishes the power of traditional information and entertainment gatekeepers like newspaper editors, traditional book publishers, book reviewers, record labels etc. etc.  Being able to buy ink (or airwaves) by the barrel no longer creates a near impregnable platform.

I don’t think blogging will destroy traditional media; it’ll both make it better and more accountable and more accessible.  But, those information and entertainment companies which don’t adapt to the Internet in general and blog technology and openness in particular, will perish.

The collapse of the blogobubble is like the falling away of a first stage booster rocket. It is just the beginning of wider use of blog technology and greater blog influence.

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Listed below are links to weblogs that reference The Blogobubble:

» ON BLOG WRITERS AND READERS (Part II) from *michael parekh on IT*
STAGE TWO Tom Evslin has a great post in response to the general debate over the last few days on the growth of bloggers and blog readers (see my post on the subject here). Titled The Blogobubble, the post ends with a statement I can agree with:The col... [Read More]

» Must-Read: The Blogobubble from IP Democracy
Courtesy of Jeff Pulver, this essay from Tom Evslin on the tedious debate over whether the blog bubble has burst. Evslin makes the case that the bubble has indeed popped in the sense that, really, it cant grow much bigger... [Read More]

» Navel-Gazing Within the Blogosphere from Mark Evans
There's been a huge amount of chatter in the past week or so about how fast the blogosphere is growing (Dave Sifry) and whether there is parallel growth among blog readers (not according to ... [Read More]

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