by J J Cohen
At this point I am blogging or co-blogging in four different places (one two three four). I have Twitter updates followed by 67 people, several of whom are attempting to sell porn and/or get rich quick schemes. And there is Facebook, where 204 people are my friends. That number is quite ridiculous because I do not believe that I know 204 people, but there it is.
One way to look at this dispersedness: my electronically published materials, scholarly as well as serious, are spread all over the place. Another way: these many outlets can be thought of as a cloud (to borrow a computing term), since most of them are fairly interconnected. Tweets, for example, automatically become FB updates; GWMEMSI and GW English blog entries are published via FB fan pages as well as on Blogger; I often cross-post or at least point to my blogged materials.
But I do wonder if such a metaphor doesn't hide the fact that not all these outlets are evenly distributed, and not everyone has access to each. I make this statement because it does seem to me that blogging is an inherently open process. Twitter not so much, because you get interaction only from those whom you yourself follow. Facebook is also a limited access media: rightly so, of course, because so much of what is placed there is personal, and the enabling fiction of FB is that we are in control of the self we disseminate through it. I suspect that much of the interaction and community formation that used to take place via blogs now unfolds in social media, like Facebook. Thus the disappearance of many medieval blogs that, even when anonymous, were often quite personal. I suspect that many of these writers simply moved to Facebook and gave up blogging.
Keep this in mind: the vast majority of people who read blogs never comment upon them. Through Google Reader, for example, 201 people subscribe to In the Middle (and to all of you I say: hello!). Most of these readers have not and will not comment. And that is fine. Blogs are communities that function through lively discussion as well as via traditional readership. They are powerful that way. Not so Facebook, though: most people limit whom they will friend. A loss of privacy exists when a would-be friend sends the request to join your electronic community there. FB is fenced off. Yes, it can be a great place to grow communities, as my English Department learned quite a while ago, but energy put into cultivating these rather local and small communities likely comes at a cost: we don't have infinite time, or limitless desire to interact electronically.
So I wonder if FB doesn't have a negative impact upon blogs, making them less personal, less vital, less addressed to the unknown reader who might in fact be the ideal audience. FB gives more immediate satisfaction, perhaps, but it also might foster a closed in microcommunity that is, if not exactly different from a blog, then offers a more intensified and boundaried version.
Here's my question: are we in a transition state, when what used to unfold in spaces like blogs is migrating to social media like FB? Does the popularity of FB mean that blogs have become less social, more professional, more like old media?