Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Did Facebook Kill Blogger?

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?

19 comments:

Steve Muhlberger said...

I sin about a year or so ago that I thought the Golden age of academic blogs had passed.I think I offended some people since I did not explain what I meant. I did not foresee the role of Facebook and twitter, not at all, but I knew that a wave of exciting pioneers writing personal/professional blogs would not automatically be followed by a wave of people equally dedicated to blogging in the same way and interacting with the previous bunch, thus forming a bigger and better community of academic bloggers. nor did I think that the pioneers would go on forever in the same way. Well, QED.

Also, there may be a gazillion personal blogs, mostly made up of pictures, and most of the blog reading time of the overall blog audience is dedicated to reading a small selection of professional or near professional quality blogs. The top bloggers in whatever subject you are interested are very like newspaper/magazine columnists back when.

ani d'onofrio said...

I'm moving out of lurk mode (do people even use the term lurking anymore?)to say hello back and to point out that I hate being social virtually as well as in the flesh. One of the reasons I subscribe to various Blogs through Google Reader is to be able to read up on my many interests without having to become a "friend" or "follower." I post a comment now and again.

Do I see bloggers as more like mainstream media? Not really. I read blogs to quench my insatiable curiosity in peace without having to duke it out with people on forums or groups. They are more like online libraries run by interesting people and without snotty toddlers running around disrupting my equanimity.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Funny you should post this on a day when I got up and thought, "damn, I haven't blogged in a while, and have to finish that post on interdisciplinarity!" I have to admit, I have been more visible on FB lately, but that is more because of the sort of time I've had on my hands lately. Blogging requires a bit of thought, and I have been really swamped. Also, there is some stuff going on that I can't really talk about on my blog, but that is also taking up a lot of energy. And some happier personal stuff is getting pushed by the wayside (actually, I don't blog much about things I'd like to, like relationship stuff, as much as I used to, because a bunch of people know who I am, and thus may know who LDW is, and the person I am Not Dating but hang out with in lieu of dating actually knows about the blog ...)

Not that this is about me, but just that I've been thinking about it, too. But I at least will be blogging a bit more Real Soon Now. Maybe even today.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

didn't completely answer that, did I? Long day. But no, I would say that I am filtering more because of less anonymity, and not because of FB. *wanders off to think of a slightly more personal post*

Michelle said...

Guilty as charged on being distracted by facebook. Heavenfield hasn't been abandoned, it just seems that way. I will get back to blogging on a regular basis but not for another month or so. I think my FB and blogging community are very different.

Eileen Joy said...

I don't see Facebook as draining either content or persons away from weblogs, so much as they serve as yet another portal *to* particular blogs and blog posts, via "News Feed" links and the like. No one really *writes*/editorializes extensively on Facebook [and on Twitter: impossible], although I do have some friends who use their Facebook profiles almost exclusively to post political and editorial-type and academic content [which takes on a certain "cast" after a while], but again, in the form of short notes and mainly links to other websites: blogs, online newspapers and journals, news video sites, and the like. I started a Facebook page for the BABEL Working Group because I thought it would be a good way to disseminate sound-bite-style information regarding conference sessions, journal issues, books-in-progress, and so on, but if I wanted to send a message to the widest possible audience with a certain amount of detailed substance involved, I would still consider this weblog the best and most effective medium for doing that. For the most part, Facebook, as powerful and widely used as it is, is still mainly a medium for very fast & quick communications and networking between real friends and acquaintances and would-be-acquaintances and for sharing personal information in the form, again, of nugget-sized "bits" [a photo or several photos here and there; a few words; the results of a quiz; etc.]. Even the so-called "political" and "cultural" work that is done via Blogger is mainly of a shallow variety, which is not to say it doesn't often get people to actually *go* places and do things [for example, it got me to a reading of Ovid at a local museum, but a poster would have gotten me there too or a phone call]. I would say that even the more personal weblogs--especially the well done ones [and here, Stephanie Trigg's comes to mind, while I also note that she blends the personal and professional in amazingly seamless fashion]--cannot really be supplanted by Facebook, any more than they were by Live Journal-type sites.

But, as with anything, there would have to be some self-attrition in the blogosphere, both in the so-called personal blog realm and also in the more professional, journalistic-style blog realm--simply put, not everyone can possibly keep up the same level of high output month after month after month after month and so on [so, as Steve M. says, a "Golden Age" can only last so long, but this has more to do with enervation and the winnowing of some chaff, I think, and less to do with migration of attention to sites like Facebook]. Some blogs will fall by the wayside, but hopefully others will hang in there and keep getting better.

In the realm of academic studies at least [and for us, in the realm of medieval studies, more specifically], I really believe that the weblog performs an awfully important function that is situated somewhere between a conference session and the publication of scholarship on a peer-reviewed journal, and this function is especially valuable when we consider how electronic platforms such as Blogger allow for a kind of continuous and always available conversation between [or at the very least, a mechanism for broadcasting one's ideas and work, regardless of the "chatter" that might *not* ensue, to] an enormous number of persons spread out all over the globe who normally could almost never convene together in one place. It just means, at a minimum, that ideas are out there circulating all the time in the *open*, and are no longer *only* confined to the classroom, conference circuit, and print-only venues [all of which, in one form or another, have limited audiences and also limit authors/scholars to a "conversation," mainly, with other books, other texts].

Steve Muhlberger said...

Eileen, good take. I haven't given up on blogs myself.

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

Eileen, I agree with your post: blogs perform an important professional function -- as you say, halfway between the conference circuit and print. But in transforming themselves into professional organs with a secure place in the taxonomy of publishing venues, blogs have also lost something, haven't they? What attracted me originally was the chance to mix the personal and the professional, to defy genres a bit, to experiment.

I'm not saying those things can't be done any more, but pointing out that much of interactivity of blogs involved a blurring of public/private lines that now unfolds in many cases in other social media like FB.

Worst case scenario: blogs become professionalized spaces serving mainly to jump start, organize, and advertise things occurring in traditional fora and media.

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

You know what's funny? 50% of the comments on this post are on Facebook.

Holly Crocker said...

I was never a blogger (though I enjoy reading blogs, particularly ITM), but I do spend more time on FB than blogs at present. This is in part because of time: I don't have as much time to engage in extended conversation as I did two or three years ago. This seems to be the case with much of the audience here: I'm often saddened that many of the most substantial posts here are the least commented upon (and I'm as guilty as anyone on this score--I look at them, but I don't give them the time they deserve--so I'm saddened as much by my inability to engage in a more intense fashion).

But it is also that FB allows me to sustain the varied connections I have to people across multiple disciplines: medievalists, novelists, poets, music writers, editors, early modernists, theorists, legal scholars, and so on...including all sorts of wonderful non-academics who enrich my intellectual life in multiple ways. And, although I know all those sorts certainly mingle here, this community is more connected to ITM's bloggers. That's the way a blog works, obviously, and that's not to detract from what I've come to take for granted as a great presence here.

So, with that in mind, I vow to be more mindful of the work that it takes for all of you to post the thoughtful and thought-provoking content that ITM continually offers (its ever-presence is something of a luxury for all of us in the audience). I know it takes constant work, and I also know that sometimes said work is not as rewarded as it should be. So thanks, ITM'ers

cheers, h

prehensel said...

Facebook has made me stupid...not that I'm going to stop using it, but still.

dan remein said...

dan remein is still not on facebook. so, case closed. http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=24659246640

Eileen Joy said...

Jeffrey: I hear what you're saying about having been attracted to blogs through their mixture of the personal with the professional, but it also seems to me like we still have that on, say, this blog, don't we? This summer, especially, as you were traveling with your family, there were many personal posts mixed in with the more professional posts. And that is one thing, as I said before, that I really admire/love about Stephanie Trigg's blog, where I often don't post anything, but I am always reading it. All of us only have so much time, of course, and as Holly well points us, that time seems to be getting ever more crowded and impinged upon with each passing year. Facebook partly thrives, I think, because it relies so heavily on the kinds of things you can do in really short blips/increments of time, and also because, as Holly also points out, it does double- and triple-duty, as regards bringing together into one space professional colleagues, intimates, friends--both older and more new, students, academic peers, etc. The "content" of association on Facebook, however, as I said before, still remains a somewhat shallow pool, but often consoling and sustaining nevertheless.

Anonymous said...

I *hate* those social sites!!! Everything must be in a small soundbytes. No real discussion goes on. It's like watching the world be muzzled and silenced and choked to death. PLEASE do not give up your blog. It's like the difference between hearing morse code to sitting down with
someone to have a good talk.

Karl Steel said...

I know a lot my motivation for first writing online, whether in letters to McSweeney's, or blog comments, had to do with simply calling myself into existence in a more distributed, more visible way, and also with finding a community more expansive, and more surprising, than I could ever find in the analog world. And I think the 'personal' blog possibly functions in a similar way. No doubt writing with these motives (which are fine and important) has largely migrated to fb.

Everything must be in a small soundbytes. No real discussion goes on.

I have to disagree here. Twitter, sure, but that's not what twitter's built for. I've frequently had serious and detailed discussions on facebook.

Stephanie Trigg said...

Thanks, Eileen. I haven't joined FB or Twitter, partly because I have password fatigue: I just don't have room in my brain for any more passwords or things to join. But mostly, I think blogging suits me, because I like the layer, even if it's just a thin one, between my writing and my readers. I like not knowing who's reading, or when. For me, it's helpfully similar to writing for publication: I write under my own name, and know some, but not all of my readers. Maybe the same thing could be said of FB? The concept doesn't seem to call me the way blogging did.

Jeffrey J. Cohen said...

Dan Remein may not be on Facebook, but his much more interesting, talented, charming, etc. life partner is. Case closed.

As to blogs and futures, I will remain characteristically ambivalent. They do seem to me more of an accepted professional space now more than an experimental hybrid one, and I think I'm missing some of what blogs used to be.

Another Damned Medievalist said...

Jeff, I think I'm going to have to blog on this! Mostly, I'll have to do it because this dovetails into the paper I gave at Kzoo last year. Makes me wish I were giving a paper on blogging again. One other thing I might mention is that many of the people I used to read have changed careers or given up blogging. And I think your comment about blogging being a more acceptable professional space has something to it, I think -- there are just more blogs to read, perhaps in part because they are so much more acceptable? I must think on this.

Craig said...

Very interested in your post. I also have a number of blogs, plus Facebook and Twitter, and for me it's much, much easier to post a link to something on Facebook and make a comment on it, than it is to fire up Blogger, copy and post a link, find and post an image to match that link and then write something about it. That then gets posted to Twitter, job done. If Blogger had a more open, easier to use front end in the same way Facebook does, then I'd post much more frequently on there.