Yesterday’s roundtable, “Is Blogging Dead? Yes, No, Other” went extremely well. All but one of the presenters made our three minute time limit (cheekily delivered by Steve’s iPad) with no problem. We were done with our bits in about 35 minutes–leaving 45 minutes for conversation. Awesome. Sure, this is Computers and Writing, so we talked about teaching. But the discussion was far-ranging, moving through a host of issues relevant for blogging: the relation to publishing books, comment quality, corporate engagement with blogs, integration with social media, permanence or ephemerality, and blogging as a genre. Twitter buzz on the session (see also #e13 #cwcon on Storify; more on that below) was powerful and recursively integrated into the discussion: when Troy Hicks asked, “Who’s in the backchannel?” at least half of the audience raised their hands–but none of the presenters. That was quickly addressed as audience participants turned backchannel to front repeatedly. We enjoyed what may have been the most active tweeting of the conference, sucking in a few people in from other sessions as well. Lots of fun.
Here’s what my co-presenters and I offered:
- Steve introduced the panel, explained how we came up with the idea, and noted that we organized it using Google Docs and social media, not blogging.
- I said blogging isn’t dead, but commenting is. I identified two reasons: the chilling effects of trolling, and the fracturing of communities caused by social media.
- Virginia pointed out that Web 2.0 reified the idea of blogs. Great point; blogging may be dead in that it is ubiquitous (at least in style). We need to recall ntions of blogging which see it as thinking out loud together. She plugged Academia.edu.
- Carrie noted that academic blogs might be dead; a lot of bloggers who focus on other spheres are going strong. When we ask students to blog, exigence is often muted or lost, and blogging becomes just another form of boring academic writing. But we can encourage students to find exigence through their own spaces, like her students’ blogs, Pint-Size Pixels and The Indie Kind.
- Liz offered this superb couplet: “Blogging is dead, as dead is it could be / it killed the hipsters, and now it’s killing me.” She noted that after blogging every day for five years, her blog is now cryogenically frozen. Her most popular posts were on disturbing topics, raising questions about readers. I really liked this analogy: blogging is dead in the same way Latin is–we identify it as virtuous and see strong benefits for other forms of writing from it. But it doesn’t connect directly with our vernacular discourses.
- Brian suggested we see blogs as flow-based media (e.g. Ridolfo’s rhetorical velocity), tracing vectors of literate practices through them, rather than seeing them as finished products. These media are sedimentary: they can be stirred up periodically, only to settle down, and they accrete over time.
- Andre: if blogging is dead, why does Nielsen Media identify 76,000 new blogs in the past 24 hours? This raises questions about commercialization: are these real blogs or simply ways to repackage content (for example, everyone on Fox News has their own “blog”).
- Brendan identified blogging as “other,” invoking the idea of the “Buribunk” which records everything about everyone’s life. Some of that life-streaming has moved to social media, which is fine. So what’s left? Reportage made blogs famous. Maybe that’s where it needs to stay.
Here are some of the conversation threads. See also the #cwcon #e13 Storify page Dennis Jerz generously made for our session:
- We didn’t define “blogging” or “dead,” and I think we did a good job working that back into the discussion productively. For example, Bob Whipple asked if Blackboard “blogs” are really blogs. I think most of us agreed they aren’t.
- Many of the panelists discussed ways social media are competing with blogs. But blogging is a genre, and many social media are platforms–they work only in specific ways, and their content is wedded to specific forms. So the content on blogs is much more portable. Dennis Jerz pointed out the move from blogs to social media is often from open systems to closed commercial products.
- Troy Hicks turned the discussion to RSS, which has a big role in blogging, since it’s the primary engine for notifications and blog-to-blog and blog-to-other-media remediation. Several people pointed out that Dave Winer’s “Scripting News” remains a very popular blog; its content drives that. I noted that Facebook takes a one-way approach to RSS; feeds used to be available but aren’t any longer. Brian noted that while Twitter still offers RSS, they’ve changed their API to reduce the capacity for getting data out of Twitter. (Awesome tweet from Mark Crane: “Facebook is the Roach Motel of RSS.”)
- The search capacity of Facebook and Twitter isn’t very good, and their interfaces focus on the present moment. Combined with social media’s limitations on RSS, and the stabilizing influence of the permalink, this makes them far less permanent than blogs. Is this a feature or a bug? Carrie and several other people weren’t sure they wanted tweets to be permanent. Matt Burton pointed us to Storify, which can suck in social media and facilitates adding commentary. A bunch of people immediately began playing with it. (Including me.)
- Carl Whithaus gave us a great sound bite: “Not only is blogging dead, Twitter is too. And Storify is the zombie life of both.”
- Maybe we should have subtitled the panel: Yes, No, Zombie!
- Should we really care if blogging is dead? If the writing on blogs is transient, it would be fine for a blog to live and die, having served its purpose. As Harriet from B/StM said, “You guys are talking about bloggings as if it was a marriage!” Maybe we should be looking at the number of people who’ve tried blogging, not those who still are.
Feedback, corrections, additions welcome, though I don’t expect to edit this so much as help Dennis’s Storify effort. And please point out if I’ve misrepresented anything; things moved fast, and I was moving between three conversations much of the time–and loving it. After the session, I said to anyone who would listen, “I hope I never give a long talk again.” Please, let’s see more conferences in the field follow those who’ve realized the value of short talks and conversation.
My thanks to Steve Krause for pulling it together, and all the presenters and audience members for making this the most enjoyable conference presentation I’ve ever been a part of.