William Jacobson has noticed that the conservative blogosphere has changed considerably in the past four years, and highlights a lot of changes I’ve noticed too. He links to an article by Robert Stacy McCain on the same topic:
The problem is that if every blogger starts thinking of his own site as a destination, then the site’s value as a portal — directing readers to interesting material elsewhere — is necessarily diminished or eliminated. And if this destination mentality takes hold at all the larger sites, then there will be few opportunities for new bloggers to join the community, and fewer incentives for smaller bloggers to participate in the conversation, because nobody with any significant readership will ever link them. What will eventually happen, in such a scenario, is that the independent blogosphere will wither and die from neglect, and be replaced by a corporate simulacrum.
And this is one root of the problem. There are still plenty of people out there practicing traditional blogging who have big readerships, but the landscape is generally established, and the entrance of commercial players into the field has changed things. The truth is that it would be almost impossible for me to start and establish this blog today if I were starting out now, instead of 2007. If I wanted to be successful in this landscape, I’d have to use different tactics, which I would find unsatisfying and entirely too time consuming. I think it comes down to several factors, as to why it’s difficult:
- The death of the Pingback, and ability to reliably trace incoming links. You can now do this with Google, but it also catches a lot of junk. Spammers have largely killed our ability to see who’s linking us. This makes it harder to notice new upstarts who are looking to join the conversation.
- The signal-to-noise ratio in blogging seems to be a lot lower now than it was when I started. When I started, there were fewer blogs, and many of them had pretty reasonable audiences. It was pretty easy to keep track of who was saying what, and joining the conversation was a lot easier.
- The entrance of commercial blogs and SEO schucksters into the game. These sites have to view themselves as destinations, because that’s how you make money. There are multiple examples of these even in the gun blogosphere, and you know who they are. This is very good for those destination sites, but it’s a horrible thing for the blogging community.
There is also a tendency, when you’ve been blogging for quite some time, to get set in your ways. You get it down to a routine, and to some degree you have to do it that way to save time. I have 2-4 hours a day to spend on blogging. That’s about it. So you combine that with a lower signal-to-noise ratio, and no great way to see who’s saying what out there (because pingbacks and Google alerts are mostly junk from spammers or other ‘noise’), and the result is less linkage, except to the blogs I’ve been reading since before I was blogging, or who started around the same time I did.
I think a lot of people are quick to blame commercial blogging, and while I think that’s a factor, I still put that last for a reason. I think my first and second bullets are a bigger reason blogging as a community is harder now.
UPDATE: I would also note that in the past, blogs have traditionally published traffic stats. This meant that as an upstart blogger, it was relatively easy to see who had the traffic, and who you wanted to pitch to, or to get noticed by. That is also a lot harder these days. It’s very difficult to tell who has the traffic.