Once upon a time, weblogs were the future of media. Between 2002 and 2006, it seemed you could hardly move a digital muscle without someone proselytising about the rise of blogs and their potential impact on marketing and communication.
The buzz prompted an outpouring of personal journal entries, and the emergence of tools such as Technorati to index them all. By 2008, 41% of UK internet users had visited a blog, according to comScore .
And then, it seemed, the blog went bust. Blogging by US teens halved between 2006 and 2010 and declined among millennials, according to PewResearch . Technorati, while still operational, is now a mere footnote to the format.
It was no mere coincidence that during this period we saw the mainstream adoption of social networks such as Facebook and microblogging platforms Tumblr and Twitter . These services allowed users to express themselves through short updates or single-click republishing. Their rise was further reinforced by the prevalence of smartphones, since mobile expression demands the short form. Consequently, blogs fell off the radar.
Jason Kottke, one of the most celebrated of blogging’s old guard, who has been at the coalface for 16 years, recently declared ” the blog is dead “. If that’s the case, we should all enjoy the afterlife. The “death” of blogs may be an exaggeration – but it’s also great news for anyone connected with the format in terms of media and marketing.
Blogs haven’t disappeared – they have simply morphed into a mature part of the publishing ecosystem. The loss of casual bloggers has shaken things out, with more committed and skilled writers sticking it out. Far from killing the blog dream, this has increased the quality of the blogosphere as a whole.
Even though RSS and feed aggregators failed to go mainstream, content aggregators such as Techmeme and Google News are experiencing quite strong traction. Learning from Google Reader’s mistakes, these smart aggregators now conveniently surface fresh and quality blog content for users.
Many leading publishers also embraced blogs in their own ways. Some launched their own “blog” projects … but are The New York Times’ Bits , The Wall Street Journal’s Digits blogs? Or are they just great content sources?
European publishers also realised they could have a pivotal role between the blog ecosystem and their audiences. We’ve recently seen Hubert Burda partnering with Huffington Post in German-speaking markets. Furthermore, Axel Springer, De Telegraaf and Hurriyet partnered with Boomads to launch their own blogger networks and content aggregators with more than 35,000 independent European bloggers joining within the past two years .
This is great news for marketers as well as consumers. Advertisers crave quality content against which to place their messages. Advertising on blogs never really took off in the early noughties, when many blogs contained poorly written and poorly read personal rants. The emergence of weblogs as channels for material, often read by very large audiences, has concentrated the blogosphere into a market that matches buyers’ definition of “premium”.
Thankfully, clunky “advertorials” with marketing messages shoehorned in have been replaced with more sophisticated “content” partnerships, as brands realise the importance of offering relevant articles to consumers. The role of bloggers has been pivotal in bridging this church and state divide.
The journey of blogs has mirrored that of YouTube . The video site was once mocked as a repository of low-grade clips uploaded by amateurs. What has happened, however, is a rapid up-skilling of many of YouTube’s amateurs to polished and widely-viewed practitioners. UGC remains under YouTube’s surface, but marketers are now much more ready to jump aboard quality inventory that is considered more likely to drive results.
So, bloggers should be excited, not downhearted. Roughly 15 years after the beginnings of the format, we have arrived at the essence of the blog – a highly trafficked, commercially appealing platform whose best years are ahead of it.