Blogiversary Celebration Part 3: How the Blogosphere Has Evolved

Blogiversary Celebration Part 3: How the Blogosphere Has Evolved

Photo credit: Gold 10th 3d Number // ShutterStock

Photo credit: Gold 10th 3d Number // ShutterStock

We’re continuing our celebration of the blog’s 10 year anniversary. I asked the following question:

What do you think is the most significant change to the blogosphere since 2005?

Some responses:

Anupam Chander: The loss of Chander.com as a blog, which I began in 2004, but gave up on after readership dwindled exclusively to people searching for a funny Japanese invention that allowed a crawling baby to simultaneously sweep up a room (I had posted on this as a lark). I write this simply to recognize to Eric’s and Venkat’s amazing blog, which has kept and grown readership by producing consistently high quality analysis of the latest developments in the area (unlike my own, dim effort).

Matt Cutts: A lot of people have moved over to Twitter and Facebook, but that means that the people still writing on blogs are doing it for better reasons (not just traffic or attention)–they have something important to say.

David Gingras: I think the rise of modern smartphones (with built-in high quality cameras) has changed the playing field in a major, major way. Forget about substantive law for a minute. Every case begins with a set of facts, and modern smartphones are creating some crazy fact patterns.

In 2005 most phones either didn’t have a camera at all, or if they did, the quality was terrible. Also, in 2005 most social media and blogging platforms were not set up for mobile use. This meant that back in 2005, posting photos online wasn’t fast or easy — at a minimum you’d need to take a photo using a good digital camera, then remove the memory card, insert the card into your PC, and then upload your photo. Because there were so many steps involved, posting photos was a very deliberate process; i.e., not something you would do impulsively unless you really stopped to think about what you were doing.

The recent integration of cameras/phones/wi-fi/Internet has changed this completely. Now, kids (or former U.S. Congressmen) can snap a photo and blast it out on Instagram/Twitter/Facebook with just a couple of clicks, often without thinking about it. Easier sharing = more sharing, which naturally leads to oversharing. Some oversharing (cat photos/videos) is OK, but I think it’s also creating new opportunities for other things such as revenge porn, etc.

Consider this — when TheDirty.com launched in 2007, there were virtually no “selfies” on the site. Now in 2014, better than 90% of the DMCA notices we get involve selfies. That’s a pretty significant change.

John Ottaviani: Blogs (including yours) have significantly changed the way attorneys learn about new developments. No longer are we waiting to read through advance sheets, or to hear from “current awareness” services, to learn about new cases or other developments. The advent of blogs about various legal topics now means that we can obtain current awareness of new developments much sooner, practically as fast as they can be blogged. Decisions and complaints are posted immediately. Specialized blogs cover topics in detail that would not be profitable for a current awareness service to cover in the same detail. The winners are the attorneys and our clients, who are able to obtain better information at almost no marginal cost in most cases.

David Post: Scale and velocity. I read somewhere (though this could well be a foundation-less Internet meme) that 10,000 new blogs continue to appear on the Internet each day. It’s hard to know how one would put one’s hands on that information – but it could well be correct (3-4 million or so new blogs a year sounds plausible, as does a figure of 30 or 40 million since you started your blog). And the velocity of information traveling over the blogosphere has increased by many orders of magnitude during the last 10 years. Neither, surely, has been an unalloyed good.

Joel R. Reidenberg: Prominent blogs are now central to key academic debates and key societal conversations. 10 years ago, they were seen by many as distractions from serious academic work.

Michael Risch: I think the rise of media-style blogs has been the biggest change; it is hard to tell the difference between a blog and an op-ed site sometimes.

Marty Schwimmer: Twitter. I get most of my news these days from Twitter, and not my RSS reader. I tweet much more than I blog, and I changed the majority of my blog posts so that they could be easily tweeted.

One change that didn’t happen is that we didn’t see many more individual bloggers, at least in the trademark space. 10 years ago there was your blog, ttablog, 43(b)log, ipkat, and my blog. Now – the same. To the extent that there are new blogs, they tend be law firm blogs, that don’t have individual voices. If there are new voices, it’s on Twitter.

Rebecca Tushnet: What we know now is that there are some people who are clearly in the blogosphere for the long haul; others experimented, did really valuable things, then moved on. I’m glad there are a number in for the long haul.

* * *

My comments

I agree with most of these comments, but I’d like to put my own spin on it. Here’s how I see the changes of the last 10 years:

* the corporatization of blawging. In 2005, most large law firms stayed far away from blogging. Some individual lawyers at big firms had their own blogs, but usually without any support or encouragement from the firms. Now, many large law firms have blogs covering their specialty areas with high-quality content. As a result, we’re getting the perspectives of specialist experts for free. However, most of these blogs lack the personality we expected from bloggers circa 2005. Unlike IPKat, they don’t pick feline-based names or have logos with flying pets. Indeed, many of the newer corporatized blogs hew to a “just the facts” approach to minimize potential client conflicts or future allegations of inconsistent legal positions. So while we are seeing the growth of good content, these new entrants aren’t nearly as much fun.

* barriers to entry. In a related point, it’s becoming harder, if not impossible, to launch a successful new blog. New blogs have to compete with old-timers like me as well as the corporatized blawgers backed by the resources of a large law firm. In 2013, I went through my RSS feed to evaluate the new blogs I’d added to my reader. Beyond the corporate blawgers, I had added very few in quite some time.

* evolution of the optimal number of blog contributors. In 2005, we saw significant experimentation with blog configurations. We saw blog mergers and blog divorces. Were solo blogs the way to go? Was group blogging better?

While we’ve seen some long-term successful solo bloggers, they are a relatively rare breed. Solo blogging is hard. Among other challenges, there’s no buffer for generating new content when the schedule gets hectic.

At the same time, we’ve seen many group blogs fail due to the tragedy of the commons. If everyone is responsible for making new posts, no one is. Often, the group blogs devolve into a single dominant author with other contributors in name only; in other cases, we’ve seen the blog quietly flame out altogether due to group apathy.

While the optimal number of blog contributors obviously depends on who the bloggers are, past experiences suggest that it’s probably more than one and smaller than a large handful.

* demise of discourse among bloggers. In 2005, the blogosphere had frequent “dust-ups.” Someone would make an opinionated post, then other bloggers would discuss it on their blogs. So, for example, a common blogosphere topic among law professors was the required credentials for new law professor candidates. One blogger would take a strong stand–e.g., they might write that you couldn’t get hired as a law professor if your law degree wasn’t from a T5/T14/T20 school–and then numerous bloggers would vigorously debate the proposition. The initial blogger would get an avalanche of traffic, and the participating bloggers would get some good overflow as readers followed each iteration of the debate.

Bloggers don’t really do this any more. Now, it’s fairly rare for one blogger to write a blog post grokking/debating another person’s blog post. I can’t say I really miss that dynamic; a lot of the conversation was insular navel-gazing, and much of the so-called friction was based on trivial differences or exaggerated for effect. Still, I do miss the sense of community among bloggers that the conversations engendered.

* rise of social media. Now, if vigorous online debates are taking place, they are happening in social media. In some cases, this just relocated content from the blogosphere. Many bloggers in 2005 were writing pithy tweet-style posts (i.e., a headline and link, and sometimes a very brief comment) but Twitter didn’t exist as an alternative home for the posts. With Twitter’s emergence, it’s made sense for that pithy content to migrate there.

Social media has also relocated discussions about blog posts. It’s quite common that my blog post will have no or a few comments on the post’s page, but there will be active debates about the post in social media. There are a number of downsides to this migration. Tweets are too short for nuanced critiqued of blog posts; and the diaspora of public discussion about a blog post means that the reader of the post may never learn from the critiques.

Social media does more than simply displace activities from circa-2005 blogosphere. We’ve seen the emergence of social media stars who have never blogged. Social media has also placed a premium on clickbaiting–and enabled a whole new type of snarking well beyond the snarkiest blogging of 2005.

The rise of social media has undermined the taxonomization of “bloggers.” In the late 2000s, SCU organized a series of blawger roundtables to help legal bloggers meet in person. By the end of that series, it became clear that the borders around the blogging community had gotten fuzzy, perhaps to the point of incoherence. Now, we might ask the question: is a YouTube star a blogger? A frequent poster to Instagram? A heavy tweeter with no other venue for longer-form content? The options for expressing ourselves have proliferated, which in turn has made it hard or impossible to know who’s a blogger (and, by implication, who isn’t).

* death of RSS. While RSS isn’t dead yet (thanks Feedly!), RSS is dying, and that makes me sad. It seems like once a week, one of my RSS subscription breaks because the blog/publication redesigns its website and fails to migrate the RSS feed’s URL. Sometimes I don’t notice the breakage for days or weeks, in which case there’s no point in trying to resubscribe because clearly I didn’t miss it that much. For example, CNET News.com broke my RSS subscription and I didn’t notice for something like 6 months. My blissful lack of awareness proved to me that the feed wasn’t particularly useful.

RSS is dying in part because so many people prefer to discover new content in social media. I personally find this baffling; social media discoveries are hit-and-miss (and often time-consuming to navigate), while a good RSS feed always delivers. Then again, I prefer email over text messages, so perhaps I just got stuck in an old generation of technology.

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This is part 3 of a 4 part series celebrating our 10 year blogiversary:

Part 1: Happy 10th Blogiversary!
Part 2: The Blog’s Impact
Part 3: The Blogosphere’s Evolution
Part 4: Changes in Internet and IP Law
Bonus: A Video Interview About the Blog