Blogging has been around since the late 1990s and email (effectively) for a decade prior to that - both are now on the wane, according to recent claims (email by social media and blogging media again) and while it's true I wouldn't start a standalone email company today, having it as part of a suite seems like a good idea.  Since practically the day we began we have had email addresses available to columnists and featured authors but one more email address is not really helping most people.

I was an early adopter of email, though it was more of a novelty.   I was also an early adopter of Facebook, when it required .edu email addresses, and it was just to see what they were doing then also.   Because value is nonlinear, most people, even early adopters, won't use something until a lot of people use it.    The first email address had no value, the second email address added value to the first, the third to the previous two and so on.   Once something takes off, though, it makes sense to add value in other ways even if you can't be number one in that segment - so Yahoo is a content portal but email and search are add-ons and Google has tried to incorporate various things as well.    Yet I still don't like a corporation controlling my flow so I use their email but I download all of it to Eudora and so I never have the issues with messages going missing or the gmail interface being down.  Flow and control are the two most important reasons why the death of blogging is being prematurely advertised.

The concern about social media and email is not a new one; in 2009 and before people were writing about it.  The concern about blogging is something new.    As blogging has increasingly become 'long form' the short stuff has been replaced by Twitter, for example.    But that is simply a "hoary trope" says the Economist blogger G.F. - the idea that "for something to go up, something else must come down."   As Twitter rises, etc.

And that trope is perpetuated by journalists and bloggers who feel the need to compartmentalize media as 1s and 0s rather than looking at things as tools in a toolbox.   Blogging fell by half among young people in the last few years, notes Verne Kopytoff in the New York Times, replaced by Facebook and Twitter updates.  So it must be that blogging is dead.

Well, social media won't kill blogging because blogging still allows some freedom many young people who just want to post YouTube videos may not need yet - a number of young people who created blogs in the past few years may have only done so because there was nothing else that met their true need.   So they weren't really lost from blogging any more than someone who lives in a city and uses a bicycle is lost from the automobile market.

Facebook is a multi-billion commercial enterprise and their standards are arbitrary.   Facebook is a closed world and if you write controversy, you can be thrown off.   You really have to be an idiot to get thrown off of Blogger or Wordpress so it provides a lot more freedom and freedom is what many writers want.   I have told any number of people who have wanted to write here to write on Blogger instead - because then they have freedom to write whatever they want and find an audience.  Like other content-specific sites, even though we are the only open science writing site of any size, we still have a standard; it has to be science and you have to know what you are talking about and not just write science-y mumbo-jumbo.   For people who want to speculate or philosophize, Wordpress and Blogger are better fits.   And anyone who is going to write on politics or whatever else and enrage their friends should not use Facebook.

Thus, social media cannot replace general blogging any more than Science 2.0 can.    The Web became big because of the freedom it offered - many people are not going to want to turn control of their content over to Facebook.    Facebook will ban you if you say something they don't like whereas a blogging host will usually only ban you if you break the law or put them in other jeopardy, like Amazon dropping WikiLeaks.   

Google's Blogger had a 2 percent traffic decline in the U.S. last year, down to 58.6 million uniques, but 1 in 5 U.S. people is still a heck of a lot of traffic - and globally Blogger’s uniques rose 9 percent to 323 million.   So blogging is not dead it is just that the barrier to readership is as high as ever and some people who would default to blogs simply found a better tool in Twitter and Facebook.    If you are a casual updater and all of your friends are on Facebook, it makes no sense to try and get them to go to a blog, you are just disrupting their flow.   But if you are a writer a blog is still the way to go.

The Science 2.0 site was created for two reasons, the most important being that great writers and scientists should have a place to write that isn't as lonely as a personal blog(1) - those can be a ghost town if writers don't update often.   At that time, the only choice for scientists was to start their own blog and do a lot of work promoting it or write articles on politics and religion and get popular and be invited to    Now the landscape is positively littered with quality science blogging networks and they all work the way we pioneered it; use the miracle of compounding to give every writer, popular or not, an audience they could not easily get on their own - and pay them.

But as the quality of blogging in general, and certainly science blogging, has changed from cultural rants to, well, science, so has the audience.  No one wants to see something in their newsfeed that is a blog with a list of links to other sites and articles, people who want that expect to get it on Twitter instead.   

Social media has not replaced blogging, it has eliminated filler and noise from blogging and that is better for the reputation of blogging overall.

So if you are a science blogger, keep up the good work.  Despite what the New York Times may think (and who in old media didn't always hate blogging anyway?) you are not a dinosaur just yet.


(1) The second reason being to establish the first of the four pillars in the Science 2.0 vision I originally laid out way back then; communication, collaboration, publication and participation.

(2) They are much different now.   "The community colonising the land, free-wheeling hippies", as Peter Sellers called early bloggers on The Economist blog cited above, moved on so the site is far less militant, far less political, and some darn good science.