Will Facebook kill blogging?

07:51, Jul 19 2009

Video didn't kill the radio star, iPods haven't murdered CDs and the "box" is definitely still alive and kicking despite years of hysteria about television having one foot in the grave.

When it comes to tech trends, we do like to predict which newcomer will kick its predecessors to the kerb.

Now with Nielsen Online declaring social networking to be one of 2009's fastest-growing categories exceeding email use for the first time ever it's the blog's turn to be scrutinised for signs of terminal illness.

Web monitors Hitwise say that in the year to April 2009, visits to social networking and forum sites increased by 16 per cent in Australia, with visits to blogs dropping by 27.5 per cent in the same period.

One of the leading blog providers, Blogger (now owned by Google), has suffered traffic decreases of 87.3 per cent year-on-year, at a time when Facebook visits have grown by 124 per cent.

Already, more than 5 million Australians are Facebook fanatics. For the 75 per cent who aren't, the online network is like a virtual pub, where you and your chosen "circle" can share photos of your weekend shenanigans, look up old classmates or simply waste time on trivia quizzes that prove your pop culture mettle.

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Long-term blogger Shalini Akhil, a Melbourne novelist, admits her social media life has wooed her away from "obsessive" blogging. Two years ago, she was posting regular updates on two blogs but in 2007, she abandoned one of them and now prefers short status updates on Facebook.

"I must admit I am more active on Facebook and Twitter than I am with the blog," she says. "I only blog 'real' news now and use other social media a lot more for day-to-day stuff."

With celebrities like Oprah Winfrey flocking to join the bite-size blogging bandwagon of Twitter where you "tweet" what you're doing in less than 140 characters the concept of the micro-blog has exploded over the last year, with Twitter recording a staggering 2400 per cent growth.

Akhil says for her, it's the portability and spontaneity of Twitter that got her hooked.

"I send tweets from my phone when I'm out and about and I like the immediacy and brevity of it," she says. "It also feels a lot more intimate than blogging, for some reason."

Video game blogger Gabriel McGrath says he's still a committed blogger but he's using Twitter to lure readers to his blog, JustOneMoreGame, which covers retro, indie and coin-op games.

McGrath tweeted a meme called BackGames, asking people to describe a famous video game if the plot ran backwards the concept took off and sent him 21 times his usual week's traffic.

While McGrath uses Facebook to socialise and Twitter to unearth interesting blog articles, he thinks the blog itself can never be replaced for its depth.

"Twitter is a bit like the trailer for a movie, the chat you have with a friend while you queue for popcorn," he says. "But blogs are still the film, the main feature."

But not everyone is happy with the impact of social networking and micro-blogging, as Sydney fashion journalist Patty Huntington discovered during her recent social media experiment. For her coverage of Rosemount Australian Fashion Week, she decided to dump lengthy blog reviews in favour of short grabs via Twitter.

"There was a huge amount of flack over my RAFW coverage, primarily because I failed to sit down and do those wordy blog posts that I've done for three years now," she says.

Huntington sent more than 30 tweets a day from the event, which tripled her blog traffic but left many readers feeling duped.

"People were expecting 2000-word posts but Twitter has just exploded and we've got the ability to email photos from a BlackBerry and live stream video I just wanted to do something more intimate."

While she enjoys the contrast of Twitter and its global exposure, she refuses to join Facebook and says her blog remains her "marquee" product.

"There's a heap of people on Facebook and Twitter who would never blog," she says. "They're kind of involved but they're just dabbling."

Blog search engine Technorati has tracked blogging trends across the world and says the activity has definitely reached mainstream status. In its 2008 State Of The Blogosphere report, it says 184 million people have started a blog.

Of the 1200 bloggers surveyed across 66 countries, most had been at it for an average of three years and collectively they were creating close to 1 million posts every day. Among them, 64 per cent were part of a social networking site and 41 per cent used Twitter.

Google Australia spokesperson Rob Shilkin says as one of the world's first free blogging services, Blogger is still going strong, with Nielsen NetRatings reporting slight year-to-year growth for both their unique users and time spent per month on Blogger.

Shilkin says the rise of Facebook and Twitter hasn't pushed blogs aside, simply expanded the spheres of communication.

"As internet speeds get faster, innovative new services (like Facebook and Twitter) become available and the internet becomes available on more devices the whole internet ecosystem grows, including people reading and writing more blogs," he says.

Jenny Sinclair, who was The Age's first blog columnist back in 2001, says we can credit the blog with enabling the success of new conversation tools.

"Blogs made Facebook possible," she says. "They gave us the feeling that the internet was something that ordinary people could do somewhere to set up your own opinions. And Facebook makes that even easier."

Now with more advanced web 2.0 tools to give people a voice and a presence, Sinclair says the blogging pack may be dividing between experimenters and stayers.

Career bloggers like gossip guru Perez Hilton have proven that if you're good enough you can use your musings as a launch pad.

McGrath says as a voracious follower of seven blogs, including Boing Boing, which has become its own brand, blogs are definitely becoming more professional.

"The writing, editing, using video and photos, many blogs have lifted their game in recent years and there's a bit more corporate involvement," he says. "My prediction is that more bloggers will get 'deals' and 'writing jobs' out of it."

Business analyst Karin Quadros hopes to one day sell her handmade creations from her craft blog Kayi Dreaming, which she started to explore her creative side. "I think blogging is a great way to promote yourself, especially if you're an independent designer," she says.

"I have seen close friends use their blog as a craft career kick-starter and I want to eventually do the same."

Of course, not everyone wants that kind of exposure. Sinclair says many of the world's most popular blogs remain anonymous kept separate from the prying eyes of people you know.

"As soon as your mum or your employer start reading your blog, I think you'd start to become more closed," she says. "When you think nobody is reading, it's more liberating. You can say exactly what you think."

And that means for the web's most mysterious commentators, Facebook and blogging don't mix.

Blog links

www.shaliniakhil.com

www.justonemoregame.wordpress.com

www.frockwriter.com

www.kayi-dreaming.blogspot.com

www.perezhilton.com

www.boingboing.net

The Age