The Value of Blogging
Posted by hyperpat on April 2, 2007
The blogosphere continues to grow by leaps and bounds. Some estimates put the current number of US hosted blogs at 60 million. This is a significant portion of the population, even if you remove from consideration the number of foreign bloggers, ‘spam’ blogs, inactive, and duplicated blogs – the number would probably still be something like 30 million. Some questions come to mind about this phenomenon:
1. What do all these people have to say? What subjects are hot?
2. Why has this medium grown so fast?
3. What value does it have versus things like print media? Will it eventually push things like newspapers to oblivion?
There may not be definitive answers to the above, but some things are fairly clear. People are writing about whatever strikes their fancy, from butterflies to canned soup, but some of the most popular topics are, not surprisingly, politics, wars, economics, and religion. A good chunk of these postings may not add much to the world’s understanding of causes and fixes for problems, and some of this material is poorly researched and validated, but at the very least some of these posts rival any information obtainable from more traditional sources, and also provide a good snapshot of current mass opinion on a host of issues that politicians had better be paying attention to. But there is also one subject area that is somewhat unique to blogosphere, namely computer-related material, reviews of this or that software, hosting facilities, how to get things done in the computer world. The depth of this material ranges from stuff for neophytes to some very sophisticated analysis of stuff that only propeller-heads are likely to understand. Certainly there are magazines and such devoted to this type of thing, but all too often reviews of software in these media are commissioned for pay, and are neither totally unbiased nor have they received testing on the incredible variety of computer platforms that exist today, so these blog posts serve a very useful purpose.
Which leads to at least a partial answer to why blogging has grown so quickly: it is filling a very real need for unbiased information that is relevant to its audience. But there are several other reasons which are possibly even more important. The first of these is the sense of community that the blogosphere engenders. Americans from the fifties to the nineties seem to be growing more and more isolated from each other (quick, now, when was the last time you had a substantive conversation with your neighbor?), grew inward to concerns about only their own families, and seemed to lose connection with their wider community. This seems to have left a feeling of there being something lacking in everyone’s daily living, and blogging has provided a means for filling at least one part of that hole, a way to connect to many other people in a non-threatening manner. To some degree, the blogosphere has become the new town-hall meeting or the gathering in the old hardware store. The other part of this is the feeling of empowerment; people who have felt that their opinions and their voice were not being heard can now get these words out there for the whole world to see, and the feedback that they can get is a validation that what they are saying is being heard and matters.
Now many established professional writers and journalists have denigrated the value of blogs, stating that they simply cannot match the accuracy of the work that they do, and can in fact lead to some very dangerous and unsupportable allegations and misstatements of fact (and there have even been a few lawsuits challenging just what can and can’t be said on a blog). It’s certainly true that getting all your news from reading blogs is probably not a good idea; that what you see in one place should be checked via some other source of information. But it’s also true that the sheer number of people involved in this means that subjects will be tackled that traditional print and TV media simply don’t have time or space for, and that benefits everyone. I doubt that blogs will ever completely do away with traditional media; there will probably always be a place for people who are dedicated to the full-time work of determining and reporting the facts, but neither should bloggers be dismissed as not having the chops to present issues that need to be addressed in a timely and well-written manner.
Which brings me to my final point. At least part of the allure of blogging is the dream that many people have of being a professional writer. Blogging lets people put their attempts at writing out there for all the world to see, without having to wait years to see it in print or submit their work to sometimes crotchety editors who insist on proper grammar and well-organized material. Of course this leads to some blogs that are almost unreadable and of little or no value. But the great majority of the ones I see, anyway, show a proper respect for the written word, and frequently do present their material in both a logical and persuasive manner. Such work shows me that that there are far more people out there than those who do get published who can write well enough that they could be published. The limitation is just how many things the publishing industry can produce and sell. It’s quite noticeable that since the advent of print-on-demand and cheap vanity publishers that the number of published books has risen steeply. Much of what is published today may not be world-class literature, and it’s certainly true that many self-published books could have used the services of a good editor, but at the same time I can’t help but think that the more things get recorded via the written word, the more our culture benefits.