Blogging’s Usefulness I
Paul Boutin has a new article out for Wired called Twitter, Flickr, and Facebook Make Blogging Look So 2004. While he does have a point in that blogs can’t compete directly against the strengths of those services anymore, I believe he underestimates the value of blogging today. It still outshines Twitter, Flickr, and Facebook on several factors. Let’s take a look at each in turn.
Twitter is a microblogging service where users are limited to 140 characters per post.
On the strong side, Twitter is a great tool for conversations between people. During the recent presidential debates, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Twittering with several of my friends all at the same time. It’s almost like a big instant message chat during big events. As for those I don’t know personally, if I respond intelligently to something they wrote, they often reply in kind.
Also, Twitter has speed on its side. at 140 characters, it doesn’t take too much time to put up a sentence and a link to a story. Stories have broken on Twiitter, like Phelps winning 8 gold medals, before anywhere else on the web.
The primary problem I see with Twitter is it’s lack of depth. While the tools are better for connecting people, there isn’t enough space for really deep thought, or even a simple explanation.
For example, last night I tweeted about Wesabe changing their goals tab, and they responded wanting to know more of my thoguht process this morning. To describe how this one change affected me, it took 3 tweets. Though I just said that Twitter works like instant messaging, when I can’t say what I want in one message I find it more than a bit frustrating.
Flickr is a photo sharing website owned by Yahoo where you can upload pictures and view others’ uploads.
Flickr serves it’s purpose very well. It’s incredibly easy to upload and find photos for all sorts of things. I’ve found pictures of alleys to pictures of Sarah Palin with US troops.
On the other hand, I haven’t found Flickr to be particularly good at connecting people, or for discussion at all. Sure, there are profiles and each picture can be commented on, but I’ve never had an exchange with anyone on flickr. I’ve heard there is a fairly dedicated community of photographers on there, but the reach of that community is likely to be limited.
Facebook is social networking platform, originally aimed at college students but now targeting people everywhere.
Facebook is a great tool for connecting people and keeping in touch with friends both new and old. Since the community is built around individuals’ profiles, remembering your friends’ likes, dislikes, and contact info are all a few clicks away. Throw in birthday reminders and Facebook starts to look like a good modern day replacement for the rolodex.
Facebook is still in a state of flux, with the “new” Facebook having rolled out in the past month or two. Many users (particularly my friends) weren’t happy with this change. Growth is good, but radical site restructuring tends not to go over well with people.
Additionally, Facebook is known to be a bit of a data hoarder. If you upload information to it, such as pictures, Facebook tends to do everything it can to prevent you from exporting it afterwards. That means you can’t print a list of your friends’ phone numbers, a list of events you want to attend the next week, or a list of friends in a given city. Especially with regards to pictures I want to back up, this tendency has annoyed me greatly.
Blogging involves writing a series of posts in a single location. There are no precise qualifications for a blog, but a good example might be the one you’re reading now.
Blogging, relative to the platforms above, is the ideal platform for longer, more deeply thought out pieces. Unlike the space limits on Twitter, posts on a blog can range from 140 characters to 1,400 words. This means that for anything involving substantive analysis, blogging is the platform of choice.
Blogging has also become increasingly customizable, and gives users more control over how they present themselves (aka. their personal brand). Whereas the best you can do at Twitter and Facebook is upload a picture, a WordPress installation will give you much more control over the layout and feel of your webspace.
Finally, there’s something to be said about one’s own little corner of the web. At Twitter or Facebook, you could be potentially shut down any day due to a miscellaneous registration or database problem, but as long as you pay the bills for your blog you remain the master of your own destiny. That independence, even with the increasingly present notion of the cloud, can seal the deal for some.
One of blogging’s drawback, as Boutin notes, is the response… or rather the lack of it. Obscurity is a big hurdle to overcome as a blogger, and there’s no proven way to break out of it. Also as Boutin notes, the attention that beiginning bloggers often do receive is of the insult commentor variety.
Another drawback comes in that the paradox of choice rears it’s head. Where should you host your blog? What should you write about? How researched will it be? Who do you link to? Etc. These questions can lead to a bit of paralysis on the blogger’s behalf and create another hurdle for the beginning blogger to clear.
In short, each service Boutin lists has its advantages and disadvantages, and that includes blogging as well. Perhaps the original bloggers were using the platform to connect to readers in a fashion that resembled a pre-historic Twitter, but that does not negate blogging’s usefulness today. There is still a function for the activity, as long as one understands the benefits and drawbacks.
The Real Question
I presume the real question that Boutin is getting at doesn’t truly involve any one of the sources I just described above, but moreso the aggregation of them into a location like FreindFeed or Facebook. After all, blogs used to a be a central hub for a person’s activity, but if we can aggregate the tools that better accomplish the same functions, why blog anymore?
I’ll tackle this question in my next post.
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