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Boosman versus Searls on the Future of Blogging, Revisited

In 2002, I wrote an entry on the subject of selective privacy for bloggers (for which I created the term 'privacy rings'). After discussing some of the complexities of selective privacy, I wrote:

This problem is difficult enough today when the vast majority of the content created for blogs is created by bloggers themselves. It will grow exponentially worse when we carry devices capable of posting continuous streams of updated data to our blogs (if we call them that). Imagine your cell phone after next uploading GPS coordinates, the names of nearby detected devices, call records, pictures, audio and video clips, and so on. How will we control access to such information?
Doc Searls read my entry and wrote:
I never liked the "It's the ______ (economy, war, oil, user, rules, latency, research, sex, games, runtime, comedy), stupid" line. But it's a good working cliché;, so let's add one more log to its fire: writing.

This morning I came to the conclusion, after reading Frank Boosman's pseudorandom blog, that blogging is about nothing more than writing -- and that more of us will be writing to more people, with more effect, because of it.

I replied:

As for Doc's thesis... as much as I respect Doc, I disagree with what he's saying here. To me, it's akin to someone in 1993 saying that the Internet was all about Usenet newsgroups. Like many other early Internet users, I posted regularly to newsgroups back then, but as new types of Web-based services became available, not only did many new Internet users not seek out newsgroups, even some existing newsgroup users like me gravitated away from them.

It's true that, today, blogging is about writing. The 500,000 (or so) people currently blogging are, for a variety of reasons, heavily biased towards expressing themselves through words. But I don't believe this will remain true for long. Though there will always be a core of bloggers who are passionate about writing (including me), I believe that most of the growth in blogging -- which I expect to be two or three orders of magnitude within five years -- will come through people who blog from mobile devices and who do so mostly through rich media such as pictures, video, and the like.

First, was I correct about the growth rate of blogging? According to Technorati, as of March 2007, there were 70 million blogs, with the number of blogs doubling every 320 days. In other words, when the five-year anniversary of my post rolls around this December, there should be something like 110 million blogs. I predicted there would be somewhere between 50 million and 500 million, so I'm comfortable with that.

Now, though, to the central issue: was I right about where the growth in blogging would come from? Technorati tracks blogs, which I think generally fit Doc's text-centric definition of blogging. Could it be, though, that the growth of non-text-centric blogs is higher? The New York Times suggests that perhaps it is:

The social networking phenomenon is leaving the confines of the personal computer. Powerful new mobile devices are allowing people to send round-the-clock updates about their vacations, their moods or their latest haircut.

New online services, with names like Twitter, Radar and Jaiku, hope people will use their ever-present gadget to share (or, inevitably, to overshare) the details of their lives in the same way they have become accustomed to doing on Web sites like MySpace.

Unlike the older networking sites, which are still largely used on PCs, these new phone-oriented services are bringing the burgeoning culture of exhibitionism to more exotic and more personal locations. They are also contributing to the general barrage of white noise and information overload -- something that even some participants say they feel ambivalent about.

The article uses Kyte, Twitter, and Radar as examples of services that fall into this category. Interestingly, the article doesn't refer to this as blogging, but as social networking. But I doubt the everyday users of these services think of what they're doing as 'social networking', much less 'blogging'. Is there a name for what they're doing? I ask because I've predicted privately (at least I can't find a reference in my blog archives) that blogging might not be called blogging when it becomes about sharing streams of one's life.

So there are 70 million blogs, and for the sake of discussion, let's say that they're all text-centric. But how many Twitter accounts are there? 60,000, according to The San Francisco Chronicle. How many Kyte or Radar accounts? What about a service such as Snapvine? More broadly, how many people use Flickr? According to this graph, as of November 2006, Flickr had 20 million users. That's one photo sharing service alone that is 28 percent as large as the entire blogosphere. How many people have posted a video to YouTube? I don't know, though I do know that as of late last year, YouTube users were posting more than 65,000 new videos per day.

My question was, was I right about where the growth in blogging would come from? If you use Doc's definition as blogging being about writing, then no, I wasn't. We have over two orders of magnitude more bloggers than we had four and a half years ago, but those blogs are typically text-centric. But I wasn't using Doc's definition: I was using my own, broader version of the term. So by my definition? I'd say the jury is out. I don't know of an authoritative source for tracking the broad community of people who 'blog' without writing traditional blog entries, whether using pictures, videos, audio, or other rich media. If I had to guess, I'd say that as of today, there are fewer people doing so than people who blog by writing. But I'd also guess that the growth rate of non-text-centric blogging is much higher. It may well be that as of the five-year anniversary of my prediction, there will be more rich media bloggers than text-centric bloggers.

So the answer for my specific prediction is that we don't know yet. What about Doc's more general assertion? He wrote that "blogging is about nothing more than writing". Was he correct? I can't see how this can possibly be true, unless you adopt a narrow definition of blogging, in which case, it's a tautology. (In other words, if one defines blogging as 'writing an online diary', then Doc's statement equates to 'writing an online diary is about nothing more than writing', which says exactly zero.)

I'll see what I can do to track down better statistics and revisit this issue later this year.


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