One More Technology on the Scrapheap

vcr-blinkBeing an old guy has very few advantages as far as I can tell, but one is the perspective of time.  In my 50 years I have seen more technologies than I can remember arrive with the herald of great expectations only to expire with a whimper.

  • CB radios
  • 8-track cassettes
  • Cassettes
  • Film
  • VCRs
  • Floppy disks
  • CDs/DVDs
  • Zip Drives
  • Fax machines
  • Blogs

Blogs?  Wait a minute, you may be thinking, isn’t this a blog?  Aren’t we sharing big ideas (Keliher), penetrating commentary (Mrje), economic analysis (Carideo),  erudite opinion (Benidt) and “MILF Porn Tube” (Austin) via this forum?

Yep.  And we’re a dying breed.

That’s the conclusion I draw from a report in Friday’s New York Times that points out the truth most of us know about the blogging world – the vast majority of blogs are essentially abandoned, standing like empty ghost towns along the information superhighway.  Started with the same misplaced enthusiasm that led Sam Parkhill to open a hot dog stand on Mars, most of them were never well-patronized even in the boom days and now have been left even by their owners whose dreams of wealth, fame or influence went “Poof.”

The Times‘ story reports that “[a]ccording to a 2008 survey by Technorati, which runs a search engine for blogs, only 7.4 million out of the 133 million blogs the company tracks had been updated in the past 120 days.”

The hard truths are threefold:  first, lots of people have discovered that successful blogging is hard work – not in the ditch digging sense but in the sense that it takes time and effort to create new posts that are interesting and thoughtful enough to merit reading and to do so frequently enough to bring readers back.  The SRC has always run best when all of its contributors are posting frequently and adding comments to one another discussions that – along with the excellent commentary by all 7 of our most frequent readers (and you know who you are) – make the joint lively and worth visiting.

Second, lots of undiscovered authors and pundits have discovered that the reason they were undiscovered was not lack of access to the audience.  One of the big insights from the blogging phenomenon is the confirmation that most of us, when given the opportunity to speak our minds on anything we want to a potential audience of billions, don’t have much original or profound to say.

Third, blogging – like any species – is evolving to fit a niche in its environment.  A year or so ago, the news of Governor Spitzer’s stupidities was broken by bloggers; today the first notice would almost certainly come via Twitter.  Bloggers who previously viewed their mission as delivering breaking news have moved on to an even faster, more urgent channel.  Ditto the bloggers who thought it important to provide instant “reaction” to such news.

Technological obsolescence is not a new story, of course, but it’s also not a story that’s ending any time soon.  Looking forward, here’s a couple that are about to peak (or maybe already have):

  • Flash drives
  • Voice mail
  • Incandescent light bulbs

What are your candidates for the technological scrapheap?

– Austin

29 thoughts on “One More Technology on the Scrapheap

  1. Dennis Lang says:

    Hmmm….Pulling for the Crowd to sustain itself even while millions around it crumble. Very vibrant place of ideas when all cylinders firing and still engaging even when they’re not quite. But yes, I sense a great effort required in the face of no renumeration. Just passion and commitment the heart of it unless in some subtle and oblique way a professional benefit is achieved, that I rather doubt. So, it’s passion and commitment, kind of rare these days and very admirable.

  2. First, flash drives: I’ve owned exactly one and it lasted about a year before failing. Now all my data that needs to be in more than one place can live in the cloud, thank you.

    Now, blogs: My first thought is who cares? In the late ’90s, when print hadn’t yet met the problems it knows today, magazines failed in great numbers too — hundreds or thousands instead of millions, but given the different barriers to entry, I think it’s a fair comparison. Also, is it fair to say these blogs are “abandoned”? Ending of their own volition is what they’re doing. TVs shows do this, we do this with our hobbies, with our jobs, with our friendships.

    But the bigger point is this: saying blogging is going out of style is like saying writing is going out of style. People should and will continue to have opinions, will continue to report news and will continue to spout inanities. Whether we continue to call those activities “blogging” isn’t a concern. As long as we all continue to have dialogue, we’re going to be fine — one medium or another.

  3. Dennis Lang says:

    I don’t know Doug. Those 132,999,900 blogs that absolutely spout inanities to a cloistered community of faithful followers deserve their fate. Then there are those relatively few, genuinely imaginative, informative, incisive, even educational blogs, maintained by serious, thoughtful, eclectically intelligent people who can actually make sitting in front of this infernal nineteen-inch screen an intellectually stimulating experience. There is writing–hammering out something resembling a sentence–and there is “writing”.

  4. PM says:

    Twitter:

    “Twitter’s usage patterns are also very different from a typical on-line social network. A typical Twitter user contributes very rarely. Among Twitter users, the median number of lifetime tweets per user is one. This translates into over half of Twitter users tweeting less than once every 74 days.

    At the same time there is a small contingent of users who are very active. Specifically, the top 10% of prolific Twitter users accounted for over 90% of tweets. On a typical online social network, the top 10% of users account for 30% of all production. To put Twitter in perspective, consider an unlikely analogue – Wikipedia. There, the top 15% of the most prolific editors account for 90% of Wikipedia’s edits ii. In other words, the pattern of contributions on Twitter is more concentrated among the few top users than is the case on Wikipedia, even though Wikipedia is clearly not a communications tool. This implies that Twitter’s resembles more of a one-way, one-to-many publishing service more than a two-way, peer-to-peer communication network.”

    http://blogs.harvardbusiness.org/cs/2009/06/new_twitter_research_men_follo.html

    Only 7 of us readers? Wow, I’m more important than I thought!

    (and I’m not so certain about Segways either)

  5. Tim Burke says:

    All those things on the list died because a better technology supplanted it.

    Blogging is something different altogether. But it’s not any different now than when it was first discovered by the Times Style section a few years back.

    For the Times, blogging was the flavor of the week which they are now happy assign to the internet old folks home. Two years ago it was MySpace. Last year FaceBook. This year Twitter. Next year Google Wave, maybe. People take it up and drop it, what ever “it” is, when it fails to or stops meeting their needs and expectations.

    Of all the social media channels, blogging offers the most robust platform for communicating and for finding an audience, if you deserve one. It requires thought, thoughtfulness and perseverance, something only a small portion of blogger-wannabes, it turns out, can muster.

  6. I’ve been meaning to write a post about how tennis is a dead sport. After all, only something like 7 percent of the population of the United States plays the game. Washed up, I say.

    But I’ll skip that and just say:

    What Doug said.

  7. Citizen Joe says:

    The nice thing about this blog is that it has always known what it is — a backwater BS session. You’ve long known this blog never will be revolutionary, unique, heavily read, a business asset, cutting edge or profitable, giving you a sense of proportion and self-awareness many bloggers lack. Because you expected relatively little, reality hasn’t been too disappointing.

    In the future, maybe backwater BS sessions will occur in the form of talking 3D hologram images, or some other unimagined media. But something tells me backwater BS sessions will never go out of style.

  8. Ellen Mrja says:

    Austin, my friend. Not to be too picky .. but blogs aren’t technology. They’re Web sites.

    Now where else but on the SRC could I share this and other minor, major, picayune, brilliant orts of commentary? Not only can I share them here, I can anticipate the response they might bring..from Dennis Lang, Kris M, PM, Charlie Quimby, Citizen Joe, Minnesotan, Iowan. These are my peeps even though I know only one by sight.

    Austin also downplays our site’s visits but I think they’re kind of neat:

    Blog Stats Summary Tables

    Total views: 181,065

    Busiest day: 3,148 — Tuesday, January 13, 2009

    Views today: 356

    Totals

    Posts: 902

    Comments: 5,921

    Admittedly, they’re skewed when these guys use terms like “MILF” in their posts. *sigh* But the Rowdies don’t do that often. Usually they stun me with their word portraits.

    I use many forms of messaging every day — from text to phone to email to twitter. Only blogging teaches me anything. Only blogging asks me to consider a question or belief in a new way.

    The best description of blogging’s perils I’ve heard comes from David Carr of the New York Times. He told a writing group I attended a few years ago that setting up a blog is a lot like getting a puppy. You want a puppy. You really want a puppy. And then you finally get the puppy and you’re really excited..at first.

    But then you realize that you’re supposed to walk it. And feed it. And give it water and give it attention. EVERY DAY…

    1. Dennis Lang says:

      While were at it, are there any of us who can forget “Big Easy”? Sadly, inexplicably, a beacon extinguished way before his (her) time, so thoroughly intoxicated with the conversation of the moment finding obsessive need to file comments from the deck of a thirty-six foot catamaran afloat in the South Pacific to set the record straight on the legacy of Ayn Rand? Heroic.

  9. I’ve been away for awhile, with our niece finishing high school and heading off to the next chapter. Fun to come back and see the conversation going on.

    What won’t go out of fashion is good thinking and good writing, no matter what the format. When I read Austin’s posts, I can hear his voice, not just because I know his voice, but because he’s such a good writer his written words carry the rhythm of conversation. Whether that’s in email, on a blog or on Twitter, that kind of writing is engaging and worth my time. And yeah, you gotta have something to say — and I find the thinking of this Crowd community always stimulating.

    What will go obsolete, I predict, is games using screens. Buttons have given way to joysticks which have given way to Wii paddles which are now giving way to full-body controllers, but games still require screens. The next wave will be games that happen in your head, projected in your mind and shared with others on the same wavelength if you want. And then we’ll all be back to the fantasy world of 14-year-olds.

  10. Jon Austin says:

    Ellen is of course right in the sense that blogs are not pieces of hardware sitting on our shelves or desks. But they are indeed technology – one that represents as well as any the realities of cloud computing. The purveyors of this blog do not own any of the devices on which the data that make up the blog – the text, the layout, the software to manage and display it – reside. In fact, we have no idea where that data is stored and – while it’s probably discoverable – I suspect WordPress has no idea – or concern – about where it is either.

    But, in the sense of my original posting, Ellen and Mike and Tim Burke are all right when they say in various ways that blogging is not analogous to technologies like the fax machine.

    It’s analogous to the pet rock, canned air, the hulu hoop, Beanie Babies, Webkins and the Frisbee. It’s a fad, one that’s clearly passed its peak.

    You can still buy a hulu hoop or a Frisbee – I’m sure they still sell lots of them – but like the blog, most of those who picked up a hulu hoop found out learning to hulu was more work than they thought and – after a while – not as much fun, particularly when everybody on your block could do it about as well as you.

    That said, the world is inarguable better off because of the invention of blogs (just as we’re better off because of the invention of the Frisbee). Even if only .001 percent of the 130,000,000 blogs out there are worth reading, that’s still 130,000 great places to visit. I’d like to think we count among that cohort.

    – Austin

  11. Citizen Joe says:

    It feels like we’re all soooo quick to breathlessly declare new gadgets and media “The Answer,” only to, a few weeks later, snidely declare them to be “worthless,” when both declarations are out of proportion.

    If something works for me, I use it. If it doesn’t work for me, I don’t. I try, with mixed success, not to not sweat the image consequences of being a step or two behind on either the upswing or the downswing. Personally, I still enjoy my cassette Walkman, and think it makes for a great match with my legwarmers.

    So I’ll probably hang around blogs until I’m alone talking to myself. Again.

    1. PM says:

      In addition to the utility argument (I’ll use it if it works/is functional), there are still significant numbers of people who simply do not want to use new technologies–for what ever reason.

      Recent survey in Britain found that 43% of the people who currently do not have any internet access simply do not want it–even if they were to be given a free computer and free broadband access (30 % of the population do not have internet access, so we are talking about approx 12-13% of the population, total). Again, these people tend to be older, and tend to have little or no exposure to either computers or to the internet.

      For a new technology to succeed, you need more than just the early adapters–you need to not only demonstrate to people why they will be better off, but you need to provide skills and training and exposure.

  12. PM says:

    OK, we have talked a lot about new technology, and how old ones (print, primarily) successfully adapt. But what about the ones that continue on, and survive and thrive as an old technology?

    What about The Economist?

    Here is an interesting article on how The Economist is surviving and thriving by NOT being internet savvy. Maybe a lesson for newspapers in here somewhere–and certainly for journalists!

    http://www.theatlantic.com/doc/print/200907/news-magazines?x=56&y=6

    1. Dennis Lang says:

      This is a cool article–and great writing. I wonder if the position “The Economist” has achieved could actually have been strategized. That is, would the marketing/Pr types gathering a couple years ago been sufficiently confident in the niche the pub occupied to conclude that accomodating digitization was unnecessary? Or through some mystery (while other print media is being pummeled) has it just worked out favorably to stay the course, the pleasant discovery after the fact that what they were doing was impregnable?

  13. PM says:

    I don’t know, of course, but I have always felt (I have been a subscriber for 20+ years) that what the Economist does is unlike anything else available–more information and less opining. The analysis they do has always seemed to me to be more of in depth explanation as opposed to opinion. Not quite academic, but a lot closer to that than Time or Newsweek or US News, etc.

    And they have never edged towards the People niche.

  14. Ajay says:

    The problem isn’t blogs, the problem is monetization. A micropayments system hasn’t been deployed, so there is no way for readers to quickly and easily pay for good blog posts. Once micropayments are deployed, everybody will be writing online using blog software and the other written formats, books, magazines, newspapers, etc, will essentially disappear, with a few old people electing to receive regularly printed compendiums of the best blog posts instead. Then, with the money finally flowing online, blog software will continually evolve into something even better. Content-filtering services will abound so that every niche blog can find its audience, the filtering itself monetized by micropayments, just like all online services will be, email, wifi, you name it. All the other technologies you mention were superceded by new technologies that did the same thing better but twitter doesn’t qualify because of its obvious limitations, post length being the primary one. Blogs are it, all that’s left to see is when they will dominate the written word and how they will evolve to make much more possible.

    I’ll give you an example, one big principle will be customized content. When I read news stories online, I’ll want a just the facts version with important quotes left in. Others will want the familiar lead-in story that is the staple for most journalistic pieces today, introducing the reader to a characteristic example that fleshes out the story with a real person, that I don’t care for. There will be a variety of such customizations possible and we’ll all have our own preferences, all of this will be built off of the substrate of existing blogging software.

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