One of my favorite blogs is Study Hacks by Cal Newport. After reading his latest post, “On Blogs in the Social Media Age,” I was sparked. He makes an interesting distinction between the blogosphere and social media today.
The blogosphere survives
Newport’s blog post title itself is noteworthy. Blogs do still exist in the social media age! They are alive and well despite social media’s ubiquity. And the difference between blogging and social media is something I tried to put my finger on earlier this year in my post Celebrating The Blog.
Post vs Tweet friction
Summarizing a USA Today article by Glenn Reynolds, Newport talks about how blogs have more “friction of posting” than social media. As an example, writing a short sentence tweet on Twitter is relatively quick and easy. And Re-tweets spread rapidly with zero friction.
This made me think how some blogging platforms also have a re-blog feature akin to retweets. On WordPress, a ‘reblog’ button can be enabled:
But unlike what some call the vitriolic dumpster fire that is Twitter, fueled by the “frictionless” retweeting, WordPress is civilized, a paragon of online publishing.
Although WordPress has a Reader that aggregates blogs you follow and has ‘like’ and ‘comment’ buttons, it does not feature the ‘reblog’ button. And I don’t recall seeing the reblog button on actual WordPress blogs that I visit. So reblogging is not a prominent mechanic, unlike Twitter retweets.*
Blogs in general do not seem designed to rapidly spread the content that is created on them. That it takes more time and thought to write and publish a blog is one factor in the slow pace of posting.
This slow down or added friction is not necessarily a bad thing; in fact it is good.
Case in point, Justin Koslynn recently wrote on Motherboard how and why the internet needs more friction.
“The same design philosophy that accelerated the flow of correspondence, news, and commerce also accelerates the flow of phishing, ransomware, and disinformation.”
This unbiased flow, with its lack of friction, is great because it allows good info to spread at whatever pace the respective web platforms are designed to allow. But it’s not great because it also spreads bad data just as easily and quickly.
“The philosophy of the Internet has assumed that friction is always part of the problem, but often friction can be central to the solution.”
So friction can be good – if implemented well.
Returning to Newport’s article and the idea of “friction of posting,” he mentions that social media lowers the bar for what “content creation” requires, which has its benefits.
I agree there are benefits, but like Newport, I find more value in blogging as “content creation.” In fact, the inherent “friction” itself is a benefit.
That friction is the blogging process. It takes time and thought to be both creative and productive. Like a steak gaining flavor by marinating in savory juices, the creative process calls one to immerse cognitively in the work.
It’s a process in which the journey is as important as the destination.
The craft of writing, the challenge of organizing thoughts, selecting good corresponding blog images, and tweaking the blog itself in both its appearance and functionality – all these add up to a deep and enriching experience.
For me, I get the satisfaction of simply creating and publishing. As one who likes to think and write, a finished post – by itself – is satisfying.
In addition, as icing on the cake, it is fulfilling when people then read and leave quality feedback or thoughtful comments. From that, good conversation can spring out, which is worth far more than just a passing ‘like.’
And that brings us to the idea of attention.
Attention for interaction
Newport’s article sparked me to question the idea of blogging for readership in the first place. Is it a given that, as a blogger, I am trying to attract attention to my blog (or to myself)? Also, am I competing against other bloggers on posting the same topics, or am I complimenting them by joining the conversation, adding my voice to the chorus?
In short, I do want attention, but not so much like on social media where one simply wants affirmation or validation (although that is nice). The blogosphere attracts me because attention, I hope, will lead to interaction on a level that’s deeper than on social media. I want conversation and discussion, which make a better connection with others.
I try not to be all about numbers; I try to be all about words. I am writing after all. And connecting with others through comments often leads to short but meaningful conversation. Feedback in the blogosphere tends to be about quality over quantity. Like blog posts versus tweets, paragraphs, not just sentences.
Signal to noise ratio
Lastly, echoing off Newport here:
“As any serious blog consumer can attest, a carefully curated blog feed, covering niches that matter to your life, can provide substantially more value than the collectivist ping-ponging of likes and memes that make up so much of social media interaction.”
“…in the blogosphere it’s easy to filter these [bad blogs] from the more serious contributors that…distinguish themselves as worthwhile.”
These two statements bring up a problem on social media. The dictating algorithms and abundance of banal blurbs, memes, sponsored posts, etc, create a steady stream of noise. The signal, good stuff like original thoughts, is often missing or indiscernible.
The blogosphere, due to its open and loose design and higher quality original content, is better at delivering greater signal with less noise.
The blogosphere can thrive
I am hopeful that blogging will make some sort of renaissance or resurgence. Given the increased negative backlash towards social media, maybe it will decline enough to allow the blogosphere to thrive and not just survive.
*Update: The Reader does have a reblog option, but 1) it is within the share button, 2) it is not a “reblog” button but rather just shows your own blog to share to, and 3) it is only available in the Reader via the web browser; it is not available in the iOS app where I use the Reader. I have reached out to WordPress about adding a reblog button to Reader in the iOS app. Also, after checking some blogs I follow outside the reader, I was surprised to see the Reblog button on several next to the like button. I must overlook it! It still seems that reblogging on WordPress is not a prominent feature or is simply seldom used. For more info check here, here, and here.
Update 12/14/18: WordPress responded about reblogging in Reader. Again, it seems reblogging is not a prominent feature. Instead, it seems good ‘ol fashioned posting of a link is the way to blog.