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Death of Weblogs

Editorial Note: I’ve been working on an essay about web communities, so I haven’t had time to update the weblog here.

This brings me to a subject I have wanted to talk about for some time: the death of weblogs.

First, let me say that I love weblogs, blogger, diaryland, movabletype, slash and other web technologies. It has unleashed an incredible amount of creativity across the board from a variety of interesting people. After promoting my asiafirst site on metafilter, I have been actively checking my referrer logs to look for any upticks in web traffic. Webloggers are promiscuous about linking to people. Surprisingly though, the main benefit from this modest effort at advertising has been learning about the existence of the sites that linked to me (which in many ways are superior to my own). One incredible site, “wood s lot” gives a well-annotated and well-chosen list of literary links.

Weblogs emerged as a result of a webmaster?s need to create and update content without using ftp. They also needed a way to let visitors know what content is fresh. (If you looked at sites in 1997-8, by far the most interesting page on any site would be the ?what?s new?? page). They were also a pain in the neck to update. Eventually people started using weblog applications to update their site, and then the weblog became the site.

But although weblogs were certainly a step forward, they meant hell for content creators. A site is only as good as the freshness of content, but realistically, an individual can?t update a weblog more than twice a week. (If he is doing so more often, then he is only bloviating or writing nothing substantial). Blogger solved that problem by allowing multiple people to contribute to a weblog, (with elearningpost.com and boingboing.net being the best examples), but weblogs had other problems. Some were editorial, and others were technical.

  1. A weblog format is better for a site that updates frequently. That means, if you want to create a weblog, you better update frequently! Or you better spread the burden among several people!
  2. People rarely read archives. Weblogs are most effective in relaying commentary on current events. But ask yourself: how often do people read newspapers more than a month old? They don?t; they throw them away!
  3. Weblogs group content by date, not by subject. How on earth would you know that your opinion piece on underwear appeared on the April 2001 archive page? Sure, there?s search pages, but that?s a very lazy form of information architecture. Movabletype seems to have solved that problem by giving webloggers the ability to categorize content. I haven?t deployed movabletype yet, but the deployments on burning bird and other sites put all items in a certain category on the same page. That might work in some instances, but generally it doesn?t seem to be a good idea.
  4. Although the informal style of weblogs may be suitable for personal diaries, they may not be good for intellectual discussions. Bottom line is the best example of a site that uses a weblog to deliver a daily argument on some subject. Arnold Kling can pull this kind of thing off. But the content on his personal home page is much more substantial and easier to search through. Clearly these opinion pieces are so good because Kling didn?t feel rushed to provide fresh content.
  5. Weblogs serve as rough draft repositories. I usually will start a rant or commentary on a weblog only to later transfer it to a static page, substituting the original entry with a link to the static page. In other words, the better the content, the more likely that it will be removed from my weblog. What conclusion should you reach about the content which is still here?
  6. Weblogs are good at letting people know about great links. Truth be told, the main reason I like putting links in weblogs is that I know where the link will be later on. Yes, that?s true. I actually use my weblog as a kind of bookmark page.

Weblogs have been temporary solutions to the continuing problem of managing content. It is a sign that content management systems are still too complex, too expensive or too difficult to use. Here are some encouraging developments that run counter to the trend toward weblogs:

  1. WEBDAV is allowing people to change content without requiring sophisticated ftp or versioning tools.
  2. Many open source CMS?s come with many basic functions. (I?m now playing with postnuke)
  3. RSS allows people to include ?what?s new? syndication about their site pretty painlessly, making it unnecessary to change it by hand.
  4. As we start to use various devices for accessing webpages, it will be more important to have content that can be repackaged and repurposed depending on the device. CSS can take care of that on weblogs right now to a limited extent, but it still means that all the posts from a certain chronological range show up whether you like it or not.
  5. Those are the reasons why I think weblogs will die fairly soon. On the other hand, technologies frequently outlast their usefulness, and there is something to be said for not changing a method that has worked successfully.

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