Is Blogging Dead?

Lambert here: Imminent death of the blog predicted. To answer the question, no; see Naked Capitalism here for a proof by example (linked to by blogger Brad DeLong). Granted, that post is from 2013, but if you want to hammer away at a set of ideas in long form, there’s still nothing like a blog. They’re ubiquitous. It may be that Andrew Sullivan — whose exit from blogging prompted this bout of navel-gazing — is the sort of person who thinks that any scene in which he no longer participates is dead, by definition. But reports of our death in his absence are greatly exaggerated.

By Jérémie Cohen-Setton, a PhD candidate in Economics at U.C. Berkeley and a summer associate intern at Goldman Sachs Global Economic Research. Originally published at Breugel.

The Golden Age of Blogs

Jason Kottke writes that blogs are for 40-somethings with kids. In the past few years, the blog died. Sure, blogs still exist, many of them are excellent, and they will go on existing and being excellent for many years to come. But the function of the blog is increasingly being handled by a growing number of disparate media forms that are blog-like but also decidedly not blogs. The primary mode for the distribution of links has moved from the loosely connected network of blogs to tightly integrated services like Facebook and Twitter. 

Ben Smith writes since 2008 that ecosystem of links and blogs decayed and, in many places, collapsed. Few blogs drive the traffic they once did, and reporters hope their stories will be widely tweeted, rather than linked — though that doesn’t drive the same kind of traffic. In retrospect, the golden era of political blogs stretched from 2004 to 2008. The tech blog golden era started earlier and ended later. While the blogosphere has now been dying for as long as it was alive, Andrew Sullivan’s decision to shut down marks a kind of final punctuation to the era.

Ben Thompson writes that a big problem with this entire discussion is that there really isn’t a widely agreed-upon definition of what a blog is. For Thompson, a “blog” is a regularly-updated site that is owned-and-operated by an individual (there is, of course, the “group blog,” but it too has a clearly-defined set of authors). And there, in that definition, is the reason why, despite the great unbundling, the blog has not and will not die: it is the only communications tool, in contrast to every other social service, that is owned by the author; to say someone follows a blog is to say someone follows a person.


Source: Ben Thompson

Noah Smith writes that what is dying is the idea of the blog as a news source. In the old days, as a reader, you would have a favorite blogger, who would write many frequent posts throughout the day. That would be your main news source, your portal to current events. Often the post would have a slight bit of commentary or reaction. Basically, you got to hear the world narrated through the voice of someone you liked. Blogging 2.0 will be more focused on longer posts, high-level discussions and specialized expertise, while retaining the focus on distinctive voice and free-wheeling subject matter that made Blogging 1.0 so fun.

Noah Smith writes that blog posts are not just news articles freed from the tyranny of professional editors. With blogs, you can do something that news can’t easily do – you can carry on a conversation. In the field of economics, in fact, these discussions provide some of the debate that used to happen through comments submitted to academic journals. Mathematicians have gone even further – discussions on math blogs such as Terence Tao’s often involve real, cutting-edge technical insights that have the potential to influence new research.

Social Media and the Conversational Web

Ezra Klein writes that the incentives of the social web make it a threat to the conversational web. At this moment in the media, scale means social traffic. Links from other bloggers — the original currency of the blogosphere, and the one that drove its collaborative, conversational nature — just don’t deliver the numbers that Facebook does. But blogging is a conversation, and conversations don’t go viral. People share things their friends will understand, not things that you need to have read six other posts to understand. Blogging encourages interjections into conversations, and it thrives off of familiarity. Social media encourages content that can travel all on its own. 

Paul Krugman writes that there is a tension between maintaining a conversational feel and producing pieces that can be read on their own. But it’s a tension, not a contradiction: you can, with effort, maintain a blogging style that makes regular readers feel that they’re part of an ongoing conversation yet makes individual posts meaningful to people who aren’t reading everything you write.

Kevin Drum writes that the conversational nature of blogging is also dying because of multi-person blogs – which began taking over the blogosphere in the mid-aughts – make conversation harder. Most people simply don’t follow all the content in multi-person blogs, and don’t always pay attention to who wrote which post, so conversation becomes choppier and harder to follow. And partly it’s because conversation has moved on: first to comment sections, then to Twitter and other social media. Drum also argues that the rise of professional and expert bloggers led to blogs becoming less conversational in tone and sparking less conversation, namely because professional blogs prefer to link to their own content, rather than other people’s because that’s the best way to promote their own stuff. There’s nothing wrong with that. It makes perfect sense. But it’s definitely a conversation killer. 

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About Lambert Strether

Readers, I have had a correspondent characterize my views as realistic cynical. Let me briefly explain them. I believe in universal programs that provide concrete material benefits, especially to the working class. Medicare for All is the prime example, but tuition-free college and a Post Office Bank also fall under this heading. So do a Jobs Guarantee and a Debt Jubilee. Clearly, neither liberal Democrats nor conservative Republicans can deliver on such programs, because the two are different flavors of neoliberalism (“Because markets”). I don’t much care about the “ism” that delivers the benefits, although whichever one does have to put common humanity first, as opposed to markets. Could be a second FDR saving capitalism, democratic socialism leashing and collaring it, or communism razing it. I don’t much care, as long as the benefits are delivered. To me, the key issue — and this is why Medicare for All is always first with me — is the tens of thousands of excess “deaths from despair,” as described by the Case-Deaton study, and other recent studies. That enormous body count makes Medicare for All, at the very least, a moral and strategic imperative. And that level of suffering and organic damage makes the concerns of identity politics — even the worthy fight to help the refugees Bush, Obama, and Clinton’s wars created — bright shiny objects by comparison. Hence my frustration with the news flow — currently in my view the swirling intersection of two, separate Shock Doctrine campaigns, one by the Administration, and the other by out-of-power liberals and their allies in the State and in the press — a news flow that constantly forces me to focus on matters that I regard as of secondary importance to the excess deaths. What kind of political economy is it that halts or even reverses the increases in life expectancy that civilized societies have achieved? I am also very hopeful that the continuing destruction of both party establishments will open the space for voices supporting programs similar to those I have listed; let’s call such voices “the left.” Volatility creates opportunity, especially if the Democrat establishment, which puts markets first and opposes all such programs, isn’t allowed to get back into the saddle. Eyes on the prize! I love the tactical level, and secretly love even the horse race, since I’ve been blogging about it daily for fourteen years, but everything I write has this perspective at the back of it.


  1. abynormal

    Texting can get you killed
    Photo’s can come back and bite
    Video’s are censored
    Chatting is for the uninformed or uninterested

    “And with a practice of writing comes a certain important integrity. A culture filled with bloggers thinking differently about politics or public affairs, if only because more have been forced through the discipline of showing in writing why A leads to B.”
    Lawrence Lessig, Remix: Making Art and Commerce Thrive in the Hybrid Economy

    long live the naked

  2. timotheus

    Sullivan also (unhelpfully) declared the “End of AIDS” once he got his treatment squared away. Oh so wrong.

  3. Pepsi

    Blogs are a great way for people with specialized knowledge to disseminate knowledge to people outside their field.

    Any person who says, “the future is in apps, everything will be an app,” is just trying to take your money.

    1. readerOfTeaLeaves

      IMVHO, apps have a bright future – particularly given the need for quick access to good data. I have multiple apps that allow me to get at-a-glance data on any number of topics, from US Census info to UN Country stats.

      Having data embedded in an app means that I don’t have to worry about network capacity, or connecting to a network every time I need to look up the demographics of some country in Africa or Asia, or anywhere else. I don’t need that info very often, but when I need it, I want to get it simply and easily. I can do that with an app.

      The word ‘app’ covers broad territory.
      Many – including several that I use the most – are free.

  4. Ned Ludd

    Bloggers who became prominent, such as Ezra Klein, always had an eye towards promoting their own careers and those of fellow careerists, helping each other up the career ladder (see also JournoList).

    Their type of blogging – careerists pretending to be outsiders, until they land their big gigs, like the punk-pop bands of the 1990’s – is easily displaced by the next fad to come along.

      1. Ned Ludd

        My comment is more broad than I should have written it; it is commentary on bloggers who gained prominence through a mix of glad-handing, flattery, and networking with members of the media and political establishment – while avoiding positions that would push them outside acceptable discourse.

        I heard about Josh Marshall’s original blog on NPR. I read about Markos Moulitsas in a copy of USA Today that someone handed me at a political meetup. Daily Kos and Josh Marshall helped promote other establishment-friendly bloggers, like Amanda Marcotte, Ezra Klein, and Nate Silver. This circle of bloggers always kept an eye towards promoting their own careers and those of fellow social climbers.

        When I searched the articles that Jérémie Cohen-Setton linked to, not one mentioned Naked Capitalism. This seemed an odd oversight – how many blogs are as popular and vibrant as Naked Capitalism? Then I realized that these “Is Blogging Dead?” eulogies are coming from careerists. For them, blogging was a stepping stone that they used to boost themselves into the establishment; once safely situated on the inside, blogging no longer seemed as alluring.

  5. Carolinian

    Blogs are the inevitable response to the decline of mainstream journalism and help fill the space once occupied by alternative weeklies. People do get sick of being lied to which is why the seemingly trivial Brian Williams admissions resonate. Please know that we appreciate your efforts even though we readers sometimes kvetch.

    1. Brooklin Bridge

      Blogs are the inevitable response to the decline of mainstream journalism and help fill the space once occupied by alternative weeklies.

      Absolutely spot on! Which is also exactly the reason they are under attack which will only increase as time goes on. I have a comment in moderation that goes into this aspect of blogs vs. mega (controlled) environments more fully.

  6. casino implosion

    This reminds me of the declarations by the Jon Landau types of the “death of rock and roll” in the late 70s when consumer tastes were switching to disco and the cocaine and spandex economic infrastructure of stadium rock was looking shaky. The music was alive and well, it just wasn’t being covered in Rolling Stone any more.

  7. NotTimothyGeithner

    At least for my reading habits, alternative news and Democratic affiliated sights shaped my views, but anyone looking to the big open diary sights would get pummeled for not following the company line during this administration. I imagine many new people would be turned off when so much of the “liberal” blog sphere was detached from reality as the msm during the Dubya years and mirrored reich wing blogs.

    The last time I went to Kos, Crooks and Liars, or the Comcast Post I found nothing but trash. Digby was probably the biggest disappointment because she kept that troll around for so long. Is “Spoonfed” still there? Because they all took the party line instead of raging against the machine, they aren’t saying anything than the Democratic strategist on CNN. The problem is they take up oxygen at the intro level which makes it difficult for potential readers to navigate blogs focused around singular areas.

  8. Vatch

    If I don’t read any blogs for a while, does that mean that blogging is dead? If a tree falls in the forest, and no one is there when it happens, does it make a sound? And if nobody hears that particular tree, does that mean that all falling trees are silent?

  9. Brooklin Bridge

    The net has been under attack by corporate interests for over a decade, and government follows along. The idea is that big business in its familiar and acceptable form of monopoly should control public exposure to the internet and that the web based phenomenon of public communication regarding public events should be funneled into forms of chatter rather than discussion and that such should be over the content of officially sanctioned narratives supporting ideologies of jingoism, pathological loyalty, and ignorance instead of the relatively unprocessed and frustratingly unregulated factual information that runs counter to official fantacies. It is felt, rationally enough, that this can be achieved by monopolies of mega environments like Facebook far more efficiently and more economically and with greater control (eaves dropping, bulk collection of information, dissemination of sanctioned propaganda and so on) than by individual blogs where paid “trolls”, government spying, big business monitoring and profit extracting of data and the like are costly and difficult to monitor.

    So it’s a matter of economics and control far more than an issue of people’s needs and tastes changing with regards to blogs and the people who create/write/run them. If we get “net neutrality” at all, I suspect it will come at some considerable cost to independent content (slowly, with at least some attention to unobtrusiveness) where mere bandwidth is the Faustian bargain for making individual or small group blogs more and more difficult and expensive to operate.

  10. Rostale

    I think something to look into is a increasing prevalence of duos attacks. Small sites I frequent have been increasingly attacked, though there really is no reason to do so, as they are neither controversial or contain any info worth taking. My suspicion is we will see an increase in cyber attacks making it increasingly expensive for small players to operate. No only centralized information control, but possibly setting up justification for future hostility to china

  11. Rostale

    Yes, when I post with my phone it screws words up with spellchecker more often than it corrects them

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