Looking at Neil's Google Reader, I see that many of my fellow bloggers have been caught by the need to reflect on the past year. I am no different. I hope that you will pardon this meander.
Looking at the blog stats, I found that one past post, New Year's Wishes, had suddenly appeared in the top post list. Posted on 31 December 2006, the post reflected on my initial experience as a blogger. Even then after only 64 posts, I found the conversations and links that accrued through blogging valuable.
Four years and sixteen hundred posts later, the links and conversations remain valuable. More on that later.
The first graph shows visits (yellow) and page views (yellow plus red) over the last twelve months. You can see a slow if variable upward trend over the year.
There were 365 posts here in 2010, an increase over the previous year, but less than the number in either 2007 or 2008.
To provide a further perspective on 2010 performance, the second graph shows visits and page views for the period from June 2009 to May 2010, the earliest chart I have. Here you can see the acceleration that took place in the first half of 2010 as compared to the previous year.
I have no idea why the numbers should have increased. Nearly all the extra traffic has come from search engines, with Google dominant. Links from fellow bloggers also helped, although the traffic proportion was quite small.
I began blogging at a time of explosive growth in the blogosphere. This was the period when Technorati still attempted to provide aggregate data on blog numbers, with increases measured in the million. There was an excitement about blogging, a feel that this was the wave of the future.
The blogosphere today is very different. Here I want to pick up a few key trends.
The first is the rise of the mainstream media blog, along with the inclusion of comments sections at the end of on-line stories. This has attracted a considerable audience aligned to the particular stance of the media outlet. The ABC's The Drum is a quite sophisticated example.
The second is the continuing rise of both syndicated and group blogs.
Syndicated blogs take a number of forms. In some cases, Crikey is an example, blogs retain their individual identity. In others, bloggers really become free-lance writers for what is effectively an on-line magazine or even e-newspaper.
Group blogs have been around for a while, but have become more prominent. Skepticslawyers is a case in point. Group blogs offer two advantages. The writing load becomes easier, while they also tend to attract more comments from people aligned with the blog's focus. Comments are longer and, despite some flame wars, have a more conversational and community feel.
We normally speak of convergence in the sense of the coming together of different types of media. However, there has also been convergence in content creation, the writers.
The number of regular bloggers that also write or appear on the mainstream media is quite high. At a very local level, Neil Whitfield (Ninglun) writes for the South Sydney Herald, while I write (here and here) for the Armidale Express. However, it's far broader than this. Nearly every regular prominent Australian blogger I know had some connection with the mainstream media over 2010.
We often talk about the threat the internet poses to the mainstream media. There is much less discussion of the reverse threat.
The blogosphere has become a major source not just of story ideas, but also of raw grunt. This saves money, much writing or appearance is unpaid, but is damaging the market for free-lance writing. It also diverts time. Here I need to add in Facebook and Twitter.
The two are quite different.
Facebook has removed from the blogosphere those, and especially the young, who used blogs as a diary or social networking tool. While Facebook is used by the main stream media as a source, by those with political or campaign objectives as a tool, it remains personally controlled and limited. Facebook is for chat, not writing.
Twitter is more complicated.
Because time is limited, both Facebook and Twitter reduce the time available for writing for and reading blogs. Some people use Twitter as they do Facebook to chatter, creating something of a double whammy effect in that the time spent leaves little time for blogging. However, Twitter is generally public in a way that Facebook is not, so many use Twitter to provide running updates on issues.
This makes Twitter influential in a way that Facebook cannot be because bloggers and especially the mainstream media use Twitter as a main story source. It has become indispensable.
These collective changes pose a fundamental challenge to bloggers and especially to independents like me.
Relevance is one challenge. With exceptions, the blogosphere is getting older as younger audiences move to other forms of social media.
I follow a lot of blogs. Nearly all the bloggers I know are over forty, a goodly proportion over fifty or even sixty. This not just a representation of my own age. When I began blogging, there were quite a few younger bloggers. Attrition, always an issue with bloggers, has been strongest among younger bloggers.
Far be it for me to be ageist, but we do need younger bloggers if blogging is to remain broadly relevant.
Retention is a second challenge. Here another factor comes into play, the role of feeds. Feeds are useful because they provide an easy way to keep in touch with multiple blogs. The difficulty is that it turns people from readers to browsers.
Instead of people coming to your blog because they are interested in your writing in a general sense, they come when a particular story attracts their interest. Further, in many cases they just read the feed; the feed becomes a substitute for a visit. Again, there is nothing wrong with this in a time poor world. Yet it affects one's thinking and writing.
Let me illustrate with a very simple example. Do you write your post headline to attract the feed reader or to gain search engine recognition? The two are quite different.
The problem is compounded by increased competition between media forms. The competition I face as an independent blogger has become so much more intense. One measure of this is provided by links.
Excluding my own cross-links, in December there were seven blog links to this blog, six in November, two in October. Looking at the detail, the majority of these links came from just three sources. The real number of new links I get is actually lower than it was three years ago despite the significant increase in the number of visitors.
No doubt, part of this is due to the relevance of my own writing. However, part at least is simply a measure of competition.
Integration is the third challenge. I write a lot, some would say too much. I blog across several blogs, I have the newspaper column, I tweet and I have a Facebook page. How do I balance all this?
When I look at the blog stats, I find that the column itself has very little impact even though the blog URLs appear at the end. While the column appears to be quite popular, it appeals to an older demographic and especially that group with longer term local links. This is generally not a blog reading group.
However, unlike the blogs, I know that the column does get picked up by the media monitoring services. A week or so back, for example, a friend in the Australian Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet emailed me to say that a column I wrote on, of all things, classical Greek in Armidale was included in the daily media report because I happened to mention Billy Wentworth as the first Minister for Aboriginal Affairs.
This affects my writing. I am a little less open in the column on public policy issues because some of the work I do may be affected by public comments on particular policy issues. On the other hand, if I do want to increase my impact, I also know that I can use the column to target particular agencies or policy areas.
So far as the blogs themselves are concerned, increased readership across blogs with somewhat different audiences means that the blogs themselves have become audience feeds. This is actually reasonably new. It means that cross-posting has become quite important.
By contrast, Facebook is of minor importance in terms of feeds. I haven't tried to expand the number of Facebook friends, nor have I established any public pages beyond a New England New State Movement page.
Twitter is different. I started Twitter as an experiment and have only put up the blog posts. This means that my total number of followers is small - just 56. By contrast, Paul Barratt who joined Twitter after me and who has followed a different approach now has 630 followers. Yet even at my low level, Twitter is quite a significant feed. It has also led to one radio interview.
In addition to this, and with the main stream media, Twitter has become a useful source of stories.
I now face a choice. Do I expand my Twitter presence? It's clearly useful, but I am already time poor.
I want to finish this now long post with a two final comments.
I haven't recounted all my posts across blogs, but they run into many thousands. Through the miracles of Google in particular, my older posts still attract comments and emails. Not only have I met again people from my own past, but I constantly strike people for whom something I have written strikes a personal chord.
This is called the long tail in web 2.0 terms. It is, I think, one of the most valuable aspects of blogging that cannot be matched by any other form of social media.
I struggle to keep up. I know that I disappoint people because of my slowness in responding, yet I so value this aspect of blogging,
Finally, a gripe.
I have now written more than two million words in posts. To a degree, I think that the blogs provide a picture of Australian life in particular. Yet none of the blogs have been classified as worth of permanent preservation by Pandora, Australia's national electronic archive.
I am not alone here, of course. I recognise the problems that Pandora faces. Yet it has become a personal worry because the survival of the things that I have written is largely dependant on the survival of Google. Beyond questions of ego, I think that that's a problem.