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i-Technology Blog: 200 Million People Can't Be Wrong About Blogging

Gartner estimates that there are more than 200M former bloggers who have ceased posting

 "For a journalist, technologist, politician or anyone with a pulse and who doesn't know everything," wrote Dan Farber on November 21st last year, "blogs matter." Then, in an inadvertent demonstration of why on the contrary they don't, Farber added:
"Every morning I can wake up to lots of IQ ruminating, fulminating, arguing, evangelizing and even disapassionately reporting on the latest happenings in the areas that interest me, people from every corner of the globe."

That "even" says it all. Dispassionate reporting would certainly be the exception rather than the rule. So in what possible way, then, is this testimony to why and how blogs "matter"? Farber was mistaking energy for insight, prevalance for significance, and quantity for quality. He might almost have written that every morning he woke up with a column to fill...and an abundance of free material with which to fill it, served right up onto his desktop by the RSS reader of his choice. Every lazy journalist's nirvana, in other words.

Is it any wonder that Nick Carr, he of the first Web- then world-famous "Does IT Matter?" essay, jumped on Farber's hymn to the wonder of it all and mused:

"Experiencing the blogosphere feels a lot like intellectual hydroplaning - skimming along the surface of many ideas, rarely going deep."

"Gartner estimates that there are more than 200 million former bloggers who have ceased posting. It's difficult to dismiss such a factoid as completely irrelevant or without meaning."
At the risk of being uncharitable to Carr (sorry, sir!), this is a prime example of what my old fractal-loving Cambridge friends would call self-iteration. In other words, Carr himself skims along the surface in his blog, without going deep, in order to demonstrate that one of the perils of the blogopshere is intellectual hydroplaning.

We should perhaps not be surprised, in light of these thoughts, to hear this week that one of Gartner's top 10 predictions for 2007 is that the number of bloggers will level off in the first half of next year at roughly 100 million worldwide. The reason is that most people who would ever dabble with web journals already have, said Daryl Plummer, chief Gartner fellow. "A lot of people have been in and out of this thing. Everyone thinks they have something to say until they're put on stage and asked to say it."

For all that such statistical projections are driven by the aficionados of growth metrics, who believe that only what can be measured matters, and only what mushrooms matters most, there was one number that caught my attention: Gartner estimates that there are more than 200M former bloggers who have ceased posting.

It's difficult to dismiss such a factoid as completely irrelevant or without meaning.  After all, 200M people didn't didn't give up smoking in the last 5 years, or driving, or infidelity. But they did both try, and then abandon, blogging.

My contention that this abandonment statistic was technologically and sociologically intriguing in its own right met with short shrift from 'Adventure Capiltalist' and upcoming AJAXWorld 2007 East speaker, Troy Angrignon.

"100 million bloggers that weren't blogging 5 years ago is a pretty significant force to be reckoned with," Angrignon retorted. That large a number of bloggers represented a huge potential market for tools, services, metrics, advertising real estate, Angrignon noted, adding -- in reference to my speculation as to whether this was the begiining of the end for blogging, or merely the end of the beginning -- "I guess my question would be: What's your point? What is the value of knowing or guessing that? What are the implications? I'm not sure I see any."

Message editor Stowe Boyd backed me up, albeit only faintly, by pointing out that "The implications of leveling off are large for those selling blogging solutions, those trying to market through blogs, etc." And Dion Hinchcliffe, characteristically, turned the whole argument on its head:

"Only about 1-2% of any given population are active contributors, no matter what the platform. With 1 billion people using the Internet today, that gives us about 10-20 million of them that are in there actually contributing on a regular basis. So in my estimate, these numbers have always been too high.  Most bloggers don't update their blogs very often. 

But the ones that do are changing the world."

Splendidly put, Dion.

But before anyone thinks Dion's swung me round to swallowing Dan Farber's notion of the blogosphere as comprising "self assembling communities of bloggers" who "hold a kind of virtual Socratic court, sorting out the issues of the day in a public forum, open to anyone, including spammers," I really haven't. 

I continue to think such a view is wildly fanciful. Shades of Jerry Garcia, in fact , in fact -- for don't all self-respecting Dead-heads subscribe to Garcia's fantasy that "Once in a while you can get shown the light/ In the strangest places if you look at it right"? The blogosphere is not nearly as noble a place: mainly because, of course, it isn't a place (unlike Socrates' ancient Forum) and therefore isn't subject to some of the basic advantages of, for example, ID verification. Nor can anyone look anyone else in the eye, across the blogosphere.

Anonymity can muddy the waters of almost any debate -- yet the blogosphere is full of it, from Groklaw's "PJ" to InfoWorld's "Robert X. Cringely.

"Why would anyone think that RSS, a wonderful enabling technology beyond a doubt, could somehow kiss the frog of human intolerance and ignorance and transform it into a prince of insight and wisdom?"
And as if that weren't enough to contend with, anonymity is compounded in six cases out of ten by the kind of vehemence more often associated with the bar-room than the Forum. Bloggers, it very often seems, are all legends in their own minds; they commit arson every day in their imagination, burning down the previous day's lies and distortions. Worse still, so many bloggers suffer from what Albert Camus called "the sign of a vulgar mind," namely the need to be right.

Why would anyone think that RSS, a wonderful enabling technology beyond a doubt, could somehow kiss the frog of human intolerance and ignorance and transform it into a prince of insight and wisdom? Beats me. "Groupthink" -- history shows us -- can often in and of itself be worrisome. Just post to Groklaw that the giant software emperor incorporated in Somers, NY, has no clothes and watch the brow-level of the replies/ripostes/flames sink...slowly at first, then faster. Or post to a Java user group that C# rocks...and watch the selfsame thing happen.

I would go so far as to say that, on a bad day anyway, there would seem to be an inverse ratio between an opinion's worth and the ease with which that same opinion can be expressed and disseminated. But it is better to light a candle than to curse the darkness, so I am going to end this brief entry with an upbeat thought about, not blogging itself, but the superset of which I believe it forms a (tiny) part...that of insight capture.

Insight capture merits the full weight of all our attention and expertise in the publishing industry, because it is only through trapping "the best of the rest" that we shall ever achieve the promise of the bumper sticker: 'None of us is smarter than all of us.' Unfortunately insight doesn't reside in blogs any more than wisdom resides in Fortune cookies. Insight is more chaordic: it occurs wherever opportunity meets preparation, at conferences, in airplanes, on trains, in private e-mail exchanges. Above all, it takes place in context. If there were a way of capturing such epiphanies, if one could but scale them up so that humanity could benefit from epiphany-en-masse, then that would be quite another pair of shoes. But waiting for the Epiphany Machine to come around makes waiting for Godot look reasonable by comparison; and anyone who thinks blogging is the light at the end of the tunnel of collective consciousness has failed to spot that it's much more likely to be the headlight of an oncoming train called The Techno-fad Express.

It's a medium, neither more nor less. An interesting one. A disintermediated one. But it is not any kind of hopeful message in and of itself. Blogging is to human insight as reading glasses are to human hyperopia. An enabler, a tool. It is a neat way of capturing disparate viewpoints, but not of synthesizing or critiquing them. For that we need other, still-emerging tools such as those that Tim Berners-Lee is developing along with the supporters of the Semantic Web.

That -- think that RSS - is still a long, long way away. Let us just hope, before such tools are ready to become mainstream, that we shall not already have blogged each other to death. I for one shall not be lamenting the sky-high abandonment rate flagged up by Gartner!

Other "i-Technology blog" posts about blogging:

Can Blogging Change the World?

Are We Blogging Each Other To Death?>

Other "i-Technology blog" posts about blogging:

Can Blogging Change the World?

Are We Blogging Each Other To Death?>

Other "i-Technology blog" posts about blogging:

Can Blogging Change the World?

Are We Blogging Each Other To Death?>

More Stories By Jeremy Geelan

Jeremy Geelan is Chairman & CEO of the 21st Century Internet Group, Inc. and an Executive Academy Member of the International Academy of Digital Arts & Sciences. Formerly he was President & COO at Cloud Expo, Inc. and Conference Chair of the worldwide Cloud Expo series. He appears regularly at conferences and trade shows, speaking to technology audiences across six continents. You can follow him on twitter: @jg21.

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