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Technology, Genre, and the Alleged Death of Blogging

posted: 5.24.11 by Traci Gardner

I am a Blogger.I am a blogger. I’ve made myself an official badge. I publish on several sites, writing a minimum of four original blog posts and scores of microblog updates each week. When someone argues that blogs are dead, I take it personally.

Last weekend, some of my colleagues discussed the death of blogging in a roundtable at the 2011 Computers and Writing conference. Though I could not attend the conference, some of the presenters posted materials online before the convention. I first read Bradley Dilger’s Blogging isn’t dead, but blog commenting is, which links to the posts by other participants. His post brought to mind a piece I wrote last fall, 6 Reasons Blogrolls Are Dying.

I agree with Bradley’s exploration of why fewer people comment. It can be easier to comment on Facebook than it is to comment on a blog. In the case of Bradley’s piece, I saw his post on Facebook before it popped up in Google Reader, so I commented first on Facebook, and then later on his blog. Cross-posting, as Bradley did with his post, reaches more people, but it dilutes the opportunities for discussion. Part of the discussion takes place on Facebook, while some is left as comments on the blog; participants may talk about the post on Twitter, and still more may discuss the post in e-mail messages on discussion lists. I’m with Bradley. Blog comments are dying out.

I also think blogrolls are dying. There are simply better and easier ways to gather and follow blogs. Further, blogrolls are almost always out of date. A blogroll is typically a static text and cannot automatically update itself based on which blogs are live and which are no longer publishing. Blogrolls seemed originally to be a way to tell the word whose work you were paying attention to and a way to recommend your colleagues to other potentially interested readers. As things have evolved, however, follower and friend lists are replacing blogrolls. So I stand by my observation from last fall. Blogrolls are dying too.

Blogs, however, are not dead or even dying. I follow dozens of very healthy blogs. Instead of dying, some kinds of writing and some authors may be shifting to a new format or publication location, as Steve Krause discusses in his introduction to the presentation at Computers and Writing. Specifically, personal, expressive writing seems more likely to show up on Facebook than in personally-hosted blogs. Your average college student, according to this argument, is more likely to share some significant events from her life in a note on Facebook than to post an entry via Blogger or LiveJournal.

Stories about the death of blogs seem to focus on that one genre or mode of writing. Look back at this explanation from the New York TimesBlogs Wane as the Young Drift to Sites Like Twitter: “Blogs were once the outlet of choice for people who wanted to express themselves online. But with the rise of sites like Facebook and Twitter, they are losing their allure for many people—particularly the younger generation.”

See the problem? Perhaps there are fewer people posting diary-like entries in blogs, but it’s overstating things to proclaim all blogs are dead as a result. The whole format of blogging isn’t going into rigor mortis just yet.

All too often, when people use the term blog, they fail to talk about the range of genres that can be published in a blog format. There are news blogs, technical documentation blogs, food blogs, mommy blogs, photoblogs, how-to blogs, tip blogs, book review blogs, health blogs, sports blogs, fan-fiction blogs, travel blogs, and many other kinds of blogs. In fact, I’d argue that Facebook Notes are simply a new blogging space that many use to publish their personal expressive writing.

Blogs are anything but dead, but this way of talking about them certainly needs to come to an end. We’d never talk about all books in the same way. We’d talk about fiction, nonfiction, poetry, graphic novels, and so forth. Nor would we discuss essays in this way when we ask students to write. We’d talk about a research paper, a character sketch, or a persuasive essay. Why don’t we bring that same approach to the discussion of blogs?

The fact that we are even discussing the death of blogging leaves me with a lot of questions. Why are we discussing blogs as if they are some monolithic text? Why aren’t we talking about the kinds of writing students (or colleagues) are doing in the form of a blog post? How did our discussion of blogs foreground form at the cost of function anyway? How does the digital nature of the publication affect this disconnect between the way we normally discuss texts and the ways we discuss blogging?

These are very big questions, and as we do more and more of our writing in digital spaces, the answers are going to be crucial not only to the ways we teach but also to issues of promotion, tenure, and academic assessment.

[Photo: I am a Blogger. by tengrrl, on Flickr]

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Categories: Professional Conferences
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One Response to “Technology, Genre, and the Alleged Death of Blogging”

  1. Traci Gardner Says:

    I wanted to add a link to the session back channel, collected by Dennis Jerz on his blog. You can find some juicy discussion of the topics from the session here:
    http://jerz.setonhill.edu/weblog/2011/05/is-blogging-dead-backchannel-at-computers-and-writing-2011/