Beyond a doubt, blogging has a bright future. It’s tempting to get carried away by all the exuberance being generated.
Bill Gates says blogging “will fundamentally change how we document our lives”. Technorati’s CEO David Sifry says that there are 11 blog posts being made every second!
While this may well be true, we must resist the temptation to get carried away. Let’s analyze blogging’s prospects as a ‘personal technology’, or a technology that individuals use to improve their effectiveness or productivity, or simply to have fun.
All successful personal technologies that gain widespread use (be it the humble pen, the telephone or the iPod), bear certain hallmarks: they are easy to use, fulfil a basic need, and provide a new way to express an existing behavior or habit. Technologies that make the cut on these three respects tend to ‘take-off’, with their use surging steeply*.
Blogging certainly fulfils a basic need, the need for self-expression and social interaction. It is also more powerful in many respects than other technologies that meet similar needs – the telephone, email or online chatting – in that it is more ‘permanent’, and allows visibility to anyone who can access the Web. It also provides a new way to exercise our natural propensity to form groups with like-minded folks, by allowing us to form ‘virtual communities’ on the Web. It also allows people to ‘discover’ others with similar tastes, wherever they may be in the world.
Well, that leaves ease of use. I am afraid blogging is somewhat less stellar in this respect – while it is simpler than creating personal Web pages, it still lags far behind the telephone and email in ease of use. So, ease of use is the first thing that needs to improve about blogs (I hope the blog tool-makers are listening).
If one is tempted to argue that blogging is already very successful, one only needs to pause to consider the numbers: by most estimates there are around 80 million blogs in the world as of today, while the number of telephones world-wide (fixed-line and mobile) is around 2 billion. This is not to take anything away from the success of blogging, but only to establish (an admittedly somewhat crude) benchmark!
However, we’ve looked at only half the picture so far – becoming successful. Success brings its own problems, and sure enough, blogging too will need to overcome a couple of challenges that success brings with it:
Better ways to manage ‘blog clutter’.
Even with the current number of blogs out there, it is becoming difficult for people to navigate the blogosphere. Telephones or email don’t need to solve this problem as they are ‘push’ technologies, which means that you *want* to restrict who can contact you using these technologies. However, if blogs are to truly live up to their promise of allowing the ‘discovery’ of like-minded folks, then blog search engines should (and will) get smarter.
Search is of course not the only way to manage clutter – for example, Business Week’s Heather Green talks about creating ‘influential blogger’ lists.
Blogging needs to find ways to enable diverse communication needs
Blogging tools already do a half-decent job of allowing the sharing of digital content. However, as camera phones proliferate, sharing pictures and movies will increasingly become mainstream. Also blogging from heterogenous devices (phones and home appliances come to mind) is likely to need support.
Of course, this piece only addresses blogging as a ‘personal technology’. Analysis of its prospects in business – which are fledgling at the moment – is the subject of a different discussion altogether!
*This is driven by Metcalfe’s Law, which holds that the usefulness of something increases exponentially as the number of users goes up.