Along the way, it’s been interesting to watch how the blogosphere has evolved. Here are a few things that are different today:
1. Content curation and content creation have come together.
Six years ago, popular blogs were usually centered around a particular personality. That person was either an expert creator of content (a Tim Challies type who pumps out thoughtful posts every day) or an expert curator of content (a Justin Taylor type who discovers interesting posts and passes them along).
Today, the personal connection with the writer still exists, but many (if not most) popular blogs combine both curation and creation.
- Tim Challies started providing daily links through his A La Carte.
- Justin Taylor is more inclined to post his own thoughts on different subjects.
- Scot McKnight posts his own material, but also provides excerpts from interesting articles designed to stir up conversation in the comments.
- Blogs associated with organizations (TGC, The Resurgence, Pastors.Com) provide curated content from a number of creators who may or may not blog themselves.
Curation and creation have come together.
2. Engaging with commenters is no longer as important.
For years, social media gurus said blogging was all about the conversation. You’re not doing it right if you’re not heavily engaged in the comments.
Not the case anymore. The people who read this blog and follow me on Twitter do so primarily because of the content I provide, not because of my accessibility in the comments section.
Engaging in the conversation is no longer the key to a successful blog. Popular blogs generate conversation, but not because the blogger is the most active person in the comments.
3. FaceBook and Twitter matter more than other blog links.
During my early years of blogging, the way to see an increase in traffic was to have a popular blogger link to your article. Unless a bigger blog linked to you, your post was destined to languish in obscurity.
All that has changed. The most important factor in blog traffic today is FaceBook shares and Tweets. Blog links still matter because that is usually the way an article gets noticed. But it’s the FaceBook and Twitter action that happens after the post gets noticed that makes the biggest impact.
On a similar note, many have given up altogether on following blogs through RSS feeds (like Google Reader), and prefer to follow the blogger on Twitter.
Finally, if we were to jump back in time to 2006, we’d think of reading blogs as something that takes place in front of a computer screen. Today, blogs are read on phones or mobile devices. Social media and technological advances have changed the way we interact with online content.
4. Blog “neighborhoods” have developed.
Since 2006, blog networks have become more established, and some have grown into – what I call – “online neighborhoods.” These mega-sites bring together like-minded (and sometimes not-so-like-minded) bloggers who appeal to a particular segment of readers.
- Beliefnet was one of the earliest online neighborhoods, and it sought to appeal to a wide spectrum of religious readers.
- The Washington Post launched On Faith with a number of well-known religious leaders. The diversity of opinions represented by On Faith and the fact that the participants were not “bloggers” made that endeavor interesting to readers from all over the spectrum.
- The Gospel Coalition came later and, through the acquisition of popular blogs from Justin Taylor and Kevin DeYoung, quickly carved out a predominantly conservative, evangelical audience.
- Patheos was launched soon after as a multi-faith community of blogs, and the evangelical portal attracted some well-known bloggers from across the spectrum.
I could go on and point out other online neighborhoods that focus on different topics (such as politics, sports, etc.). Needless to say, the bringing together of popular blogs into communities is an important development since 2006.
5. Blogs are valuable to mainstream news websites.
Last year, a reporter from a major news organization contacted me about the evangelical debate over hell. I knew that this major news site was going to put the article on their website’s front page and that they would feature a link back to my blog. Having never been linked from a major news organization before, I wondered what that would do to my blog traffic.
The reporter wrote to inform me when the article was posted. Then, she asked me to link to it. Twice.
I soon figured out why. On the day the article was posted, my blog sent hundreds of people to her article, whereas her website sent only a few dozen to my blog. Furthermore, one of the other two people quoted was a popular blogger/scholar. Out of all the people she could have interviewed for this story, she made sure two out of three had an online presence.
Here’s the takeaway: the mainstream media needs blogs in order to get traffic to their own websites. News is not what it used to be. Blogs and non-traditional news sources are seen for the audiences they have (and can transfer!). The mainstream media, still bleeding after the onslaught of cable and the internet, crave the attention that blogs already have. Media websites also need traffic in order to hold on to their advertisers.
6. Theological blog tribes have solidified.
Recently, I was talking with a popular blogger from a different evangelical stream, and we were lamenting the way that the blogosphere has solidified people into very distinct camps. In 2006, when there were fewer blogs, there was more conversation that crossed over into other theological and philosophical camps.
Now, with the proliferation of blogs, there is less of that conversation. Reformed-types read certain blogs. Church-growth guys read other blogs. Etc. There’s no longer much conversation between camps taking place, and when conversation does happen, it’s more like lobbing a grenade into someone else’s camp.
Nobody is to blame for this development, for it’s only natural that readers would gravitate toward good blogs that serve the need of their particular tribe. But I think it’s good for our Christian witness if we hold firm theological convictions without succumbing to theological tribalism. Maybe we can change that in the next six years.
What do you think?
What changes have you noticed in the blogosphere since 2006? How has other social media impacted blogging?