An article on Mashable today discussed a study by Pew Internet that broke down the online activities by age groups, starting with as young as 18 and working up to 74+.
Many of the results were not surprising. Email was an almost uniform activity across every age group, as were searching and getting news online. Also, younger individuals were more likely to play games online, IM and use social networks while their slightly older cohorts were more likely to visit government sites and check financial information.
All in all, the younger the respondent, the more activities they likely did online, though it seemed almost no one was using virtual worlds.
However, one thing that did catch some off guard was the decline in blogging. Not only was blogging an unpopular activity across all age groups, less than 10% said they blogged and less than half said they read blogs (with younger respondents having the highest percentage), there was a marked decline from the previous year’s survey.
Many will undoubtedly look at this and see dark things in the future for blogging. However, the truth is likely much different and there are very simple reasons for the numbers and why they aren’t very important.
Define “Reading” Blogs
I find it hard to nail down what it means to read blogs. Virtually everyone on the Web reads blogs. The study itself showed that virtually all Web users perform searches and a good percentage of those searches lead, at some point, to a blog.
How many people routinely read a page or two on a site without realizing it might be considered a blog? How many people bookmark blogs, visit regularly, but don’t think of themselves a blog readers?
If you think of “blog reading” in terms of RSS, then you’d be right in thinking that there has been a sharp decline. But there are countless ways to read blogs. For example, if you use Paper.li to read blogs and other news sites, it certainly isn’t the same as traditional “blog reading”, especially since it is done through Twitter.
In short, people read blogs without realizing that they are doing so. After all, few blogs (other than this one) make the fact that they are a blog a major part of their identity.
Of course, that isn’t the only definition problem that the study faces when it comes to blogging, the bigger one likely has to do with blogging itself.
The other problem with this, or any other attempt to find out how many people read blogs, is that the definition of what is and is not blogging is changing.
Nearly every site created has some blogging elements. Funadementally, a blog is just a series of posts being updated at somewhat regular intervals. That could describe just about anything from a news site, to a recipe collection or anything else that has a “stream” of content.
When most people think of a “blog” they think of something personal or at least a personal expression. But what about sites like TechCrunch that are news sites presented in a blog format?
In a strange paradox, the activities that could be considered blogging have expanded at the same time as the definition of what people think of as a blog has shrunk. Part of this is because of microblogging and social networking adding new kinds of personal publishing that sometimes overlap, but also because blogging, in some circles, became something of a negative term, a sign that a site shouldn’t be taken seriously.
In many areas, people have shied away from this particular “b-word” and you even see companies renaming their corporate blogs to something else, such as with GM and its “Updates” and “Conversations”.
In short, blogging as an activity likely isn’t going anywhere, but the term blogging may be falling on harder times.
In the end, bloggers don’t have to worry about their activity going anywhere. Whether people recognize it as blogging or call it blogging may be an issue, but sites with frequent, original and high-quality content are not going to fall our of style any time soon.
While it’s true that social networking and microblogging are competing for reader attention, these are trends that can supplement and help blogging rather than simply being competition.
The bottom line though is that bloggers need to focus on how their sites are doing and what their growth is like rather than wondering what is happening to blogging at large. With a term so hard to nail down, it’s possible to write almost any headline you want and back it up.
Blogging isn’t dead and it isn’t dying, but the terms may be on life support. That, in a strange way, may say more about the success of blogging than its defeat.
After all, when we stop “blogging” because almost all sites have blogging elements, it means that the format powerful and compelling, not that the act of blogging is dying.