TCS Daily

The Future of Blogs and the Blogosphere

By Glenn Harlan Reynolds - October 27, 2004 12:00 AM

(Editor's note: This column is the second of two parts on the present and future of blogs).

As I noted in last week's column, weblogs have come a long way since the last presidential election, when they barely existed. This election, they may actually be affecting the outcome, though I think their biggest impact was in the earlier stages of the campaign. But the new alternative media are just warming up.

Over the next few years, blogs will grow both more and less significant. They'll grow more significant because more people will be reading them, and -- at least as important -- more people will be writing them. That will expand their impact considerably. On the other hand, they'll grow less significant, in a way, because they'll grow more ordinary. Like other communications media, from newspapers to email, they'll just become part of the background, and their particular thread of impact will be less noticeable.

I suspect that not only will blogs' impact become more diffuse over the next few years, but so will their nature. And again, the model I used last week -- electronic music -- might provide some guidance on how. In the early 1990s, "electronic music" was a pretty well-defined niche. Now it blurs out into a variety of different styles, and seems to be the tuneage of choice for television commercials. More impact, but less definition.

Lots of people are writing about blogs and the election right now, from guides to the blogosphere, to pieces that take a local angle, to big-picture think-pieces that say weblogs will be good for democracy. And I think that they definitely are good for democracy.

But to see the future of blogging, it might be best to look beyond the election. Here are a couple of examples. One is this blog on the Foresight nanotechnology conference last weekend, with "live" accounts of the speeches, powerpoint slides, and even video interviews mixed in. (And although I don't know the blogger, Adam Keiper, he says he was inspired in part by my efforts to promote this sort of thing: "I'm going to try to test the limits and usefulness of liveblogging, or newsblogging, or conferenceblogging (an unwieldy neologism). Professor Glenn Reynolds, the InstaPundit, among others, has pushed the concept of bloggers as news collectors, and I hope to put that idea to the test. So this is a sort of media experiment, too.") I'd call it a success: Equipped with no more than a laptop computer and an inexpensive digital still camera that also shoots video, Keiper provided more comprehensive coverage than most newspapers could have -- and certainly more comprehensive coverage than any actually did. This is the kind of thing I hope to see more of.

Another example is blog coverage of events like an Al Franken appearance at Colby College; or this blogger who debunked a bogus Associate Press report regarding booing of President Clinton when his heart surgery was announced at a Bush rally. (Complete with audio featuring no boos). Things that used to be ignored, or spun, by the wholesalers of our news are now available retail. Cottage industry is competing with mass production, and with some success.

It's another example of what some people (er, well, Jeff Jarvis, and now me) are calling Jarvis's Laws of Media:

Jarvis' First Law: Give the people control of media, they will use it. The corollary: Don't give the people control of media, and you will lose. Jarvis' Second Law: Lower cost of production and distribution in media inevitably leads to nichefication. The corollary: Lower the cost of media enough, and there will be an unlimited supply of people making it.

I think that he's right.

And when "making" media is cheap, and an unlimited supply of people are "making it," what happens to journalism? Something that journalists may not like: Journalism, right now, is in the process of reverting to its earlier status as an activity, rather than a profession.

Which brings me to my last prediction. Actually, it's one I've made before: "[I]f Big Media let their position go without a fight to keep it by fair means or foul, they'll be the first example of a privileged group that did so. So beware." I think we're already beginning to see signs of that backlash, in the wake of the humiliation visited on Big Media by RatherGate -- and the press establishment's general lack of enthusiasm for free speech for others (as evidenced by its support for campaign finance "reform") suggests that it'll be happy to see alternative media muzzled. You want to keep this media revolution going? Be ready to fight for it.


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