All Business

NOTHING TO BLOG ABOUT

The hype behind internet weblogs is more thrilling than the reality

STEVE MAICH August 22 2005
All Business

NOTHING TO BLOG ABOUT

The hype behind internet weblogs is more thrilling than the reality

STEVE MAICH August 22 2005

NOTHING TO BLOG ABOUT

All Business

The hype behind internet weblogs is more thrilling than the reality

STEVE MAICH

BLOGS ARE GOING to change the world for the better. Ask anybody.

But first, chances are you may have to ask, “what is a blog exactly?” Don’t feel too bad about this, you have plenty of company. Recent surveys suggest most of the population still hasn’t heard the buzz about blogs, even though they first made headlines as an “Internet craze” as far back as 2001. Since then, the hype has intensified greatly. But if blogs are indeed world-changing, somebody has apparently failed to notify the world.

First things first. A blog (short for “weblog”) is essentially an online diary, where any-

body with simple computer skills can post anything—random musings, photos, screeds, poetry, you name it—for the world to see.

To the believers, the genius of the technology is in the sheer volume of material it throws into the public domain. Blogs, they say, counteract the entrenched biases of the powerful mainstream media, or MSM, making mass communication a free-ranging conversation rather than a monologue. And now, with millions of self-appointed media watchdogs joining the fray every year, there isn’t a shadow in the night that doesn’t get barked at in the blogosphere. This, we’re told, is an enormous step forward.

Ironically, it’s the much-derided MSM that’s most in love with the fledgling blog phenomenon. Recently, the New York Times reported that 80,000 new blogs are created every day, and earnestly enthused that blogging is “a profoundly human phenomenon, a way of expanding and, in some sense, reifying the ephemeral daily conversation that humans engage in.”

A couple of months back, BusinessWeek offered a rapturous cover story entitled “Blogs will change your business,” warning that if companies hadn’t already figured out how to harness this new world—by marketing to and through them—they were already in deep trouble. Blogs “are simply the most explosive outbreak in the information world since the Internet itself,” it gushed. To bolster its case, the article echoed numbers frequently cited by the boosters: that there are at least nine million blogs now on the Internet, and growing fast, and that 27 per cent of Internet users claim to read them.

With an audience that big, and growth so explosive, there must be a major social and business phenomenon happening, right?

Well, let’s just take a deep breath.

For one thing, there are wild discrepancies in the estimates of how many blogs are actually out there. Some figure the number is as high as 30 million worldwide. But once you strip away pseudo-blogs that are really ads or scam traps, and subtract dormant sites, the numbers plunge precipitously. A couple of sites dedicated to tracking blog traffic estimate only about two to four million blogs are actively maintained.

Still, that’s a lot of blogs and lots of readers. Or maybe not.

It was late last year that the Pew Internet & American Life Project reported two seem-

ingly incongruous facts: that 27 per cent of Internet users regularly read blogs, but that 62 per cent of the online population still didn’t know what a blog is. In fact, 40 per cent of those who said they read blogs then said they didn’t really know what a blog was.

Do you read blogs regularly? Oh, yes.

Do you know what a blog is? Urn... no.

This little comedy routine played itself out 143 times in a survey of just over 1,300 people. But that didn’t stop the believers from trumpeting that blog readership soared 58 per cent in 2004. What they often fail to point out is that the overwhelming majority

of blogs get almost no traffic. According to data from SiteMeter and other tracking services, more than 99 per cent get fewer than 10 hits a day. Even the ones that do attract readers don’t hold their attention very well. The same reports suggest that the average blog reader stays on a site for just 90 seconds.

Comparing the total blog audience to the circulation of major newspapers or viewers of network newscasts is a total sham. Let’s say you never watched a single episode of Everybody Loves Raymond, but you clicked past it many times while channel surfing. Maybe you even paused occasionally to remind yourself of its utter lameness. Does that make you a viewer? It does in the blog world.

And what about that explosive growth? Pew issued an update to its survey earlier this summer, and found that in the first few months of2005, readership abruptly flatlined at about 25 per cent of Internet users.

Why? Perhaps it’s because blogs are plagued by the same problems that have pervaded the Net from day one. Many sites are dumping grounds for every kind of online sewage, from virulent hatred to simpleminded polemics and laughable hoaxes. And with thousands of new voices joining the fray every day, separating the insightful from the inane is only getting more cumbersome. As a result, people are naturally migrating to the blogs they know and trust, usually by prominent writers or celebrity commentators. In other words, the blogs that matter are quickly becoming just another extension of the dreaded MSM.

Will blogs fundamentally change the media business, or any business for that matter? Well, did do-it-yourself wine kits change the wine industry? Think about all the homemade plonk you’ve had to drink over the years. Sure, everybody thinks the merlot they stirred up in a plastic bucket in their basement tastes fantastic. But try selling it. flfl

Read Steve Maich’s weblog, “All Business,” at www. mac leans, ca/allbusiness

BLOG BELIEVERS often fail to point

but that the overwhelming majority of blogs get almost no traffic. More than 99 per cent of all blogs get fewer than 10 hits a day.