Another misleading story reports that blogs ‘r’ dead

The technology press has been keen on the “blogging is dead” (or “dying”) meme for some time now, but it’s tough to find actual data or evidence supporting the notion. Blogging, of course, is changing; in the digital world, all is flux. But if you’re going to declare, as today’s New York Times headline does, that blogging is “waning,” it would be good to be able to show a decline in numbers. And that, sadly, is missing from the Times story — which cherry-picks statistics that look very different in their original contexts.

The peg for “Blogging Wanes as the Young Drift to Sites Like Twitter” is a study (here’s the summary) from Feb. 2010 — more than a year ago. The study showed that the number of kids ages 12-17 who are blogging dropped in half from 2006 to 2009 (14 percent report blogging, from 28 percent). The same study showed that the percentage of adults 30 and older who blog rose from 7 to 11 during the same period. Meanwhile, a more recent Pew study, the Times reports, finds that “Among 18-to-33-year-olds…blogging dropped two percentage points in 2010 from two years earlier.”

But if you actually look at that report, you find that, overall, blogging is still growing, not waning at all:

Few of the activities covered in this report have decreased in popularity for any age group, with the notable exception of blogging. Only half as many online teens work on their own blog as did in 2006, and Millennial generation adults ages 18-33 have also seen a modest decline—a development that may be related to the quickly-growing popularity of social network sites. At the same time, however, blogging’s popularity increased among most older generations, and as a result the rate of blogging for all online adults rose slightly overall from 11% in late 2008 to 14% in 2010.

Fourteen percent of online adults are making some effort to write regularly in public! That remains a phenomenal fact; if you’d predicted it a decade ago, as only a handful of visionaries did, you’d have been dismissed as a nut (or maybe a “cyber-utopian”).

So the actual story — which, to be fair, the Times’ article mostly hews to (it’s the headline and lead that skew it more sensationally) — is that blogging keeps growing, but it’s losing popularity among teens.

Social networking is changing blogging. (My postscript to the paperback edition of Say Everything addresses those changes at length.) More of us are using Facebook and Twitter for casual sharing and personal updates. That has helped clarify the place of blogging as the medium for personal writing of a more substantial nature. Keeping a blog is more work than posting to Facebook and Twitter. So I wouldn’t be surprised if, long-term, the percentage of the population blogging plateaus or even declines.

Maybe we’ll end up with roughly ten percent of the online population (Pew’s consistent finding) keeping a blog. As the online population becomes closer to universal, that is an extraordinary thing: One in ten people writing in public. Our civilization has never seen anything like it.

So you can keep your “waning” headlines, and I’ll keep my amazement and enthusiasm.

BONUS LINKS: WordPress founder Matt Mullenweg addresses the story:

At some point you’ll have more to say than fits in 140 characters, is too important to put in Facebook’s generic chrome, or you’ve matured to the point you want more flexibility and control around your words and ideas.

And Anthony DeRosa points out that Twitter isn’t very popular among the teen set either.

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  1. Some of this also gets to a question of definitions: Twitter used to be called “microblogging” (whatever that meant) because that seemed the best definition when it launched. If I post a series of notes on Facebook, am I blogging? Or does it only count if I’m using my own site?

  2. Scott Rosenberg

    Chris, I agree.

    The thing is, *even following the narrower set of definitions* that tries to draw clear lines between blogging and using social networks, the numbers don’t show blogging “waning” at all, and only one group — 12 to 17 year olds — shows a significant decline in use….

  3. I guess I’m not that concerned that 12-17 years olds have significantly cut back on their blogging (according to the NYTimes article). I don’t think I’ve ever read a blog written by, say, a 14 year old, and I doubt a person that age has read my blogs. (Of course, it’s partly the headline writer’s fault for choosing to focus on the very young end of “the young.”)

    As the article notes, “Among 18-to-33-year-olds, the project said in a report last year, blogging dropped two percentage points in 2010 from two years earlier.” That doesn’t sound like a whole lot of “waning” to me.

    And, as the Times article briefly mentions, Tumblr has not seen a decline (I’m guessing that it’s seen an increase, and I’ve seen a lot of teens using the service). According to the Times article, Tumblr sees itself as a blogging service, but many users don’t think of it that way. So, as the article points out, at least part of the “waning” may be a matter of semantics.

    And it seems the number of bloggers aged 34 and up is increasing.

  4. It’s also significant that these “trends” suggest the preferences of 12-17 year-olds (not exactly noted for literacy or a lengthy attention span) are set in stone.

    I regularly see the Facebook/Twitter preferences of college-aged students held up as proof that email marketing will soon be deader than Lady Gaga’s meat bikini, yet what happens when they graduate and acquire career-related email addresses (which is how their bosses and colleagues communicate)?

    It’s no accident that most long-form writers don’t appear out of the mists until their late 20s or mid-30s; prior to that, they simply don’t have much to say, and it’s likely long-form online communications (like blogging) will ultimately follow the same path.

    The Intertubes are a dynamic place, and if they reflect the facets of our society, then we should probably suspect they’ll reflect the changing needs/abilities of those using them as they progress through their lives…

  5. I’m really glad you wrote this blog post, saving me the trouble of doing so myself – as I was pretty annoyed at the shallowness of the Time’s article.

    Among the excellent points you make regarding how the statistics were cherry-picked in support of the “blogs are waning” headline is the false equivalency underlying the premise. As a producer of information shared on the Internet one may be a blogger *and* a Tweeter, *and* a Facebook poster, *and* a Quora user, *and* … well, fill in the blanks. None of these activities are either mutually exclusive (certainly there is no finite bucket of contributors which can only fall into one category), nor are these activities necessarily best defined by the domains or networks on which they take place. That one has or does not have a “blog” is in itself rather irrelevant to what the activity of “blogging” actually produces: a written record accessible on the Internet of between one and a million words.

  6. Scott,

    This rebuttal has sparked a great dialogue between some higher ed colleagues of mine at other institutions. I’m moderating a community discussion about creative social media use here at Duke on Thursday and will be bringing those notes and your rebuttal with me to a conference in New Haven in April. Always great to read your missives.


  7. Jeff Carter

    This article made no sense to me either, and I was glad to read an article by someone knowledgeable about this stuff that confirmed my suspicions

    If blogging among adults 18-33 has only dropped two percentage points since 2006, that actually suggests to me that the medium has more strength than I thought, since in 2006 Facebook was just starting out and Twitter did not even exist.

  8. The only thing ever “dead” us saying “X is dead” (unless X is a real corpse).

    Besides what is already outline above in terms of a narrow definition of what it means to express oneself online, just spend time peeking at the source code of many web sites and you will see something not quite blog like published in blog software. Go to any WordCamp and you will sense that using wordpress (or it’s other… Err, lesser I’ll) is the new web design.

    Heck, newspapers are dead!

  9. Thanks for clarifying another misleading news item. I find that I am more and more interested in blogging, and that I recommend it to more and more faculty. The blog website format is very flexible. I think that the truth is that the technology and its users are maturing.


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