Tuesday, April 3, 2012

On The Future of Small Blogs

Small-blog traffic is down across the board, even as the 'big blogs' get more readers. It is increasingly obvious that blog traffic is like income: the 1% get it all, and us 99% puttering along down here at the bottom, are lucky to get any at all.

I used to get about 10,000 hits a month--even in 2010 when I averaged only about 2 posts a week. Now I am down to about 7000 or so. Every (small) blogger I know has reported similar trends.

How did this happen and why is it getting so much worse?

I blame Facebook, of course. And Twitter. And hypocritically, I am right there on both of them with everyone else. Twitter provides everybody with fabulous linkage and good reading, while Facebook provides the personal stories and socializing; the grease that keeps the online Dharma-wheel turning. What need is there for small-time local blogs? I find it interesting that the most hits I have received in the past year on one post (about 3000), was primarily because it was widely reproduced on Facebook.

Today, whilst interacting on a rather fiery, opinionated blog, it occurred to me. On this blog, where I have previously interacted with lots of people who disagree with me, I was suddenly called a concern troll and instructed to stop commenting. Wow, I thought. What the hell happened? Are people not allowed to simply disagree any more?


Everyone must be FRIENDS, like on Facebook. You can't categorically disagree with the majority any more, or they will just tell you to shut up. Facebook has changed the terms of debate and what sort of discourse is acceptable. Thus, when you step "out of line" or express an unpopular opinion--you are dealt with much more harshly.

By contrast, Facebook threads are self-contained, for the most part. Nobody is totally "anonymous" and there can be no sock-puppets. Many of the participants in any given thread, will already agree with each other since they are from the same social circles, age-grouping and class. However, some of us have a LARGE and DIVERSE number of friends--which is far more likely if you are older (or have lived and worked in a variety of environments, as most older people have). People who hate each other and/or disagree on every single issue in the world, can suddenly and unexpectedly collide on the same thread. And predictably, all fired-up with "likes" (votes from people who agree with any given comment)-- they come out guns-a-blazing. Many Facebook people may not have any other online experience and it is entirely possible they have never before argued with people who disagree with them; thus, they promptly go into ideological apoplexy. This is marked by a lot of "you're crazy!" and "you can't be serious!" because they really do believe this. It's not rhetorical. You can tell they have not been exposed to real life ______ (fill in the blank). Atheists, anarchists, libertarians, Ayn Randians, communists, animal rights activists, whoever. They have heard of them, sure, but they've never met them before ... and they often respond by hitting the proverbial roof, flipping out and calling names.

For this reason (ideological apoplexy), you can easily "block" people on Facebook, so you don't have to SEE their awful opinions and be annoyed by them. This is diametrically opposite to blogular life, where you can't NOT SEE what you don't want to see, unless you are the owner of the blog in question.

And so, Facebook has tamed Blogdonia, made it more homogenous. In so many ways, cyberspace bullies made this happen, just like real-life bullies gave birth to gun control. Just when online culture seemed to be teetering on the edge of a free-for-all, suddenly, Facebook and similar social media promise ORDER FROM CHAOS.

Facebook and other self-contained, monitored sites became the safe place to meet. Who wants to be harassed by total strangers? When does "arguing" end, and actual harassment, hatred and stalking begin? (And who decides?)

I heartily recommend Julian Dibbell's fascinating post (which I originally read in the Village Voice, back in the day) titled A RAPE IN CYBERSPACE, which I commented on. (And I have finally learned how to link to just one comment in a thread, yay me!) I wrote:

The new wrinkle on [the] thousands of listservs (like on Google groups) is that some people are anonymous, some are pseudo-anonymous, and some provide their real names, leading to an imbalance of power among users. The anonymous people have the power to attack, those of us pseudo-anon or using real names, can’t attack phantoms in return.
It’s a pernicious environment… and one I think has given rise to Facebook, where people feel “safe” from anonymous assholes. Of course, a great deal of privacy is given over to FB, and that is the NEW problem… so the trolls greatly assisted the rise of internet surveillance and spying. They should be held accountable for that too.

Just as IRL, a rise in crime can lead to increased cops and fascism.
Another thread participant, Galactic Stumblebum (and what a great name!) added some important points. To say the least:
The issues are expectations and trust. People expect that when they are on the net, others will respect them as they would in RL. They trust in the sysops to enforce behavior just as they would trust the courts or the cops or mommy and daddy or Big Brother to enforce behavior in RL. They demand that someone hold their hands.

Perhaps Daisy is right. Perhaps the rise in Facebook popularity is a manifestation of the need for having one’s hand held. Personally, I do not know (I took one look at Facebook and decided that Sturgeon’s Revelation applied and haven’t been back since. I don’t have any fear of that corporation violating of my privacy because I avoid their product like the plague). But I don’t think so. I think rather that the rise in social network popularity is just that – social.

Nor do I believe that fascism is the culprit. No, I think that the rise in surveillance and the loss of privacy are the natural results of both the control freak propensities of the power elite, and the boohoo whinging of the carebears. People have been taught to expect someone to hold their hands, when they don’t get it, they are outraged – just as they are IRL when the cops do nothing. That makes the carebears call out for someone to do something, and the power elite is all too happy to oblige as it directly feeds their need for power and control.

It’s a cycle.

The major problem is the expectations. After all, reality is simply a mechanism for fulfilling expectations – change the expectations of what will be real, and you change what becomes real. That is perhaps the role of antisocial netizens – to bump the expections back into line when they stray too far down the path of fantasy.

As for griefers and trolls – well, let’s not fool ourselves; The real reason for laws and oversight is because the vast majority of humans really are primates barely out of diapers…in short, assholes.
And Mr Stumblebum, obviously very wise, gets the last word.


JoJo said...

I too have noticed a marked drop in comments on my blog too. I was trying to find something the other day and was surprised to see that I regularly garnered 15-20 comments several years ago, and now if I get 6 or 7 on a post I consider it a lot. I can remember when I first started coming on your blog, you had over 20-30 comments per post.

I joined Blogging A-Z for the month of April specifically for the purpose of getting more readers and commenters.

You are right though, about FB and Twitter. It's more instantaneous than blogging. I started my blog in 2006 and joined FB in 2008. My comments started dropping as my blog friends joined FB and abandoned their blogs one by one.

Clemson Tigerman said...

brilliant, d. i find i go to fb to avoid 'noise' & assholes, so u have a point & so does stumblebum.

fb is like a gated community & everybody wants in. after it loses its exclusivity & cool that might change. Reg blogs are like cities or interstates & more 'threatening neighborhoods' to newbies. maybe after they get bored w/uniformity u describe, theyll 'branch out' - like when u learn to drive u stay on familiar streets but then u 'branch out' later on & arent afraid of driving in unfamiliar areas.

then again, fb might take over the net & then the world

Jim said...

"Today, whilst interacting on a rather fiery, opinionated blog, it occurred to me. On this blog, where I have previously interacted with lots of people who disagree with me, I was suddenly called a concern troll and instructed to stop commenting. Wow, I thought. What the hell happened? Are people not allowed to simply disagree any more?


Everyone must be FRIENDS, like on Facebook."

That blew me away. Fuck him (he's a troop; he'll understand.) I was n't paying attention until it was too late to do anything but stir things back up.

You know how you see how much so many ruels have changed since the 70s? This is one big example. There is no tolerance for actual debate. Feelings get hurt when beliefs are challenged, and fragile feelings are sacred. High-mindedness turns you into a messenger of the Truth, and anyone who fials to convert immediately is an infidel.

You see this across the board on blogs. I blame the schools for their emphasis on compliance with Teacher and theit sick insistence on false harmony and "conflict resolution."

You are the opposite of a troll. It may take oyu a while to support and explain assertions yuo make, but you always end up having had a good basis. you try to braoden and balance the discussion. Troll my ass.

Blogs remain for more in depth posts and more in depth discussion - if people aren't too fragile for that - and FB and Twitter serve a diffenrent function.

DaisyDeadhead said...

Jim, well thank you, it will take me some time to recover from that. I will come back in due course, but not to THAT thread! Yeesh.

And I still like Don. :)

But yeah, I do like Clemson's ideas about the gated communities! What a great metaphor! And the more gated communities and private schools there are, the more the so-called rabble takes over the "public square"--since anyone who might object to rowdy behavior has already moved to the "safe" neighborhood and is no longer invested in the public spaces.

Very true!

bryce said...

problem w/ forcing ppl to register every where is - not everyone can safely do that. like at glbt blogs. it limits commentary to the ( so called)respectible ppl and they *already* have a voice.

Danny said...

Please don't leave that fiery, opinionated blog (I can understand if you're done with that thread but please don't leave the blog altogether).

Overall you're right about the gated community idea (but frankly I think once you translate that to the internet they become echo chambers). I've been blasted away from blogs just because I didn't go with the flow (I'm in a bit of a dilemma now where Renee has invited me to guest post at WM but everytime I do her damn community will basically lock on all weapons and fire).

...since anyone who might object to rowdy behavior has already moved to the "safe" neighborhood and is no longer invested in the public spaces.
I have to disagree with that last bit. The folks that move to the "safe" neighborhood are still invested in the public spaces. Its just that their "investments" usually amount to demanding that the rabble conform to the ways of the gated community without question.

West said...

Now that your traffic sucks don't you feel bad chastising me for "trolling"... I never quite understood that one. I guess maybe people get fed up that some bloggers only want readers that continually stroke their ego by agreeing with them. And maybe people tire of bloggers that only slam the other "side" as opposed to presenting their side. I mean many more miles of blogging have been devoted to slamming Rush as opposed to convincing arguments presenting the positive benefits of progressivism-- as if they really existed anyway...

Daisy said...

I am getting a lot fewer visitors and comments, too. It is kind of a sad feeling.

D. said...

Having made the remark about Facebook being a gated community back in 2009, I'm going to further suggest that the migration to Facebook is somewhat reminiscent of the post-World War II flight to the suburbs, where the "terrors" of urban living could be kept out.

I never had a whole lot of comments -- Daisy is my most faithful commenter, followed by Lisa -- so I'm not seeing much of a difference.

On the other hand, could be I'm just no good.

DaisyDeadhead said...

D, you called it! Thanks for that link, very accurate! I would be far more circumspect if I used my legal name on Facebook, which I don't. In fact, lots of subversive types don't--so consider doing that if you ever want to "jump the gate". I have one friend registered as "Sage Tea" and another as "Art Goodtimes"--the possibilities are endless, but you DO need a first and last name of some sort. Still, it IS gated, even with a pseudonym.

Recently the Zynga Facebook games like Farmville have allowed people to play who do not "friend" each other, which is somewhat interesting to me. Maybe the first crack in the well-maintained facade.

West: Now that your traffic sucks don't you feel bad chastising me for "trolling".

Not at all, since ill manners always need to be chastised.

I am talking about changes in traffic over the last couple of years, not the few months you have been here.

thene said...

I have so many thoughts here!

-I generally suspect that blog traffic has a similar cycle to real-world social contact. You meet a bunch of people in [whatever context] and then some people gradually drift away/get exiled/start hating you/die, and therefore your social world dwindles...unless you keep going to new places and meeting new people. At this point I'm still in regular touch with two family members, one high-school friend, two college friends, two friends from my last job, etc etc etc.

I figure the internet basically works the same way. It never occurred to me before that it was a drift from bigger to smaller (I don't use fb or twitter myself); I do most of my online writing, reading and socialising in fandom these days and there's been a notable dwindling of social activity on text-based sites as people drift away and new people go join Tumblr (which I'm not interested in) in preference to the sites which are less new and shiny. I think you can still find new audiences by reaching into new spaces, always, but having to be on facebook to even get acknowledged? Would suck.

-the thing I can't help but think of when it comes to Facebook and social rules is, it was started as a site for students at colleges (and only at certain colleges, at that; the one I went to in the UK was, I think, added during my last semester there). It's pretty well-documented (by danah boyd, iirc) that even after it opened up to everyone, Facebook users still tended to be of higher social class than users of other social networks (Myspace etc).

-I find it hard to blame the stifling of debate on the internet alone, because there's a reason they haven't met any [anarchists, libertarians, animal rights activits] before. Americans were self-filtering perfectly well already before the internet came along and threatened to expose them to all that dangerous thinking stuff. God bless Facebook. No one will ever feel they have to support their opinions with facts & logic again.

Ollie said...

This is a fascinating subject, Daisy. Having only been blogging for a couple of months I haven't had the chance to notice this myself, so I'll take your (and commenters') word for it. It brings up all sorts of interesting ideas about privacy, self-promotion, accountability etc, doesn't it? Thanks for the food for thought ...

Alison said...

I really like this post.

Stumblebum, OTOH, I dislike as a troll. "Oh, people are assholes, therefore it's OK for me to be one"...no.

sheila said...

Well this actually makes a LOT of sense to me. I know I've dropped off reading blogs. But mostly because I'm just crazy busy. I've wondered by readership is way down and this makes total sense! I think I'll have to rethink a few things after reading this. Maybe soon the way of the blog will be a lost art. Sorta sad. :(

Jim said...

"Jim, well thank you, it will take me some time to recover from that. I will come back in due course, but not to THAT thread! Yeesh."

Thank you for that. You are a very important commenter there, frankly. And I am sorry about Dungone's offense to you. I think you two actually have a lot on common, among others a certain combativeness, so it's to be expected that you are going to clash from time to time.

But an out-left-field remark about trolling is too far from reality even to notice much less repond to, much less get angry at.

You are too egalitarian - you refuse to put yourself above anyone, so you think everyone is on your level. We're just not, not always.

Gated communities - that's a natural human thing. "I wouldn't belong to any club that would have me as a member" - people love exclusuvity, even for some pratical reasons. People use jargon and slang to mark their groups and memberships. Have you ever wondered why slang changes so fast? It's to keep the code ahead of the eavesdroppers and gate crashers.

Gated communities and elites are not always on top of the social order. Blues evolved as an elite musical form, separate form mainstream culture. so did jazz for its formative period.

High Arka said...

Makes you wonder how responsible "the elites" really are for the perpetuation of, say, exploitative imperial capitalism. This trend suggests we're all culpable.

Corporate "buy local!" movements have proven able to absorb peoples' desires, buy them out, and easily misdirect them. How, then, might we resist this trend of standardization?

Anonymous said...


Ok first off: I am not real swift with the technology

but I have a hard time searching and finding blogs on the internet. So I don't know if this is 'cause the search engine only wants to take me to sites selling stuff (like ebay), or b/c I don't know how to do good searches? It's like the blogs are invisible to search engines.

Some blogs I try to comment and they want my name, my email, my facebook, a sample of urine and some DNA (just kidding). Getting tracked a lot squelches your enthusiasm.

Then some people write mean, obscene, or pointless, or spam on there and then the comments are lame so you go back to ebay or the news report.

Only ways I have found good blogs is stumbling on them from other websites.

Thanks I enjoy your log

DaisyDeadhead said...

Anon, they do not advertise it, but there is this cool thing called "Blogsearch" on Google... go to http://www.google.com/blogsearch and then search for the subject you are looking for.