2007 was probably the year that, following several years of exponential growth, the blogging phenomenon reached some sort of plateau. The word itself has now passed into common parlance, and the existence of blogs is no longer regarded as novel, unusual, mysterious, or otherwise worthy of comment. Finally – and not before time either – we have reached a stage where no-one is predicting that 2008 will be “The Year Of The Blog”. At some point during 2007, the last ever “What IS Blogging?” think-piece must surely have been penned – and for that alone, we must all be truly grateful.
Because, you see, everyone’s got them now. Not just the tech-head pioneers, or the “If it moves, link it!” first wave (*), or the “Today I had a cheese sandwich!” second wave, or the pundits, the politicos, the hobbyists, the special interest brigades, the amateur journalists, the “writerly” types and the “Seize the Marketing Opportunity and make $$$!” hucksters… but also, and in ever greater numbers: newspapers and periodicals, private companies and public organisations, international broadcasting empires, grassroots community projects, established professional writers, politicians, presenters, academics, high-falutin intellectuals and Z-list celebs alike.
Until quite recently, the statement “I am a blogger” implied membership of a particular community: relatively small in size, and largely (and to the outside world, somewhat bafflingly) self-referential in nature. Now, it means little more than “I have a computer, a way with words, and some spare time on my hands.” Blogs have been normalised, integrated… and some disillusiuoned idealists might even say that they have been co-opted. For literally millions of people, they are just another part of everyday life.
For the faddists – the sort of people who hung out on Blogspot or Livejournal for a few months, setting up Tag Boards, joining web rings and endlessly posting the results of “What XXXX Are You?” quizzes before getting bored and moving on – Facebook is the new blogging. (We thought that Myspace was the new blogging, but little did we know what lurked around the corner, and how many more demographic boundaries were to be breached.) I’d wager that the broad majority of people reading this have set up Facebook profiles and are still active participants, and that an unshakeable minority have resolved never to go anywhere near the service. By this time next year, I’ll wager that anyone who was ever likely to dabble with Facebook will have duly dabbled, that the honeymoon period will have ended, that the last “What IS Facebook and what does it SAY about us?” think-piece will have been written, and that a significant proportion of profiles will be lying dormant and abandoned. It will have been an altogether shorter cycle of Big Boom and Slow Fade, tied as it is to a single proprietary site, a more restrictive format, and an emphasis on minimum-effort, short-attention-span novelty – and by the same token, that’s why the blogging plateau is unlikely to start dropping off any time soon.
From my own highly subjective little corner of the blogosphere, 2007 was the year that the Bloggers With Book Deals started yielding tangible end results (otherwise known as, coo er gosh, BOOKS!), with many more to follow in 2008. As The Blogsbury Set came of age, and as “portfolio sites” started to make their presences felt, you could also detect the first rumblings of an increasingly widespread shift in priorities. (“Sorry I haven’t had much time for blogging recently, but I’ve been SO BUSY, agents, deadlines, press & PR, oh it’s all been such a GIDDY WHIRL!”) And what with stunts such as Shaggy Blog Stories, which saw over 200 bloggers left out on the pavement as the Blogsbury glitterati sailed through the velvet ropes, and Post of the Week (over 200 blogs shortlisted to date, so why wasn’t YOUR blog GOOD ENOUGH?), there was a distinct sense of competitiveness in the air, as a new élite basked in self-regard (“SO wonderful to see my DEAR FRIENDS doing SO well!”) while the Not So Beautiful People muttered seditiously behind their backs (“Who the chuff does HE think HE is, and SHE’S nothing special, and who the f**k made HER the Queen of Bloody Sheba?”)
OK, so I’m exaggerating to make a point. But since I have been, let’s face it, one of the prime architects of the New Competitiveness, and even if my motives were always about net-widening inclusion rather than judgemental exclusivity, I am not without a certain amount of blood on my hands in this regard. And for that, and for the times where my well-meaning eagerness to champion and celebrate might have run roughshod over others’ sensitivities, I can only apologise.
(*) Non-sequiturial addendum, while you all prepare your “Oh Mike, don’t be so hard on yourself” comments, bless your dear dear hearts but really there’s no need, no need at all: With reference to that first wave of link-bloggers, it tickled me something rotten to read these recent words of advice from Jorn Barger, officially the World’s First Ever Blogger, on the occasion of our medium’s tenth anniversary: “If you have more original posts than links, you probably need to learn some humility.” Because while part of me wants to say “Respect to you, Old Timer”, the other part of me wants to say “Get with the program, Grandad”…