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Thursday, February 28, 2013

The Future of Blogging

It occurred to me over the weekend that January marked my ten-year anniversary of blogging.  I'm spending this week considering the changes I've seen in that epoch of technology. (And I'm almost done with this indulgence!)


Time was the world was starved enough for beer content that the blogger merely had to write a post about the most recent beer he'd tasted.  Readers!  Back in the halcyon days of about 2009--beer blogging was trailing trends in other subjects--bloggers sorted themselves out among type: the reviewer, the gossip, the tracker-of-events, the homebrewer, the garbage scow of random info (my niche).  In order to get a sense of all this stuff, you needed to traffic several blogs.  If you were interested in national trends, you trafficked a few more.

The need for these sources died out a year or two back, as the internet got better at organizing information through social media.  There are now tons of ways to get info--Facebook and Twitter, and sites like Reddit, BeerPulse, and BeerAdvocate.  There's no reason to seek out info about events or reviews, no point in visiting sites that just repeat information.  We all now have ways of sorting our social media to receive the information we want.  Three or four years ago, there were dozens of very active beer blogs around the country (and a good 15 in Oregon).  Many have been abandoned or have gone nearly still.  As a blogger, I get why: what's the point of spending time on a blog people have abandoned for Twitter?

There is one very large exception to this rule: the expert blog.  Sites like those hosted by Ron Pattinson, Martyn Cornell, and Stan Hieronymus are more than relevant.  They are in many ways the backbone of the entire social media superstructure.  Social media feeds on content, and there's more than enough of pseudo-content we all despise.  Modern online media has inclined in this direction where they produce listicles, slide shows, and random "what's-the-best-IPA"-type pieces.  These drive traffic, but they are obvious padding.  What we really want to see are meaty topics discussed deeply.  Experts can put these out, but obviously not in the volume the internet requires.  Collected together they do a better job.

What I've found is that every post I write generates clicks.  But some are almost self-defeating.  If you sucker people into a click for a fiber-free post often enough, people quit clicking.  If, however, you try to make sure the content is original, unusual, and interesting, people will read.*  Even this post, which I know is going to be interesting to only 2.3% of the people who start reading it, is at the very least not the kind of thing you read everywhere.  I've never been interesting in a focused way like Martyn and Ron, but among the detritus of a garbage scow, you do find the occasional gem.

Blogs will survive, but over time a higher percentage of them will be written by experts who depend on massive, social-media generated traffic when they put up one of their relatively infrequent (but fascinating!) posts.  For new bloggers, it is both a warning and an invitation.  If you have special insight and information on a topic, social media will help you find readers, probably quickly.  If you are writing more general stuff from a layman's perspective, the sledding may a lot tougher than it was even a few years ago.

*There is the question of audience.  Beervana, for example, had an almost exclusively local readership.  People wanted to read about Northwest beer.  Then I started writing a book about the beers of the world and quit covering Oregon beer very closely, which I believe drove some people away.  German readers might care what Hans-Peter Drexler and Matthias Trum have to say, but fewer Oregonians do, so my posts about Europe, while in many cases not uninteresting, were not well-directed to a local audience.  I do hope to get back to more local content in a few months.


  1. I've had nearly exactly the same experience (my ten year blogiversary comes up in May). I experiment sometimes with more frequent posts, but I don't find it has much impact on traffic, at least at the rate of output I can produce.

    My strategy has switched almost entirely to being active on social media and writing for Google. Trying to cultivate an audience that makes daily visits unprompted doesn't strike me as a good use of time any more.

  2. I think part of the problem (problem??) comes from RSS readers. My primary [group] blog gets only about 150-200 uniques a day. We used to average 1,000 or more back in the 2008-2009 timeframe, which has dropped off significantly (both IMHO due to us writing less but also due to fewer people actually clicking through to the site).

    Yet we have almost 500 RSS readers according to Google Reader (and Beervana has ~1500 according to the same). People don't visit and check blogs every day -- they let the content stream to them through RSS whenever new content appears.

    This is good, in that there are still people reading the content. But it's bad in that it inhibits the conversational nature of blogging. Those readers rarely click through to the main site to leave a comment any more. It's only when something they *really* want to say comes up that comments are left, and then b/c comments aren't visible via RSS, if there's already a discussion in the comments section, mere readers aren't even aware of it.

    For my blog which is updated maybe 2-3 times a week, I love RSS because that's not enough content to drive regular repeat traffic. RSS allows people who wouldn't check the blog every morning to get the content. But I hate RSS because people don't leave many comments, removing one of the critical feedback and "reward" mechanisms that makes me want to post more often.

    The technology makes it easier to be a blog reader but less rewarding to be a blogger.

  3. Aside from the dreams of world domination, good writing is good writing and I am always started who pops up are reading my stuff. I am a bit surprised that there would even be new bloggers but I suppose that is the case. Toronto has had a boom in beer writing of a certain sort with a few challenges which, for all the reasons you suggest, will fade away with the next thing. You know, I think
    we could be seen as moving into our gentler post-adolescent age. Not middle age but things have to make a bit more sense, be less addicted to the PR or the sample and focus more on the trends in market and culture from an independent consumer focused view.

    And, well, you could go this way:

  4. "If you are writing more general stuff from a layman's perspective, the sledding may a lot tougher than it was even a few years ago."

    Isn't that inevitable with anything? Doesn't that just mean you have to make your content and quality better/more interesting/more differentiated? Isn't this exactly what is going to happen soon(-ish? is it already happening?) as "craft beer" markets are saturated and survival of the fittest really kicks in? Except that, writing a blog doesn't really cost you anything other than time.

  5. I do it because it's fun and don't really care how many people read it. But I also don't expect this to earn me any money or become my living so that changes things.

  6. Well...hmmm. I haven't been blogging all that long, but I do think they will survive. The ones that deliver unique content and do it well have the best shot. If you want to attract and maintain a strong readership, you will have to distinguish yourself in some way. Some (like Jeff) will write books. Others will build find alternative ways to build credibility.

    Blogs that simply reissue press releases and other promotional garbage will be obsolete shortly...done in by social media. We are already seeing some consolidation within the "light blogging" community. Since they create very little unique content, they are joining forces so what little they do create looks like more. I expect to see that trend continue. But it is a losing game, make no mistake about that.

    The greatest threat to the survival of quality blogs is declining attention spans in general. People who rely on the 140 character newsfeed will eventually become less able to read and digest lengthy, researched articles and posts. Unless the Twitter trend somehow reverses itself, it is a threat to all thoughtful, unique reporting. And not just reporting related to beer.

  7. "Three or four years ago, there were dozens of very active beer blogs around the country (and a good 15 in Oregon). Many have been abandoned or have gone nearly still."

    Well... yes and no. Many of the ones that existed then don't exist now, but other beer blogs have sprung up to take their place. There's a whole new generation of beer bloggers out there that I haven't (yet?) kept up with.

    I'm a big booster of blogs over social media for one reason in particular: you own your blog and the content on it (or you should!) whereas with social media sites you're merely allowed to generate content for that social media site; if Facebook decided tomorrow to cut off all a random selection of (free---remember you get what you pay for!) accounts on there, well, there's nothing to be done about it---and all the "content building" a person might have put into it was for nothing. I dislike the idea of being at the mercy, whims, or misfortunes of these companies. You need to own your work.

    I totally agree with your point about expert blogs, and will add another: brewery blogs. I love when a brewery has a blog that they regularly maintain---done right, it's a direct-from-the-source peek inside the brewery which I can't get enough of. (Of course I'm both a beer and blogging geek, so...) As far as I'm concerned there will always be a need for such blogs.

    The good blogs, that will last and gather readers, will be the ones that are focused, and intelligent, and (probably) expert in some way. But that's how it's always been, too.

    And then there are the oddballs like myself---really much more of a generalist (I still post occasional tasting reviews, and events, and homebrewing stuff) but hey, I've got my longevity so I'm clinging to that. ;)