Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Is blog as platform dead?

Blogging I'm not about to give up blogging. I don't think I could, even if I wanted to (although I can easily imagine circumstances where I might go anonymous). But the question is, should I give up running so many blogs?

This blog is both of great sentimental and practical value to me and it's not going to go away. It is my online notepad and thinking space. I'm agnostic about the software, as long as it's there and it's easy to use. (The iOS clients for Blogger suck, unless I've missed something?) But the same is not true for other blogs I write.

What precipitated this introspection? I've just written my annual Internet Consulting Editor's report for AoBBlog. The number of users of the blog is up but pageviews down. The number of people we reach through social media is climbing and climbing. We now have a truly distributed audience for our agenda on plant science. So is the blog as platform significant any more? Yes, it's our space online, but is it more significant than the eyeballs on Facebook? The other event which impacted on me this week was Buzzfeed breaking the New York Times Innovation report. Reading this and watching the New York Times is like watching a car crash in slow motion. I mostly read the Times via Facebook, occasionally via links my PLE surfaces. I'm not emotionally attached to the Times in the same way I am to The Guardian, but this is still painful to read.
"An executive there described watching the aggregation outperform our original content after Nelson Mandela’s death," the report says. ‘You guys got crushed,’ he said. ‘I was queasy watching the numbers. I’m not proud of this. But this is your competition. You should defend the digital pickpockets from stealing your stuff with better headlines, better social.’

Does my distributed online identity depend on the the digital pickpockets - are they my partners, not my competitors? How do I stamp intellectual watermarks on my ideas to get the credit for them? Andrew Baron was right - write once, publish everywhere. I need to defend my digital profile, not be besieged in a digital castle.

Which brings me to the point of this post. For the last two years I've been watching the painful death of MicrobiologyBytes. More than anything else, MB is my flagship publication. But it's an external representation of who I am, and it doesn't feel as authentic as this blog. On the other hand, thousands of people on Facebook, Twitter and Google+ might disagree. How do I know? Because comments on the blog died years ago, but there's still a conversation going on on these other sites.

My gut reaction is to refocus the content I publish on MicrobiologyBytes. News is dead. My content has to be material that does not exist elsewhere - the unique value of explanation rather than content. I need to write long-lasting articles which my digital partners will distribute for me. That's largely what I've been doing with my microbiology spinoff, PoMV. But this is a conservative approach to a situation which demands radical action.

Some years ago I knew a small shopkeeper who took over the family business from his father. The shop had been going down the tubes for years. He kept it open to celebrate the 50th anniversary of his father starting the business, then closed it the next day. Shall I wait for the 10th year MicrobiologyBytes anniversary coming up soon then pull the plug, or shall I do it now?

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