Blogging’s reached its high point; it’s all down hill from now on. Not for this blog, of course, which will continue to go from strength to strength, but for the fad that’s already failing to deliver the utopian vision so many bloggers have for it.
I first gently suggested we’re at the peak over at Harry’s Place, as Boris Johnson’s and the Guardian’s news blogs launched. Blog rating service Technorati, scored both as ‘authoritative’ from day one (Boris currently beats the Guardian), because so many excited bloggers linked to them and blogs are rated by incoming links. (I’ve never done that well on this. I don’t exchange links to build ranking, choosing instead to list sites I think worth reading and only once asking for a link in return.)
Yet these instant high rankings owed everything to the new players’ reputations outside blogging. The Guardian’s enhanced its website by absorbing blogs into an existing web offering. Non-bloggers won’t notice it’s newsblog’s not an ordinary website and the absence of trackback means bloggers cannot insert links to thoughts on their own blogs. It’s just news stories with a commenting system. Some bloggers asked, ‘what blogs Boris reads?’. Yet there’s no evidence he has time to read any. A very busy man (so fair enough), he tends to leave his assistant to post copies of articles originally published elsewhere (which is why he’s not on my blogroll, so there). So rather than enhancing blogging, they’re co-opting it.
Over at the Adam Smith Institute they’re about to debate with those who propagate the blogs will revolutionise democracy myth. There’s some anecdotal evidence to suggest bloggers have a role in breaking some stories, but like Harry says, they quickly get ahead of themselves: some claim bloggers brought down the chairman and director general of the BBC, a story where blogging played no role.
It’s a young form, yet there’s plenty of academic research out there and it’s not supporting the revolutionaries. In fact, there’s evidence blogs suppress dissent. Research conducted by a number of US academics, shows how blogs can and do amplify the herd instinct as bloggers link to those they trust. They take the trusted source’s view into account when forming their own opinion to the extent that (in the face of so much linkage) any private doubts they have are forgotten. The psychology seems to say that if just two people you trust take a view, you’ll feel pressured to agree, that opinion cascades and dissent is crushed.
Political blogs have quickly divided into a small number of entrenched camps and it’s my guess that each has its own cascades. These effectively limit available viewpoints to a few often extreme views. Check out blogs on the Blogs for Bush blogroll or Kerry webring for great examples, not of reasoned debate, but endless bile. These blog owners are hardly representative of Americans (thank goodness), almost of half of whom rarely vote and who are unlikely to be persuaded to vote by vile bloggers.
Indeed, the blogging phenomenon has led to a great increase in the number of hate sites that pollute the web.
Meanwhile, some are in danger of sleepwalking into this nightmare. Over here a naïve marketing consultant lists ten trends he mistakes for principles. Yes business needs to respond to an ever changing world, but his thesis that ‘consumer generated content’ is the saviour of marketing is deeply flawed. We surely risk being washed away by a sea of bile.
UPDATE: slight correction to ASI mention, 2:37 PM October 29, 2004