We’ve been hearing for a few years about the death of blogs.
Certainly, blogs are not dead. When I started Vftp I could find no other active conductor blogs- none. A number of wise heads warned me that conductors should keep quiet- the more you go on record with your beliefs, the more people will disagree with you and the more jobs you’ll be locked out of. Now there are hundreds of conductor blogs, although many performers never get much beyond their “Hi and welcome to my blog- I’m really looking to sharing all sorts of stories and insights from my fascinating life as a jetsetting conductor here! Please come back soon to join me on my musical journey!” post.
But, I can’t help but notice that many of the best and most influential blogs that have been around for a while have gone a bit quiet. Gavin Plumley shut down his wonderful Entartete Musik blog recently, and even Pliable threatened to pull the plug on his indispensable “Overgrown Path” earlier this year.
Vftp is certainly less prolific than in past years- I’ve got a lot more on my plate these days, and I’ve also said a lot of things I wanted to say, but I still find the blog is a really empowering outlet, and I still feel that having a place to articulate ideas and views close to my heart is very healthy for me. Many of the posts closest to my heart have been largely ignored, while some of the silliest ones have found worryingly huge audiences, but every once in a while, a serious minded post about orchestral auditions, superficiality in the conducting profession or the weird and wacky Gothic Symphony becomes really popular and I realize the blog can still be an effective tool.
Bloggers may come and go, but at a fundamental level, the way in which blogs work has changed, and I find the changes deeply troubling.
In the early years of Vftp, my readership grew (from zero!) pretty rapidly, and readers fell into one of three categories. There were readers who just checked out the blog pretty regularly because they liked it or knew me- they might even have bookmarked my site, there were blog-readers and bloggers who hopped from blog to blog via people’s blogrolls or aggregators like Blognoggle, and finally there were readers who subscribed to the blog’s RSS feed via Google Reader
Over the weekend, I had a quick look at my referral stats and saw that one reader, one, had come from Blognoggle that day. That site used to be responsible for a huge amount of Vftp traffic. Folks interested in classical music would go to Blognoggle, see what was new at the various popular blogs and hop on over to Vftp or Overgrown Path. No more, but fair is fair- I can’t remember the last time that I used the site. I’d sort of assumed they were out of business until I saw that referral.
Likewise, blogrolls are much less influential. I’ve had mine down for a while because hardly anyone used it and most of the blogs it linked to were inactive. I keep meaning to find time to give it a good edit and re-launch. Blogroll referrals to Vftp have dropped incredibly.
And then there is Google Reader, (and other RSS subscription platforms)- RIP. There are plenty of other newsreaders out there that do the same job Google Reader did…. It’s just that nobody seems to use them. Subscriptions were a great thing for a blogger. At it’s peak, I knew that anything and everything I published here would get read (or at least downloaded) by a nice solid number of readers. There was a time when one could import your entire blog to Facebook by linking your RSS feed to their “Notes” feature. When I started doing this it got a lot of my FB friends who weren’t previously reading Vftp (and they called themselves friends!) to read pretty much everything I wrote automatically. However, the long-term ramifications for Vftp were not good- pre-existing readers took to just reading everything of mine when it popped up on FB. They stopped visiting the actual site, and when FB discontinued the service, I noticed that a number of readers never quite got back in the habit of visiting Vftp every day as they had a few years earlier. Those bookmarks got deleted. Instead, they just spent more time on Facebook.
So, aggregators are forgotten, blogrolls ignored and RSS newsreaders have been shut down. What is left?
Social media, of course.
Blogging these days is NOTHING without Facebook and Twitter. Nothing. Five years ago, if I put up a post and did nothing, within 12 hours I would have attracted a decent number of readers between Vftp fans, referring sites and subscriptions. Now, if I don’t tweet and FB a new post, I might as well have not published it. I can’t speak for other bloggers, but these days, blog readership is nearly completely dependent on social media.
The good news about this is that Facebook (more so than Twitter for some reason) is a relatively powerful tool for creating virality. Since the paradigm started to change, I have had a handful of posts become insanely popular in a way nothing did in the early days.
On the other hand, It worries me that this shift of power is, really, all about power. Blogging used to be primarily fed by a decentralized system of mutual support among individual bloggers (even a site like Blognoggle was basically a blog) and readers. Blogging platforms gave individuals not only the power to publish to a world-wide audience (a truly historical breakthrough), but to decide which other writers to support. It was a highly democratic and completely decentralized system.
Facebook is neither. Every post that goes up on Facebook is there because Facebook is looking to make money or gather information from it. Running a blog in 2008 meant that when I published a popular new post, it wasn’t just bringing in new readers who might take an interest in me, it was also increasing the value of the blogs of fellow bloggers on my blogroll. More readers for Ken meant more readers for Pliable. More readers for Alex Ross meant more readers for Jessica Duchen or Jeremy Denk.
Now, more readers for Ken means more profit and more power for Facebook. More readers for Pliable means more profit and more power for Facebook. I’d say well over 55% of my readership comes here from FB, especially for the most popular posts, the ones that really take off. Almost all of the remainder come from Twitter or Google searches. Almost every reader for almost everything I write is making money for or enhancing the power of one of those three companies.
Blogging as a platform was the first system in human history that offered any individual a chance to publish anything they want at any time for no cost at all in a format that could be accessed by readers anywhere in the world. It was essentially free of corporate influence and free of government meddling. Blogging was a revolutionary tool for holding power to account, for challenging the biases and manipulations of the corporate media, for giving the individual a voice. Five years ago, every blog post had the chance to not only spread healthy ideas and spur debate, but also helped to drive readership of other blogs. Linking, blogrolls and other tools amplified this impact.
Facebook, Twitter or Google. Blogging has been completely annexed by the biggest and most powerful corporations on Earth, those with the most disturbing and intimate relationships with government and the corporate media. When I post something, it’s making money for Facebook, Google and Twitter. When I get readers, they sell ads. When people click on a post like this, Facebook, Twitter and Google learn more about that person’s interests and beliefs. When they like or retweet my work, it increases the dominance and relevance of those platforms.
This is not to say blogs cannot still be powerful tools. In the classical world, I think it’s fair to say that blogging saved the Minnesota Orchestra last year. Here was a situation where the local corporately-owned press did not seem inclined to help the musicians put their case to the public. Early press coverage and editorial writing seemed to overwhelmingly support the position of the board and the outlook for the musicians looked hopeless. Public opinion ultimately turned in favor of the players as a result of the heroic advocacy of bloggers like William Eddins, Scott Chamberlain at Mask of the Flower Prince and particularly Emily Hogstad at Song of the Lark. Her tireless reportage of the way in which that labor crisis was engineered from the beginning , her ability to expose the lack of transparency and good –faith bargaining, her meticulous dismantling of all the doublespeak and misinformation, was a classic example of how the truth written on a mere blog can overpower a lie published by a newspaper with a huge circulation. However, the readership for those crucial posts came there primarily from Facebook and Twitter and it was to those huge corporate sites that most readers returned. Where 7 or 8 years ago the popularity and impact of those posts might have increased readership at other blogs through linking and blogrolls, now it simply enhances the dominance of Facebook, because if you wanted to know the truth about the lockout at the Minnesota Orchestra, you looked on Facebook. I don’t know about you, but I find the notion of looking for the truth on Facebook more than a little worrying.
Let’s face it, blogs have been drowning in narcissism, opinion, bullshit, typos, piracy, porn and pontifications since they first appeared. These days most “blogs” are just pages of larger websites from newspapers and magazines- the only difference between a newspaper article or op-ed piece and a blog post seems to be a lack of editoral standards. A blog is assumed to be mostly fanciful observations and opinion- not proper journalism or criticism. That’s all fine. Blogging was never meant to change the world- the idea of a daily web log is about as tied in to self-obsession and BS as you can get. It just so happened that platforms like WordPress and Blogger offered a thoughtful writer a tool with which to speak the truth, support fellow thinkers and change the world, all for free. Nowadays, what I publish here does little to help other bloggers and instead drives more people through Facebook, Twitter and Google. If I want to promote a new post, the best way to do it is to buy an ad…. on Facebook. The game is rigged- the house always wins.
All of this has happened without debate, discussion or strife. There has been no resistance because resistance is futile. A revolutionary tool for empowering humanity has been gobbled up by the Borg.
PS Please dont’ hesitate to like and share this post of Facebook. Seriously!