A good friend noted how quiet her friends list at Livejournal had been recently, and remarked that they had all headed to sites like Facebook and Twitter, where they can post quick updates on their activities more recently and with fewer characters. With the ability to keep people up to date on every aspect of their lives at any time, she mused, does that spell the end for services like Livejournal, Blogger, or even the traditional long-form blog? Why would anyone want to write paragraphs about their lives or their activities when they could simply post to Twitter in 140 characters on the spot from any mobile device they chose?
She’s got a point – with the rapid and meteoric growth of Twitter and even the venerable Facebook falling in line behind it and trying to adopt a more “microblogging meets social networking” position (as shown by its most recent redesign-the one that looks a lot like Twitter) it makes sense that people are still managing to stay in touch, just without quite as many words.
Being someone who’s hopelessly addicted to Twitter myself (you can follow me at @halophoenix) but also who loves to blog, I say she’s wrong…but she’s also right. It’s not so simple as to presume long-form blogging is dead in favor of 140-character news; although there’s a definite and very real trend towards bite-size news and snack-sized culture. We can absorb a lot in 140 characters, and sometimes it’s all we need, but sometimes we need more: a lot more. Get more below the jump:
My response to most people when they posit that long-form blogging is dead in the age of Twitter, where people want their news and information in less than 140 characters. Well, aside from the fact that so many people on Twitter wind up posting their news and updates with links to blogs and other sites with longer than 140-character articles, I understand where they’re coming from, but I don’t think that services like Twitter are going to replace traditional blogging and media, I think they’ll wind up complimenting each other. Twitter, Facebook, Plurk, and other microblogging services will likely wind up giving people yet another way to subscribe to news services that interest them and consume the media they’re interested in and enjoy.
For example, I follow a number of bloggers and journalists on Twitter that write about topics from technology to politics that I’m interested in (or want to be more like), and they frequently post links to articles they’ve written or themselves find interesting. I also follow some blogs who re-post their own articles, to the point where some people have even mumbled that some blogs and bloggers are using Twitter as a replacement for RSS. Of the two of those, I find the first far more interesting: getting some news with a human touch is part of what makes Twitter so interesting for me.
Reading about where Xeni Jardin (of BoingBoing) has traveled and what she’s seeing and hearing but also clicking links to stories she’s uncovered that I would never have read otherwise is what makes the service worthwhile. Add to that the fact that when a new BB Video is posted or something really great goes up at BoingBoing she posts a link, and I have a whole new and interesting way to consume the news that BoingBoing provides instead of subscribing to its RSS feed or just visiting the site, although I still do those things. If I didn’t, I’d miss a lot. Twitter and other microblogging services provide bloggers and content writers a new method to interact with their readers and fans in a much more personal way. The conversation on Twitter is much more two-way than traditional blogging tends to be, even if your blog is active and gets dozens of comments on every post.
At the same time, there will always be a need for the ability to elaborate on stories, explain facts and back-story, and make creative arguments (or expose bad ones) and provide useful information that could never fit into 140 characters. Even if you’re communicating with people on a personal basis, there’s always the need to explain how things are going and give people insight into your life that you won’t be able to fit into 140 characters. The common argument is that if you keep people up to date more often, 140 characters is enough for any single point in time, but I don’t think that’s the case. If someone asks you if you’re okay and you’re not but want to explain why, 140 characters simply isn’t enough. If you have a big event to announce, 140 characters likely isn’t enough to both make the announcement and give your readers some back story.
This holds equally true for news, reviews, and long-form articles – you can post about a new product coming out in 140 characters, but you can’t explain when it’ll come out, what its pros and cons are, and discuss competing products in the same market space all in 140 characters: all of which are items that are not just interesting but essential when you’re trying to stay on top of the news. Time and time again when people are asked how they absorb news, people will frequently say they want to be able to choose the news they absorb, but if they’re given the option between absorbing what’s fast and somewhat accurate versus what’s a little longer, more accuratre, and more in-depth, they’ll constantly choose the latter. People regularly will choose more in-depth and accurate news over fast, breaking, and wildly inaccurate information. That’s not a dig at Twitter – it’s a warning to people who think Twitter can replace traditional analysis and news. Twitter can be used to bring people to your analysis, but it can’t replace it.
That’s not to say there isn’t a need or use for short-form blogging to guide people to long form content, or even to replace it for the more mundane-and yet still interesting-things like how someone’s doing on any particular day, or what you’re listening to right now, or that you discovered a new favorite band. There’s certainly a place for both, even if they don’t have to be connected.
The beauty of long-form blogging is that you can provide your own thoughts, opinions, and comments without a character limit. The beauty of short-form blogging is that you can provide quick, instant updates at any time to get the word out or direct people to your longer, more expressive thoughts. I think there’ll always be room for both, regardless of the popularity trends to or away from either.