Will My Mother-in-Law Blog?

My suegra left her first comment on a blog yesterday. In a voice mail thanking her, I encouraged her to start her blog:afterall, she's a bright, witty woman with a lot to say about the state of the world. But will she? Will blogging become the next email, as some predict– an Internet activity that everyone does? Or is merely a geek activity more appropriate to debates about the validity of the Battlestar Galactica Season 2.5 conclusion than to mainstream discussions?

These questions are coming to the fore a bit more. Can those of us like Ethan , who are "who are enthusiastic about the read/write web" take heart in the recent Pew Iternet Study that found that 57% of adult respondents have created and shared something online? Are we sobered by the release of research like Eszter Hargittai's that shows the number of folks actually engaging with blogs and read-write web devices is astonishingly low? Jakob Nielsen makes similar points in a discussion with Jeff Jarvis at Buzzmachine:

You are extrapolating from your personal experience. This is invalid. You are not an average user….

Jeff responded,

Who would have thought even a year ago that the BBC, The Guardian, CNN, CBS, and other major media would need to run to catch up with this wacky thing called the podcast — and that once they did catch up, they’d serve them to large and devoted audiences.

And who says we need to create for the average anymore? Who the hell is average? No one is. The beauty of this new world is that we can create and serve in many ways for many people and needs and interests.

And Jakob responds in a comment :

That will work only for the people who are most fanatic, who are engaged so much that they will go and check out these blogs all the time. There are definitely some people who do that — they are a small fraction.

[UPDATED: I meant to add: with RSS' spread into mainstream products like IE7, the New York Times' MyTimes, and Yahoo, won't that tiny fraction grow exponentially?]

Relatedly, John Dickerson, in his article on Lieberman challenger Ned Lamont, asks whether blog-driven challenger Lamont has

tapped into a winning political movement, or does he just have a bunch of supporters who can type quickly?

Like Ethan and Jeff, I'm an optimist– I think the blogosphere is certainly more than quick typers. But, per Eszter and Nielsen's challenges, where's the data, Pew phone studies notwithstanding? In a similar vein, see the comments left by Eszter and Pat Aufterheide in response to my post about Saul Hansell's optimism that MySpace is a media literacy tool:

Eszter: "I am not sure who are all these people he is talking about who are or will be participating actively enough to learn. But it will be interesting to follow and find out."
Pat: "The evidence at the outset of this phenomenon gives us no guide."

2 thoughts on “Will My Mother-in-Law Blog?

  1. Ah, John, but don’t measure the success of the medium by the number who read. Measure it by those who write. And that measurement is, indeed, amazing (one new blog a second and half of them still kicking after three months; the whole doubling ever six months).

    We measured only readership before because that’s what we could measure and because no one could write unless they knew the guy with the printing press. Now we can measure authorship.

    And I’m fond of saying that it’s a mistake to measure this as a medium. Not everyone doing this wants to be media. They’re just people talking. Let’s listen.

    So I think it’s a mistake to judge the importance of this by one gross number — is it as big as Lost? Doesn’t matter. That was the measurement of the old, monopolistic, one-size-fits-all, scarcity-driven media world. Now we are in the new, open, something-for-everyone, abundance-driven post-media world.

    jeff

  2. Jeff, first you say we should measure the phenomenon by the number who write, not the number who listen. But then you say “They’re just people talking. Let’s listen.” So which is more important, talking or listening? And which should we be measuring?

    The number of readers is likely going to be much larger than the number of writers. And the number of readers is already pretty small. So the number of writers is going to be even smaller. You say that earlier people didn’t write. But didn’t they? Didn’t they keep journals? And if no one reads someone’s blog then how is it different from simply writing a journal? People have not only kept journals, they have published hard copy family and organizational newsletters for quite a while. The different would be if they were getting many more readers this way. But there doesn’t seem to be much evidence that they are.

    John, I hope you don’t think of me as a pessimist. I’d prefer the term realist.:-) As you know, I love these various opportunities and possibilities and I would love to see more people embrace them. I also try to do my best to spread some of the goodness to others. But despite my own enthusiasm, I think it’s important to stay realistic and be aware of actual trends.

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