Jon has written an excellent post which poses the question: "Private blogging....does it make sense? Are there any other solutions out there? Is blogging even so important and so entrenched as part of the digital horizon that we need to discuss this?" I suggest you read the post in its entirety before reading my responses to his post below.

. . .

The blogging phenomenon is not new

Blogging has only gotten a specific nominal identity during the past two years. However, it has existed prior to this whole "boom" of blogging services; they just used to be called webpages. Even after the first string of static webpages, there was that huge boom of .plans, which served as blogs. Blogs are simply tools that allow for self-publishing on the web without a steep learning curve.

Blogs can be used for anything

Because of the general open-endedness of the blogging medium, it can be extended for almost any purpose. The first natural fit [and the area where it's made the biggest impact] is in the media - the ability to self-publish and be quickly aggregated to be read is a great extension of grassroots media. The Triangle Bloggers Conference was primarily geared around grassroots journalism more than anything.

Companies like Gawker Media are trying to make blogs like magazines - minus the publishing costs and with greater viral marketing. Whether the blogging medium can have a sustainable income is something that only time will tell.

There are many people out there writing great specific blogs that focus on a specific theme which are educational in nature. This fulfills the original "research" intent of the Internet.

But the greatest use of blogs do not come from any of these areas. They come from 18-year old girls.

"The average blogger is a teenage girl who uses her blog to inform her friends of school happenings"

Unfortunately, the vast number of users do not use blogging for any of the 'useful' reasons that were listed above. Looking at the blog market share data, the greatest movers are coming from sites like LJ, Blogger, and TypePad. TypePad excluded [for a variety of reasons I don't really want to get into], the biggest blogging sites are those that are geared around the concept of 'journaling' more than blogging.

Xanga has a whole thriving community around high school and college students who update about nothing in particular at all!

These types of users [casual users] use blogging services to simply keep their friends updated on happenings in their personal lives. And to answer Jon's question ... these are the people who these "private blogs" mainly appeal to. People who wanted a limited audience.

Not everyone writes for any useful purpose - a lot of people write simply to waste time and keep connected with friends. And these people have privacy expectations which are very difficult to maintain on the Internet. And I'm going to gander a guess that Jon's friend falls under this category of user. The user who writes about semi-personal things and wishes some level of privacy.

"Privacy" and "private blogs"

The concept of "private" blogs raises the issue of the user to control who reads their blogs. Unfortunately, tools are so crude that users only have a choice between "everybody" [public] or "nobody" [private]. And many internet newbies have trouble grappling this concept. What further compounds this issue is that new bloggers believe their voice will be "lost in the crowd" and blog things that should not be blogged [personal stuff].

Blogging is not easy - the balance required in maintaining your privacy, the privacy of people in your life, with the tendency of many bloggers to blog about anything causes many problems; people have lost their jobs over what they've blogged!

But this is a fundamental problem of the web. How do you take advantage of this incredibly advantageous medium while maintaining privacy? It's a problem that no one really seems to be grappling with - the main issue becomes an issue of trust. How do websites establish the identity of a user to issue levels of trust? The problem becomes even more confounded with the American notion of "privacy" and the general distrust towards any national identification system.

This is one of the problems that I feel most depressed about - a lot of blogging tools have started to tone down on cool feature developments and are trying to monetize their user base [Tabulas included, but this changes soon!]. I haven't seen any new feature developments on Blogger ... or even much on Livejournal. Even Xanga has slowed down feature development to once every few months ... and are there even any new disruptive blogging tools emerging?

Back to the point: privacy controls are NECESSARY

If we take for fact that most users are not interested in joining a blogosphere, but simply in emulating their community of their real-life friends online, the answer becomes clear as to whether privacy controls are required: a resounding yes.

I'm still grappling with the maturity of the blogging community. Both in terms of adoption within the general population and the goals of the bloggers - are we still at the "early adopters" phase of the technology? If we are, what will the demographics of future generations of bloggers resemble?

One of the things I'm very cognizant about is that the bloggers I read and the bloggers I've met are *not* very typical. The bloggers at conference and the weekly meetups seem to be the "elite" of the blogging community - those who are really at the edge of new tools and developments, and are trying to push the blog into new fields.

Even developers seem very disconnected with these bloggers; how disconnected are the developers from the "average joe" blogger? I'll be writing my thoughts on podcasting [new emerging tech], and I wonder how easily adoptable podcasting will be for the average joe user. Really.

So what I think: I think that within the next 5 years, the greatest level of adoption will occur from the professionals demographics - these are the people in their 30s and 40s, looking for a way to connect to social networks outside their work. They will look to take advantage of advanced privacy controls to ensure that what they post cannot be read by prying eyes; this will help build a level of trust between those users and services that will lead to greater adoption rates.

Lots of technologists claim that e-mail is broken [I believe so] and that blogging can serve a lot of the needs of e-mail, and I think this is where the next generation of blogger growth will come from. Grandma and Grandpa looking to share their pictures and experiences with a willing audience.


So yes, given the fact that most users on the Internet do not want to use blogs for grassroots journalism or for any real "useful" purpose besides "writing about their lives," privacy levels are absolutely necessary. A lot of people of people wish simply to share with a limited audience, and not to share with absolute strangers. The mentality that Jon's friend shared ['it's my blog and don't you dare read it or comment on it you f*ing asshole'] is mostly the failure of blogging services in allowing the user easy privacy level access - this person brought ideas that seemed reasonable from the real world and tried to apply them to the web - sadly most web tools are still in their infancy and could not handle these requests.

Until web tools learn to deal with these users' very reasonable request for greater privacy control, blogging will continue to only be accessible to a very small subset of users [teenagers with nothing to hide and semi-professional amateur bloggers].

And if you're thinking this is a bad thing [keeping "average Joe" users out of the blogosphere], this is misguided thinking. Technology must be democratized so *every* can use them and benefit from them.

Posted by roy on March 6, 2005 at 02:13 AM in Web Development | 13 Comments

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Comment posted on March 8th, 2005 at 01:00 PM
I wanted to throw my two cents in as I'm the 'it's my blog and don't you dare read it or comment on it you f*ing asshole' guy. I'm fully cognisant that blogs are public spaces and that anybody can access them. I’m sure most if not all bloggers are. The technical reality is that anybody can come to your blog, however the social reality is that either friends will come because you’ve told them or strangers who are bored and/or first time bloggers who are exploring the blogging world may click on a link that takes them to your site, read a post or two and then move on a forget all about you. I’m not tech savvy, but that been my experience and that level of “privacy” is good enough. And, as has been point out, most blogs don’t have anything meaningful to say to anybody other than the person who posts and their friends. That ends up being the social “privacy” check and balance, boredom.

My problem wasn’t strangers reading, or even posting, but rather repeat posters that I simply didn’t want posting on my blog, much like a Yahoo Group or forum. It’s not a new problem, but rather one aspect of human relationships. I'm defiantly one of those ‘people [who] write simply to waste time and keep connected with friends.’ So it’s natural to want some people to post and not others, just like any circle of friends. It goes all the way back to the school ground. The current technology (again, I’m not tech savvy) allows a blogger to kill the comments, but then of course people who the blogger wants to communicate with can't post. My individual style and approach was to be rude about asking people not to post, that was my great “sin.” Online communication simply allows more “flexibility” with politeness.

I don’t really see it as “right” or “wrong” with any of it but rather it just good old human nature and drama playing out on the web. Building on what’s been said, I would restate it that the blogging community and technology will simply grow to reflect human nature, including it’s impulsiveness and short attention span. Additionally, Jon is also right that users like myself will get bored and move on. Like a lot of technologies, blogs and cell phones have cutting edge aspects and users, but I would suggest that most users (and what drives the economic base) are the everyday users that waste time and talk to their friends.
Comment posted on March 7th, 2005 at 08:34 AM
As usual Roy, you bring some ideas to the table that I either hadn't thought of, or had discounted.

I believe that bloggers are starting to mature, but the process itself is not mature yet. I am only a little surprised to find out that most bloggers are 18 year old girls that write about nothing. Without any further information I would hazard a guess that this demographic is a bit skewed. To explain: I, like everyone else I'm sure, have run across many, many, such blogs which is probably where this demographic comes from. However, I doubt they have any longevity. How many of these blogs remain 'active' for a reasonable period of time (say..a year?). Even the most narcissistic of people eventually bore themselves out of the blogsphere with repeated posts about feeding their cats and writing about Julie's newest boyfriend.

Don't they?

I'm in the same position as Tallullah. I believe that (at this point, anyhow) that any notion of the blogsphere being the 'new media' or 'sef-publishing' that it is going to 'revolutionize' anything other than how most people spend their spare time is just hype. Other than Google Ads and perhaps some other advertising opportunities for the larger sites (Boingboing, Slashdot et al) - there is no more money to be made for the average blogger in blogging than there is anywhere else. Like any other medium, very few blogs can stand on their own as a revenue opportunity. They are most useful when used to augment a 'traditional' product such a a magazine or book. No meaningful stand alone income streams have, as of yet, appeared.

I can see a use for the type of private blog that Bert writes about. I think in my original post on my blog I said something to the effect that things like project websites probably have a use for private blogging tools. I'm sure there are more examples, but I believe that private blogging is, as Tallullah says, an oxymoron. Kind of like having a private radio station.

I think that's where I stop with respect to private blogging. I can see that there are certain instances where private blogging may be desired or required but those are the exception and overall I believe that notion partially subverts what the web and blogging are all about. Blogs are meant to be read and the web is a transport medium designed to deliver content to all who request it. To use either to create a private little world and to expect it to remain private is anathema to me.

In the end, I just can't wrap my head around your vision of the future of blogging. I can't see it turning into anything more meaningful than it already is. Much like the rise and fall of the web (dot com boom) when it first became mainstream - the discerning factor between successful and 'kitty blogs' will be content - not the format in which it is delivered.

Having said that, I believe that advances in blogging software are a most necessary and welcome prospect. Even if we agree that most bloggers (statistically) write about subjects that no one cares about - I think we can also agree that it's likely there are a few gems in the pile. Hopefully good blogging software will encourage these people to continue blogging and raise the overall quality of blogshpere content.
Comment posted on March 7th, 2005 at 04:54 PM
I was discouraged to see the majority of bloggers were 18 year old girls. I wonder whether that is accurate, as many "older" bloggers probably do not state their ages. There may be many older bloggers but there is no real way of determining this.

Did a bit of checking yesterday after reading Roy's post, and discovered that some have managed to make $$ from their blogs, even going so far as to ask for donations. Perhaps that is the future of making money with blogs -- simply asking for donations from loyal readers. A form of blogging panhandling. Definitely the blogger would have to be providing something worth continued reading/supporting.

Blogging is also a form of self-publishing and may one day become a necessary tool to conveying the truth amidst the government-controlled felgarcarb. An underground information highway.

I like Bert's use of blogging. It is a modernized form of the written records many professionals have kept for years, and works better because it invites comments from co-workers/supervisors and is more effective.

In a related aside, Heatsink, you have a paid account but have Google ads running on your blog. I thought they only ran on the unpaid accounts?
Comment posted on March 8th, 2005 at 02:02 AM
Although it is highly probably that older demographics don't feel the need to share their information, I don't think it would be on the scale that would <a href="">tip the statistics</a>. It follows a very standard bell-curve... even <a href="">Livejournal's statistics</a> follow this trend.

As for blogging "by donations," this is one of the ways that some bloggers can make money. <a href="">jason kottke</a> recently quit his job to become a full-time blogger... whether this is a really viable source for those not on the top of the blog food chain... that's to be seen.
Comment posted on March 7th, 2005 at 05:20 PM
Google Ads:

Those are my Google Ads, not Roy's :)

I have an Adsense account.
Comment posted on March 7th, 2005 at 02:57 PM
Whoa. Long comment. I'll try to respond to all your points.

P2: I actually believe that if we ignore the upper stratosphere of the blogosphere in terms of popularity, the personal blogs have greater longevity than "themed" blogs. The problem with "themed" blogs is that unless the author gets a lot of feedback within an amount of time [or unless he knows the blog is being read], interest is lost. Many of my favorite "themed" blogs have actually become less updated through time because the authors feel that there is "less to write about." was one of those sites. <a href=""></a> is another one.

However, when I look at the Tabulas blogsophere, the blogs that consistently remain updated are those of a personal nature. My blog qualifies under this classification, along with <a href="">lainie</a>. My friends page is a testament to the number of people maintaining personal blogs for a long time.

You can check the statistics page for both Tabulas and LiveJournal and see that 18-year old girls dominate. By far. It's not even a close race.

But you and Tallullah are absolutely correct. It is not going to be possible to monetize the blog fad for the average blogger. Tabulas has roughly 65,000 page views per day, and that only brings in roughly $6/day.

What Bert writes about is a very valid use for a private blog, and one of the few places I think blogging platforms can monetize their platforms - there is a definitely value-added for businesses, and for the reasons Bert brings up, it is beneficial for everybody involved. But blogs are being attacked by wikis on this front; and I'm honestly not sure how the shakeout will occur.

I'm not a blogging fanboy; I'm not sure blogging will ever evolve more fully tha n it has now. I think, though, that this mentality is what a lot of blogging platforms like LJ, TypePad, Xanga, and Blogger have, which is why development on cool new stuff has so drastically fallen. The biggest news in the blogging platform field was the news of WP 1.5... which was ... nothing new.

If this is news, it's a sad state that we're in. Blogging software has not yet taken advantage of developments along the Ajax front to make user interfaces more intuitive, which will hopefully open up the door for less technical users.
Comment posted on March 7th, 2005 at 05:28 PM
$6 a day? you're doing better than me. I've made a grand total of $22 in the last 6 months :)

I can't believe that Wiki's are back in the news. I hated them when they first came out and I hate them now. They're a study in counter-intuiveness.

I'm sure you know that I've only been with Tabulas since last month when I left Blogger. I evaluated probably somewhere around a dozen or so blog sites before settling down here.

If there is a future for blogging, and I think there is, it's sites like this that offer all the good stuff (gallery, radio, free style content pages) all in one place that will survive. Quick fixes for problems and accesibilty of the maintainer are HUGE pluses in my book. Tabulas won my little evaluation game hands down.

I think in the end that it's a numbers game. Not to repeat myself, but if we can get huge numbers of people bloggin with GOOD blogging software, then we can probably keep the few gems that can and will make a difference over the long term.

Interesting stat about longevity, Roy.

On an aside: I'm writing en eBook (until I get $800 to get published) on the Internet using my blog entries to guide the content. Anyone interested in discussing collaboration?
Comment posted on March 8th, 2005 at 02:04 AM
Well the $6 a day is for the whole of Tabulas... not too much when you factor in the operating costs which run close to $400-$500/month.

But I do agree with you in terms of the future of these platforms relying on 'extended' features. A blogging platform should serve as a good jumping point to develop tools that help manage your digital life. That's the direction I've always taken tabulas; beyond just a blogging platform, it's the place where you can run a *full website*.

You're writing a fictional eBook? Or a non-fictional? A bit confused...
Comment posted on March 8th, 2005 at 10:31 AM
I'm going to say 'fictional' because it's not 100% true, but it's largely true.

It's pretty much a story. A 'day in the life of a geek' type of story that uses my blog entries since last September to guide the story.

There's going to be a section on blogging. When I get to that point, I'd love to tap you for ideas and stats. For full credit of course.....

The idea is to make it available as an eBook on many different platforms and market it mostly in Amazon. If it looks like it'll fly, then I'll publish it traditionally.
Comment posted on March 6th, 2005 at 05:49 PM
I am curious about using a blog as a self-publishing tool, but still don't see where the blogger can generate any monies with this. And why do it if you cannot generate a modicum of income? The novelty of seeing my name in print wore off years ago. Now I need my writing to generate $$.

The issue of privacy with an online journal seems almost an oxymoron, the web being the public place it is. However, I think you provide an answer to those who wish to blog privately or for only a few readers, with the "friends only" and "private" choices.

Well done!
Comment posted on March 7th, 2005 at 02:59 PM
You are absolutely correct in saying that bloggers will never monetize their investments. It's not going to happen. That's why almost all paid solutions are so cheap - if there was truly a way to monetize blogs, than the price for "full"-featured blog software would be much more expensive.

I think a lot of people don't believe that privacy in a journal is possible... but that's where I think the pot o' gold is at :)
Comment posted on March 6th, 2005 at 12:32 PM
it's funny, i have two distictly seperate uses for blogging.

1.) personal use (tabulas and xanga, etc). I use for the aforementioned reasons. occasionally i post other things, but still personally. People don't want to read about too many pondering thoughts.

2.) the more efficient use.. I actually have an informal blog at work. It's not anything i can put online, but i keep it on the program share drive. Basically goes over what what i'm working on, and what changes that are to be made. I point out what i'm thinking about in terms of program updates, and your general .plan into work. This is great for a few reasons. My bosses who usually work til 7'ish each night sometimes are too busy to regularly talk to us low level grunts. This keeps him in the loop with what i'm up to. And proceeds our conversations into actual technical debates vs. status quo reports. I get much more involved into the archtitectural development, as opposed to a wait and see approach.
The other benefit is that I can go back and check out what i was thinking when i made a change. It's all documented informally. while on travel, if they ask me a question about something that happened 6 months ago.. I can tell them why i did something. It's my secondary memory.. My brain is my L1 and L2 cache, and this blog is my hard drive. I can't remember everything. But now I don't need to. And while Boeing won't anytime soon make blogging mandatory (i believe that will make it useless), I think there are a few people around me that have seen how effective a tool it really is.
Comment posted on March 7th, 2005 at 03:00 PM
Point 2 is a good point. I think this is where businesses can really get some value-added from blogs. This may be the only way to monetize the blogging platform.

blog services are going to have to be subsidized by larger internet offerings [ISPs and such] because the concept of paying separate for a blogging service is ridiculous, imho.