I was going to let Andrew Sullivan's departure from blogging pass without comment-- I haven't been a regular reader of his stuff in around ten years, after all-- but a couple of mysterious guys in dark suits showed up at the house and pointed out that as someone who started blogging in 2002, I would face dire consequences if I didn't say anything at all. I offered to do two really short posts consisting of just links to Ezra Klein and Kevin Drum and the word "Indeed," but they weren't amused.
Truth be told, I do owe Sullivan a bit of a debt, and not just because he linked to me a few times and sent scads of readers this way. I gave up reading him back when he was making hyperbolic accusations of treason against people who opposed the war in Iraq, but like most bloggers of my generation, he was a big part of my introduction to the medium. And while I never agreed with him very much, thinking about exactly how he was wrong was a useful exercise for a few years there.
As for what this says about the medium as a whole, I really don't have a whole lot to add to what Klein and Drum say. I agree that blogs in general are less conversational, and sort of miss the tighter community of the olden days. I also think Kevin's got most of the reasons down-- the combination of a shift to other media and the professionalization of blogging generally has fundamentally changed things, and there's no going back. Professional blogs and media sites need to pay the bills, so they're much less likely to engage in the kind of promiscuous linking that used to drive so much conversation. And a huge amount of conversation has moved to Twitter and Facebook, where it's basically impossible to keep track of. One of my most successful posts of the last couple months (Thanks, Common Core) got a huge number of hits from Facebook, and I have absolutely no idea who was sending that traffic my way, or what they were saying. Because, Facebook-- wherever it got off to, it wasn't via people who are friends with me, so I couldn't see any of it.
On the other hand, there's a sense in which blogging really has transformed things. What blogs there are now feature much more professional sorts of writing, but at the same time, a lot of professional media outlets have adopted a much more blog-y tone. Something like Grantland, while it boasts editors and staff writers and all the trappings of a real media outlet, is just a massive group blog. You don't see the cross-blog conversations that you used to back in the day, but the informal, conversational style that characterized early blogs has expanded hugely. As somebody who finds that style congenial, I regard this as a positive development, and for all his faults, Sullivan deserves some credit for that.
And while you can find the occasional piece claiming that Sullivan is the departing rat indicating that the medium is sinking, the truth is, blogs are way bigger than any one individual or site. Opening joke aside, I could perfectly well let his departure pass without comment, because he isn't especially relevant to what I do any more, and hasn't been for years.
Of course, there are some things about my part of the blogging ecosystem that aren't especially healthy, at least from the standpoint of people getting paid. Scientific American pruned its blog network dramatically and ScienceBlogs is a shell of what it once was. There isn't the same opportunity to get cash for science blogging that there once was. On the other hand, there are probably more for-free outlets now, and a greater diversity of styles of things, with videos and Tumblr photoblogs and Twitter chats and all that stuff
In thinking about this, I pulled up the Google Analytics stats for the blog for the first time in ages, and was a little surprised by just how little change there's been. I have a vague sense that there was a drop-off in traffic back when National Geographic came in and most of the culture-wars stuff moved off ScienceBlogs (I don't have access to those stats any more), but over the period I can see, everything has been remarkably consistent. I don't think I'm supposed to share exact numbers, so I cropped out the vertical scale in the "featured image" above, but you can see the basically flat trend with the occasional big spike. (Most recently from huge numbers of aggrieved Patriots fans...)
Of course, there are some significant shifts in how that traffic works. Commenting fell off a cliff a while back, I'm not sure why. I think the departure of the culture warriors decreased overall traffic at ScienceBlogs, and I definitely get less incidental traffic from the other blogs on the network. Most of my current traffic comes from social media of various kinds, now-- I have a Twitter feed for the blog that isn't very widely followed, but anything I think is worthwhile I'll promote on my own Twitter account, once when it goes live and again in the afternoon. That seems to keep things ticking along fairly smoothly.
I've been on a bit of a tear lately, blogging-wise, which is largely because I've been deeply unhappy about a bunch of stuff I can't really talk about. Blogging serves as a kind of refuge from that for me-- weirdly, my Happy Place turns out to be at Starbucks with my laptop. The frequency of posts is probably going to drop off dramatically in the near future, though, as we're entering a more intense part of the academic term. Or maybe somebody will piss me off enough that I'll just say "Fuck it" and blog even more. Tough call. Anyway, for the moment, I'm enjoying the writing and getting a lot of traffic, which is nice.
(I am, however, pretty terrible at turning those tweets and blog pageviews into book sales, alas. Which is one of the things making me grumpy these days...)
So, you know, it's 2015: blogging is dead; long live blogging.
The changes to Scientific American's blog network were not universally "unhealthy". Those of us continuing on the network received a substantial increase in pay, and the number is small enough we may receive quicker editorial help when we ask.
I'm disappointed my colleagues were cut from the network, certainly - I was proud to place my illustrations and blog posts alongside their words.
As for blogging as a refuge - I hear you on that, and what a refuge it can be. Cheers.