Thinking Digital kicked off with a ‘social media masterclass’ Stowe Boyd, the chair of the talk, kicked off with what he called the “strip-malling of the Web”. Controversially, he declared blogging as ‘dead’, claiming it as a transitionary stage between traditional web and ‘social media’ – which he says doesn’t exist (at least not yet). There are valid points – blogging’s format is derived from traditional news outlets’ own, and they have found it very easy to adapt to blogging as a result.
Boyd likens the takeover of the blogging to “strip malling” – likening the blogosphere to an urban landscape, where some big players in the mainstream media end up crowding out the smaller independent blogs. Those bloggers have since fled to streamed, more social and more egalitarian, media such as Twitter – compare with the phenomenon of urban flight.
It’s a nice metaphor but I don’t agree with it – not least because blog platform traffic is steadily on the up. Some blog traffic will be disproportionately allocated to the big players, but this is just part of the long tail effect. And Twitter is no more egalitarian than blogs – some user such as celebrities and news organisations have tens or hundreds of thousands of followers, and with the exception of a few web gurus, ordinary users have followers several orders of magnitude fewer.
An aside on the growth thing – the blog platform with the most remarkable growth is Tumblr – which has shot up five times this past year to 2.5M unique users per year. Tumblr is sort-of blogging but also lifestreaming – short posts, asides & links are encouraged – maybe that’s where the future lies as a hybrid (see also Friendfeed, or even Facebook, which now takes RSS feeds from your Flickr, delicious, blog, etc.)
Also there was Alex Hunter, head of web marketing at Virgin, who was talking about the social networking site he is setting up around the Virgin brand, and Paul Smith aka the Twitchhiker, who raised a lot of money for charity: water. In both cases, they’re contrasted with what happens in ‘real life’ – strangers sitting next to each other using Virgin planes & trains rarely talk to each other in person, and old-fashioned hitchhiking is nowhere near as common as it used to be over fears of kidnapping etc. In both cases there is a more atomised social capital-starved society, but interactions online with strangers have moved into this vacuum, giving context and building trust where there was none before.
As with many of these things, the best bits came up with the free discussion at the end. JP Rangaswami talked about his desire for ‘biodegradable’ data – the idea that personal data should rot like dead matter – old blog posts, photos, should have a limited shelf life (this is related to the concept of bit rot for code. Interestingly this chimes in with something Cory Doctorow said at the ORG privacy talk - that all data should either be less than two years old (so as to be accurate) or over 100 (so the person affected is long dead). Stow Boyd chipped in that Twitter already does this, to a degree – it’s very hard finding Tweets older than three months. Needless to say, with my current fetish for preserving everything I disagree.
There were also nice points on what happens when online media and the ‘real world’ collide. Thanks to sites like Meetup.com and events like Twestival, strangers are now using online to meet & make new friends in a social context (as opposed to Internet dating which is usually one-on-one, unless you’re kinky/lucky). But there’s a downside as well – backchannels at real-life events can quickly lead to douchebaggery (think the rebellion against Sarah Lacy’s admittedly soft interview with Mark Zuckerberg at last year’s SXSW).
Right that’s part one for now. There’s more livetweeting of the conference over at @conferencebore. And if you’re here then don’t be shy – come up and say hello…