Sunday, August 22, 2010
Sunday's Word: Evolution
Since starting this blog in 2003, it, too, has undergone "evolution". Things pop up in the sidebar all the time that I'm working on. Even though I very much have a non-writing day job, I'm always thinking about the next thing I can add to my blog to make it better.
But blogging itself has "evolved", too, in interesting ways. It's definitely a very different game than it was seven years ago. I'm finding myself thinkng about what this blog should be - now, and going into the future. Don't worry, I can't imagine myself giving this thing up at the moment. But it is certain to "evolve". (more)
I can't say that my blog was there "at the beginning." Wikipedia puts the inception date of blogging as 1994, but I got into this stuff much later.
My earliest efforts came - and ended, originally - in the early 2000s, when I registered a website name, a place to host it for free, and naively thought that Lehigh fans around the world would find my website and make it into an international sensation. It was fun and I learned a lot, but it ended up being a lot of work - more work than I could handle on the side of my day job, and I eventually abandoned it.
But in 2003, when I discovered Blogger.com, it was a revelation for me. Now I could spend my time generating interesting posts for readers rather than messing with website code every single day. Over the years I had learned a lot of tricks about HTML, but I had no interest in needing to program that and upload files all the time. Blogger, then already bought out by Google, made blogging available for the "masses", including myself.
At first, I didn't know who would be reading my stuff - if anybody. But it worked, and ultimately an audience grew for my writing. It has been a success, opening doors to me that I never would have thought possible. And it has made me some money. Not enough to quit the day job, but money nonetheless.
With a bit of money comes the dream. What if my blog could become a moneymaker? Even generate enough so my wife won't have to work? Maybe a book could be made - and then, a movie, yeah! Sure, a Julie & Julia situation is a real longshot. But a possible roadmap. Right?
Things have changed, though. It's a very different world today. Things have "evolved."
The past seven years of blogging have shown change at a frenetic pace. Blogging went from fringe-y tech activity to a phenomenon to a mortal threat to the "moral fiber" of sports reporting. (Deadspin's Will Leitch played the role of plucky young internet start-up guy, with Buzz Bissinger playing the role of Darth Media. If they can make a pathetic, awful movie about the creation of Facebook, certainly they can fictionalize this, right?)
It was supposed to be the tool that would end up killing the newspaper for good, as folks who subscribe to newspapers start croaking and the Facebook generation, who is used to getting its news and information for free, starts to forget what a print newspaper is.
Last year, a conference on blogging in New York City talked about "new media" - how blogging, according to Leitch, had gone from "hobby" to "lifestyle and career". There certainly seemed to be a ring of truth to it, despite the strange presence of a whole lot of "suits".
Looking back on all of this, it almost seems quaint. Newspapers, far from dying, have come back resurgent after brutal job and cost-cutting. Rather than watch blogs take all of their tiny pie of online business, newspapers and media companies belatedly found out that they can become bloggers, too - and that more people would visit a professional journalist than some guy off the street with a writing complex and a dream.
The only thing that we really can say these days about the state of blogging is that it has "evolved" significantly over the last ten years, and even just over the last year. It started as a fringe, even vaguely suvbersive, activity. Then it exploded: millions of common folks with an urge to write all of a sudden had the power to write anything, anywhere, anytime.
There was even the dream - somewhere - that you could get rich doing it. Google Adsense would provide the cash, or companies would fall over themselves pursuing the "long tail" of millions of websites with countless tastes and flavors. Advertisers would pay handsomely to get at an educated, specific market of folks interested in Lehigh football.
Somewhere over the past year, though, that dream has "evolved" somewhat.
Entrepeneurs saw that nobody was going to make money pursuing mutiple subjects with arcane subject matter, not least because it didn't conform to any business plan that involved advertising. Ads require as many numbers of eyeballs as possible looking at their content - which, logically, means that the only way advertisers would be willing to pay for blog advertising were for a large number of blogs together to have the scale to make the audience worth their while.
Worse, online advertising isn't the "spend the money and pray" form that exists on TV or newspapers. The statistics on them are depressingly accurate. Advertisers know how many hits you get. They know how many of those hits become revenue. Statistics are the worst enemy of bloggers' ability to get paid with advertising - and big online advertisers don't pay for quality, they pay by the number of eyeballs and click-throughs. If your blog doesn't conform with their volume numbers, they could care less, no matter how good it is.
Parallel to all of this is the emergence of Facebook and Twitter, two new portals which become a "need-to-be-present" place where you need to promote your stuff. They are powerful tools - and also take away some of the functions that blogs used to have. People can create an incredible volume of content using Facebook and Twitter - the great majority which has no historical value.
To the big companies, content, it seems, is overrated - because content, good, bad, titillating and horrible, is expanding at an exponential pace. Facebook and Twitter - and Google, for that matter - does not seem to particularly care about the quality of content. They just want to be the way people get to some content, any content - and throw some ads in their face along the way.
A new industry has cropped up to supply oceans of content, too. If you're Republican, you get Republican content. Democrat: Deomcratic content. If you want health advice, they deliver health advice content. Five tips to better living? They crank it out, whether they themselves believe it or not. It's their day job to provide what the public wants to hear - and their job is to perpetuate the viewpoint that their employers want them to have.
These companies are using blogging and tweeting to seem like they are "underground" and "viral" and independent - because blogging has its roots in that. But blogs have "evolved" from those completely independent days to today, where many blogs and tweets and political opinion and "buzz" is simply manufactured by folks who are paid to do so. Companies are trading on the fact that "blog", at some level, is the equivalent of "independent".
That will not last.
You'd think after reading this depressing fare that I'd be completely down on the art of blogging, especially about collegiate sports. If blogs are now just a bunch of hacks creating paid content not based on any reality, why should I, or anyone else, do it? If I can't make a mint doing it, why do it?
But - strangely enough - there are a lot of reasons to be happy about blogging, even if the road isn't paved with immediate riches. I don't have to look very far, either.
Just this year, a bunch of new blogs specific to the Patriot League have popped up. One, called Chu Chu Rah Rah, covers Holy Cross athletics. Another, sponsored by the Easton Express-Times, covers Lafayette and is called Lafayette Lair. This joins my blog, the Rams' on-again off-again blogger Fordham Sports Net, the official gameday blog of the Patriot League, and the newly-expanded Third Rail blog off the Georgetown website Hoya Saxa, tirelessly written by the irrepressible fan called DFW Hoya.
This joins a multitude of Ivy League blogs, led by Big Green Alert, the Dartmouth blog which is separated by pay and free versions (and is a consistent source of inspiration for my own blog). To this we add Roar Lions Roar, a great blog about Columbia, Portal 31, a Yale blog run by the New Haven Register, and some relative newcomers: Brown Bear Blogger and Princeton's Tiger Blog, sponsored by Princeton Athletics.
There are tons more too, of course, in the northeast that are valuable additions that I follow regularly. Keith Groller's and Paul Reinhart's blogs at the Morning Call are must-reads. During the football season, Michael Lore at the Express-Times is another.
Feinstein on the Brink sometimes covers Patriot League topics, as its author, John Feinstein, wrote a book all about Patriot League basketball. Defiantly Dutch covers Hofstra Athletics, and was an absolute must-read when Hofstra unexpectedly pulled the plug on their football program. The UMass Football Blog is a place I frequently check out to get updates about CAA teams. (I'm sure there are more I'm missing - no disrespect meant if I missed you!)
Some are sponsored by media companies or are official arms of school media departments. But there are an awful lot of players out there - including most of the new ones - that are independent, blogging machines. Furthermore, the agenda of every single one of these blogs are nothing more than putting out previews and great stories about the kids who are participating in athletics at their universities. That's great news, no matter how you look at it.
For a long time, it was Big Green Alert, Hoya Saxa and some plucky upstart called Lehigh Football Nation if you wanted regular information about the Patriot League or Ivy League. It's a lot more crowded now. Regular people are starting their own blogs, armed with passion and a huge knowledge of the game and the league.
Local papers, with people who care about local teams and community, have been writing a lot about their teams and getting their stories out there. Things have "evolved" - in the best possible fashion. When it comes to Patriot League, Ivy League or FCS football, it's still blessedly independent with a lot of great voices. I don't throw this word around a lot, but it's inspiring. Damned inspiring.
Sometimes I read about the death of newspapers and blogs. I fret about the "evolution" of the market, where Facebook and Google gets all the money and content is left to starve. I look at my own advertising numbers, and shake my head. I won't be quitting my day job anytime soon.
But then I get some perspective by looking at the multitude of other independent blogs, doing things the right way, and - guess what? - the number of them are growing, especially in my neck of the woods. There's a lot of crap content out there in other fields - but in my subject matter, there are more voices, and things are getting better, not worse.
Maybe Darwin has it right. "Evolution" isn't so bad after all.