Fading away? (More metablogging)

In the past few days, one of the best libloggers called it quits: She explicitly said there won’t be any more posts on that blog.
By itself, while it’s noteworthy, I probably wouldn’t post about it. The writer isn’t going away, the archives aren’t going away, and the circumstances may be unusual.
But there’s a context that might be worth discussing and pursuing further–actually two contexts, one only marginally related.

Direct context

One comment on this shutdown said that, according to the writer and a colleague, this particular blog was the only consistent liblog around (not in those words)–in essence, that most liblogs (blogs created by library-related people but not as official library blogs) aren’t showing much action these days.

I didn’t take offense at the remark; this blog hasn’t been consistent since it began, and has never had a steady stream of meaningful posts. On a more general basis–well, I think the finding’s a little uncharitable, but I’m not sure it’s entirely wrong.
Fact is, a fair number of experienced libloggers have cut way back–disappearing for weeks or months at a time when they previously posted something every day or three. How many and to what extent? That’s a tough one; see below under “Documenting whatever it is.” I don’t think it’s entirely anecdotal, but that’s an anecdotal judgment.

Indirect context

Setting aside liblogs, what about library blogs–blogs created by libraries?

There seems little doubt that quite a few library blogs started without much planning and were deserted early on. Whether or not anyone actually said “Every library should have a blog” (Steven Cohen is on record as saying he used to ”think” that, but the direct statement, in so many words, doesn’t show up as a first-person statement, although James LaMee comes very close), that was certainly the implication of some early Library 2.0 statements. (Oh, look: Cliff Landis apparently did say every public library should have a blog, unless he’s misquoted here.)
But saying that lots of library blogs have been abandoned is, at best, anecdotal. (If you use the informal measure “One, two, three, lots” then all you need do is find four abandoned library blogs: Easily done. If by “lots” you mean “some substantial percentage of all that were created,” that requires something more than anecdotal evidence.)

Slightly better than anecdotal

In preparing the two soon-to-go-out-of-print books on library blogs, I looked at how 231 academic library blogs and 252 public library blogs were doing in March-May 2007. While certainly the largest sets of library blogs ever studied in any detail, neither set was remotely comprehensive, and that was deliberate:

  • All blogs had to be in English.
  • Blogs had to have started no later than December 2006.
  • Blogs had to be “reasonably active” in early 2007–that is, at least one post in two out of three of the study months (March, April, May 2007).
  • Blogs had to be reachable in mid-2007 (June-August), when I was doing the studies.

For public library blogs, I began with a set of 360 English-language candidates, of which at least 68 were defunct, 19 more weren’t reachable, 16 were too new–and at least 29 didn’t meet the “reasonably active” mark.
For academic library blogs, I began with a set of more than 400 blogs–of which at least 54 were defunct, 23 more were unreachable (or not blogs at all), 23 turned out not to be in English, and 22 weren’t “reasonably active.”
So, realistically, my studies excluded around 30% of “visible” public library blogs and 42% of “visible” academic library blogs, keeping the more robust specimens. (“Visible”: There were probably scores and possibly hundreds of other library blogs I didn’t know about, because they weren’t in one of the wikis tracking these things or otherwise evident.)
Similarly, while The Liblog Landscape 2007-2008 includes 607 liblogs, it excludes more than a hundred other English-language liblogs.
I did recheck the blogs that were in the study in a quick visit done while preparing for the 2009 OLA SuperConference. The results of that recheck appear in the February 2009 Cites & Insights, or separately as “Shiny Toys or Useful Tools?”–PDF rather than HTML because it was too much hassle to try to get the eight graphs into an HTML version.
Briefly, here’s what I found in terms of survival–from May 2007 to December 2008 for library blogs, from May 2008 to December 2008 for liblogs:

  • Of the 231 academic library blogs, 17 (7%) had disappeared entirely–but of the remaining 93%, more than three-quarters had at least one post within a month before the date checked and fully 92% had at least one post within 120 days.
  • Of the 252 public library blogs, 15 had either disappeared, gone behind a security wall, or changed into parking pages or non-blogs. Of the remainder, two-thirds had at least one post within a month before the test date and 89% had at least one post within 120 days.
  • Of liblogs–where some were already moribund by May 2008, and where I’d cut the list down to 570 by excluding a handful of non-English blogs and ones that had already disappeared (entirely, including archives) by March 2008–some 70% had posts within a month of the test date (47% within a week), and 87% had at least one post within 120 days.

So, at a gross measure, it’s fair to say that library blogs and liblogs that were established in early 2007 or early 2008 respectively had not, by and large, been abandoned by late 2008.
But those are gross measures and don’t say much about the reality of the blogs.
Additionally, there’s a bunch of anecdotal evidence that blogs may be suffering more over just the past few months, thanks in part to competition from Twitter, Friendfeed, Facebook et al.

Documenting whatever it is

In December 2008, I posted a note citing a kind comment from Kathleen de la Peña McCook, who said “I think maybe all this (blogs) may fade and that your books may document the movement.”

At the time–way, way back in the dusty distance of six months ago–I said:

I think blogs are already fading in one sense, but I also think it’s unlikely that they’ll fade away any time soon–no more likely than, say, the end of mail lists or email itself. I believe they’ve become reasonably well established as one medium; the uses for that medium are changing as other media emerge–so, for example, Twitter and delicious are probably reducing the number of pure link posts.

Now? I have no idea…and I’m intrigued on a couple of levels. Maybe (maybe) intrigued enough to waste a little more time on the subject. (Yes, I’d still love sponsorship for research–and more book buyers. No, I’m not holding my breath. I’d rather have a sponsor for Cites & Insights itself…)
That time wastage might come in two varieties:

  • A quick-and-dirty, but non-anecdotal, sweep of the 483 library blogs studied in 2007. For this sweep, I’d probably just look at, say, May 2009, and measure things that take almost no time to measure–most recent post (in days), number of posts in that month, maybe number of comments in that month (if any). I might also reclassify each blog as to whether it’s a “functional blog” (where the blog is really a publishing mechanism that’s embedded on the library’s website and has little or no separate presence–e.g., new events, new books lists).
  • A more substantial repeat visit to the trimmed list of 570 liblogs from the 2007-2008 study–anywhere from the q&d approach mentioned above to a full-scale study, or possibly something in the middle that pays more attention to how individual blogs have changed and, specifically, how “established” or “name” blogs have or haven’t done.

Are liblogs, or particularly the old reliable big-name liblogs, fading away? I honestly don’t have a good sense one way or the other.
Are library blogs surviving or prospering? Ditto.
Does anybody care? Damned if I know.

4 Responses to “Fading away? (More metablogging)”

  1. Friendfeed has definitely changed my reading of blogs, but it in no way changes my writing a blog. I read more widely- I think- clicking through to more blog posts that were “liked” by people in my network, but that come from blogs to which I do not subscribe. My blogging has always been fairly uneven, and the focus changes depending on what I’m interested in. From far away, this is just the typical ebb and flow. It’s just when someone who has a lot of readers ebbs, it gets attention.
    FWIW and if it makes anyone feel better, I heard some of the same irrational exuberance from publishers at this year’s SSP that librarians were spouting 2004-2006. They want to go from static web page to blog(s), wikis, twitter, facebook, myspace(yes, really)… all on the same day… sigh.

  2. The judgment partly depends on what counts as consistency. The early blogging model of frequent short posts linking to something else has moved elsewhere, which I think is a good thing for everyone involved. If consistency means something other than frequency, then there are definitely other consistent blogs. John Dupuis publishes a post a week at least. Steven Bell blogs consistently at ACRLog. Though my blog is far from major, I do the same, and my blog is as consistent as it has ever been. Maybe liblogland has been left to long form bloggers writing critical opinionated essays.

    I would agree that most of the “big” blogs of the past few years have reduced their posting frequency, but of these only one is a longer form opinion blog (Information Wants to be Free). Others post anything from essays to links to photos to news. I might also add, at the risk of incurring one inconsistent blogger’s ire, that at least one popular blog (the one that everyone loves to hate) is as consistent as clockwork, though that blogger has some financial incentive to publish regularly.

  3. “I’m not sure it’s entirely wrong” also means I’m not sure it’s right. As I’ve noted elsewhere, it would be easy to choose “statistically significant” lists of liblogs to prove almost any side of any hypothesis I wanted to prove–certainly including both sides of whether there are still consistent high-profile bloggers. In fact, there are; whether the highest-profile (whoever those are) are starting to fade away is another question.
    If liblogs are becoming more and more places with occasional essays rather than lots of links, that’s probably a good thing. Is that what’s happening in general? That’s a research question.

  4. jessamyn says:

    I’ve personally definitely spread myself thinner getting the word out about stuff lately. I blog less frequently and it’s more likely to be about someone I know or travel I’m doing. I use Twitter somewhat, I interact with people on facebook, I put things up with longer essays sometimes on Flickr and I have my personal blog which has really slowed down.
    As far as blogs, I’m mostly reading the same ones I’ve been reading for years with a few additions and a few subtractions and I had to poke around a little to even figure out who you were referring to. I’m seeing more and more blogs by more and more different types of librarians than ever before, however, in my random poking around. I can read about more sorts of libraries than I could five years ago which is sort of neat, and most people who might be so inclined to get a blog now likely have the ability to go get one, which is neat.
    I’d be interested if you go the research route on any of these paths though, it would be nice to know what’s perception and what’s reality.