Blogging Isn’t Dead, But Linking May Be Broken

Josh Catone
Josh Catone

Paul Boutin, a writer for Silicon Valley gossip blog Valleywag caused a stir today when he published a piece of linkbait in Wired advising people to pull the plug on their blogs.

“Writing a weblog today isn’t the bright idea it was four years ago. The blogosphere, once a freshwater oasis of folksy self-expression and clever thought, has been flooded by a tsunami of paid bilge,” he writes “Cut-rate journalists and underground marketing campaigns now drown out the authentic voices of amateur wordsmiths. It’s almost impossible to get noticed, except by hecklers.”

That’s certainly rich coming from someone who writes for Valleywag — the perennial home of cut-rate journalists and paid bilge (a gig that Boutin called his “dream job” in June). As proof that blogging is dead, Boutin offers up two pieces of evidence: Uber blogger Robert Scoble now mostly “focuses on posting videos and Twitter updates,” rather than blogging, he says, and Jason Calacanis — the man who made blogging cool with Weblogs, Inc. and made a mint doing it — has “retired” because blogging is “too big, too impersonal, and lacks […] intimacy.”

Calacanis, though, is a master of self-promotion. Quitting blogging was a stunt, and he still gets just as much traction in the blogosphere on the ideas he publishes through his email newsletter as he did on his personal blog. Calacanis didn’t quit blogging, he just publishes his blog via email now. Scoble, meanwhile, still blogs everyday — he put up four posts yesterday (I’m convinced he’s actually some sort of robot, though, so maybe he’s a bad example). The point is: Boutin’s evidence is weak.

According to the annual State of the Blogosphere report from Technorati, 12% of Americans blog, and blog traffic as a whole outweighs traffic to either MySpace or Facebook. 77% of all active Internet users read blogs — and many blogs are profitable, generating comfortable 5-figure incomes for those getting over 100,000 visits per month, and pulling in CPMs “on par with large publishers.”

To me that paints a picture of a blogosphere that is far from its deathbed.

One thing Boutin says does strike at an important issue that is facing the blogosphere, though.

When blogging was young, enthusiasts rode high, with posts quickly skyrocketing to the top of Google’s search results for any given topic, fueled by generous links from fellow bloggers. In 2002, a search for “Mark” ranked Web developer Mark Pilgrim above author Mark Twain. That phenomenon was part of what made blogging so exciting. No more.

If we can ignore that it is probably a good thing that Google no longer thinks Mark Pilgrim is more important then Mark Twain (with all due respect to Mr. Pilgrim), Boutin has unwittingly struck a real issue here. There are some who feel that the link economy that drives the blogosphere is broken.

Less and less are bloggers linking to one another, instead linking back to their own, in-house content. This is something I wrote about in August (irony alert: I just linked to myself). “The reason for this type of internal linking is easy to fathom: the more you can keep people on your site, the more money you can make off them by serving them advertising,” I wrote. “But it can also be dangerous for the web, as it leads to the creation of information silos that decrease the utility of the web for users by exposing them to only one point of view and data source.”

When Boutin talks about it being harder for quality content from lesser known blog authors to bubble up to the top, what he’s noticing is the slow death of the link economy. Links are the lifeblood of the blogosphere, and bloggers need to return to the practice of linking out to external sources and other bloggers.

In August I published the link policy that I use here at SitePoint. It is republished below.

  1. Always link out to as many sources as you can to provide the reader with further reading and to strengthen your argument.
  2. Only link internally if the article provides the context you are looking for (i.e., don’t link to yourself solely to give your content a link — only do it when it makes sense).
  3. Never link to an article about a company rather than the company itself — readers don’t want to click on a company name and be brought to previous coverage, they’re clicking on that link to get to the company’s web site, so get them there. (For larger companies, like Google, or companies that are mentioned only in passing and aren’t a focus of the post I may forgo linking altogether.)

There are other reasons for internal linking, such as trusting your own content under deadline and knowing that your links will have longevity, but as CNET’s Charles Cooper wrote earlier this month: “Link etiquette is basic to the integrity of the ongoing conversation in the blogosphere.”

The blogosphere was built on links, and it if wants to avoid the death that Boutin so prematurely announced, bloggers must continue to link to one another and not create silos around their information.

Thoughts? Let us know in the comments below.