Blogging, Tweeting, and Noise

For many bloggers, their blogs have become something of an add-on to their Twitter accounts. They post an entry only when 140 characters do not seem enough to make their point and tweet the link to their post. In fact, Twitter’s 140-character limit may be the one thing that is keeping personal blogging alive. If people could make 500 word posts on Twitter, I think a lot of blogs would just plain close down.

The reason people prefer Twitter over their blogs is perhaps the community element. Your content, from the moment it is posted, appears on your followers’ home screens and they can react to it without going through the bother of having to visit a URL or signing in to comment on a web page. They just send their two paise (and two paise is all you can send on Twitter BTW) with a couple of clicks and it’s done.

Another reason for people preferring Twitter over blogs, in my opinion, is a shared interface. It may not seem like much, but I think the idea that everyone is accessing the stream of tweets in more or less the same format (little patches of text coming up in a top-to-bottom fashion) does go a long way in making the Twitter experience appealing.

With blogs, the way you access content, does not need to be limited to one way. You can install an RSS reader of your choice and it can come with its own set of add-on tools. But it would seem that the freedom from format that is seen as one of the strengths of a mechanism like RSS, does not matter to many. Most people don’t want any of that bother. The so-called “unlimited choices” are more of a techie concern. The average personal blogger would much rather just say what he wants to say and be done with it.

Twitter allows this. Mostly because Twitter does not allow for anything else. There is no back-end to speak of and there isn’t even a decent archiving system. People type out what they want to say, hit enter, and forget about it. I personally, have never gone back more than two pages in my tweet stream to see what I posted two days ago. I am told it extends back to a certain period in time and then stops (meaning Twitter doesn’t keep your ancient posts) but I have never checked. On Twitter, it does not seem to matter.

Twitter is about the now. Few care about the then or the tomorrow. When blogs were exploding all over the Internet and nervous TV journalists were holding discussions about whether they will kill journalism, what became obvious was that we were afraid of the all the noise that was going to come. Blogs were seen as places full of noisy rants — places which were the opposite of what responsible news media outlet were supposed to be. The worry was that if blogs took over journalism, journalism itself would undergo a change in nature and turn into noisy ranting.

That never came to pass. Blogs matured and became a way of expression for the web-going masses of the world. In time, even media outlets started blogs on various topics and the blogs-vs-journalism question is no longer asked with as much suspicion as before.

But now Twitter is seen as the home of noise, and not entirely without reason either. Blogs are more or less accepted as places where articles appear while things like links, photos, one-liners, and funny cat videos are enthusiastically shared on Twitter.

Thing is, noise can’t be killed. It has to go somewhere. When blogs were the only way for people to engage in creative expression, all the noise happened on blogs and people worried about it, thinking that blogs were noise. When something like Twitter came along, the noise moved into the world of microblogging. This happened because those who value creative expression — the noisy people — don’t care much about the tools they use to do it. If they could simply speak words and have them broadcast to the whole world, they would stop tweeting. Ease of use matters a lot to them.

On the plus side, blogs became cleaner (for lack of a better word) after the advent of Tweeting. A lot of daily ranting moved to Twitter. So did the links, pointless comment threads, and mutual backpatting exercises (blog memes have turned into Twitter hashtags). The old-fashioned personal bloggers still blog, but they blog serious things like poetry, announcements, and/or full-length articles. Twitter turned personal blogs into personal websites (rarely updated, more or less static, web pages).

Also, it didn’t help that blogging platforms did not keep up with the web’s social revolution. These days, an average web user is more likely to have his web presence spread out over 10 different services — Flickr for photos, Youtube for videos, and all that — than trust all his online output to one web domain and make it his home. We are more nomadic than that now. We make sense of our distributed digital lives by use of things called aggregators — things like Friendfeed (which committed suicide by going to Facebook announcing that it will cease active development), and RSS-powered lifestreams. Most users would still like to keep to one web service — probably one where all their friends are already at. This ends up being either Facebook or Twitter. Blogs, because they were not unified by a common interface umbrella or even a common user experience never did become a final choice for the modern web-user.

New-age blogging platforms like Tumblr and Posterous fill the gap between the social age and the old era of blogging by making elements from the social web experience native to the blogging experience. Things like retweets (reblogging on Tumblr), follows, likes, and home screen access to latest posts from people you follow. In doing so, they put ease-of-use first and foremost and put blogging within the reach of the light user once again.

Do they bring the noise back into blogging. I think they do (Tumblr can give you perfectly garish MySpace-type experiences sometimes). But I would take noisy over stale any day of the week.

#blogging, #tumblr, #twitter, #writing