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Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Blogging today: Opportunities and challenges

While bloggers around the world and in Nepal have done a splendid job so far, the journey ahead is far from clear. There is no denying that bloggers have successfully created a niche in the media world dominated by the traditional/mainstream media outlets. But if a new, decentralized and vibrantly engaging model of media and communication is to be developed through the leadership of the bloggers, then the journey ahead is very long and arduous.

Blogging is a relatively new phenomenon when compared to other modes of communication. But the progress made by blogging enthusiasts over past many years is commendable. While they may be nowhere close to challenging or threatening the mainstream/print journalism, they have definitely created a niche among the information-seekers in the society today.

Alexa traffic ranking, while not perfect, could be reasonable tool to assess the importance of blogging sites and activities in today's world. While major blog service providers blogspot and wordpress rank 11th and 22nd respectively worldwide, former being ahead of popular sites like Twitter, LinkedIn and Bing; blogspot is even more popular in Nepal with 7th rank above Amazon, Wikipedia and Twitter.

What attracts people to blogging? First thing is that it empowers people: they can write, shoot, record and upload the contents themselves thereby projecting their capability. In the meanwhile the burden of seeking a suitable publisher and satisfying him/her with the content is relieved.

But, you may ask, these activities are perfectly possible with social media sites, so why do people need the blogs then? Seek the explanation here: just too many of us have fleeting attention and the variety present in the social media sites naturally entices us. But the limitation of the social media sites is that the amount of content is simply too big there for any idea to find degree of attention appropriate to its gravity. The walls/timelines just get deluged and a targeted and rigorous search may be required to find the appropriate content and few of us are inclined to do that. A blog post, on the other hand, comes less frequently and usually is more selective and meticulous and often more lengthy than the statuses/tweets in the social media sites.

Second attraction of blogging is that, it empowers people in aforementioned way in very low cost, especially when compared with the print methods of disseminating contents. Google's policy to provide free space for blogs through blogspot is undoubtedly the central reason behind the latter's overwhelming popularity.

Third, the social media sites and the new media sites like blogs are evolving as complimentary to each other rather than rivals as bulk of audience to the blogs comes through social media sites while bloggers tend to be active in social networking to promote their blogs.

Fourth is the increasing penetration of internet across the world, particularly in developing world that has solidly contributed to the expansion of both the social media and new media sites at the cost of printed contents.

But should we be happy with the status quo when comes to the issue of blogging? Far from it. There are some limitations and downsides too that need equal attention.

First, as I have argued earlier in this blog, generating content is not all viable blogging is about. With eternally raising expectations of the potential readership, a viable blog has to constantly upgrade the quality. In the meanwhile, the blogs have to compete with the online versions of traditional media which deliver the supposedly standard content from the professionals (for example, the online versions of two leading Nepali dailies rank in 9th and 13th positions of Alexa ranking for Nepal respectively, both ahead of Twitter and one 2 ranks below blogspot). And there is no reason why a reader should look for a blog for a particular news/opinion piece when there is already satisfactory one in more widely popular online versions of traditional media.

Second, while sense of empowerment is a good thing, a pseudo-sense of that sort is definitely a bad thing. That makes us the frogs in the well who are satisfied with what we can generate and what audience we get. As such, there is a very thin line between ambition and megalomania. A prudent assessment of our capabilities and a resolve to keep improving makes us ambitious while a sense of pseudo-confidence tends to make us megalomaniac. It is needless to say which is good and which is bad.

Third is the disregard for credibility and stupefied concentration on increasing audience. This has invited a flood of sensational stories based on rumors and half-truths and a tendency to selectively cover the events. While traditional media also shares this ailment, blogs and other new media outlets are more likely to be tempted to make the stories more sensational. While the baseline credibility from other materials can salvage the credibility of established media outlets on either side, newcomers risk losing everything in an attempt to speedily rise in the competition.

Coming to the long time commercial viability of new media outlets, Jeremy R Hammond, editor of Foreign Policy Journal has made an interesting comment in an interview to this blogFinding a business model that works has been difficult for mainstream media, much less alternative outlets. And that indeed is the truth. The reported sell-out of some of the prestige by some traditional media outlets to the advertising corporations can also be explained by this dilemma of these outlets. Even people who use free space at blogspot provided by Google have this nagging question: how long can we depend on the charitable business model of a corporation?

To summarize, while bloggers around the world and in Nepal have done a splendid job so far, the journey ahead is far from clear. There is no denying that bloggers have successfully created a niche in the media world dominated by the traditional/mainstream media outlets. If this status, as such, is to be taken as the destination of every blogger, then we can be perfectly satisfied. But if indeed a new decentralized, vibrantly engaging model of media and communication is to be developed through the leadership of the bloggers, then the journey ahead is very long and arduous. To that end, every blogger should resist the temptation to create any  content and work hard to create contents which are both relevant to the society and captivating to the ordinary reader. While high quality content per se does not ensure a swift increase in readership, that is the only ingredient of success in the longer term. Happy World Bloggers Day!

You may also be interested in: 
Understanding South Asia through fiction: Sea of poppies, Book review
Metamorphosis, a short story
Combating stress and seeking happiness: a monologue, Reflection

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