“Get Big or Get Out”: Some Thoughts on Sustainable Blogging

I am not a big fan of the global economy.  In fact, I am a strong advocate of supporting local business.  I buy a share in a CSA to support a neighbouring biodynamic farm, I purchase Ontario apples instead of Chilean grapes and try hard to shop for clothes made in Canada.  Imagine my chagrin last week when I realized that perhaps I had sold my birthright for a mess of pottage by allowing myself to become a pawn in Steve Evans’ Microsoft-style machinations :)

Although I was new to blogging, I saw some signs of the war between Walmart and Target. However, with the formation of the Mormon Archipelago and today’s announcement of The Millennial Star  — the writing is clearly on the wall.  Like many other things in our "Supersize" culture, bigger is perceived to be better, even in the Bloggernacle.

During the 1950s, when Ezra Taft Benson was Secretary of Agriculture, he counselled smaller farmers to "Get big or get out".  Many have declared that moment to be the beginning of the end of the family farm.  In fact, Wendell Berry has said that it is one of the "most ignorant, undemocratic and heartless things ever said to the free citizens of a democracy."   

In a similar vein, Berry says, "In making things always bigger and more centralized, we make them both more vulnerable in themselves and more dangerous to everything else."  Sure, it could make things more efficient and unified, but what do we lose in shutting down all the "Mom and Pop" blogs?  Certainly, the big group blogs are diversified, but they are still undeniably less diverse then when they existed as individuals.  Has Times and Seasons failed as Nathan Oman has postulated? I don’t think so.   But I agree that there is danger in the "Daily Me" and wonder if the idea of the group blog has contributed to a somewhat distorted definition of success .  In defining one of the standards of excellence as size, Mormon bloggers should be wary of the "monomania of bigness"  — because it is in the strength of our own voices that new ideas are explored and that individual stories are told.

Comments

  1. I lied! The Daily Herald seems to no longer use slashcode. Too bad.

  2. Frank,

    As I mentioned, I feel the categories largely overlap. So I agree with you that a group blog is more than just a conversation amongst the perma-bloggers (this is a good example of one!). But the fact that it addresses more than one audience fundamentally changes its content, IMHO. And I don’t see it as a simple question of degree, otherwise you and Nate would be right on about economies of scale.

    I think you can look at some solo bloggers that have since come to group blogs as examples. Dave is a good example; Kris may also show these differences in time. Bob and Logan have each spoken to me about how their BNL is different from BCC. From my observations and conversations with these people, it’s clear to me that we are talking about subtle yet distinct content changes. Some of the changes may be simply the ability to address more people, but I’m confident there’s something more at work.

    As for Bryce’s agreement with me, hey, I take agreement when I can find it. But overall I think the difference between us is in the definition of community; Bryce is including the lay readership in his definition. I agree with that, but would also emphasize the presence of the special relationship with my fellow permabloggers.

  3. It seems to me that there might be some technology solutions to these problems. If one of the major blogs were to switch over to a more scalable backend such as slashcode or Scoop then not only could a large userbase be supported, but users could configure what they see on the frontpage, plus have access to everything else and even be able to make their own entries in journals. Users could “subscribe” to the journals of other users to see when there is a new entry in on they are interested in.

    I continue to be amazed that the only thing resembling a “mormon blog” based on a system such as this is the Provo Daily Herald.

  4. I agree with Steve when he says that group blogs are about community. My personal goal at M* is to make it a place where everybody who participates feels like they are a part of a community, organized by the permanent bloggers, but with much input from the readership. That’s why we’ve included things like our featured comment, which highlights contributions from our readers, and we’re working on implementing a guest submission procedure that would allow anyone from the community to have the opportunity to post.

    Community is what I value most about BCC and T&S (and Kulturblog), not the content so much, although that’s an important part as well.

  5. Frank McIntyre says:

    Steve,

    How odd, Bryce says he agrees with you and then talks about how a group blog is very much about “addressing the blogosphere in general” as you describe _personal blogs_ and that they hope to draw in a community, not just of commenters but of readers. I don’t see the group blog as being just a conversation amongst the perma-bloggers, although that is an advantage. It can just as well be a conversation with the universe. Thus it would appear to be able to capture the “personal blog” criteria you mention.

    This is not to say that there is no difference between the one-person blog and the 17-person blog. But they are mostly differences in degree, not species.

  6. Ok, everyone I can see that my thinking is wrongheaded! :)

    I am embracing the big blog wholeheartedly.

  7. Coming a bit late to the game — sorry.

    Charles: Planet Zion already does what you describe.

    In my mind, a personal blog and a group blog have different (but overlapping) dynamics and purposes.

    A group blog, ideally, should be first and foremost about community and participation by the other bloggers; we are there to read each others’ thoughts and bounce ideas off each other. Yes, a larger blog gets more readership, but in my mind that’s somehow a secondary benefit. I really enjoy reading other bloggers’ ideas, and while we may not always entirely agree, we are all friends here nonetheless. And we’re real friends, too — I would count any of the BCC permabloggers among my friends. That being said, it requires a certain level of cooperation and participation by everybody, and that can be tough at times.

    A personal blog is a different creature. Like a group blog, you put your ideas out there, but you’re not speaking to the same audience; instead, you’re addressing the blogosphere in general. As a result, the tone of your posts will likely be different, and the content may shift. Additionally, I don’t think you’re going to find the same feedback as you might in a group blog.

    I understand what Frank means about economies of scale, but for the reasons above I don’t believe that a group blog provides such economies. They are different enough in content that we are dealing with different output. I can understand if people are skeptical about this, but I sincerely believe that posting as part of a community is a different animal. Likewise, I don’t agree with what Nate says above, because it’s not like these blog worlds are completely fungible products — a solo blogger that comes on board a group blog will not provide the same output. So, shutting down the old blog could, in my view, result in something unique being lost. That may be overstating the case but I believe it to be true nonetheless. Frank and Nate should examine more solo blogs and compare them to group dynamics, I think.

  8. Frank McIntyre says:

    Kris,

    The desire to band together does not require competition from “big blogs”. It just requires a synergy such that the sum is greater than the parts. In this case, the argument is that Mstar (for example) now gathers traffic from all of the past members’ readers and those readers now see other blogger posts without all the “shopping time” of clicking to other blogs. In economics, we call this “economies of scale”, which is what Nate was talking about in his post. It does not depend on pressure from “big blogs” and there is no particular monopoly problem because any group of people is free to start up their own “big blog”.

    The argument for reducing shopping time would appear to be much stronger in the real world where changing stores involves getting kids in and out of car seats, etc. Online it is far less onerous to check ten sites, but still enough that clumping bloggers together appears to have benefits. So if its true even among blogs, no wonder Walmart/Target/Costco/Home Depot are preferred by shoppers to having to stop ten different places to get all their things. That doesn’t mean there aren’t costs to that shopping style, just that the costs are considered less than the benefits gained.

  9. What about a blog depository? Something where a single blog page, http://www.megablog.whatever, would display the title, first paragraph, original blog location and maybe the number of comments the thread has.

    Then when the viewer clicks on the “read more” they are taken directly to that source blog, T&S, BCC, Mormanity. You would read the blog in its entirety and be able to view any other post the person has since you would be at their blog. Once comments are made you could return to the megablog location and do so with the next post.

    One blog, many contributors, many articles, but maintaining the individuality of the other contributors while increasing their own blog hits.

    Just a thought.

  10. The Mo Blog Club seemed a bit like Home/Visiting teaching to me — It got people together on a regular basis who might not otherwise do so. Perhaps no meaningful relationships were produced, but over time, the potential is there.

    I can see how it would fall apart, however.

  11. The problem as Dave hinted at with the Mo Blog Club was that it was hard to comment on the other blogs. You had one blog about a single woman trying to date back east and then an other blog talking about technical metaphysics. The idea was that people were supposed to comment at each blog once a week – but that just wasn’t realistics. It is hard to figure out what to say to a journal blog and it is hard for most people to have much to say about more narrow topic blogs. (Well, unless your narrow topic involves law – there are a *whole* lot of LDS lawyers it seems)

  12. The Mo Blog club was cool. What was difficult was knowing what to do afterwards. As new blogs arise and time passes, it is natural that some blog members will want to re-select their 10 blogs they visit daily … and thus everything becomes dissolved.

  13. The thing I liked about the Mormon Blog Club was its diversity. I would never have thought to read some of those blogs, but I was glad I did.

  14. Bryce, the Mormon Blog Club was my doing. It worked for a month or two back in mid-2004, supporting increased interaction between the affiliated solo blogs (comments and links) but the group was too diverse and I let it just fade away quietly. The Archipelago has more promise, I think.

  15. Whatever happened to the Mo’blog life club (or whatever it was called)? That was a good idea, I thought.

  16. Nate:

    The Mormon Archipelago does not (as of now) have any grand designs. We are just a group of small blogs who are linking together to try and build friendship (for want of a better word). We offer:

    1. That nice feeling of “membership”
    2. A cool logo
    3. As John says, an aggegator of members’ posts
    4. A network for guest blogging
    5. A cool logo

    Number 4 is perhaps what we’re really aiming for. Dave did this when he invited Justin to DMI and it worked well. These kinds of mini-collaborations will spring up on an ad-hoc basis from time to time; the Archipelago exists to simply encourage them.

    That’s it really, and to be honest, we’re making it up as we go along. But we all agree that we don’t want to be BIG – we’re aiming for “small and friendly”. Right now, we are United Brethren, Splendid Sun, and Nine Moons. We have 3 or 4 others in the pipeline. That’s it.

  17. Of course “big blogs” won’t shut down smaller blogs. They are different. And its not like an economic struggle where failure to turn a profit shuts one down. But there are some serious considerations.

    I’m not a huge fan of the big blog. I liked Sons of Mosiah quite a bit. When Bob and Logan came here I was disapointed to see a serious decline in thier posts. Their thoughts were original, thought-proving and interesting. Now they just, aren’t.

    The bigger blogs cause people to spend enormous ammounts of time. T&S has a lot of specialized posts, legal and economic, and a lot of VERY thorough discussions. With over a dozen contributors and “regular” columns there can be 4-8 new posts a day. That is a dizying number for any single person to keep up with.

    Smaller blogs are more consice. They give a greater voide to the individual without lumping them in with a larger view.

    Maybe these Megablogs would do better if they simply linked to the individual blogs of thier contributors and gave the headline and first paragraph of that blog. Then at least the integrity of individual blogs would remain.

    Consider this. I’ve been blogging since last October. I’ve been contributing to T&S, Sons of Mosiah, my wife’s blog and many others for over a year. I get a lot of hits from T&S and BCC and others, but if comments were currency, I’d be out of business. Now I may not be the greatest blogger and I don’t expect to get discouraged but consider this;

    One of the best individual blogs I’ve seen is Mormanity. Would you really want quality blogs to disapear because of the discouragement of those bloggers who contribute but never see contributions themselves? P.S. I don’t expect Mormanity to dissapear either but just think about it.

    This is the danger of big blogs.

  18. john fowles says:

    (1) I don’t see the big blogs as shutting down Mom and Pop blogs, as romantic and oppressive as that sounds.

    (2) Benson sure seems to have had a good grasp of economics. Sure, you can look back and say he destroyed the family farm. But is that really what was going on when he pursued such policies?

    (3) The Archipelago seems like a localized Bloglines service where headlines from all member blogs are available on each member blog but you have to go back to the source to comment or discuss.

  19. Nate Oman says:

    Ronan: My problem with the Archiplego model is that I don’t see what it actually means functionally other than putting that nifty logo on your site. Is it merely an identity building exercise or does it actually mean something in terms of technical or content integration?

  20. Nate — Perhaps then my uneasiness with one-stop shopping at big box stores in real life doesn’t translate onto the internet, particularly the Bloggernacle. I have certainly benefitted from reading at the bigger group blogs, but still have noted the trend seems to be that “little guys” need to band together to “compete”. Maybe it is community formation and not “market competition” (I should probably stop using economic terms now before I reveal how truly ignorant I am!! :)

  21. Nate Oman says:

    Kris: Generally speaking mergers do not lead to monopoly but to economies of scale. You get monopoly when their are barriers to entry. In the bloggernacle there are basically two barriers to entry. The first are the technical difficulties of setting up a blog. The second is the difficulty to finding readers. My sense is that the first difficulty is really rather minor. The second difficulty (finding readers) is a bit harder, but it is worth noting that the bloggernacle has more readers now than it did a year ago. The number of visitors to T&S keeps going up and up even as other mo-blogs prolifirate and gain readers.

  22. The Archipelago is the Bloggernacle equivalent of the Farmer’s Market. The little guys get together to pool resources, but they return to their own farms at the end of the day.

  23. J. — I posted at my own blog tonight! :) But don’t worry, I have given myself a few stripes for succumbing to the siren call of the big blog.

  24. I think there’s a natural incentive for solo blogs to bring on an extra blogger or two, just like solo doctors often team up — so you can take a break or take a vacation but still keep the practice going or still get a post or two per day up on the blog. Plus the demand of getting at least one post per day and making it interesting, or at least not boring, just taxes the creativity of most of us after awhile. There are only so many clever posts one person can come up with.

    That said, I’m still a fan of solo blogs. They feel different and display a wider array of blogging styles. One vote for the Archipelago.

  25. Kris, you know, if you would have posted this at your own blog, we wouldn’t be having this discussion. I would offer another reason blogs are uniting: wider audience. As thrilling as it is to spend a couple hours writing a post only to have three family members comment on it, it’s nice to know people others’ thoughts as well.

  26. Dave and Rusty — You are both right and that is why I am here. Perhaps I came off a little too serious? :) I still wonder if mergers lead to monopoly in cyberspace?

  27. If you were truely faithful to your beliefs, you would step down and start your own blog ;)

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