Commentary

The Implications Of Blogging

Unfortunately, blogging has almost become a cliché. 

Even television news programs sometimes try to show how up-to-date they are by sharing comments from popular blogs. Typically, they pick the least creative ones such as Huffington Post, Politico, and Daily Kos. Nonetheless, much like the printing press transformed publishing, the true cultural significance of blogging -- which is only incipient at present -- will be a consequence of its production process.   

Gutenberg developed metal typecasting fifty years before Columbus landed in San Salvador. Prior to his invention, books couldn't be economically mass-produced. For most of history, stories and similar information was passed chiefly by oral tradition, while writing was limited to stone tablets and papyrus scrolls.  

After Gutenberg, the spread of published materials and the knowledge they contained was determined by the characteristics of available presses. Even the first models sharply reduced costs because the metal dies could produce unprecedented numbers of copies. As a result vulgate versions of the Bible reached the public along with large amounts of erotica. Later large scale mechanized presses created books inexpensive enough for nearly everyone.  Eventually they also gave birth to the newspaper industry. By the twentieth century offset printing, photography, and phototypesetting not only continued to drive unit costs lower but also enabled printed documents to include colored pictures and graphics. This hastened the spread of visual information.  

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Similarly, it's likely that the future of blogging -- and the future spread of knowledge -- will reflect the characteristics of whatever blog platform achieves dominance. Increasingly it appears that the winner will be WordPress. It first appeared seven years ago as a successor to software typically used for online diaries. Thus, it was originally text-based, but has since evolved to also encompass audio, video, and animation. It has even become a popular platform for entire websites as well as important components of prominent sites such as The New York Times.   

There are two reasons that WordPress is widely accepted.  

First, it's free. Admittedly, while this is not crucial to big companies it is often significant to individuals ignored by established media. For example, while legacy newspapers, magazines, and literary journals have a stable of excellent book reviewers, they fail to employ a great many others who are equally good, or better, as evidenced by outstanding reviews from ordinary readers at Amazon.com. Some may even choose to set up their own blogs.  

Second, since WordPress is open-source it's steadily improved by an ecosystem of free programmers. Unlike slave laborers, they are compensated by mutual enhancements to the tool. Consequently, WordPress capabilities evolve rapidly. WordPress market share gains feed a virtuous cycle of more volunteer programmers, providing added improvements, inducing accelerated evolution, which combine to steadily leave competitors behind. 

In short, WordPress is not merely a blogging tool. It's a platform that can lead to an explosion of new media properties capable of text, video, audio, music, animation, interactivity, online merchandising, podcasting, and even social networking. Successful innovations will rapidly take root and expand while unsuccessful ones will quickly perish or remain marginal.

Consider that the first motion pictures were often merely simplified plays shot on a conventional stage with silent film aided by text captioning to explain action or summarize dialogue. Soon enough it became obvious that the medium could provide more realistic portrayals with elaborate staging and on-location shooting.  Similarly the first versions of blogs were modeled after diaries, newspapers, and magazines. Increasingly, however, they are integrating multimedia components, especially videos.

WordPress bids fair to be a leading platform for such evolution over the next ten years or more owing to the virtuous cycle noted above. Furthermore it has advanced to critical mass of market share under the passionate leadership of Matt Mullenweg, who is not yet 30 years old. He just needs to keep the chain reaction going. His enthusiasm infects the user community as evidenced by a growing number of voluntarily organized blogging and podcasting workshops, named WordCamps and PodCamps, all over the world. 

The difference between blogs of the future and many of the most familiar ones today will be like the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.

3 comments about "The Implications Of Blogging".
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  1. Douglas Ferguson from College of Charleston, October 5, 2010 at 6:29 p.m.

    The Koreans beat Gutenberg by 200 years, but Euro-centric history usually ignores those clever people.
    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_printing#Movable_type

  2. Phil Leigh from Inside Digital Media, Inc., October 6, 2010 at 11:39 a.m.

    Thanks, Douglas.

    However, as the Wikipedia article notes the huge character set of the Korean language resulted in the technology being little used.

  3. Brian Parris, November 4, 2010 at 2:22 p.m.

    I am a proponent of today's new technology boom and I am working my way up to getting on the bandwagon.
    WordPress will help me to do just that, way to go!

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