In past jobs, I’ve been tasked with getting my peers to share stories about their work. This, if you’ve never tried it, is a drag. People’s affection for their work is rarely so enthusiastic that they want to sit down and write up a few paragraphs about it, much less so if the work itself hasn’t been very successful.
And there was another wall. People are antithetical to “blogging.” Asking someone to “blog” is asking them to perform a chore. To learn rules, sometimes to learn tools. People willing to tell you about an accomplishment rolled their eyes when asked to put it into a content management system.
In a long piece about the nascent war between Instapaper and Readability, two applications that let you save an article to read later, entrepreneur Anil Dash described a similar early fight between Web publishing platforms.
[W]hen I would spend my time flinging zingers at Matt Mullenweg about the merits of Movable Type vs. WordPress, you know who was winning? Mark F[—]ing Zuckerberg. Facebook won the blogging wars.
Dash is right. Facebook is the most robust blogging platform that has ever existed. In fact, this was the argument I’d use on my reticent co-workers: You blog every time you add a status update to Facebook or Twitter. (Please note: this was still insufficient for inducing enthusiasm.)
Andy Boyle, a developer for the Boston Globe yesterday wrote an essay suggesting that media institutions (like his employer) abandon the word “blog” entirely. The distinction between a blog and an article, he argues, stemmed from the differences in where media companies like his stored writing. A blog went into the blogging system. An article went into the paper’s content management system. In reality, of course, they’re fundamentally the same thing.
Boyle’s argument doesn’t apply solely to media institutions. In general, the words we share online are all swimming in a murky pool roped off into various terms by different outlets. A Tweet, a Facebook post, a video, a short story, a 2,000 word news article are really the same thing, our saying, “This is something interesting. Here are my thoughts.”
This is also part of the reason that recent efforts by some employers requiring job applicants provide Facebook passwords is troubling. Facebook isn’t simply the province of happy vacation photos and shared NY Times articles. The site has built a process that has become an integrated part of many people’s lives, touching on personal relationships, private thoughts, private jokes. Asking for a Facebook password strikes many as being akin to an employer demanding access to your journal. (That’s one analogy; the Atlantic has a good discussion of what, exactly, your Facebook password is analogous to.)
Facebook has led the effort to make sharing as effortless as possible. People are perfectly comfortable telling stories. When speaking, we do so without hesitation. When presented with a tool and a demand to do so, the process slows down. It’s like making a phone call. When first invented, making a call, routing through an operator, even finding a phone to use was a laborious (but enjoyable!) process. It’s now trivial. Tools on the Web are making sharing stories simple, easy, and quickly rewarded with feedback, with social interaction. A blog was always just the phone operator you had to deal with in order to have the conversation. The word is going to evaporate into history because it was only ever a means to an end.
What’s left behind for companies like Facebook is the same problem I started with above, how to keep making story-sharing compelling. The more we share, the more valuable we are to the story-sharing systems. The gentle prompt of a Facebook “Like” button, or the “What’s on your mind?” turns your computer monitor into the one-way mirror of a focus group. While you consider clicking that “Like” or “Post” button, an unseen phalanx of marketers and advertising automatons watches you, waits with bated breath.
Facebook’s solved the “blogging” problem. Their new problem is simply this: Will you click?
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