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BLOGWhen it comes to making predictions about internet usage and blog-reading, I am not a prophet nor the son of a prophet. However, in the past few years, I have noticed some recent trends in the blogosphere – developments that will probably become more pronounced as we enter the next decade.

Because each of these trends follows a logical progression, I suggest you read them in order.

#1. The Slow Death of a Large Number of Blogs

Back in 2005-07, blogs were popping up all over the place. Many people discovered that starting a blog is quick and easy. Few realized how difficult it is to maintain one.

Today, millions of blog start-ups still exist on the web, but much of the blogosphere is beginning to look like a graveyard. “Sorry I haven’t posted lately” is the first line of many a front-page post.

People who began blogging as a way of keeping friends and family up to date about their goings on have now discovered other avenues of communication, which brings me to point #2…

#2. The Turn to Other Social Media for Connection

Back in 2007, a college friend of mine took a road trip to Montana. I told him I wanted to see the pictures. He said, “They’re on FaceBook.”

My response: “I don’t have FaceBook. Can you send me the pics on email?”

His answer: “No. Get a FaceBook.”

I held out another year, but finally relented. I’m not the only one who eventually gave in.

In the past five years, we have seen an explosion in social media through sites like MySpace, FaceBook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. These sites enabled former bloggers (who didn’t always feel inspired to write long blog posts) to access other ways of communication.

Why keep up a blog for friends and family? FaceBook is much simpler. Twitter is even faster.

Blogs are content-heavy. The other social media sites keep it simple and light. With the turn to other social media, the number of active blogs is on the decline. The explosion in social media leads to development #3…

#3. The Solidifying Reading Patterns of Blog Readers

When I first discovered Google Reader, I thought I had died and gone to blog heaven. No more clicking through to visit each blog I wanted to read, I now could read blogs without ever leaving one page. I could conveniently scroll through dozens (even hundreds) of blogs and find the content that most interested me.

When “RSS” first came on the scene a few years ago, Google Reader, Bloglines and other blogging services became tools for millions of blog readers. But many of these RSS feed readers are like me. For awhile, we added blogs to our Reader. But now, I rarely add a new blog to my RSS unless I know the blogger or have seen the blog highly recommended by another well-respected blog.

What does this habit signal? Simply this. Patterns for blog reading are solidifying. People find a comfortable number of blogs they consider worthwhile reading and then stop looking for new additions. Some have abandoned Google Reader altogether and rely solely on Twitter for their blog perusal. These facts lead to another development…

#4. The Difficulty of Beginning a Successful Blog without an Already-Existing Platform

I have no doubt that it is more difficult today for an unknown blogger to begin a successful blog than it was five years ago. In the early 2000’s, anyone and everyone could begin a blog. If you wrote well and figured out your audience, you could build a following. Just ask Hugh Hewitt, Tim Challies, or Justin Taylor.

But today, with the social media revolution and the solidifying reading habits of many blog readers, it is much more difficult to carve out an audience. Blog saturation makes it difficult to start a new blog.

Most of the evangelical blogs that have popped up in the past year (and seen success) are from people who already have platforms: Kevin DeYoung, for example, coming off the success of Why We’re Not Emergent or the “Evangel” blog that includes a number of popular bloggers, including Joe Carter.

At the beginning of the blog wave, bloggers were rogue. They stood against the mainstream media, delighting in the democratization of information. Today, many blogs are as respectable as their mainstream counterparts.

In Southern Baptist life, bloggers were once criticized as troublemakers. Today, a surprising number of SBC leaders have started blogging themselves. There’s no one-size-fits-all category “blogger” anymore (not that there ever was).

More and more, blogging is a tool of the “establishment,” not just the “fringe.” This leads to one more development…

#5. The Building of Blog Congregations at the Expense of Blog Conversation

Since it is harder for new blogs to build a following, it becomes more common for people with already-existing platforms to maintain successful blogs. The people who subscribe to these blogs already know what kind of information they are going to receive. They subscribe because they know and like what this person has to say.

Unfortunately, congregation-building diminishes conversations that cross through different streams of religious life. Popular blogs build big congregations – hundreds or thousands of readers who agree in large part with the bloggers they read. Blogs continue to be a place for in-house conversation, but they are less likely to be places for serious conversation with people from other groups.

Blogs create people who agree – whether they be Reformed, Emerging, Republican, or converted Catholics. You find a niche, write for that niche, and then get pats on the back from the readers who enjoy your writing.

Where to Now?

Where will blogging go in the 2010’s? I’m not sure. I suspect that the initial stage of the blog wave is over. What we are seeing now is the maturation of the blogosphere, as blogging continues to take on characteristics of traditional media, while leaving the door cracked open for newcomers to make their voices heard.


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22 thoughts on “The State of the Blogosphere”

  1. Kim in ON says:

    I came in through Nathan Bingham’s blog. I really appreciated this post, and I think you are correct in much of what you foresee.

    I think those who have been blogging a long time in all likelihood blog because they like to write. I think there is a difference between bloggers who want social interaction and those who like a venue for writing.

  2. Pablo says:

    Trevin — excellent post. I work with a group of guys who are planning to begin a community blog. We’ve discussed how to attract readership, responsibilities for posts and how to maintain a community. Your insight is invaluable and we’ll discuss this before we launch. Thanks.

  3. Brian Current says:

    I wonder if more bloggers will start bringing their congregations to denominations? Bloggers are/were independent and their associations tend to be represented in their blog roll. But, with Justin and Kevin now being hosted by The Gospel Coalition, and the start of Evangel, I wonder if this format will continue to grow? Then instead of Google Reader, many will go to the Denomination’s home page and find everyone they follow all bundled together.

    If that happens, then in order for new bloggers to succeed, they will have to be introduced through those networks, by the denominations to the mega-congregations.

    Starting a new community/denomination seems like the hardest thing to do if the bloggers themselves aren’t already famous.

  4. Jim Hale says:

    For what it’s worth, you’re a heckuva good writer and blogger. I used to have a dozen or more bookmarked. Now I only visit you and JT….but of course check out the other bloggers ya’ll link to.

    Please keep up the fine work. I really appreciate your orthodox, but charitable perspective.

  5. Trevin Wax says:

    Thanks for reading, Jim. I am blessed that people keep coming here and hope I can serve them well.

    Pablo, I think community blogs are easier to maintain because of the multiple perspectives and the many people involved. The only issue with a community blog is that it usually doesn’t have its own personality, unless there is one person dominant as the writer.

    Brian, for awhile, networks were boosted by blogs that gave them coverage. Now, it seems that blogs get a boost from already-existing networks. There’s a synergy there that is very interesting.

  6. There will always be exceptions to point #4. The humor site Stuff Christians Like began in the spring of 2008 and built up a large following very quickly. The concision and wit of Abraham Piper’s 22 Words, which began around the same time, was helped along perhaps by his family connection, but it’s also a daily staple for many readers who don’t know his famous father. So I think there’s still room to carve out an audience if you aim for excellence.

    But I think point #5 is perhaps the greatest insight of this article. There is a vast reiteration of the same arguments; even the same phrases and sentences; some carefully re-crafted, others quickly cut-and-pasted. (“In the last day, many will cry out, ‘Lord, Lord, didn’t you read my blog?”)

    This year I spent a few weeks following a blog written by a young man with a deeper faith than I’ve seen on many other blogs; but with the added dimension that he is unashamed of his gay lifestyle. It was often paradoxical to consider, and yet it was refreshing in its honesty.

    I also spent some time at a few atheist blogs, and have left comments at Orthodox and Catholic blogs, though making it clear that I was commenting as an outsider.

    Frankly, this type of conversation, for me at least, is the more exciting experience of being in the blogosphere.

  7. Brian Day says:

    I definitely agree that maintaining a blog is difficult, esp if you keep 3 blogs like me. I am an Evangelical Christian, a historian, and I have a particular interest in Serbia, although I have yet to visit the country. I have 3 separate Twitter accounts, to reflect my 3 areas of interest, where I microblog and post links to my main blogs. I can be unashamedly evangelical on my Evangelical blog, a total History boffin on my History blog, and mix a bit of general in with the Serbia blog to try to keep it away from the nutters. I began with my YouTube channel, mynextstopkraljevo, in June, which I maintain relatively successfully due to specialist knowledge on Kosovo Roma, and blogging seemed a natural extension. However, I have not developed or joined an online community in order to avoid any possible entanglements. It’s all good fun.

  8. Cathy McKay says:

    Trevin,

    I like how you articulated the “pat on the back” phenomenon.

    It is easy to think we are being provocative and persuasive as bloggers, but I doubt it happens as often as we imagine, precisely for the reasons you have explained – we gravitate to what we already agree with.

    I wonder too, if there is a myth of spiritual health which is generated by saturating ourselves with a world full of ideas? How often do we feel that because we have read, heard, talked or blogged about something, we have done it? In reality, all the action happened in our head and on a screen.

    Thanks for your assessment!

  9. Craig says:

    Very insightful; pat, pat…
    Seriously, you write very well; what Jim said.

    – Craig

  10. PD Mayfield says:

    Wonderful post. My comment (and as I skimmed some of the other comments) really provide data for your theories-most of us agree with you (perhaps there are some that disagree).

    This summer I started a blog; I want readers but I don’t necessarily care. I want to sharpen my thinking and writing. Open discussion is wonderful and should be encouraged; however, blogs can serve as connecting points for community and shared knowledge in a given area. Case in point: I came across a link to this post via Justin Taylor.

  11. Jeff Tell says:

    Trevin,

    I think #1 is definitely true, in part because of #2. But I think you’re wrong about #4. There are still thousands of people in all demographics who weren’t reading blogs three years ago, who are just now getting into it. Quality new blogs will still have the opportunity to attract plenty of readers, without having to “steal” readers from more established blogs.

  12. Trevin Wax says:

    Jeff, you may be right about #4. I still think that the influx of new blog readers has begun to slow down, but it’s quite possible that it’s picking up and we’ll see another wave.

  13. Dan S. says:

    Trevin,

    Your analysis here is spot on. In particular, #5 is sad but true. In spite of all the potential for interactivity and conversation across the evangelical spectrum, I’ve found very few blogs (and blogrolls) courageous enough to include voices outside their particular “camp.”

    With my own amateur blog and list of blogs I frequent (including yours), I’ve tried to remain in contact with a diversity of perspectives under the banner of evangelicalism. Do you have any suggestions/recommendations of other bloggers who are at least attempting to swim against the back-patting currents you describe in #5?

    To put it another way, do you know of any bloggers whose blogrolls include at least some representation of Reformed/Arminian, Traditional/Emerging, Complementarian/Egalitarian, GOP/Democrat, High church/low church, women/minority/international perspectives within the evangelical world? Is there a blogosphere equivalent to the third way espoused in books like “Deep Church?”

  14. Andrew says:

    I am still in the “died and gone to blog heaven” stage as I think google reader is wonderful. Before this I could look over 10-15 blogs, now my blog reading is close to 100. I still think the more people discover similar RSS type readers, the more blogs will remain active. Perhaps not as many hits on a particular blog, but the followers/subscribers are still increasing.
    Anyway, thanks for the post.

  15. Trevin Wax says:

    Dan,

    I don’t know that there is a “third way” in the blogosphere yet. The camps seem pretty entrenched. Michael Spencer at iMonk does a pretty good job of trying to link across the spectrum.

    I think we need to get away from the idea that the blogroll necessarily means “I endorse everything these people say”. Instead, something to the effect of “blogs that make me think” may be better. It will give the idea that there is something to learn from people you have sharp disagreements with, and that people with opposing views can still articulate them well and with charity.

  16. Dan S.,

    Pick a keyword and look it up on Google blog search, or at the homepage of WordPress.com, and you’re more likely to achieve the degree of diversity you’re seeking. Of course your discernment level needs to be turned up all the way to “10” and you’ll also get anti-Christian bloggers in the mix, but hey, you asked.

  17. John Bird says:

    Great post.

    I’ve noticed and thought about many of the points you make.

    My blog has few readers, but I enjoy having it. My writing has improved. My reading has more of a focus. And I’ve been forced to think through issues that I’ve ignored. These are selfish reasons for blogging, but they are reasons, none the less.

    Not that we don’t want readers.

  18. Jon says:

    Many of the blogs that are left do more regurgitating or editing or collecting, as the case may be, items from within their niche market. For example, by reading Justin Taylor you can eliminate probably a hundred blogs that basically do what he does only less well.

    My biggest concern is what you have hit on, the lack of real dialogue on many blogs. If this is a bunch of people just building their little kingdoms, a real opportunity is being missed.

  19. Derek says:

    Very helpful post…

    So, as one who is new to the blogosphere – and ambitiously hopeful – having just begun a blog at the end of Nov. 09.

    What advice do you give going into the 2010’s as a new blogger?

  20. Trevin Wax says:

    Be yourself.

    Have a plan for posting.

    Post consistently and carefully.

    Meet other bloggers and occasionally point them to your material.

  21. Derek says:

    Thanks,

    Greatly appreciate it.

  22. JATomlinson says:

    Great post. The pat on the back comment is true of most, and I have to admit, as a blogger it is nice to get those ‘great work’ comments, because it feels like validation for the hard work put in.

    But I also think that in some ways, blogs created to make people agree can also be a good thing. You may have non-believers out there searching for answers, and they end up on Blogs with bible studies or other resources to help them, and may become believers. Nothing wrong with that. Also, blogs made to challenge people’s assumptions or start thought provoking conversations can lead people around to new conclusions, whether or not they agree with the blog itself.

    Great post in any case. Nice to see that someone has taken the time to work out the past and possible future of blogging.

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is Bible and Reference Publisher at LifeWay Christian Resources and managing editor of The Gospel Project. You can follow him on Twitter or receive blog posts via email. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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