Facebook vs. the blogosphere

It’s been a long day, so I didn’t feel up to writing the post I was planning about socialism, anarchism, and capitalism. I figured I’d post a few cat videos, like this one that I saw on Facebook (I forget who posted it) of a cat playing with an iPad:

Or this one, which I saw on Facebook via The Modesto Kid, of a cat playing with a mini theremin:

Cute, no? But then I got to thinking that everybody’s probably already seen these on Facebook, so why bother? And then I got thinking about the relationship between Facebook and blogs.

Maybe it’s easiest to get into this with a historical perspective: Back in the day, of course, blogs were the easiest way to share stuff online with a group of people. Except starting a blog was never as easy as joining Facebook, so not everybody did it. But still, you might have a blog where you posted the 2002 equivalent of these cat videos (I think back in 2002 they barely had videos; mostly it was all pictures, right?) and a few friends might leave comments. Or you’d write about your life, or something you were interested in, or maybe you’d post some pictures you’d taken. Still, the earliest blogs were mostly links or very short posts with links — entertaining squibs.

So blogs, except for the big ones, were kind of like Facebook. Except they were different, because most blogs were public, even if they were only read by a few people. Newcomers could always stumble across a blog and, if they liked it, start commenting there or linking to it, becoming part of the little social network around that blog.

The networks accrued nodes and connections by chance as much by design. And because people who are interesting in the same obscure topic, say, or respond to the same tone of writing and political stance, might have more in common with each other than with many of the people in their everyday lives, these blog-centric social networks became important for many of their members. Some became what it’s not wrong to call communities.

What makes Facebook quite different from blogs is that it’s private. Private in at least a couple of senses: First, though with many troubling exceptions, it allows you to keep information about yourself away from people you don’t want to see it — people who aren’t “friends,” for example, or “friends of friends.” So you can post things on Facebook you wouldn’t put on a public blog. It’s also private in the sense of being privately owned, like a self-contained, private resort. So the developers of Facebook, along with the third-party app developers, decide what things look like and what kind of interactions you can have. And they’ve created an environment that’s very conducive to posting and reading entertaining squibs and to “connecting” with people you already “know.”

Long story short, I worry that Facebook’s massive popularity is doing some damage to the blogosphere. A banal example centers on the second cat vid I linked: A mutual friend of TMK’s and mine from another blog also shared it on his feed, and a few very funny comments were made about it. And while it’s no great loss to the world that these quips aren’t fully indexed by Google, I’ve sensed a draining of online conversational energy away from blogs and onto Facebook.

And what gets moved to Facebook, remember, is stuff that can’t be stumbled upon by kindred spirits. The Facebook friends of mine who tend to post the status updates I like the best tend to be people I’ve met online, by this sorting of like minds that happens if you spend enough time on blogs. And there’s another side to this: I make comments on Facebook in my “online” mode that I’m sure mystify my IRL friends there. And I’m confronted with people I wouldn’t normally engage in online communication with, like a guy who just this evening replied “LOL,” quite sincerely, to a remark that at best deserved a polite half-grimace of feigned mirth. Maybe Facebook is a method of sorting out people you don’t want to pay attention to, and the open web is a way of sorting people in.

5 responses to “Facebook vs. the blogosphere”

  1. Well and then there’s twitter, that has features of both and is somehow less satisfying/more frustrating than either.

    Agreed, though, that Facebook seems to be in the blogosphere’s base, killing its d00dz. It’s a lot easier to post an entertaining sentence than an entertaining/interesting/worthwhile paragraph or several, and FB really has taken over the territory of brevity since you sort of can’t post something like a big blog posting there. (Ok, you can, but it’s sort of off in a corner and I don’t see many people doing it.)

    I’ve missed the connection-facilitation of the blogosphere in the last couple of years, during which I’ve gravitated to FB. Meanwhile, I find, taking a step back in the bloggic direction, it isn’t a simple process to sort people in…the internet is large, and the signal-to-noise ratio: not so good.

  2. Josh K-sky says:

    I think that’s right. Note also that it’s very hard to attract a node or connection by design, let alone by chance. Facebook offers much quicker gratification — every third thing you write or post will attract a short comment thread, while very few blogs will attract any sort of following or commenter base.

  3. Rachel says:

    As someone not on Facebook, I can’t really comment on the comparison. But why do you think so many people have migrated there? FB just makes me feel icky, even though I know I’m missing a lot. Is it naive to resist “social networking” as a desired end of conversation?

  4. A White Bear says:

    FB has brought me much joy I’d have missed otherwise, and I admit I post a lot to FB, such that I quit posting to my blog. But the new move to make all FB pages public in some sense is getting quite tiresome. It’s become onerous to update my privacy standards all the time.

  5. FB is actually a boon for my blog — I get little enough traffic that since I started cross-posting my blog posts there (with Networked Blogs which is IMO a pretty cool little gadget though it does not seem to get much use), there has been a noticeable uptick in the number of people reading the posts — even get comments now and then.

    I think it’s a fine thing for some of the funny conversation to be on FB instead of in blog comments sections. But I always thought it was, back in the day, usenet was the easiest way to share stuff online with a group of people…