I’m not bothered about another instance of fatalism in the blogosphere (it seems we can’t resist predicting something’s death). But the argument’s interesting and not to be dismissed lightly.
lndeed, the analogy of blogging with the age of pamphlets is useful. In seventeenth century London, coffee shop conversations amongst the thinkers of the day turned into small circulation pamphlets. Only much later did a few of these survive and develop into mass circulation newspapers. In the late seventeenth century literacy was for the few. It was only two centuries later that we reached an age of mass adult literacy in Britain (this later point was, by no coincidence, the start of the age of mass media.)
Blogs started when the online community was still small (and could still meet in a virtual coffee shop). Only the few were technically literate (this was way back in the 1990s) which is why many of the most successful early blogs have been about tools and techniques of blogging and social media. Some have developed into large, successful group blogs sharing some characteristics with mass media (such as revenue-making potential). Is there an inevitability about this trend from small to large? To an extent, yes (markets and mathematics suggest so). But to become big still requires a large investment (in time, if not in money).
But does this drift towards larger media stop the conversation, or give it new life? The pamphlets (on politics, science, religion, philosophy, literature) served to get people talking. One opinion in print spurred another, and so on. Something similar is happening in blogging. More and more people are joining the conversation, so it’s not surprising that some will turn off and redirect their energies elsewhere.
Are we at the age of mass web literacy? I suspect we’ve reached the tipping point. Basic web literacy and internet access is no longer a barrier in large parts of the world. So there will be many more blogs (and better tools to sift through the chatter). But these blogs aren’t on a mission to replace the newspaper, just as people having a conversation aren’t all trying to emulate the BBC.
Media organisations should encourage the conversation. And if public relations is to mean more than just publicity, it also has to engage in conversations. Has the media killed conversation? Of course not. There’s too much of it about: not just in blogs, but in mobile phone conversations, text messages, instant messaging. Even face to face, occasionally.