30 Million Blogs And Counting . . .

By Frank Ahrens
Sunday, February 26, 2006

There's been some recent chatter about whether we're entering the twilight of the blogs, even though it feels like we're only in the late morning. Noon, at the latest.

Writing in Slate, Daniel Gross wonders if the blogosphere may be teetering on its own 1999 -- the year before the tech bubble burst. A recent Gallup poll titled "Blog Readership Bogged Down" showed that only 9 percent of those polled said they regularly read blogs, while 66 percent said they never read them.

There is no paucity of blogs. Technorati, the search engine that tracks the blogosphere, counts 28.7 million blogs on the Web. But there are indicators the numbers are peaking: The Gallup poll said "the growth in the number of U.S. blog readers was somewhere between nil and negative" during 2005.

It's remarkable to think that technology adoption is moving so fast that Web logs -- the earliest U.S. reference to "blog" that I can find was in a 2000 CNN technology report, showing its relative youth -- could already be thought of as maturing. But that is a maxim of technology: As we get more accustomed to interfacing with tech, each new gizmo -- be it a TiVo, an iPod or a blog -- has a faster "uptake," or acceptance into society, than what came before. For example, DVD players hit the 20 million mark in sales in one-third the time it took VCR players to reach the same penetration.

Part of the blog drag could be a function of age -- bloggers and blog readers came of age with the Internet, and there are only so many young people out there. A recent Pew Internet & American Life Project study showed that 19 percent of teenagers and 20 percent of young adults are likely to start a blog -- the highest numbers of any age group. Only 9 percent of Gen-Xers are likely to start blogs, the same percentage as 51-to-59-year-olds.

And it could be that the people who wanted to start a blog already have. Like settlers joining the land rush to Oklahoma, bloggers charged into the 'sphere, chunked down their URLs and set up shop. Everyone else stayed back East. We know those crazy Sooners/bloggers are out there and we sort of know what they're doing, but we'll stay here for now, thanks. Which would keep blog growth at a trickle, at least for now.

But there's a survey Web Watch would really like to see: Not how many people are blogging, or what kinds of people are blogging, but why they're blogging. And how that has changed, or will change, as the blogosphere matures.

Some whys are obvious: Bloggers with political viewpoints, for instance, seek to join the political debate, promote an agenda or fight against one. And if there's anything better than watching your favorite sports team, it's talking -- or blogging -- about it.

It's the personal ones -- the online diaries -- that are most intriguing. And, it seems, the ones most likely to send blog growth climbing again, as more people get high-speed Internet access and successive Web-weaned generations enter their teens.

The sprawling Web Watch staff is surrounded by journalists, so our sample is skewed, but easily half the people we know in their twenties have blogs. With blog-creation tools such as Blogspot and blog-like sites such as Facebook and MySpace, blogs are so easy to make they seem inevitable; nearly required by law if you're under a certain age.

But why write a very personal diary and broadcast it? At the base level: Who cares what you did today or whom you date or what you think about the new Death Cab for Cutie album? And how to explain the push-pull "look at me, don't look at me" thinking behind posting personal thoughts on the World-Wide Web and then adding a disingenuous fig leaf by asking your friends not to link to your site?

Some Internet experts fear that young bloggers don't fully grasp the public nature of all the information they are disclosing. Things that seem cool and fun to write about when you're 23 -- a weekend bender, a bacchanalian ski trip -- can digitally live forever and follow you into adulthood.

But Web Watch does not blog (yet), so we can only guess at the motivating factors.

We'd like you to tell us why you blog. If you're reading this online, clicking on the byline will let you send an e-mail. Or if you're reading in the paper, e-mail a note to ahrensf@washpost.com . Web Watch will publish the most insightful answers. Enlighten us.

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