There have been a few stories circulating lately on how the niche personal blog is starting to take a back seat to other social media tools. Michael McDonald, a high school senior in San Francisco, CA, says "I don't use my blog anymore, all the people I'm trying to reach are on Facebook."
As someone who authored both successful and unsuccessful personal blogs, I can understand why someone would stop blogging or using them as a means to express themselves online. It takes work and lots of time to build readership and a following. New bloggers of today can get started immediately but end up doing so with no premise, no focus and no journalism or marketing experience, let alone the understanding of the importance of having any of those things. You don't need those things if you are just personally journaling but to really make a name for yourself you DO need those things. In the beginning many set up their blog and then look at the blank canvas thinking, 'okay now what.'
Like most social media tools, blog posts are only as valuable as the number of niche readers that follow them and participate in their conversations. In Michael's case, if sharing his creative video projects is the priority, then all he really needs to push his work out there is Facebook, YouTube and Twitter. If his stuff is good, it will take off on it's own, sans blog. So why have a blog?
The real reason most blogs don't 'make it'
At the risk of sounding subjective, the same reason most online mediocrity cannot prevail in this day and age is noise. Who decides what is mediocre? The people do. For the most part, a web property of any kind has to work hard on being unique, calculated and ahead of the curve, to go anywhere and stick out. If your blog is aimless and just full of strong opinions about random stuff, then you will not stick out and will have even more trouble building a following of any kind.
I believe that in today's blogosphere, while there are definite rock stars, the strength and value is more in the focused organized collective. It's proven that a quest for truth or the best answer within a certain topic of conversation can be found and be more effective when you have a group of experts that share the same passion. Everyone and their grandmother has a blog, going on about everything you see them go on and on about on Twitter and Facebook. Their personal blog is typically just a more verbose version. However if you can be part a group of bloggers that are willing to be part of a bigger niche collective, your blog posts have a much better chance of having an impact where you want them to.
The success of an organized blog collective, whether your focus is on business or a personal cause, is the best way to make waves in the blog world and get your message across. A few examples of sites that do this well are ScienceBlogs.com, Harvard Business Review, and the Education Policy Blog.
I think that when it comes to blogging, more people need to focus on being part of a thought leadership collective rather than being the next thought leader themselves. The results of their expertise will go farther and yield more thoughtful content that most will find to be more valuable in the long run.
Niche blogs with personal content aren't dead, but the fact that so many individual blogs die off on the vine might be a reminder that humans are more effective when mobilizing as a movement rather than just journaling as an individual.