Forget, for a moment, the golden age of blogging. We’re entering the golden age of civic engagement
Jeremiah Owyang, Brian Solis, Hugh MacLeod, Robert Scoble, Sarah Lacy, and many others are engaged in an end-of-year debate on whether the golden age of blogging is over. I can’t tell whether how much of this is serious discussion or how much is just clever linkbait — like Hugh, I feel like we’ve had this conversation before — but either way, it’s good enough reason to join the conversation. In 2011, a big year for social, the subject is in fact worthy of discussion. A little linkbait might even help the conversation become more inclusive.
The case for the end of the golden age, as first laid out by Jeremiah: the innovation-killing effect of commercial blog acquisitions; the changing tastes of consumers (they want their content to be shorter, faster, more social); fewer people today are making a living through their blogs (citing Technorati’s most recent “State of the Blogosphere”). On the other side of the debate (nicely argued by Brian): the social web is still evolving, and blogging will continue to have a place in the mix.
I am sympathetic to both views, and there are many legitimate positions in between. But lost in the mix in conversation so far is what’s perhaps the most astonishing development in 2011: the rapid ascendance of a social web that is connecting many different kinds of participants previously left out of the conversation. The Web today is truly more social — more connected, more diverse, more inclusive. Forget, for a moment, the golden age of blogging. We are entering the golden age of civic engagement. Consider the effect of three related trends:
As both a follower and participant in the Latino social media community, I spent a good part of 2011 advising businesses, NGOs and government entities (e.g., The White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics) on ways to leverage the Latino digital phenomenon. What’s the phenomenon? According to many different studies, Latinos are outindexing all other ethnic groups on a number of social media platforms. While many marketers have attempted to explain the trend according to ethnic attributes (e.g., Latinos have a greater need to communicate because so many have been “exiled” from their homelands, a notion I explored recently in a blog post), there’s a perhaps more obvious reason for the impressive Latino social-media metrics: Latino is an umbrella category encompassing many different groups with different interests. But what’s even more interesting is how Latinos — and other metatribes — sometimes come together when they are approached the right way or approached the wrong way (there are other metatribes, but Latinos are an excellent object lesson). For examples of the wrong way to engage Latinos, take a look at the results of several contests in the 2010 elections where Republican candidates lost Latino votes because they took aggressive positions on immigration, an issue that binds a large part of the Latino metatribe. This effect alone should be enough to earn the interest of marketers — commercial and political alike (note: each of the leading presidential candidates now has a Latino strategy) — but what is also noteworthy are the tools that are helping to bring metatribes together. While many Latinos are in fact blogging, the most vibrant communities are developing on social networks where you do not need to be a blogger to maintain a powerful identity. Bloggers in the Latinosphere do enjoy special status, but there are other ways to gain status and influence.
Another metatribe that got our attention in 2011: the pan-Islamic community. For Americans, it’s as easy if not easier to mistake Islamics as it is to mistake Latinos for a single monolithic people. And yet there are issues that bind the many people behind the Arab Spring. And just as simple tools for communication are favored over blogging in the Latinosphere, simple tools appear to have driven both communication and action in the Islamosphere. Emphasis on action: for while conversation might have been the dominant modality in the “golden age of blogging” (Hughes makes a big point about this), when it comes to movements, now it’s about getting things done. I say this not just to signal a cause for celebration. Yes, it’s the end of the year, and this is in fact a cause to celebrate. I say this more to suggest that movements are happening because the tools are more inclusive of people who are tired of conversation and who desire real change.
And here’s what happens when you bring people like this — the masses — into the fold: you start to see the dimensions of a virtual world that resembles the physical world. The latter has always operated with ecosystems, where content creators held a special place in relation to people who can do something with the content. With the emergence of the social Web and the easier tools that make engagement more inclusive, virtual ecosystems are finally becoming real. And the good news: they hold the promise to be more effective, more diverse, and more inclusive than the ecosystems of old. To me, that’s the big story of 2011 — a year that witnessed the swift mobilization of the Arab Spring, Uncut, Occupied and other movements — and what we have to look forward to in 2o12. As recent history has shown us, every presidential election cycle introduces digital innovation that later spreads to other marketplaces. This election, I suspect, will feature contributions from bloggers as well as other participants on the social Web. If you are a blogger, there’s no cause for concern; there will always be room for you. If you are not, raise a glass. The New Year is going to be big for us all. And wasn’t that the original promise of the social Web?
Yes, but you gotta believe.
This article originally appeared on Forbes.com on December 29, 2012 and has been republished with permission.