End of an Era: The Golden Age of Tech Blogging is Over

Update Dec 29: I posted a Taxonomy of Tech Bloggers in response to the growing conversation.

That’s right. We’re at the end of an important period. The tech blogosphere as we know it, is over.

Four Trends Show the End of this Era:
Like the film industry, the Golden Era is the emergence period, when fresh innovation in a new medium is born. New techniques, revolutionary content, and different business models emerge as innovators pioneer a new medium. I first had this discussion with Chris Saad, which triggered some thinking on my end. I asked some of the foremost tech bloggers of  their opinion, and found four clear trends on why the Golden Era of Tech Blogging is over, here’s what’s shaping this change:

Trend 1: Corporate acquisitions stymie innovation
Over the last few quarters, there’s been considerable acquisitions of organized blogs (which are more akin to news sites now-a-days), most notable, we’ve seen Techcrunch, who claimed annual revenues of about 10 mil a year, being acquired by AOL.  Yet these purchases are quite common, as AOL has acquired  Engadget in 2005, and also Huffington Post in 2011.  Just two weeks ago, another larger tech blog that has enterprise focus Read Write Web was just sold to Say Media.  What typically happens when these acquisitions happen? Often the star talent, or founding team is pressured out, takes a back seat while corporate business development teams match existing advertising inventory to a new found audience –forever changing the DNA of what created these startups. Lastly, acquisitions often force a conservative mindset over startups, because the purchase is focused on strengths of an asset, the mindset of ‘don’t break it’, keeps the culture to focus on the status quo. As acquisitions occur, innovation decreases.

Trend 2: Tech blogs are experiencing major talent turnover
Perhaps they were forced out, or maybe they saw the writing on the wall, but lately, we’ve seen a major change up in the all-star lineup of tech blogs. Just a few weeks before the acquisition of Read Write Web, the Senior Writer, Marshall Kirkpatrick separated ways (edit: he’s still writing at RWW, part time) now focused on building a product and company called Plexus Engine. Furthermore, Editor-at-Large of Mashable, Ben Parr separated ways from Mashable, yet continues to blog on his personal site. The most discussed exodus is a majority of the Techcrunch staff leaving, from founder Michael Arrington, CEO Heather Harde, top writer Sarah Lacy, and star journalist MG Siegler. Yet despite this loss, they acquired Eric Eldon, Josh Constine (both of Inside Facebook) and Sarah Perez (formerly of RWW) into the Techcrunch fold. Ben Parr himself listed out in greater detail all the people movements in the tech blogging space, there’s no doubt a shakeup occurring.  The talent shakeup is normal after several exits occur –with new stars moving on to new business models.

Trend 3: The audience needs have changed, they want: faster, smaller, and social
First of all, congrats if you’ve read this far! I’d assert you’re one of the few. I asked Ben Metcalfe (former MySpace and BBC) his opinion, and he says: “Attention is too fragmented now. There are just so many blogs/news websites/sources vying for your attention that you can’t read them all and build up the kind of relationship that you once could when the size of the universe was degrees of magnitude smaller.” As attention spans wane, readers want smaller, shorter bits of content, and this is why we’re seeing the growth in behaviors that social networks provide: commenting, sharing, images. I heard from Robert Scoble, who’s noticed a shift that, “…when I write something on Twitter,Facebook, Quora, or Google+ I get immediate feedback. I get thousands of views very quickly and get distribution through things like Google’s Currents or Flipboard readers. Blogging seems to have struggled in some of these areas.” As a result, content needs are smaller and shorter, as I’ve noted in the rise of inforgraphics. Even the content strategy of Mashable is changing, their new direction is more akin to digital lifestyle –not just social media.

Trend 4: As space matures, business models solidify –giving room for new disruptors
This is a normal business trend in any new industry: New entrants, formalization of a new business models, and a series of business exists. Unless these authors been able to make blogging part of their business model, sustaining blogging is a challenge. Yet, let’s look at the data, in Technorati’s state of the Blogosphere for 2011 they reported that despite bloggers are publishing more, “Overall, fewer bloggers reported this year that they are making a living via their blogs.” In fact, this maturation of the tech blogosphere is a aligned to a normal cycle of industry maturing, emergence, many fail, some develop disruptive business models, and some exit. I heard from father of the Social Media Club, Chris Heuer who told me that “Blogging, and Social Media broadly, is past adolescence and into young adulthood, maybe even getting ready to go off to college. Going by our early measure of where are we compared to the dotcom era, I’d say we are about 2000, but without the irrational exuberance.” I agree with Chris and to illustrate this point, I’ve noticed that long gone is the scrappy new media entrepreneurs like Arrington who built a decent sized empire, cashed out, and moved on to to a traditional industry like venture capital.

The Future: A New Era to Emerge
Tech blogging isn’t dying, it’s evolving. This is a normal part of any industry, and here’s what tech bloggers themselves told me:

An opportunity for new stars to emerge
Now, with the major talent turnover, there’s an opportunity for a new media model to emerge, and along with it new stars: “The tech journalism space has changed considerably in the last few months, but there are new stars that are taking up the roles that the old guard have left behind. The voices, opinions and personalities that define tech are changing. Perhaps fresh minds and ideas are exactly what the tech media world needs.”Ben Parr

Yet, the rise of personal brands will be harder
Now that the ecosystem is entrenched with corporate owners and mature advertising programs, there will be less room for innovation and new stars to emerge.  Why? PR firms know who the established players are, and will continue forge alliances in page views for exclusives.  “Take for example that many of the “big blogs” don’t even link to the primary sources of their posts because they don’t want to send the traffic off-site. How can anyone get discovered if those who have the attention won’t share it?”  Ben Metcalfe

New models to emerge, long form content not the only way
Bloggers themselves know that relying on a single tool isn’t effective, they need a series of tools to use; “blogging isn’t dead. it may have gotten a LOT more social, and it may be less frequent now for those of us who also use twitter / facebook / tumbler / youtube for other distribution efforts, but the overall impact from these platforms together is BIGGER than ever before (and i maintain, also EASIER than ever before if you build it right).” -Dave McClure, who, on a related note, is also on a Blogging Hiatus.

Will mix new forms of media
Yet these top bloggers all agree that a new form of media mix will emerge; “Blogging isn’t dead and still a fantastic tool, there is room for new players and it’s still the best way to build your personal brand IMO. I’m actually planning to go back to blogging much more myself and just updated the template of loiclemeur.com. Also, what is blogging? Publishing a video with your thoughts on YouTube is blogging and that is extremely powerful, each time I do itI get a good audience, even if the video quality is crappy. A video can be much more like original blogging as you can take the time to express yourself in longer form.” –Loic Lemeur, tech blogger, entrepreneur, LeWeb host. Yet, he’s not the only one, Francine Hardaway, VC blogger says “Blogging is a tool, like social media. This year’s new tool will be personal video, which is long overdue.” who also nods to video usage.

Final Thoughts:
Despite the Golden Era of Tech blogging to be over, we should expect a new format, new type of content and new pioneers to emerge, forever changing the new media and tech reporting space. I for one, look forward to it and will embrace it, both out of necessity, and with passion.

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