New Delhi: On the Internet, serial brevity could be drowning out verbosity.
The blog is no longer the centre of the average netizen’s online life. More immediate, more networked, more intimate virtual bonds have moved to the forefront—social networking sites such as Orkut or Facebook and microblogging services such as Twitter. The blog, it appears, has taken a back seat. It still, of course, serves as everyone’s personal fount of wisdom, and as the medium du jour for ruminations that require 1,000 words or more (with pictures), but the everyday concerns of an online life have switched adjectives: They’re less blogged, more tweeted.
An estimated 3.6 million people use Facebook out of India, according to the website, and at least 13 million estimated users have accounts on the Google-owned Orkut. Twitter does not break down its users according to country, but gets seven million unique visitors monthly worldwide, according to Nielsen, a US-based market research firm.
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
“Bloggers are turning to active twittering, both as an alternative to posting regularly as well spreading the message about their blogs. Twitter and Orkut don’t replace the blogs, they complement them,” says Amit Agarwal, who writes a tech blog called Digital Inspiration. The conversation that was once an exclusive preserve of the blog and forum, is now shifting to Twitter and social networks.
“Twitter is basically becoming the new place for comments on blog posts,” says Amit Somani, senior product manager at Google India Pvt. Ltd. Google owns Blogger, a popular blog hosting service. “People, instead of going to a blog site and initiating conversations there, are using their networks in Twitter to air their opinion,” he says. “Whether I agree or disagree, I’ll just tweet about it. So, it’s now necessary for bloggers to use Twitter to capture all of what people are saying about their blog or posts.”
But while some bloggers feel that the blog and these social networking upstarts work in sync, symbiotically feeding off content generated in each other, others such as Rajesh Lalwani of Blogworks.in say that Twitter has already cannibalized blogs, turning potential bloggers and the blog-curious into serial 140-character texters.
“Twitter has hijacked blogs already. Why? Because if I have already shared something on Twitter, then typically I don’t end up going and articulating that same thing in much more detail on a blog,” Lalwani says. But this could act both ways. “Twitter can sometimes be a means by which I actually find a story for my blog, but on the other hand it does sometimes keep people away from blogging because it allows me to just articulate my content in fewer words, reach out to many more people faster and yet be seen as a thought leader—so then why bother writing a 1,000 word post?”
But the blog, says Somani, is adapting to these changes. “Blogs are evolving to keep pace. Twitter, for example, has changed how people find you: If a blog post comes to you as a recommendation through a network you follow and influence on Twitter, it’s different to stumbling upon it through a search. The dynamics of how you are discovered and how people read your work has changed.”
“I have a feeling that Twitter in India is going through an ‘Early Orkut’ phase in which people are just increasing their friend list,” says blogger Vinayak Razdan. “Blogs will survive and continue to thrive. ‘Content is the king,’ those ‘better blogging’ blogs keep saying, and I think it’s true. If you have something unique, people will come.”
More so than Twitter, other changes have also swept the Internet since the blog emerged as a one-click personal publishing medium around 1999. What the blog did for text, online services such as YouTube and Flickr are now doing for video and photos. Sharing photographs and video is now easier than ever, and it’s this change, says Jacob Joseph Puthenparambil, that will impact the future of the blog in India. Puthenparambil is the founder of the news blog Mutiny.in, and is currently officer on special duty to minister of state for external affairs Shashi Tharoor (arguably among India’s famous tweeple, or twitter people).
“When you talk of blogging in India, you’re talking about blogging in English. Even with the availability of local language blogging, most people are forced to use an English keyboard, which is awkward and restrictive,” he says. Online news site Rediff famously published a “simple” 10-step process to publishing a blog post in Hindi in 2002. Google first announced its Indian language transliteration technology in 2007, and even after its introduction, blogging in local languages without a modified keyboard has been unwieldy.
“The future of Indian online media has to be audio-?visual—you’re looking at things like YouTube or Flickr that are language independent,” says Puthenparambil. “The written word will not get anywhere—text blogging will be a dying breed.”
But Somani disagrees. “Clearly, an audio-visual medium would have benefits over the written word, but the replicability of content that is audio or video is more limited than text,” he says. The technological underpinning of blogging, Somani argues, is still biased towards the easy conversational flow around text: comments, forums, replies and tags. “With video, while you can still leave comments, it’s limiting as it’s still largely one-way talk.”
“The other issue I would worry about,” he says, “is the low broadband penetration in the country. It does not have the numbers needed for something like audio or video—which are bandwidth-intensive—to spread easily.”
“You still can’t beat a blog for laying down a good argument or for creative writing,” says Patrix, the founder of DesiPundit, a blog aggregator that collects posts from popular Indian blogs. “Some topics are just suited for blogging and not for Twitter or social networks.”