There are many kinds of social interaction sites on the web, but the most common belong to what I like to term “The Big Four”: Forums, Blogs, E-Magazines and Social Networking sites(SNS). Now, each type of site is different, and while some may overlap in purpose, they all have their own advantages and disadvantages in the various areas of social interaction. Let’s look these over:
- Social Networking sites: Pretty obvious there. They facilitate contact between individuals and groups. You can provide an online presence and contact format for business, or socializing, or sharing interests. Most SN sites are primarily made up of networks that mirror the real-life networks of people and their acquaintances: college networks, business networks, fan networks. They allow people to publicize their goals, interests, values. There’s a very high bar for entrance into new groups on most SN sites–whether your friend request is accepted or not means little.
- Electronic Magazines: To be honest I’m grouping a lot of different things under here–e-periodicals, news sites, gossip sites, etc. But most of them operate in similar manner. They present static articles, usually based on current events. They may or may not allow comments, but the interaction between the article posters and the public is very distant. There’s almost no entrance bar on these sites, and you can behave very badly and get away with it. Of course, some sites have higher standards, but if you’ve ever seen the comments section on, say, Yahoo! News, you’ll understand where I’m coming from.
- Forums: Most forums are moderated, focused discussion areas with for a particular topic: cheeseburgers, net memes, pop-culture, fan-clubs, etc. There’s generally a fairly high entrance bar and registration is required for most of them. They may share a few things with SN sites, but they deal with specific topics, citing more sources, making members aware of relevant material, and generally creating a community around specific topics or areas of interest.
- Blogs: As you might be able to tell from the title, this type of site will be the main focus of discussion in this post. Blogs are article(post) based social media sites often but not always run by individuals with specific interests and goals. Personal news sites, you might say. They tend to be more opinionated and focused on topics the blogger finds interesting. Most are moderated by the owner, but they still allow for a certain amount of open discussion. There are blogs for everything, from shrimp to shrink-wrap, and after SN sites, they might be the most popular medium on the web, at least as far as web-heads are concerned. Bloggers and blog commenters tend to be more tech-savvy, and less geared towards the LCD. While some forum and SN websites have instituted blog features recently, they are still far less popular than the independent blogging platforms such as livejournal or wordpress or blogger.
Now that we’ve gotten through the basics, here’s the meat of the post:
It is my contention that blogs, with low entrance requirements and an individualist atmosphere are one of the most important social influences on the web. The blogging community(blogosphere) is one of the most well-connected communities on the net, far ahead of forums, which are oftentimes isolationist and geared towards a cliquish atmosphere that takes a long time for new members to fit into. Blogs cover a very wide range of topics, and are more accessible to search engines, which means more new blood and a more diverse “membership” in the form of commenters.
Now let’s elaborate on that last idea. What makes blogs so valuable is the knowledge and attitude of commenters, who often contribute a great deal to the discussion originally opened by the blogger. Not to bash forums, SNS, or news services, but the quality of commentary on blogs is at a relatively high level for the most part, and the smaller scope means that it is easier to screen out less desirable material than a forum or news site. The ability of a blog to provide concentrated, intelligent discussion in its own specific sphere means that readers and commenters(followers) have much more control over what they read. Most blogs have a relatively clear-cut sense of what will and will not be discussed, as opposed to news services which cover a wide range of topics with little moderation, and forums, which also tend to deal with a wider array of issues. You might say they have more individual personality. Once you’ve found a good blog(for you), there’s much less sifting to be done to find the interesting and relevant material.
Even while many are predicting the decline of blogs, and citing statistics which suggest the younger generations(to which I belong) are moving away from the blog model, I would put forth that blogs are not only a thriving and vital component of the online community, but will continue to be so for a very long time. And I think it’s a good thing. How many experts in your areas have you met who hang around on forums? A lot less than on blogs, I’d imagine. (Feel free to correct my impression in the comments!) Of all the writers I’ve met, the vast majority have a greater presence on blogs and SN sites than forums.
The really juicy material is in the blogs, whereas forums tend to hash over the same subjects again and again. Although forums can sometimes be faster on the pick-up of new information, the majority of forum members are not active in other areas of the web. Bloggers and blog readers however are an extremely diverse and interconnected community that is often active across a wide range of sites and topics. The lack of linear discussion means that an issue can be dealt with from many different angles at once, while still maintaining the integrity of those individual discussions. Fewer derails, for you tl;dr folks out there.
Of course, I may be biased as an SFF fan who dabbles in programming and has little to do with the more popular SN sites, such as facebook and myspace. I do however, have an active Twitter account. 😉