Thoughts from the desk of MATHIAS EICHLER

Is blogging dying in the age of Mobile?

We’ve all been reading more, consuming more, and enjoying more content in more places. And yet the bloggers (individual content creators with their own platform)  have not found a way to solve the puzzle of how their content should be delivered on mobile devices. Successful bloggers from the time way before the iPhone might still be riding on their successes but most are not increasing their audience or creating anything new or noteworthy.

Currently podcasts are all the rage and everyone’s been talking about gear, production tools, and the feasibility of building a dedicated software. But that’s a different discussion.

Audio and video has its place. Video is cool if you want dedicated attention from your audience and your content better be good, otherwise people will tune out. Audio is great for passive listening, while working out or during your commute.

Blogs are the perfect way to consume content for most other times. You can focus on text just with your eyes while ‘doing something else’. Sitting on the couch watching the ‘second screen’ called television for example. Reading also allows you to consume content much much faster than listening or watching.
There’s a huge upside to written content. Yet, bloggers like Kottke, or Gruber, or even Zeldman have not taken advantage of the new screen sizes and helped us rethink and redefine how written content should be delivered on mobile screens.

So far the discussion on content creation on mobile screens often is limited to the input. The keyboard, or the lack thereof.

A few points on why blogs are loosing it’s luster:

• When most online content was consumed on desktop PCs it felt natural to take what inspired us and immediately jump into action, reply and craft our response. Now we might read that awesome article on the loo or on the bus. We can bookmark it, but certainly aren’t in a position to immediately blog about it ourselves.

• How many “Kottkes” do you have in your Facebook feed? Mainstream media’s popular social sharing sites like Facebook and Tumblr have opened quick emotional-driven sharing a mass-phenomena. It becomes harder to cut through the everyday crap. It gets boring to share when everyone is sharing cat pictures and Buzzfeed lists all day long.

• Many nerds who write have focused so far on the keyboard input as the main barrier to blogging on iPads, but I disagree with that. They glass keyboard might be something to get used to but I enjoy it, it can work. What I am missing is the quick copy/pasting which makes modern link blogs so powerful. Copying the link, selecting a snippet of text for a quick a blockquote is really really hard to do on the one-window iOS’s devices. The constant back and forth between apps is a huge drag and just not fun.

• Commenting below the articles were short lived on the web, and for good reasons. But for many small bloggers the comments helped create not just traffic, but a community. It was the instant feedback, not on a third party site, but right below the words you write on the website you created. This gave you validation and made you keep at it. Yes, this is probably the weakest argument on my list. The commenting is still happening, and perhaps even more so, but we as content creators aren’t connected to it anymore. We don’t see where our articles are posted. As the web is becoming more silo-ed and fragmented Google Analytics, for years the standard in traffic evaluation is becoming more and more useless. You have to check and maintain several analytics tools which puts too much focus on the numbers.

• Google killed it’s Reader. This one was coming with announcement. But many bloggers I know lived and died by having created their curated feed of blogs and news sites, which they checked daily for inspiration. This has been replaced by Twitter and Tumblr for most parts. But the retweet allows only a few characters, hardly enough to consider yourself a blogger.

• None of the star writers, the role models for the blogging community have cracked mobile. The indie magazine startups all have failed. Some of the must-read websites have added ‘responsive designed’ code to their blogs to make them more user friendly to read, but none have figured out a sustainable model for their business. No great apps have surfaced. No app engines like WordPress or TypePad for mobile app development, publishing and distribution. The indie heroes of the app generation all have created a game. TinyWings, Letterpress, Monument Valley lit up the internet for a few month and are soon after ‘played out’ and people move on. There’s no staying power for indies in the app market place.

When the screen went smaller and we put it into our pockets we rewrote our CSS and focused on responsiveness. Well designed websites you can read on any screen. This was a great first step. Next came the native app. Everyone threw HTML and CSS into the wind and painstakingly created native apps to fully take advantage of the look and feel of mobile interfaces. But this is a non-starter for bloggers. Objective-C, Xcode and the app store are just too big of a hurdle to overcome. By the time a inexperienced part time developer has successfully created and deployed an app the next iteration of iOS is shipping and you can start all over. To give individual bloggers their own app you need something like the ‘famous 5 minute’ install WordPress offers. This needs to include the release into the app store. And then you have an app just in one app store. It pains me to say, but there are other mobile operation systems out there.

The next challenge to overcome is to get notifications on mobile right. Only over the last year developers recognized how important notifications on mobile devices are. And iOS8 is offering app developers more options around this. One example is the notifications in Safari. Websites have offered this for while now, but it never occurred to me to allow this ever. And I have never read that anyone has done this in a way that it would feel right, and be successful. So, what perhaps might’ve been a good idea is currently not taking off.

In the meantime we play more, watch more videos and listen to more podcasts. People still write, but it increasingly gets lost in all the other shiny mobile goodness we are touching, tabbing and sliding around on our screens.

(Part II: ‘An inspiration from an unlikely Source’ will be published soon. Follow me on Twitter if you want to be notified!)