Technology

The Twitterization of Blogs


Most bloggers prefer mundane tidbits to deep thoughts, and backed by voice transcription and video sharing, the cell phone may soon be the tool of choice

There are dozens of Weblogs that seemingly anyone who is anybody in the technology industry reads regularly. Lisa Hsu's blog isn't one of them. A doctoral student in computer science and engineering at the University of Michigan, Hsu occasionally pens a post about topics like "secure shell protocols," a software standard for protecting data on a computer network. More often than not, however, she's just musing about mundane things that only her friends would care about: details of a trip to the dentist, random Web discoveries, or maybe a new movie.

Hsu guesses that only five people tune in regularly, while occasional readers may number 25. But she's far from disappointed about not having the mass following of the blog TechCrunch. "I don't hope that I meet new people. In fact, a lot of times, if I have a random person comment, I get scared," says Hsu. "All I really want is for my friends to see it."

Hsu's not alone in blogging for her buds. On average, there are only seven readers for each of the 12.5 million blogs on LiveJournal, one of the most popular services for hosting these online journals.

Most bloggers wouldn't have it any other way. "Blogs that tend to get a lot of press are the ones that draw a lot of traffic and get people fired up, but that is a very small, narrow, niche-use case," says Eric Case, product manager for Google's (GOOG) Blogger hosting service. Meanwhile, he says, the concept of blogging is already evolving. "This thing we understood as blogging is vanishing and it is reframing as people develop new ways of posting and sharing things."

Cell Blogging: Less Is More

As part of this shift away from lengthy blog reflections that entail time behind a keyboard, cell phones are gaining traction as a key blogging tool. Popular services such as Microsoft's (MSFT) Windows Live, Blogger, and Yahoo 360 (YHOO) began introducing mobile blogging features two years ago. These services allow users to post short notes and photos to their "moblogs" on the go, albeit from the discomfort of a cell-phone keypad.

But it wasn't until more recently, with the overnight sensation known as Twitter, that the cell phone showed its potential to move to the fore of blogging. With Twitter, people share quick updates on their most mundane doings, often from a cell phone (see BusinessWeek.com, 4/2/07, "Twitter: All Trivia, All the Time"). If a growing number of bloggers are shying away from the citizen journalism and mass consumption that originally defined the medium (see BusinessWeek.com, 4/25/07, "With 15.5 Million Active Blogs, New Technorati Data Shows that Blogging Growth Seems to Be Peaking"), Twitter's popularity shows how eager people are to share quotidian tidbits of life in real time.

One company hoping to further facilitate this demand is Six Apart, which operates the blogging services LiveJournal, Vox, TypePad, and MovableType. On May 23, Six Apart announced a deal with SpinVox, enabling LiveJournal users to speak their blog entries by phone. SpinVox, which transcribes the words with voice-recognition technology, says the system is 97% accurate, learning from individual accents over time. "Blogging is a really good product, but it becomes great when you can do it from any phone," says SpinVox co-founder Daniel Doulton.

Say It with Video

Microsoft sees the potential to offer a similar service. In March, the company acquired Tellme Networks, a provider of voice-recognition systems for phone directory listings and automated customer service. In the future, Microsoft could leverage the technology for call-in blog posts. "They have some great voice search services, and obviously voice is a great premise for the mobile phone," says Phil Holden, the director of Microsoft's mobile Web services group and himself the author of a mobile blog read by a tiny audience. "I don't care about having a billion friends," he says.

With the connections between cell phones and wireless networks getting speedier, blogging companies also see potential for mobile video blogging. Already, sites such as kyte.tv, owned by decentral.tv, allow users to post videos taken with mobile phones to their blogs. In the future, the company plans to allow live video posts to blogs via mobile phone.

Video and photos will become integral to blogging, says Andrew Anker, general manager of Six Apart's consumer products division. After all, most of the time, bloggers may not have the time to write 1,000 words. But they can upload the visual equivalent via a camera-phone photo. "The writing-lots-of-words blogging will be a small amount of blogging," says Anker. "When I'm in some place interesting and I have a quick thought or I see a funny sign and want to share it—when you think about blogging in the next five years, that will be blogging."

Who are the most influential bloggers right now? Visit BusinessWeek's slide show to find out.

Holahan is a writer for BusinessWeek.com in New York.

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