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The Bloggernacle is dead? Long Live the Bloggernacle!

May 19, 2013

This week’s weekend poll at Wheat & Tares asks, Has the Bloggernacle Run Its Course?

My issue for this poll is that I simply cannot pick one of the two options. The poll question: Is the death of the ‘nacle imminent? (choose the answer you feel best applies)?

And the poll answer options:

1) No, the ‘nacle will continue to reinvent itself: new blogs, fresh voices, new topics, and there is always more progress to discuss.

or

2) Yes, the topics of the ‘nacle are simply recycled and rehashed ad nauseum. People eventually quit reading, and we are running out of audience for these tired topics.

The reason I can’t pick an option is not because I believe neither option is the case…but because I feel that both are true, at least in some sense.

I guess I don’t think that both options are 100% true, but they have truths in them.

Like, let’s look at the second option first…

Are the topics of the ‘nacle recycled and rehashed?

Yes. People are always going to be writing posts grappling with polygamy. People are always going to be writing posts grappling with the church’s position on homosexuality. Even with issues that seem like they should be long resolved — such as the priesthood ban for black folks — you still have posts about these both to try to figure out the history and also to try to figure the impact to us in the present. You will always have the people who came before grar-ing about the young whippersnappers who need to do more research (and read the archives of Dialogue, where surely, every issue under the sun has already been covered with a lot more rigor and intelligence.)

Do people eventually quit reading?

Yes. I think that in any given medium relating to Mormonism (and I think this especially applies to disaffected/post/former Mormon media), people eventually quit reading. Because as surely as people grapple with polygamy, they are going to find resolution with polygamy (whether it is an answer that allows them to feel comfortable inside or outside the church.) As surely as people grapple with the church’s position on homosexuality, they are going to find some sort of closure. And so on.

But then we get to that last part…

Are we running out of audience for these tired topics?

The deciding factor for whether a site will last is whether it will continue to advertise and promote itself among new generations and their preferred media. (Pay attention to the second link above with Armand Mauss’s comment about Dialogue appealing to the younger generation. Of course, he’s not arguing that Dialogue should reach younger folks on their preferred media…nope, but that it should persuade young whippersnappers away from reckless blogging into more refined, academic writing). If one looks at the audience as being a static pool, then perhaps “we” are running out of audience for these tired topics.

But one doesn’t have to look at the audience (both of writers/producers of content and of readers of content) as being a static pool. It’s more like a running bathtub with the stopper unstopped. There may be a “pool” of water in the tub, and that pool’s stock may even stay constant if the flow of water in matches the flow of water draining out…but one has to make sure to account for the flow of water coming in as well as the flow of water going out.

Bathtub flow

The site that has its audience going down the drain that isn’t refilling the tub probably will see its audience run out.

This leads to the other option. Again, I’ll break it down by parts:

Will the bloggernacle continue to reinvent itself?

This really depends on how one defines the bloggernacle. If the Bloggernacle is narrowly defined as a particular set of Mormon blogs with a particular perspective of Mormonism (usually nuanced, liberal/progressive, greater-than-average education, and so on), then I could see the Bloggernacle both continuing to reinvent itself and also failing to reinvent itself.

For example, there will be new blogs and fresh voices, and at least some of the less rigid existing blogs will continue to attract new authors and new readers rather than those fresh voices having to start up their own sites. So, in that sense, the Bloggernacle will continue to reinvent itself.

…but…what if blogging itself falls in decline as a medium for discussing Mormonism?

Recently, I discussed the most recent drama associated with Mormon Stories — the spinning off of its Facebook community.

The first thing I want to mention is that if we use a narrow definition of the bloggernacle, then Mormon Stories is probably not in the Bloggernacle for at least a couple of reasons. Firstly, it’s not a blog. But secondly, it probably is not within the particular perspective of Mormonism that the bloggernacle represents. (And trying to split the hair that represents the difference between “liberal/progressive Mormons” and “uncorrelated Mormon” is probably worth a series of posts right there.) However, the big question for Mormon Stories is whether podcasting as a medium will end up being a worthier investment of time, effort, and commitment than a Facebook group as a medium. By spinning off non-podcast-specific discussions and narrowing the Facebook group to discussions of the podcast, John and company are putting their eggs in podcast basket.

Sunstone’s decision to sponsor the spin-off group, The Mormon Hub, is also interesting…whereas Mormon Stories is relying heavily upon a focused strategy, Sunstone is diversifying its investments — Sunstone is betting that the audience to come for Mormon interest media is not just to be found in symposia and magazines, but also online through Facebook. (The Facebook group approach offers different challenges, however. How does the Mormon Hub advertise itself? Over the past several years of Mormon interest groups being on Facebook, a consensus has developed as to the ideal organization form — most groups, as far as I can see, are closed. The advantage to a closed group over an open group is that the members’ activity in these groups is hidden from non-members. The advantage of a closed group over a secret group, however, is that it is still possible for non-members to “see” that such groups exist without being told by someone who is already a member of the group.)

Nevertheless, the nature of closed groups means that prospective members can’t see whether the group would be a good fit for them. And, in fact, there is not a general way for people to learn about these groups in the first place.

I write these last few paragraphs to point out something that could be true for blogging itself — in some sense, the different media are not equal. In other words, the audience is not the same for message boards as it is for Facebook groups as it is for blogs as it is for podcasts. People who post on message boards might not be regular commenters on blogs, and those who regularly comment on blogs might not be active participants in Facebook groups.

Additionally, there aren’t equal numbers of participants to each media in the first place. So, the fact that Facebook users might not comment at blogs isn’t a big deal if there still are, in fact, a dedicated base of blog readers. But if blog readers are in decline and the “new” faces to Mormon internet interest prefer Facebook over blogs, then bloggers have a problem.

So…is death of the Bloggerancle imminent?

Well, yes and no. In the sense that all media fall out of favor sooner or later, yes. But in the sense that people will get bored with topics and that will kill the entire project: no. Because even if the media might change, then as long as Mormonism exists, there will be people who want to talk about it.

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