Mossberg spells it out
It's only a matter of time before someone comes out with a parlor game edition of "Are Weblogs Mainstream Yet?" The media have been playing this game for months, and despite so many headlines hinting that indeed, weblogs are now mainstream, the text of such articles seems to beg off from that notion.
The SF Gate kicked off the game last July with the online-only article: "Blogging Hits the Mainstream, For Better or Worse." Now what prompted reporter Joyce Slayton to think weblogs were mainstream, way before Pyra Labs and Blogger.com were bought by Google? Seems there was a class offered last fall at UC Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism on blogging. Bloggers were up in arms! "They will destroy everything good about it," cried the Daily Pundit.
It's hard to get up in arms after so many more stories in the mainstream media, painstakingly explaining to the unwashed masses just what blogging is, and then showing just how mainstream the phenomenon is. Plenty of pundits declared 2002 as the year that blogging when mainstream, while slower pundits predicted breathlessly that 2003 would be the year blogging went mainstream. (Yes, I even played this game with a column on Google/Blogger.)
Now you have mainstream technology journo extraordinaire Walter Mossberg explaining weblogs (with its mainstream spelling "Web logs") to his Wall Street Journal audience. You have the Washington Post's Leslie Walker telling her readers in early February that "Web logs got a push out of the counterculture niche where they began and into a more mainstream audience" with the Lycos blog offering. Her colleague at Washingtonpost.com, Cynthia Webb, includes a selection of weblogs in her recent roundup on pro-war Net stuff.
Mainstream or not?
There are signs of blogs going mainstream, and things that seem to push them into the mainstream. Then there's a recent AP report. CNN.com headlined the wire story as "Blogging Goes Mainstream" while the Minneapolis Star Tribune tags the same story as "Blogging Could Be Going Mainstream." The Star Tribune seems to have it right as more people hedge in the story. AP writer Michael Liedtke says blogging is "a cutting-edge phenomenon that might provide the platform for the Internet's next wave of innovation and moneymaking opportunities." (That's my italics.) And Dr. Pepper/Raging Cow marketer Todd Copilevitz tells Liedtke: "It's a phenomenon that's not on the mainstream radar quite yet, but it will be in six months."
So Dr. Pepper using blogs for marketing isn't mainstream enough, huh? Forbes.com's Arik Hesseldahl doesn't mince words when he introduces Forbes' picks for Best Tech Blogs: "Blogging...is the Internet sensation of the moment." Forget that Forbes chose Slashdot, more of an online community than weblog, as its top pick in technology. The fact that Forbes.com itself is choosing the best blogs at all is a sign of mainstream success, folks.
But still, despite so many notices that blogs are mainstream (or might be mainstream), there's something missing. Somebody big, really big, needs to drop in on the blogosphere. Saddam Hussein needs to start one during the war. Michael Jackson needs to start one and tell his side of things. Anna Kournikova needs to start one for all her drooling fans. No, wait, she has an online journal (since January 2001!). OK, it's not really a blog, exactly, but this must be the missing sign that blogs are indeed mainstream.
Does that mean we'll stop seeing reports titled "Blogging Goes Mainstream"? Not until every last mainstream outlet has its say -- and not until every last blogger yells bloody murder about being co-opted.
"Our most important media, television, is about to disappear, replaced by the Internet. As the world has changed to globalisation, most people use the Internet to communicate. Besides, the Internet is an efficient sales medium, expanding direct marketing, establishing direct links to consumers and creating its own brands without advertising. That is why it [the Internet] is able to capture the attention of more people, and why it has more potential for the advertising business."
-- Joe Cappo, international vice-president of Advertising Age magazine, giving dire predictions for TV advertising at a seminar in Bangkok, not far from where I am currently telecommuting. It's hard to think of TV just disappearing, but more likely he was talking about the TV advertising model changing, because people are just zapping those pesky commercials away (if they aren't raiding the fridge or on the throne).
Mark Glaser currently writes technology features for TechWeb, occasional features for The New York Times' Circuits section, marketing material for Comcast Online, and a bi-weekly e-mail newsletter for the Online Publishers Association, whose membership includes most major media companies online. That won't stop him from taking cheap potshots at these outlets, when necessary. You can contact him with any juicy tidbits about online journalism at [email protected].