I did an interview with Steven Hyden for an article in the Appleton Post-Crescent, which I assume you all read regularly. Here is the (edited) Q&A:
Steve: Blogs have become an increasingly popular way for people to meet people. In your opinion, how important will this development be in the long run? Will this technology have a major impact on how people relate to one another on a daily basis, or will it be a relatively minor phenomenon?
Alex: It’s important to distinguish blogs (a particular type of website) from the phenomenon of blogging. The culture that has developed around blogging will have a long-reaching impact on how we communicate as a society.
I’m not sure how long we will use the term “blog.” Increasingly, the things that make blogs “bloggy” are seeping out into other parts of the web. Moreover, other technologies, from wikis to social networking sites (like Facebook) are part of this general trend toward social computing that some have been calling “Web 2.0.”
Steve: Will social blogging ever replace existing forms of communication in social settings, even face to face contact?
Alex: Oh, it already does replace these in certain circumstances. Will it even completely displace them? Almost certainly not. I still use a fountain pen when it’s appropriate, email when it’s appropriate, the telephone when it’s appropriate, and my blog when it fits the bill. Blogs are just one more communication tool we have at our disposal.
That said, for some avid bloggers, the blog becomes a very central part of their communication apparatus. They meet people face-to-face, communicate over email, or read the newspaper, in order to support their blogging, in some sense.
Steve: What accounts for the popularity of blogs as an avenue for social activity?
Alex: I think people like the idea of being able to express themselves creatively, and to do this socially, with very little in the way of risk or cost. If people had to pay a fee to start blogging, I don’t know that it would have taken off like it has.
But the more complete answer is probably more complicated. Although we call them all “blogs” there are as many different kinds of blogs as there are different kinds of bloggers, and each has his or her own reason for starting and maintaining a blog. Some might do it as a way to keep their friends or family up-to-date with what is going on in their lives (and because blogs do not imply that a response must be made, they can do this without feeling like they are being pushy). Others have strong opinions, and find that rather than unleashing these on their close friends, they find a ready audience in the blogosphere. For some, it is simply a convenient way of keeping track of a project. In other words, perhaps the popularity of blogging comes of its flexibility.
Steve: What in particular that makes social blogging different from other Internet networks such as online personals, chat rooms or message boards?
Alex: In fact, blogging shares a lot with other forms of online communication, but I guess what you are asking is what makes blogging special or unique.
If I were pinned down to one thing, I would say that blogging exists at the boundary between conversation and publication. Sometimes, weblogs feel a bit like a newsgroup or discussion board. This is particularly true of pages on sites like livejournal, MySpace, or Xanga. Other blogs are virtually indistinguishable from online magazines. And in many cases, they feel a bit like both. So, I think that makes blogs unique.
But again, I also think that the culture of blogging–valuing conversation, freely sharing content, and radical transparency–is a big part of the force behind the popularity of blogging. The ability of the blog to fulfill such a wide range of communication tasks makes it the perfect carrier for these new values.
Steve: Anything else you think is worthwhile regarding social blogging?
Alex: I am curious about the term you have used: “social blogging.” Is any blogging not social? Is there anti-social blogging?
There are really two extremes of bloggers. On one end is what I sometimes call “mumblers”; blogs that do not have any readers. (Or perhaps they do not have any readers YET.) On the other extreme are blogs like Boing Boing, which have millions of readers each week. But the vast majority of blogs are read by a handful of friends and fans who are interested in the person or her topic. In some ways, this is the life-blood of blogging. I’ve referred to this as “social circle blogging,” and I suspect that’s what you are going for here.