It was bound to happen — Google is buying Blogger, the seminal blogging ap that put thousands of weblogs (including this one) on the ‘net. Logically, in the short term this will amount to a major step up in reliability for Blogger and Blogspot hosted users.
In a way this sort of fulfills part of the promise of Blogspot to become the Tripod or Geocities of blogs — a simple, no hassle, not techie way to get your blog on-line for free. What remains to be seen is if an expanded–and probably more popular–Blogspot will suffer the same problems as the likes of Geocities and Tripod–bandwidth limitations, crazy ads and banners, etc.
I think this deal also radically reveals the fact that weblogs are simply tools, despite all the yak (meta-blogging) about blogging as journalism, democratized publishing, and on and on. The only difference about the blogging world two years ago and the blogging world now is that it is exponentially bigger at this moment. Interest in blogging has now reached a sufficient critical mass for a large ‘net company like Google to consider it a reasonable business to get into — either as a directly profitable service or a way to link people into profitable services (kind of like loss-leaders).
At the moment Google is still largely considered a benevolent company and so reception to this deal will likely be more optimistic than if Blogger were acquired by AOL or even Yahoo. Nevertheless, there will probably be those who also view this as an evil co-opt of a grassroots phenomenon.
But given that Pyra, the company behind Blogger, was always conceived as a for-profit entity–even if there wasn’t much in the way of profits–this Google buyout isn’t so monumentally different in essence. The only difference is scale.
Like I’ve argued before, the tool isn’t so important as what people do with the tool. If Google extends the blog tool to more people, then the likelihood that some new, previously unheard voices will enter the mix goes way up. It also means that it gets harder for one voice to gain a large audience, even though that one voice may indeed gain a bigger audience than it once had. For instance, even if only a few dozen of people tune in to a late-night public access cable TV show, the producers of that show are still likely reaching more people than if they didn’t have access to such a tool. This is true even though most people would regard that public access show as penny-ante stuff.
Popularity and mass audience are fickle mistresses, and the earliest and most popular bloggers had the luck to be big fishes in a small pond, and some had the luck of getting bigger as the pond got bigger. But the growth of audience and producers also tends to make some folks declare the end of blogging as something special. I argue the opposite is true.
The simple fact is, when we democratize the tools of mass media, we increase the number of voices and channels exponentially. The audience for each voice is arguably bigger than it would be without the tools, but it does get harder for someone to have a truly mass audience of the scale of Yahoo or even Salon.
Which leads to a very logical, but nonetheless hard question: do any of us really need a mass audience? Beyond the ego boost, what is the real purpose?
Fame, celebrity and mass audiences are the products of inequality. They’re the product of a monopolization of the tools and resources for making media.
When there were only 3 TV networks, anyone appearing on one of them immediately became a star. It’s even sort of true with 150 cable networks. But it becomes less true with 10,000 or 10,000,000 channels.
Personally, I have no use for stars or celebrity. If expanding the accessability of media tools creates more voices and chips away at the power of celebrity then I’m all for it. Let’s recognize that democratizing the tools of communication means eroding our own inflated egos.