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Is Twitter Making Us Dumb? Bloggers, Please Come Back

When I first started the Securosis blog back in 2006 I didn’t really know what to expect. I already had access to a publishing platform (Gartner), and figured blogging would let me talk about the sorts of things that didn’t really fit my day job.

What I didn’t expect, what totally stunned me, was the incredible value of participating in a robust community holding intense debates, in the open, on the permanent record. Debates of the written word, which to be cogent in any meaningful way take at least a little time to cobble together and spell check. I realized that the true value of blogging isn’t that anyone could publish anything, but the inter-blog community that develops as we cross-link and cross comment.

It’s how Mike Rothman and I went from merely nodding acquaintances at various social functions, to full business partners. I met Chris Hoff when I blogged I was rolling through his home town, and he then took me out to dinner. Since then we’ve paired up for 2 years of top rated sessions at the RSA Conference, and become good friends. Martin McKeay went from some dude I’d never heard of to another close friend, with whom I now podcast on a weekly basis. And those three are just the tip of the list.

Blogging also opened my world in ways I could never have anticipated. This open dialog fundamentally changed opinions and positions by exposing me to a wider community. Gartner was great, but very insular. I talked with other Gartner analysts, Gartner customers, and vendors… all a self-selecting community. With blogging, I found myself talking with everyone from CEOs to high school students.

At least I used to, because I feel like that community, that experience, is gone.

The community of interlinked blogs that made such an impact on me seems to be missing. Sure, we have the Security Blogger’s Network and the Meetup at RSA, but as I go through my daily reading and writing, it’s clear that we aren’t interacting at nearly the level of even 2 years ago. Fewer big debates, fewer comments (generally), and fewer discussions on the open record.

I’m not the only one feeling the loss. Every Tuesday and Thursday we try to compile the best of the security web for the Securosis Incite and Friday Summary, and the pickings have been slim for a while now. There are only so many times we can link back to Gunnar, Bejtlich, or the New School. Heck, when we post the FireStarter on Monday, our goal isn’t to get comments on our site (although we like that), but to spur debate and discussion on everyone else’s sites.

As you can tell by the title, I think Twitter is a major factor. Our multi-post debates are now compressed into 140 characters. Not that I dislike Twitter – I love it (maybe too much), but while it can replace a post that merely links to a URL, it can’t replace the longer dialog or discussions of blogging. I’m too lazy to run the numbers, but I’ve noticed a definite reduction in comments on our blog and blogging in general as Twitter rises in popularity. I’ve had people flat-out tell me they’ve given up on blogging to focus on Twitter. Correlation isn’t causation, and the plural of anecdote isn’t data, but anyone who was on the scene a few years ago easily sees the change.

When I brought this up in our internal chat room, Chris Pepper said:

It’s a good point that if you have a complicated thought, it’s probably better to stew on it and build a post than to type whatever you can fit in 140 characters, hit Return, then sigh with relief that you don’t have to think about it any more.

Dear Bloggers,

Please come back. I miss you.

-me

—Rich

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By Joel Esler  on  05/17  at  02:59 PM

Been thinking about the same thing recently.

By @haroonmeer  on  05/17  at  03:11 PM

Hi Rich..
Agree 100%. Back when I was still at SensePost, I wrote a blog post titled “has Twitter killed the infosec blogging star” http://www.sensepost.com/blog/4201.html

i miss it too :)

By Alex Howard  on  05/17  at  03:18 PM

I’ve absolutely seen the same thing. It’s not just Twitter, though that’s a major factor in the the tech and security space. It’s Facebook. Instead of updating a personal blog, people update their profiles, browse others and comment. That’s of limited relevance for IT security professionals, for now, given the dearth of substantive discussion there, but the trends towards social networks and threaded distributed discussions are very strong. I’m not sure it’s possible to go back to the time you reference, between, say, 2002-2007, when blogs were the venue for vibrant dialog. Some still are - just look at the threads at the big gadget blogs, or Kos, TechCrunch, Chris Brogan, etc - but the number of people that are willing and able to sit down and write a “post” vs a status update has dwindled. And I’m not sure if they will be back, no matter how nicely we ask.

It seems inevitable that discussion in high-bandwidth geographies might entail sitting around in video chatrooms quite soon, enabled by Facebook, Tinychat, ooVoo,ChatRoulette or whatever, talking into our iPhones and iPad and Android cams and trying to make sense of the discussion. For the dial-up world, I’m guessing SMS will be the key tech for some time to come—good luck threading that! :)

By Jay Jacobs  on  05/17  at  05:33 PM

Perhaps its more than just twitter.  I know I’ve dropped off a bit in my blog participation because I’ve been swamped at work (for about 2 years now), perhaps in line with a depressed economy.  I realized a few months ago that I missed that source of information and I’m trying to figure out ways to fit it back into my routine.  I have also been toying with publicly blogging myself (been doing internal writing at work for a while now).  We’ll see how that goes. 

I don’t think the golden-days of security blogging are gone, however I do think it could do with a good poke and this type of post is helpful.  There are a lot of avenues/media for discussion but I’d agree with your point, that the thoughtful written word forces a bit of diligence that is most likely to occur in the blog setting.  I don’t have any ideas on how enforce that other than one post at a time.

By ivan  on  05/17  at  07:08 PM

aha! I think I told you so two years ago! but if I didn’t I now say that it totally agree with Chris Pepper’s assessment. If blogging is to writing what fast food is to culinary arts then Twitter is like some junk food that broke the back of BKC

By alan shimel  on  05/17  at  07:33 PM

Rich, I know we have mentioned this before. It is sad, because we have such a vibrant and smart blogging community. Not sure what to do to get it back though. What do you think it takes?

I do have some ideas I am kicking around. Will contact you to discuss before making them public

By Christian Frichot  on  05/17  at  10:42 PM

I believe that the two formats can live side by side. You reserve your time and effort to apply rigour to posts that will stand up to the test of time, like you said, “on the permanent record”. Twitter is good for shorter bursts of communication in an ad-hoc almost “test” like fashion.

Perhaps people who would’ve originally considered something like blogging are more likely to end up tweeting instead. Often seen as the path of least resistance, although arguably not providing the same degree of quality that can be afforded with >140 characters.

@Alan, everytime I see an update from yourself about the SBN I always get excited. I’m unsure if there’s anyway I can help, but if I can, I will!

By Andrew Waite  on  05/18  at  03:11 AM

Important points, I still try to do both but twitter makes it too easy to just send a link out there and assume you’re done. It’s also easy to miss the debate if you’re not around in real-time.

But conversely I have made a lot of good contacts and in same cases friends after initially having a short discussion over Twitter, more so that I’ve made from blogging. Guess you need to go with whatever works best for you.

By Phil  on  05/18  at  03:49 AM

There is, another side to the coin.  A good proportion of my own tweets are to my own and other people’s blog posts.

Twitter can help promote blogs from obscurity to a more wider audience.

Each has its place.

That said, I’ve blogged less since I became one of the Twitterati.

By @craigbalding  on  05/18  at  07:00 AM

R u frickin’ serious? Twttr is the gzip of blogging…nimble with fewer cnsnnts, more bots. I’m live streamin right now ;) #dnablog Pls RT!

By Andre Gironda  on  05/18  at  07:31 AM

Sorry I’m too busy on Google Reader to bother with Twitter or blogs as much anymore

By Christian Frichot  on  05/18  at  08:37 AM

@Dre - I think that Reader also forms an important piece of this puzzle, as I’ve definitely found myself eagerly awaiting yours and a few others’ shared items. But it’s a different edge of the “information addiction” puzzle. There used to be bbs, then irc and a few websites, then there was larger forums, then there was blogging, then twitter and now the sharing/commenting/social aspect of Reader.. I can only guess what will be next? Some sort of.. wavey type thing. Oh no, hang on, that happened.. and it kinda turned into a ripple, as far as I can tell.

By Rich  on  05/18  at  09:39 AM

But without people writing content to put into Reader, what good is it?

By Rich  on  05/18  at  09:41 AM

I do see them as being complementary platforms, but I feel like we’ve rolled too much towards Twitter at the expense of blogs. Also, Twitter is hard to follow if you aren’t on it all the time. With blogs you can catch up within days and the dialog still makes sense.

By LonerVamp  on  05/18  at  12:20 PM

Good post, and I agree. I’ve responded with my own blog post. :)

Oh, it’s not the same as a cross-blog debate, since I’m essentially agreeing, but still, it’s the thought that counts!

It would help if someday I disagree enough with something you guys say!

By LonerVamp  on  05/18  at  12:21 PM

A link fricken’ helps, yeah?

http://www.terminal23.net/2010/05/that_blogger_community_experie.html

By Rich  on  05/18  at  12:25 PM

@Loner… link? Not that I don’t know your blog address, but not everyone here does…

By Kevin Riggins  on  05/18  at  06:00 PM

I’ve noticed this myself. It seems to have accelerated in the last 6 months or so too. This was a contributing factor to me formally taking my Interesting Bits posts to a 3 times week format as opposed to every day. Well, that and my inability to keep to a daily schedule :)

Kevin

By ds  on  05/19  at  06:42 AM

Evolve or die…

I used to really love usenet, I read dozens of news groups each day, and actively participated in many of them.  I don’t anymore.  Usenet is dead.  Its file sharing was replaced by P2P, its information sharing was replaced by blogging.  I’m sure usenet killed something that came before it, just as the telegraph killed off the pony express. 

The point is that if you focus on the venue and the reason that people are at the venue, then you miss the point.  If the masses can get the same perceived benefit more easily from Twitter that they could from blogs, they will migrate.  It is your challenge as a content creator to migrate ahead of, or at least with, the audience, or you will lapse to irrelevance. 

You can’t long for the good old days when the world came to your prefered venue, that’s just not productive.  Again, evolve or die.

By Rich  on  05/19  at  06:48 AM

Ds,

I was an early Twitter advocate and still love it. Embracing it isn’t the problem. It just doesn’t work the same, and there is no way it can provide the same value. Even the people I’ve talked with who have left blogging for twitter agree.

Different tools for different jobs… People haven’t migrated because of the perceived value, from what I can tell.

By securityphile  on  05/19  at  08:28 AM

I’m going to chime in with my two cents about why I think security blogging has dropped off in the recent years.

1. Mobility:

Everyone is a lot more mobile these days, probably due to new opportunities thanks to blogging, or just smart phones themselves. I think the problem is within the blogs themselves. Has everyone modified or enabled a scaled down version of their website/blog so it can be displayed on a mobile phone? Viewing some security blogs on a mobile device just isn’t pretty and makes it difficult. Not having the ability to comment easily on a smart phone probably hurt the discussions/debates as well. I think that’s how Twitter came into play, because of the short format of their messages, it was easier to adapt on a mobile phone and lets people connect quickly. However, to move on from Twitter and have more deeper and engaging relationships, people should move on to blogs after Twitter.

Some possible solutions:
1. Tumblr might be an answer to rally the security bloggers together.
2. Disqus might be a way to rally all the comments/debates.
3. I’d recommend following some people outside of the security blogging arena, as some Twitter users have found success at getting others to engage on their blogs via Twitter and Tumblr.

2. Economy/Society

Everyone has to perform more with less these days. I don’t think people have the time to comment, which is not a negative statement, it’s unfortunate. There is a lot more information to consume coming at everyone at much faster rates than before. I’m referring to Twitter mainly regarding the information fire hose. There are so many possibilities, ideas or new things out there.

I’ve found that Facebook is about people you use to know in high school. Twitter is about new people you want to meet (to replace those you don’t talk to on Facebook)

By Alan Shimel  on  05/19  at  08:43 AM

OK Rich, I put up my post joining in the call to come back, come back, where ever you are. Here is the link:

By Alan Shimel  on  05/19  at  09:05 AM

Fooled ya! here is the link: http://www.ashimmy.com/2010/05/calling-all-security-bloggers-come-out-come-out-where-ever-you-are.html

By Amrit  on  05/19  at  10:59 AM

No!

By Jibran Ilyas  on  05/19  at  09:50 PM

Good post Rich. I hope this encourages the return of original security content on the blogosphere. Bring back all the cool security tips n tricks and the funny anecdotes. I don’t buy the ‘we are swamped’ or ‘too busy to blog’ excuse; its just that the instant feedback on twitter has spoiled us so all we need is similar acknowledgement on the blogs. Commenting on the blogs keeps the bloggers going and that is what we all need to do to keep each other motivated to write 1000 words instead of hundred and some.

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