Is the blogosphere mature?

Dean mourns the passing of the pioneer era of blogging:

When I started blogging 5 years ago, this was an amazing new medium that no one had ever explored before.

Now it seems to be increasingly corporatized, and based on whatever will garner you readers. I don’t entirely like this, although I don’t think it wrong per se.

The blogosphere (or, at least, the political blogosphere) is increasingly showing signs of maturing. The process and signs that a technology or industry has become mature has been studied quite a bit and displays a definite pattern:

In Utterback’s (1994) view, a technology’s or industry’s lifecycle comprises three development phases: fluid, transitional and specific. Following table shows some of the characteristics by which each of these phases can be identified.

In the fluid phase, there is great uncertainty as to a company’s product, process, competitive leadership and management structure. The product is not clearly defined and it has a high pace of innovation. Products may be produced to order and process innovation takes a supporting role. The processes are flexible, inefficient and based on specialized labor and general-purpose equipment. The companies set up have an organic structure which undergoes frequent adjustments and in which tasks and duties can be re-defined, with a flat hierarchy and a high degree of lateral communication. The market is not yet established; it is fragmented, unstable and provides rapid feedback. A product’s functional performance is the basis for competition. There are few competitors but this number grows as the technology penetrates the market. The tendency is for there to be a large number of small businesses set up with original, unique products.

When a dominant product design emerges, this heralds the beginning of the transitional phase. Product innovation rates drop while process innovations rise. Product and process innovations start to be interdependent. Processes become more rigid, specialized equipment is introduced and automation starts to come in. The cost of change starts to rise. Companies start to be less organic and the relative power of people with managerial skills grows. Products tend to start to have commodity-like behavior and the degree of differentiation in terms of their functions or characteristics falls. There are fewer competitors and the basis for competition starts to reside in refinements to product features, reliability and cost. As Utterback (1994) sees it, assembled and non-assembled products have some behavioral differences at this phase. Unlike the former, non-assembled products do not leave the fluid phase when one product design becomes dominant, but rather when a base process technology comes in.

In the specific phase, an industry has entered its maturity phase and the value of the quality / cost ratio becomes the basis for competition. Innovations to the product are incremental, while improvements to quality and productivity are cumulative. Any modification to either process or product is both difficult and costly. Processes are automated and generally make use of specialized equipment. The organizational structure is based upon clearly defined tasks and procedures. There are few companies, producing standardized or slightly differentiated products, or commodities, which enjoy stable sales and market shares (oligopolies). The pace of innovation, whether for the process or the product, tends towards zero.

Some of the other specific signs that an industry has matured include reduced rates of product innovation, the rise of businesses providing services to the industry, consolidation, the rise of industry organizations, and the identification of the industry as such in the public consciousness. When the word “blog” becomes recognizeable to most people, it’s a sign that the blogosphere has matured.

I think that in all likelihood the blogosphere entered the transitional phase in 2002 or, perhaps, early 2003. When Powerline Blog was recognized by Time Magazine, it was a good indication that the blogosphere had entered the specific phase.

None of this means that good or interesting things won’t continue to be written. But it certainly may look that way.

2 comments… add one
  • I can sympathize with Dean. When this ball started, the blogosphere seemed a lot more dynamic and interesting. Network effects have made it so much more difficult for things to change in the blogosphere, with newcomers having a much tougher time breaking out than they did five years ago. Nonetheless, there’s a lot of good stuff still percolating out there, it’s just a matter of tracking it down. If you want to look for it, you can still find plenty of dynamism in the blogosphere.

  • In many ways the most interesting stuff is going on within subnetworks in the blogosphere (something I’ve dubbed koinons). However, because of the phenomenon you note—the difficulty in “breaking out” these koinons may be practically invisible to the greater blogosphere.

    Not to be fault-finding but part of the problem is that a vast amount of the total traffic goes to a handful of blogs and those blogs may themselves have extremely narrow subnetworks to which they link. I’ve notice for example that the blogrolls of many of the top blogs are largely historical documents, blogs that are inactive or no longer produce interesting work.

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