Thinking Outside the Blog

Most internet users have a good idea of what a blog looks like. In fact most blogs look pretty similar when you get down to it.

Sure they come in different packages – certainly WordPress themes abound – but strip away a little of the cosmetics and it is usually the same face underneath.

Today NorthxEast is changing to a new look and new format and while it isn’t entirely revolutionary, it is a little different.

In reinventing this site I got to thinking about how blogs are changing and lines blurring.

And so it seems fitting that the first article should be about how we as professional bloggers can think outside the blog.

A New Medium

Game changing innovations are few and far between. They are usually simple concepts to describe but when they arrive it takes time to fully realize their importance and impact. Television was a game-changer, mobile phones were a game-changer, and blogging is also one.

What sounds so simple – it is just chronological posting after all – has had a profound effect on the internet. And as with most game-changing innovations, blogging is evolving far beyond the purposes originally intended.

Consider email which is another major innovation, but one that is relatively mature. When people first began using email, I doubt anyone quite realized how it would be used in the future.

From webmail to mail on your blackberry to service notifications to Nigerian scammers. The implications of email have only become apparent with time.

As it was with email, so it is with blogging. What seems simple, quickly evolves into new formats, new uses and takes new meaning in people’s lives.

Where the first blogs were simple online journals, now blogs are used by companies, media, professional bloggers, entertainment and of course still millions of not-so-simple online journals. If we’ve already come this far, where are we going next?

Trend Watching

Well for the most part blogs will always be blogs. After all think of television and you realize that while a huge plasma screen TV showing cable is wildly different to a black and white box from the 50s, the two are still conceptually the same.

In my opinion, there are three major trends already occurring that will continue to evolve blogging:

  • Audiences will broaden
    Most mainstreamers are only just starting to get blogs. For many, blogs and RSS feeds are still things they are only vaguely aware of. The current audience pool while vast is still limited.As audiences broaden, the most popular topics will shift from being tech oriented to more conventionally popular topics. To see what I mean, visit a news agency and see how many gadget and technology company magazines there are. Now look at all the other topics, are those being represented well in blogging?
  • Blogs will find new uses and variations
    We already have vlogs, podcasts, miniblogs, twitter and more. The concept of blogging has extended to use in media sites like for example, it has been used effectively as a marketing tool, has been made to fit internal corporate dialogue, has been moulded to build affiliate marketing businesses on and used in a myriad other permutations.
  • Traditional Blogs will become increasingly more sophisticated
    When you think about it blogs are already looking a lot more sophisticated than they used to. You only need to look at a list of WordPress plugins to see the innovative types of functionality they now possess, from relating posts to tracked feeds to myBlogLog communities.There are two key forces driving this increasing sophistication. On the one hand that blogs are increasingly seen as a viable source of income naturally pushes bloggers to improve to survive. And on the other many of the currently popular blog genres are over saturated, which then drives bloggers to find ways to set themselves apart.

While all three trends are hugely important in predicting where blogging will go in the future, it is the third trend of increasing sophistication that I want to discuss.

As bloggers search for ways to set themselves apart and to provide sites that are better than their competition, we are forced to think differently, to think outside the blog.

A Blog Apart

Setting a blog apart comes down to many factors. Writing style, writing quality, post frequency, post length, blog branding and blog marketing are typically some of them. But there are other factors that we tend to overlook.

Let me ask you some questions. Why do all blogs run down the page? Why do blogs only ever consist of one stream of content?

Why are all blogs controlled by a central blogger? Why do all blogs consist of column based designs? In essence, why do all blogs look and feel like blogs?

The obvious answer is that blogs look like blogs because that’s exactly what they are. Whatchu talkin bout Willis?

And then there’s the technology. The reason blogging is so popular is the facility of creating a blog from scratch mostly involves using off-the-shelf products.

But should we really be bound by these constraints?

Not everyone thinks so. In fact blogs are increasingly blurring the lines of blogging and general online publishing.

Consider sites like UXMagazine, Performancing and MetaFilter, are these sites still considered blogs?

On a Practical Level

Of course a blog doesn’t have to be huge to differentiate. There are many ways that we can break out of the blogging norm, here are a few:

  • Breakout Design
    Using a slightly unconventional design is a great way to change things up. In this redesign of NxE we’ve used an index page that lists posts simply by title while highlighting the newest with an image and excerpt. It isn’t mind-blowing innovation, but it is different.
  • Multiple Feed Streams
    It’s not hard to bend a platform like WordPress to produce two or more concurrent blog streams. Simply using categories and a few adjustments on presentation code can let you show a ‘main’ blog as well as a secondary stream – for example an ‘in brief’ blog.
  • Audience Participation
    It involves more admin work, but adding a public blog/news breaks right out into community blogging. See an example on Stylegala. How do you do it? With some WordPress cleverness you can create an invisible post and use its comments to create a stream that has an approval queue (the comment approval queue) and with styling looks nothing like a comment sequence.

Those are some thoughts I’ve had, but with a little thought and a little ingenuity, your next blog could easily break out and tread a whole different path.

About Collis Ta'eed

As cofounder and CEO, Collis Ta’eed leads Envato, one of the world’s most thriving digital marketplaces and creative educational blog networks.

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