NPF: FORMAT SHIFT

I was into capybaras way before it was cool. You could say I'm a capyhipster.

The first anyone on the internet, myself included, knew that the giant South American rodents I love so much could be kept as pets in the United States was thanks to Caplin Rous, the original internet capybara. His owner Melanie Typaldos maintained (and still does) the blog Capybara Madness. Aside from having cute animal pictures aplenty, it told some really interesting stories about a day in the life with such a large, unusual pet. After Caplin's passing, Melanie has since acquired successor capybaras Garibaldi and, now, Mudskipper. Here is a picture of me and Muddy. This counts as one of the greatest days of my life.

Due to some health problems (which she has talked about on the blog, so I'm not revealing anything here) Melanie had a pretty long involuntary blogging hiatus. It happened to coincide with the rise to internet stardom of two new pet capys, JoeJoe the Capybara and Sweetie the Capy. These pets' owners are young Millennial types and understood (correctly) that a barrage of cute pictures on Instagram, Twitter, Vine, and other no-text formats would attract a lot of attention. Both have substantial social media presence now.

Melanie is trying to relaunch her blog and has expressed some frustration with the lack of success. The sad fact is, blogging is already "old fashioned." People are succumbing more and more to the lure of cheap, instant gratification without all that troublesome reading involved. Memes, short vids, pictures, and more pictures. That's what people under 30 today are conditioned to consume. Long-form blogging is probably…not dying, but definitely undergoing a contraction. There just aren't many people doing this anymore, not compared to Peak Blog in the early to mid Aughts.

An additional difficulty, as some commenters pointed out while discussing this on Facebook (tellingly, not on a blog), is the switch to consuming the internet on mobile devices instead of laptops and desktop computers. Most blogs just aren't very easy to read on a phone. Social media are optimized to the size of a phone screen and that means…pictures. Lots of pictures. Videos. Animated gifs. Certainly not strings of compound sentences.

I'm never going to stop doing this for the simple reason that I do it for no reason other than I enjoy it. But the internet is definitely going to see a lot of blogging disappear as people who do it strictly in the hopes of getting attention move to more suitable formats like Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter. There's nothing wrong with that, and I'm not insulting people who choose that. It's just a very different approach, and one that I think trades substance for instant gratification. That's the way of the world, though. Formats are forever evolving and information is forever being condensed. It can't be stopped, but that doesn't mean it's a positive development.

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36 Responses to “NPF: FORMAT SHIFT”

  1. Sinned34 Says:

    I must be getting old because I don't actually know what all the icons in your "be sociable, share!" section are. And I'm a computer nerd. But I guess that's the problem: phones may be small computers, but there's a different culture between the way a pc is used and a phone is.
    I don't spend any time on Instagram, Facebook, snapchat, or any of the other social media sites. I spend most of my internet time on blogs like this one. In internet time, I must be a fossil.

  2. Mysteries Of Life Says:

    Neil Steinberg talked about this today "Blogs are dead."

    This proclamation is made every 2-4 years. They are just evolving, like they always have. They went from Online Personal Journals to Amateur Columns (me included) especially once people learned how to monetize them (missed the boat on that one).

    speaking of leveraging technology….Ed doesn't have a subscribe by email feature that even the most tech illiterate suburbanite Mommy Needs Wine blogger has.

  3. BruceJ Says:

    Well, fellow fossil I too spend most of my time on blogs, and i've been doing IT since the dawn of the web.

    The trend towards 'everything must fit on a phone screen' is probably going to bring about the Idiocracy faster than anything else. Also, some emergency that requires the use of both hands simultaneously to survive will probably kill off 90% of everyone under the age of 60…

  4. quixote Says:

    Developments that aren't positive and can't be stopped end badly.

    So … no idea what to do about it. It can't be stopped, y'know. :/

  5. Katydid Says:

    I'm with all the above commenters. I don't Facebook because of the privacy concerns and all the hacking-into-accounts that goes on, and also because they "curate" (I hate that f'ing term) what you see. I don't Instagram or Snapchat either because I have no need to see an endless parade of girls with duck lips or looking like plastic, emotionaless sex dolls. I also don't use my phone as a computer because I'm on the verge of needing reading glasses (too much time on the computer, I think…) and I don't want to have to spend my time squinting at tiny content.

    Besides, I like reading blogs. I like hearing what other people have to say. Ed has a lot to say about a lot of topics.

  6. E* Says:

    I'm a diehard blog-reader and don't care much for the other formats. My reasons are the same as Katydid's.

    Also: CAPYBARAS!! I can barely even type the word without hyperventilating a little. When, oh when, will I meet one in real life?

  7. Coises Says:

    “Most blogs just aren't very easy to read on a phone.”

    If I may be forgiven for pointing it out: Gin and Tacos is atrocious on a phone.

    Text is fine on a phone. I read my eBooks on my phone… and at 59 years old, I don’t have teenagers’ vision.

    What doesn’t work is a site design that isn’t responsive. There are mobile-friendly WordPress themes. The other points you make are valid; but difficulty reading a blog on mobile devices doesn’t have to be a barrier.

  8. HoosierPoli Says:

    I thought you were about to introduce us to your new capybara. I'm disappointed.

  9. mike shupp Says:

    Oh capybaras! I've loved them even before the internet, from when I was slaughtering them in the first WIZARDRY game back in the early 80s. Such happy memories you've brought back to me.

  10. Nick Says:

    Hoosier, I thought the same thing. Maybe once Ed's newfound fame and glory has really taken hold he'll go for capy parenthood.

    I think there's a place for both formats. Facebook and Twitter lend themselves to paragraph-long observations/jokes and quick hits, respectively. Instagram obviously is all about pictures. Long-form blogging is different, but I don't actually think that it "loses out" to the other formats. If you stopped reading a good capybara blog in favor of following the Instagram/Youtube accounts of capybaras, it's entirely possible that you weren't actually into the blogging portion of the capybara blog to begin with, and in fact scrolled past the words to the capy pictures. Likewise, if your time on the internet leans toward Twitter rather than long blog posts or articles from the Atlantic, you probably weren't reading the latter in the first place.

    There are exceptions of course, and likely attention spans have shortened somewhat, but I have a hard time believing that someone who regularly consumes long-form, insightful content is going to stop doing so because LOOK AT THE PICTURES. It's just that a lot of people never liked reading long-form, insightful content in the first place, and now they can just LOOK AT THE PICTURES without scrolling past all the boring words.

  11. Major Kong Says:

    They're Capybararific!

  12. J. Dryden Says:

    Assuming you do one day acquire a capybara, I expect you to go double-down on the nerd-dom and name it "Speak." Anyone who doesn't understand why that would be awesome can just go to hell, right now. (Or, you know, not, because you probably have spent your life doing actually stuff rather than consuming amusing fluff.)

    I gave up blogging myself awhile back because of burnout–the long format demands having something substantial to say, and (and maybe it was the clinical depression) I ran out of words at one point, and never really got them back. (Although I do occasionally come here to Not Shut Up.)

    I've recently started something on Tumblr–which I mention not out of self-promotion, but because Tumblr seems to me to be "blogging for readers with short attention spans"–which meant I didn't have to feel pressured to be eloquent or to, you know, have "a point." And it's also "blogging for writers who operate on hand-helds."

    So maybe blogging is in decline because we not only consume content via small-screen portables, but produce content on/via them as well. I can't imagine trying to post from a tablet, much less a smartphone–maybe the bloggers became detached from the device (the keyboard) that enabled thoughtfulness–and thus blogs worth reading. (Like this one, right here!)

  13. Heisenberg Says:

    This is the only blog I read. Pretty much everything else I read is from actual media outlets.

    I think that means this is a really great blog.

  14. Katydid Says:

    I agree with Heisenbery; this *is* a really great blog. I read several, but this is my must-go-to read.

  15. democommie Says:

    I'm fucking by the chronosense of today's yutes.

    So, I'm at the local music/merch/public moronica festival last evening (at a house across the street–FREE beer–actually) and I get a txt from a young friend of mine who asks if there are any good bands on the main stage.

    1.) The event is free.
    2.) YOU drive a car and live less than a mile from the park where the stage is.
    3.) YOU have a FUCKING I-phone.

    So, why call me (and it's not to "check in" and make sure I'm okay) and ask me a question that you can google an answer for, quicker than you can put in "lolz"?

    I'm going with laziness–not physical, emotional or intellectual.

    I blog and do other shit on the internet 'cuz it's way easier for me to read the screen AND I can keep a lot of other stuff sitting in the queue without having to toggle a bunch of shit everytime I want to look at something other than the main screen.

    I'm a photographer (good or not depends on the viewer–I gave up worrying about that shit a while back). I am being somewhat lazy this weekend and have only taken something like 1800 frames since Thursday. Tonight, 2 bands I LIKE and the Entergy fireworks show (their last since selling their nuke here to Excellon). Maybe 3K-4K frames, depending on weather, etc.

    I have people tell me two things about my photos.

    They'd like me know that their cell-phones take great photos (true). I tell them I know that but I don't think that they can do three frames a second, shoot at 30 seconds to 1/4,000th second and f 4.5–45 or store 8G on a card that changes out in about 3-4 seconds. They usually don't want that much information.

    The other thing that they tell me is that I should e-mail or txt them some pix. I tell them that ONE frame @ 2.5–6.5mp would take something like eternity less 10 seconds to do on my Obama phone. And I also tell them that if THEY want me to send them a disc they can give me a few bucks (as in $2 to cover mailing and cost of a blank dvd) I will send them pix. Only a few out of the thousands of people I have made that offer to bother to follow through.

    So, lazy and fucking cheapskates. And it's not just the youngs.

    Whether I get paid or not is not what controls how I do what I do, or why. But I can never understand somebody who wants social justice, a green planet, unicorns in Washington, D.C. and allathat other wonderful stuff and yet thinks what people do need only be praised in order to get a slice.

    I hope blogs don't die–where the hell would I rant? I'm too fucking old to be climbing up on a soapbox!

  16. Sarah Says:

    Those of us who only get paid if we work need snippets. Maybe blogging worked better in the era of getting paid a reasonable salary (and benefits!) to sit front of a computer all day.

  17. Jestbill Says:

    We went from hobbyist computers with no connectivity to hand held rectangles awash in foreign content in almost no time.

    Nobody actually wants to hold a phone in their hands and look down all the time, so that will pass too.

    My guess is that we'll develop a "Clockwork Orange" shortcut language for computer audio and use it for short interactions.

    A VR video input will be next. Once free of the hand held silliness, the video format can be whatever a user decides is appropriate.

    Viola!–blogs.

  18. Sinned34 Says:

    Oh, and I suppose I should mention how timely this post was, because on Thursday the wife and I spent our anniversary at the local kangaroo farm, that also happens to have about a dozen capybaras wandering about. They reminded me of very large, tailless versions of the pet rats we used to have. So, synchronicity and all that.
    I also want to mention that I prefer reading things to watching people talk in videos. I pretty much only use YouTube to watch Blizzard's animated Overwatch shorts and cosplay videos.
    Finally, I never read the comments. Except here, because it's my perfect echo chamber.

  19. Jimcat Says:

    I hate using the phone for Internet browsing. I'm not sure whether this is a cause or an effect of my enjoyment of long-form reading online, but the two certainly go hand in hand for me.

  20. Jen Coleslaw Says:

    R
    O
    U
    S

    FTW

  21. Ursula Says:

    i rarely use my computer anymore, even now, while at home, I read this post and thread and am typing this comment on my Blackberry Priv. The enormous screen and real keyboard help A LOT. There are very few things that I can't do on this thing.

    Regarding blogs, I noticed that they had been supplanted by Facebook and other social media some years back when me and all my friends stopped updating ours. This is the only one I read with any consistenct anymore too, and I'm usually brought here by a post on Facebook. It's like I'm only capable of having one portal to the world anymore, maybe because I'm doing everything through this phone screen.

    And yes, Blackberry still exists, still makes phones, and people still use them. The Priv had a curved screen before that other phone had it and has a slide out keyboard. The battery is shit, but it will get you through the day if you don't use battery draining apps like Pokémon Go (like I do). The Keyone has the best battery life of any phone out there and a keyboard, but it doesn't slide out, which makes the screen smaller.

  22. BLOZAR Says:

    I check Gin and Tacos, Driftglass, and The Rude Pundit every day.
    I have done so since the Bush administration. I surely would have lost my mind if I did not have the stabilizing effect of these sane voices in an insane world.

    I am extremely happy for Ed's recent breakthroughs into the world of 'Big Media'. In my opinion, the world can be made a bit better if a larger audience can benefit from his insight, wit, and moral perspective.

    I appreciate and enjoy Ed's point of view on most things and the comments section never fails to both enlighten and entertain. I hope Ed continues to use this blog as a means of flexing his writing talent even as he secures more paid writing gigs.

    Long live Gin and Tacos!

  23. GunstarGreen Says:

    I'm going to go out on a limb and say that there IS something wrong with that. Or rather, what that is a symptom of.

    The continued dumbing-down of all social interaction has had innumerable deleterious effects on our society. It is my firm belief, and has been for quite some time now, that it is a large component of the massive behavioral problems that you see in the general populace these days: people don't ever actually deal with people anymore, just memes and tweets. The wholesale replacement of substance with convenience has contributed greatly to a culture of people that talk AT each other instead of TO each other. Meaningful debate cannot be had 140 characters at a time, only pointless shouting matches. Nothing of any actual substance or importance can be summed up so succinctly that it fits into the meme image format.

    We started as a bunch of dumb animals grunting at each other in caves and scribbling images on the walls. The caves have gotten swankier and the walls are now tiny little screens on the tiny little computers we all carry around with us, and the grunts are now called tweets.

    But fucking christ it's depressing that, thousands of years later, we're regressing right back to where we started.

  24. anotherbozo Says:

    Damn, I was hoping blogging was going in the other direction, that in order to sustain a readership bloggers would get better at writing interesting prose. Reading that back, I realize how silly that was.

    There are a few (other, besides Ed's) interesting minds out there, but they write only occasionally. This one is weekly, and is a bit sentimental/kumbaya for my taste, but there's substance too:

    https://www.brainpickings.org/

    Chauncey is often good:

    http://www.chaunceydevega.com/

    And Charlie Pierce, over at Esquire. Anybody here recommend any others? Doesn't have to be about politics. Arts, philosophy, psychology, all of the less academic slants would be welcome. Eager to support the really exceptional bloggers out there–trouble is finding them! (Running down the list of recommendation here, for example, has turned up a few, but not many)

  25. Katydid Says:

    @Gunstar; I agree, it does seem that we're devolving. I'm reminded sharply of that whenever I encounter one of the neighbors; a 97-year-old man who was born in the farmhouse he still lives in, next to the farmland that became my crappy housing development. Whenever I encounter him (usually on walks with the dog), he's out on his porch and eager to have a chat. He's a great person to talk to–sharp as a tack, has a lot of funny stories. He's told me a number of times now that his farmhouse didn't get electricity until he was a young teen (this was considered 'way out in the country' back then) and they didn't get a telephone until he was ready to graduate high school. My own conclusion; people talked to each other, face-to-face.

  26. Sinned34 Says:

    Anotherbozo:

    Lance Mannion is pretty good. Give his blog a try:

    http://lancemannion.typepad.com

  27. democommie Says:

    @GunstarGreen:

    I agree that tweets and the like are not conversation, per se.

    Blogs, I think, gave a lot of people who are like minded the chance to gather (for good and not so good reasons) and exchange information, opinion and lolzkitteh videos*. Like the technology for anything, commtech is capable of making the process of living better–or much, much worse–depending on how it's used.

    Very, very clever people actually CAN say something substantive with a tweet. If you're not Stephen Hawking or Bertie Russell smart–prolly not.

    * Not ME!

  28. Michael Says:

    I just got back from a boardgaming convention where I played a 9 hour game with four other adults of various ages and two kids aged 12-13.

    You may now go back to your assertion that social interaction is impossible and kids are terrible.

  29. Katydid Says:

    Geeze, Michael, get down off the cross–we're about to make s'mores and we need the firewood!

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  31. Safety Man! Says:

    @ Democommie

    I dunno, maybe he just meant if the bands were good in your opinion. I could google venues from here to infinity, but that doesn't substitute for actual boots on the ground.

    I didn't get a smartphone until just a few years ago, out of necessity with my soul-crushingly long commute (the only free time I had was on a train, and the bills don't wait). I've never looked back.

    Oddly, Fox News is currently easiest to read on a mobile device. Salon sucks.

  32. democommie Says:

    @Safety Man!:

    Agreed, to a point. If I want to ask someone something I will see how much I can find out myself first, to narrow the focus of the search/request.

    He's hardly the only person who has been in my vicinity who's asked me about something–that needs to be googled–while he's got his smartphone in his hand, txting, snapchatting or whatef. {;>)

  33. anotherbozo Says:

    The only thing that keeps me attentive is the knowledge that out there in the cold dark, an iceberg named Mueller is slowly edging toward this pompous ship of state. By some unforeseen event, will we never have a collision? Everything suggests it's only a matter of time.

  34. democommie Says:

    @anotherbozo:

    "Can someone tell the class how and why the offices of special counsel, special prosecutor and special specialness (Trumpligulamygdala) are likely to collide and whether that collision will be a horrific tragedy or addition by subtraction? Anyone? Anyone? Mueller?"

  35. BCS Says:

    I can't believe you got to hug a Capybara. Urgh.
    I'm still mad they're not out at my local zoo, despite their presence being advertised.
    Oh well, they've got Fiona the baby Hippo, which is kinda like a Capybara…

  36. ChickenLady Says:

    As a kid, I loved going to the Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park. I knew it like the back of my hand, and in the diorama section, my favorite taxidermied animal was the dik-dik. Fast forward to my mid-thirties – my brother, s-i-l, and I took my nephews to the zoo. We walked into an area with benches so we could unpack our picnic lunch, and I turned around to see *gasp!* a real live dik-dik. It never dawned on me they could live in captivity, much less SF zoo! I was so thrilled. These are some cute little buggers: http://www.zooborns.com/zooborns/dik-dik/

    As for capybaras, I'll probably never have one, but we've got the next best thing. Occasionally one of our backyard squirrels loses his tail (hawk? cat? twisted neighbor kid? No idea.) and looks for all the world like a capybara. So sometimes I get to pretend we have a pet capy.

    btw, DID anyone ever find capybara repellent?