The Personalization of the Internet

In his 2011 blog post Going Digital, William J. Turkel described how “Emphasis is shifting from a web of pages to a web of people.” I think his observation certainly is true in 2014, especially when viewed through the lens of Twitter. I use Twitter to get my news, and the beauty of the site is that I can follow who I want, changing my feed as my tastes change. Contrast this with the “web of pages” where I got news on the internet by visiting specific sites, not “following” individuals. What do I mean? Let’s use sports media as an example after the jump.

Prior to the web, the best way to get sports news, commentary and analysis was through my local media, as well as broad national outlets like ESPN. Even once they started publishing websites (e.g. ESPN.com), the stories were all presented without much customization. However, now with the power of Twitter (plus Facebook, RSS readers and other forms of social media), I can follow the columnists, journalists and bloggers that I want, getting custom-made news. What I read on the internet isn’t determined by which page publishes the materials, but by who is publishing it. So if a reporter who writes for the Sacramento Bee consistently writes fascinating stories, I can easily follow him, even if I’ll never read anything else about Sacramento. From the sportswriters perspective, they realize that if they have a following on Twitter, it doesn’t matter if they write for a national outlet, since their work will be read regardless. As college football columnist Clay Travis wrote, “the name on the front of the jersey [doesn't] matter anymore.”

This importance in creating a personal brand is why I think it is important for academics, especially in the liberal arts, to blog. By writing regular updates on one’s research, teaching, and work in general, it creates a brand that inspires a following. As Dan Cohen writes “A large blog audience is as good as a book or seminal article. A good blog provides a platform to frame discussions on a topic and point to resources of value.” The counter to this argument, as argued by Adam Kotsko, is that getting that large, engaged audience is tough, and often the discussion surrounding blogs is lacking. Yet, writing a blog should not be just to solicit and facilitate groundbreaking discussion, but to share ideas. The goal is engagement, but failure to garner thousands of followers is not a complete failure. There are other benefits to consistent blogging, such as learning how to write for a specific audience, as Scott Eric Kaufman argues. Even if the immediate reach isn’t there, in the long run it will make one’s work more accessible.

What do you guys think? Do you view the internet through the prism of “people” or “pages.” And do you think it’s important to have a blog?

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About Zach Klitzman

A History Grad student at American University

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