Friday, January 07, 2011

Top Ten Stories of 2010 -- Number 6: The Death of the Blog

Fifteen years ago, “blog” was a noise you made if you ate too much spicy food, not a term for “web log.” Acording to BlogPulse there are 153,102,016 total identified blogs worldwide. Half of them might be Washington Capitals blogs. It only seems that way, I suppose.

It might seem strange within that context to have a title to this scribble called, “The Death of the Blog.” But bear with us. According to the website, “Wikipedia”…

"The term "weblog" was coined by Jorn Barger on 17 December 1997. The short form, 'blog,' was coined by Peter Merholz, who jokingly broke the word weblog into the phrase we blog in the sidebar of his blog in April or May 1999. Shortly thereafter, Evan Williams at Pyra Labs used 'blog' as both a noun and verb ('to blog,' meaning 'to edit one's weblog or to post to one's weblog') and devised the term 'blogger' in connection with Pyra Labs' Blogger product, leading to the popularization of the terms."

The “blog” (as a noun) was essentially a solitary enterprise – one individual engaging to “blog” (as a verb) about their daily lives, interests, or vocations. As blogging tools evolved, it became easier for common folk without sophisticated IT skills to enter the “blogosphere.” Any IT-challenged schmo (like, say… me) could with a few keystrokes and a few mouse clicks manage an online journal without undue irritation from having to do things like learn HTML language.

And a lot of individuals did just that. We started this blog in 2005, and we were by no means the first Caps blog. And Caps blog sprouted like mushrooms in those heady days. Anyone with an opinion and a keyboard could join the conversation, directly and individually.

But nature seems to hate disorder at both the cosmic and at the earth-bound level. Blogs grew past the realm of the lonely voice at a keyboard to include “blogs” from official sounding entites – businesses, media outlets, even governments. Things got crowded and noisy. So, just like the individual specks of dust that aggregate over millennia into galaxies, individual blogs started giving way to aggregations of bloggers under a single banner. It had the charm of dividing labor (individual blogging can be a painstaking enterprise if you are faithful to a daily regimen), assembling a wider array of talents and viewpoints, and driving larger reader volumes under that single banner.

And with that, evolution accelerated. Blogging became less and less, it seemed, an individual endeavor with a certain unruly “Wild West” feel to it and more corporate. Whole blogging communities developed that aggregated bloggers from different cities, sports, or both. From my chair, the evolution has been less one of blogging and more one of “alternative stream media” to compete with the traditional mainstream media outlets and networks. In look and feel, and often in terms of quality, it is hard to distinguish the SBNation community of blogs (the big dog on the block in terms of aggregators for purposes of this discussion) from any traditional media outlet you would care to name. And even within the SBNation framework, the individual sites are, from our perusal of them, themselves collections of contributors with a “managing editor” to ensure things run smoothly and in accordance with some standard of reporting. The best of such communities have become almost indistinguishable from the traditional media.

And in that sense, the “blog” as we have known it in earlier days seems to be fading away, despite the 153 million blogs out there, or at least succumbing to the growth of aggregations of blogs under a single brand. The term itself seems inappropriate in a way – the largest communities are in little sense a “log” maintained on the web, but full-blown reporting enterprises, publishing original fact reporting and commentary in addition to photo and video journalism. Such enterprises are not crowding out the individual blogger as much as making him obsolete or leaving him a niche with narrow popularity. We do not attach a value to it – it isn’t right or wrong, good or bad – it just is. That’s the way evolution works.

As a part of the Capitals “blogging” community, we have thought a lot about that over the last few months in terms of whether this space is one of those that is becoming obsolete or whether we need to move on to another platform (disclosure: we have had several offers from media communities in the past year). We would not be surprised if any other individual who maintains a blog thinks along similar lines. While expression can be therapeutic, one has to ask, “is anyone reading this stuff?” Or are they reading the big communities? There are only so many hours in the day, and only so many “blogs” you can read. We do not engage in the delusion that this blog is at the top of many (if any) Caps’ fans reading routine for news or commentary about the Caps.

This has been a big year in the evolution of the blog, here in the Caps community and elsewhere. The big communities have honed their craft and built sustainable operating models. They should be applauded and admired for that effort, and the folks who write and are engaged in visual journalism for them do fine work. Even the blogs that are not affiliated with a larger community, but employ a team to produce their work have done a fine job and have established their footprint in the media community. In that sense, there is less and less of an argument that traditional media can use to dismiss bloggers as unprofessional wannabes working from their respective basements (we blog from a third floor office in our house). The gap in quality and professional standards between the traditional media and the “alternative stream media” has closed markedly; they are becoming harder and harder to distinguish.

What it means, though, is that while “The Death of the Blog” might be a little dramatic, the “blog” as we knew it is probably going to become less and less relevant in the conversation, especially the one-person version of the species. We think that is something of importance to the way the Caps have been and will continue to be covered and, thus, is one of the top ten stories of 2010.

Top Ten Stories of 2010 -- Number 7: Three-Peat!

In the 1998-1999 season the National Hockey League instituted a six-division, two-conference format. In doing so, the NHL created the Southeast Division, comprised of three sun-belt teams – the Carolina Hurricanes, Florida Panthers, and Tampa Bay Lightning – and one member of the old “Patrick Division” (which became the “Atlantic Division” in 1993-1994), the Washington Capitals. The Atlanta Thrashers would join the Southeast for the 1999-2000 season.

In the 11 years of Southeast Division play leading up to the 2009-2010 season only two teams had finished a season as a repeat champion, the Capitals doing it twice (1999-2000/2000-2001 and 2007-2008/2008-2009) and the Tampa Bay Lightning (2002-2003 and 2003-2004). In the two seasons preceding the 2009-2010 season the Capitals had become the dominant club in the division, the only team from the division to qualify for the post-season in 2007-2008 and one of only two (Carolina being the other) to qualify in 2008-2009. The Caps won the division by two points in 2007-2008, owing to an 11-1-0 stretch run to finish the season. The Caps won the Southeast by 11 points in 2008-2009, shaking off a slow start with a five-game winning streak in November, then putting distance between themselves and their nearest pursuers with a 14-2-0 run between December 4th and January 6th of that season.

The 2009-2010 season would be different in that not only were the Caps considered still to be the dominant team in a weak Southeast Division, but a bona fide Stanley Cup contender. The Capitals certainly fed that impression with a strong regular season run, but much of that was fed by wins against the comparatively weak sisters of the Southeast. The Caps were 10-2-2 in the 2010 portion of the season against the Southeast on their way to a 19-3-2 record for the season against the other four teams of the division. Only Tampa Bay would win two games against the Caps in regulation time among the rest of the division’s teams.

The result for the Caps was a third consecutive Southeast Division title, outdistancing the Atlanta Thrashers by 38-points. To give one some perspective on the dominance the Caps displayed in winning the division, consider this. The 38-point margin they held over Atlanta was the largest point spread between first and second place in any of the six NHL divisions. Chicago was next with a ten-point lead over the Detroit Red Wings in the Central Division. It was the largest margin of divisional victory since the NHL went to a six-division format, surpassing the 28-point margin by which the Tampa Bay Lightning finished ahead of the Atlanta Thrashers in 2003-2004.

In 2010 the Caps were the first team in the division to achive the “three-peat.” But one had to wonder, too, just how much significance could be attached to it. The Caps were a dominant team in the division – they won six more intradivisional games than the next best club in the Southeast – but no other Southeast Division team finished higher than tenth in the conference. Southeast teams occupied four of the bottom six standings slots in the Eastern Conference at season’s end. As the 2010 calendar year closed, the Southeast Division was a much more competitive division, though. In fact, on December 31st, the Caps were second to the Tampa Bay Lightning in the Southeast despite being tied for the third most points in the conference. However, the “three-peat” for the Caps to end the 2009-2010 season was unprecedented in the Southeast Division and thus is one of the top stories of 2010.