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After the hype, what’s next for blogs?

Kevin Maney USA Today

A 2005 version of Monty Python’s famous “Spam” skit:

Man: “Well, what’ve you got?

Waitress: “Well, there’s egg and blogs; egg, bacon and blogs; blogs, blogs, egg, blogs, blogs, bacon and blogs; blogs, sausage, blogs, blogs, bacon, blogs, tomato and blogs …”

Wife: “Have you got anything without blogs?”

These days, the hype about blogs is off the charts.

And you know what that usually means: Run for cover, because a bubble is going to burst and make a big mess.

Just about everybody is either celebrating blogs or worrying about blogs, which are essentially online journals.

A couple of weeks ago, BusinessWeek ran a cover story titled, “Blogs will change your business,” in which the magazine likened blogs to the invention of the printing press.

About the same time, Europeans flocked to a conference called Les Blogs, which took place in Paris, where the people who write blogs are known as “blogeurs.”

We’ve got books such as “Blog: Understanding the Information Reformation That’s Changing Your World.” We’ve got Wall Street’s Mary Meeker, who used to cover overheated dot-com stocks, showing investors PowerPoints about blog trends.

Pamela Anderson has a blog!

Blogs have come on like a cloud of locusts. The blog search engine Technorati says it now tracks more than 10 million blogs. By the time you finish this story, about 300 more will be started.

A recent Pew Internet & American Life Project study found that 16 percent of the U.S. population reads blogs and that 6 percent of adults have created a blog.

Don’t get me wrong — I like blogs.

Blogs can be wholesome surprising fun. Last winter, I got to judge the New Zealand NetGuide Web Awards for best New Zealand blog of 2004. The winner was Bizgirl, who billed herself as a twentysomething librarian from Wellington. At the awards dinner, Bizgirl turned out to be a middle-aged fat guy.

“Blogging is to the 2000s what Web sites were to the 1990s and desktop publishing was to the 1980s,” says Guy Kawasaki, managing director of Garage Technology Ventures.

In other words, we’ve seen this movie before. A new technology makes it easier for individuals to create and share information, which gives people an intoxicating sense of power they’d never before experienced.

Next thing you know, this new technology is a “revolution” that “changes everything” and “makes dogs and cats love each other” and other such claims.

Certainly each new technology is significant and alters the dynamics of society and business. Blogs are doing just that.

But in the past, each technology has also gone through a cycle of superhype, followed by a hype-o-glycemic crash. After that, the technology reaches equilibrium and steadily evolves into a crucial piece of the global fabric.

“For the moment, blogs are on the ascent to the detriment of other media activities,” says Larry Downes, professor of information economics at the University of California-Berkeley. “But newer and more interesting communications technologies will unthrone blogs soon enough.”

The novelty of blogs will wear off, Downes says, just as it did with Web sites a handful of years ago. “How much time do you spend anymore just surfing the Web — you know, for fun?” he asks.

Besides, how far can blogging spread? That same Pew survey found that the growth of creating and reading blogs is slowing. Maybe that’s a good thing.