I've been on the internet for a good 16 years or so- way back in the days of dial up, Tripod, Geocities, AltaVista and Yahoo. I've seen a lot of interesting cycles- from when "blinkies", flashing bits, popups and/or GIFs were all the "best" the web had to offer, and when IRC and ICQ were all the rage, to rings and endless linkbacks and cluttered interfaces, to today with blogs, Facebook and Twitter.
Today features Blogger and Wordpress as the "ways of the day" to get you point of view out to the masses (or just your mom, depending on how you set it up). Way back, if you wanted to have a good looking site, you needed to know how to code HTML. It's actually pretty easy (I taught myself from a book, and I am not very tech oriented, just ask Lauby).
That's not the case anymore. Today, you can use free cloud software to create your blog with "point and click" simplicity if you so desire (or need to, like me). SEO optimization makes the linking back less obnoxious, and search engines in general make FINDING sites incredibly easy. Design has gone forward, too. Instead of "blaring incessantly", things have moved to a cleaner interface as the web has developed.
For the very intrepid, there are things like HTML5, Drupal and Dreamweaver, assuming you own or have access to a server so you can create your own content and not be limited by someone else's worldview. (Or Terms and Conditions, or corporate philosophy, or whatever).
Tools of the trade for bloggers like us, until something new comes along.
I'll admit I am slow to understand the appeal of certain online trends- I didn't "get" the concept of Blogging until I had been reading other people's blogs for a year or more. Once I finally got into it, I totally understand the appeal and am pretty excited when I find a new talent, personality, or place to enjoy.
From a business standpoint, blogs are a strange microcosm of real world trends. I have absolutely seen the impact that an online review can make (case in point here and here). A few good words (or bad, depending) from a trusted or popular source can send a product through the roof- or make it darn near impossible to move.
I also see the effects of product enthusiasm or malaise- such as the current GW burnout. It's hitting our crowd pretty hard, and the buzz for other table top games such as Malifaux, Infinity or Confrontation is really picking up. We literally had 6 months straight where we could not get a butt in a seat for a Malifaux event, and this month we had 8 people playing on the "pick up" day. It's kind of unnerving, and crazy at the same time to see the "big scale" stuff swinging down to us.
But there are definitely moments when the Blogging universe takes a funny turn and I have to wonder what is happening in reality. A good example is in the following: Our GW rep had absolutely NO IDEA that there were so many tabletop/40K related blogs in existence. When I mentioned that I wrote an article on a regular basis, his exact reply was "WHERE?" in the kind of tone that implied a strong disbelief that anyone cared to blog about "little plastic dudesmen". When I passed on the link to HOP and told him about FTW as well, he was completely stunned. He had no concept that so many people in the hobby were so passionate about their gaming. Another example: Brian of A Gentleman's Ones, Zero of Hive Zero and I all live within a short drive of each other. We had no idea this was the case until very recently- it was definitely a strong case of "out of sight, out of mind" .
It's when the larger scoped conversations filter into my store that I take notice. The conversations about Finecast, price hikes (on everything and not just GW), modeling, conversions, NOVA, Adepticon, FoW and more come in to my place, and who says what to who and why is a pretty important thing for me to notice. Some dudes, I just ignore (because they have proven to be loud, ignorant and annoying); but others I give serious attention because their opinion influences others'.
Blogging is kind of the same way. There are folks I just outright dismiss (anyone who knows me well has a clear concept of who I mean) and others I give a lot of credit to because their opinions matter as more than noise; especially among my customers. I am regularly both impressed and amazed by how much influence there is in Blogging land, and how it affects me.
Which is what I promised I would talk about- how it affects me. RPGs have a similar number of bloggers, but no other niche in the FLGS industry gets the same kind of fanaticism that table top gaming does. Yes, Jeff talks about something and then other people are talking about it- but rarely are purchases made because he brought something up. In 40K/WM/Malifaux, if Sandwyrm or Brent are talking about a product in a positive way, I notice sales. Reviews are a huge portion of the hobby industry, and Blogging makes deciding to buy (or not) so much easier for a customer/reader. This is definitely different from 15 years ago when you bought something after talking to people you knew in real life and getting their opinion.
Distance has made doing business different, but not specifically harder OR easier. Just different. I have to pay attention to other folks' opinions a lot more, and work to educate my employees about what's being discussed and why- so we can sell more stuff, make better connections, and grow our community.
Next week I will be talking about videos and podcasts- which I know will be lit up with Adepticon fodder; so a great time to review them.