I was recently asked about the "death of blogging" for this article in The Economist. I didn't get back to the reporter in time, though, so my comments ended up, ironically, on his blog.
(Conclusion: I don't believe blogging is dying, but...it's complicated. Like in most healthy ecosystems, new species are breeding. Whether or not they're called "blogging" is a question perhaps best left for scientists, but there are many new forms that are undeniably part of the blogging genus.)
Last night at the Churchill Club, I was quoted as saying that Twitter "will dwarf Blogger." I do believe that, but it will be no easy task and will not be soon. Blogger is big. Really big. That chart was from six months ago. Is it losing traction? I don't know. It doesn't look like it was then. And since then, the team over there seems to be kicking ass. A glance at Blogger Buzz show's they've been launching feature after feature the last few months. Launching any features when you're that big is usually a daunting task. Shows that a lot of years building a solid platform have paid off.
So, the question is: Where do they go from here? Part of that, I suppose, will be determined by where the Google powers-that-be decide Blogger lands on their priority list, given the leaner times. Clearly it's not one their cash cows, but it's also not a side project they're dabbling in. I've heard it makes money (from AdSense on blogs they host), but I really don't know. In fact, I know so little about Blogger these days, I feel like I can actually write about it as an outsider.
From a product perspective, I do feel like they could get more out of the capabilities and incredible usage they already have. Here's an unordered list of some of the ways I'd look to do that if I were in charge:
Build a Network of Networks: Building more interconnection between users and blogs is clearly part of the focus now with "followers." It's something we realized we were remiss in not doing more of way back when we built the (not very good) profile pages in 2004, when Friendster was the big thing and Orkut was launching down the hall. There are a ton of mechanisms to do this, but one thing to consider: Don't try to make one big network. Perhaps enable anybody to create a blog network/community thingy. (There might be a doc around there about "Blogger Hubs" -- not sure if it's still relevant.)
Point People to Good Content: When it comes to interconnectedness, don't just try to make it more "social." Social is important, but pure socialness can be achieved elsewhere. One unique thing about Blogger -- vs. say Facebook or MySpace -- is the content. How can you make the content more interlinked and use the network to get more attention to the good stuff, thus rewarding the creating of more good stuff? You know what the most-viewed/commented/linked-to post on Blogger was today. Show it to me! I bet it's interesting! (Even better: Show me what's most popular within my blog network.) BTW, if revenue, not just usage, is a priority, this plays to that, because it's the content focused blogs that can make the money.
Get More Out of the Navbar: The toolbar you have at the top of millions of blogs could do so much more. This is where you can put the feedback mechanisms, interlinking mechanisms, etc. NextBlog could be a whole thing! Make that so I never wanna stop clicking because it always shows me something awesome. (Think StumbleUpon within the Blogger network.)
Prettier Templates: When it comes down to it, many people just want a page that looks good. This a large part of Tumblr's appeal, in my opinion. You gotta upgrade those templates. I know prettiness is not a focus in your culture, but bring them into 2007 at least web design, if not 2009.
Help People use the Layout Engine: The new templating system does everything anyone would every want. But you kinda gotta be a programmer who likes programming in production, in a textarea, in a language you've never used, to tap into it. Yes, there's point-and-click design and widget goodness, but it seems...hard. Can you make it seem fun? Can you make it so pseudo-developers can figure it out and others can leverage that? Layout sharing perhaps (kill two birds)?
Make it Fast: You've made some progress on slimming down the posting form page (at least in Draft). But I don't know if we've fully embraced the Google mantra of speed is every. I predict you'd see a 30% increase in posts if you made posting twice as fast. (That goes for the whole workflow, not just the posting form.)
Become the Aggregator: One possible answer to the question to what role does the stand-alone blog live in the age of a million-and-one generalized and specialized participatory web experiences is as a personal aggregator that reflects back the other stuff one does on the web. Yes, I'll load all that stuff into FriendFeed, but that's not my "online presence" as we used to say back in the day. Everybody (or at least a lot of people) needs an URL -- and one without a ? in it. I want my tweets, and my photos, and my whatevers to show up on evhead.com (hosted by Blogger) in an attractive way.
Put Ads in the App Interface: For example, the published landing page alone must get millions of views a day. And it's the perfect point for someone to go elsewhere. See if you can target it off what they wrote about. No one will mind (much). And strengthening your revenue story will strengthen your position in the company.
Do Something Radical: I almost feel like this list is way too conservative. Not that I think Blogger's in trouble. But I suspect there something potentially more awesome that you could pull off by leveraging what you already have. You probably have those ideas. When there are so many great things to do that you know will work, it's hard to not focus on them. But it might be time to try something wacky.
Sorry, I know you've already thought of these things. When you're working on a product and people on the outside tell you what you should do, acting like they're all smart, it's annoying. The hard part is building stuff, not thinking it up. Carry on. (But seriously, the prettier templates thing.)