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State of the Disney Blogosphere

This is the 5000th post here on The Disney Blog. That’s 18 posts a week or more than two posts a day since I launched the blog in June 2004. A fairly respectable average, if I do say so. According to Technorati there were about 3 million blogs at that time. There are over 250 million blogs today.

I’ve been on the internet in its various forms since 1991. I started writing about Disney on USENET’s Rec.Arts.Disney and Alt.Disney.Disneyland, then later on beginning in August 1999. I also joined and learned a lot from the e-list “FutureCulture.” It was my first online community and I’m proud to say I’m still a member.

I started my personal blog in 1998 before they were called blogs. I called it “You are your URL” or iURL for short. It was obvious to me then that the internet would become the new “permanent record” that parents so often warned their kids about to keep them in line. As so many have found today, an unfortunate photo onFacebook can often mean the difference between getting that job or turning public opinion in a court case. An iURL was my attempt to control that message by putting my information out there first in the manner I wanted others to see.

In 2004 when I started writing The Disney Blog, there were no other Disney blogs. There were a dozen or so Disney travel planning websites and about 500 other Disney fan websites, each with a specific topic, but none used the now common reverse chronological post and the informal voice that comes with a blog. Sadly many of these excellent websites have been lost to the ravages of time, but some survive and even thrive.

The early weeks of The Disney Blog benefited from the three hurricanes that hit Central Florida. Although I was living in the Las Vegas area at the time, I was able to collect and synthesize news and on the ground reports of the preparations and damages for the storms, particularly as they impacted Walt Disney World. This brought a lot of traffic to a young blog and really helped developed the writing style I still use today. I aim for my writing to be about 90% news and information combined with around 10% of my unique perspective on how it all fits together.

Since I started The Disney Blog thousands of blogs have sprung up in the Disney niche and most of the big Disney travel planning websites have sprouted their own blogging platform in some fashion or another. I am overjoyed about this. I believe that a rising tide lifts all ships. I wouldn’t have learned half the fascinating stuff I have these last 5 years without all those other wonderful voices. So if you write a Disney Blog out there, thanks to you. Please keep up the great work.

Another growth area for online Disney fan activity has been Podcasts. The number of talented individuals and the amount of new and interesting material covered each week never ceases to amaze me. There’s so much good stuff out there that you could literally listen all week to just Disney podcasts and still be behind when the next week’s episodes are released.

Related to podcasting has been the explosion of fan created park DVDs. Historical videos, tributes to attractions and cast members, park guides, park tours, and so much more. That the Walt Disney Company hasn’t stomped out this cottage industry is a blessing for us all. By letting fans produce blogs, podcasts, DVDs, Disney keeps the fires stoked in the belly of its most devoted customer base and reaps the benefits of new fans as the word gets spread around by those same passionate customers.

Speaking of the Mouse House. Let’s look at the Walt Disney Company’s involvement when it comes to blogging and social media. I still don’t think the company has recovered from the disaster that was the Infoseek and purchase. Because of that, there really isn’t one unified theme from the company when it comes to social media.

The Disney parks division got started a few years ago with some video podcasts. Since then the podcast format has been dropped, but the video production quantity has risen steadily. It’s also spread into other divisions. The Cruise Line, Animation, Disney Consumer Products, Disney Channel, and ABC all use the online video format fairly extensively. If your division isn’t on this list (games, movies, archives, etc), why not?

The company has even begun testing the social media waters. Many Disney divisions now have Twitter accounts, Facebook pages, and they’re exploring other products. The one area I think Disney is lacking is content creation by subject matter experts, specifically blogs. There is a certain amount of freedom that’s been granted Disney animators (specifically Pixar animators) to blog about what they love and are experts at. I would like to see that model expanded to the rest of the company.

I believe Walt Disney would have been a tremendous user of social media, once he got over his fear of letter go of control of the discussion. He would have been all over it to talk about whatever his next big project was.

The lesson to be learned from Social Media and online Disney fandom in general is that, while Disney still controls the product they produce, the fans now own the brand.

This could not be any clearer than with D23. Billed as The Official Community for Disney Fans, D23 is Disney’s early attempt to harness some of that fan magic. Get the product in front of the fans and let them take it from there. I’ll save my views on D23 for another post some day. But let’s just say some action in this area is better than nothing.

So what does the future hold? We’re still in the youth of blogging, podcasting, social media, and other disintermediation as to what it means to be part of Disney culture. We’re also just a few short years from Augumented Reality having a large impact on our daily lives including leisure travel. The seeds of augmented reality can be seen right now withYelp’s iPhone app, FourSquare, some other iPhone apps. Disney parks are experimenting with it using RFID technology and, if the sudden proliferation of Disney parks themed iPhone apps is any indication, fan use won’t be far behind.

What else would I like to see? Closer cooperation between the Walt Disney Company and its fans. Right now so much of the relationship work is handed off to third parties or has to pass through so many layers of legal dancing that many great projects never get off the ground. There is still very much a parent child relationship between Disney and its fans, as if we’re not mature enough to handle the truth. For instance, don’t tell us you’re not building a DVC hotel when we can see the thing reaching skyward right from the monorail. It’s better to cultivate the mutual interest in the success of the product.

I would also like to see closer cooperation between Disney websites. I know the economy has played havoc with our yearly MouseFest reunion, but I hope it comes back. There should also be more online connections made and synergy found between us.

It’s about time to wrap this up. Obviously this was not the unquestionable and complete account of Disney fandom online. But I think it’s a good look across the breadth of it. Five plus years and 5,000 posts covers a lot of change and that’s the one thing I promise you we’ll see more of when it comes to Disney. Just look at the Marvel acquisition. I haven’t even begun to think about how we’ll integrate with the online Marvel fan community.

Most important, thank you for being part of The Disney Blog. Thanks for reading my look at the State of the Disney Blogosphere. I hope you’ll still look here for your dose of Disney news and information 5,000 posts from now.