Where the blog driver learns to step lightly

Thursday, 30 December 2010 — 7:39am

As 2010 nears its close and I begin to comprehend just how little I produced in this space all year, I think the time has come to reconsider the purpose of the blog—not this blog, nor any specific blog, but the blog as a medium.

Over the lifetime of Nick’s Café Canadien, which is now well into its seventh year of operation, I’ve toyed with several different approaches to what kind of content I publish and how I go about organizing it. As my dissatisfied longtime readers know, the trend has been towards the lengthier, more polished, and considerably more sporadic.

It became apparent early on that this would never be a good place to syndicate a constant stream of news and online articles with few remarks of my own. For one thing, I refuse to turn this space into a specialist journal about one subject alone: that’s a good way to build a news readership, yes, but a bit impersonal and not reflective of my interests. There are better places to go for that sort of thing. Bundled with this is the problem of frequency: the more I post, the more unique and witty titles I have to concoct, and those are in short supply.

Blogging took off at the turn of the millennium when website folks realized that sometimes, you just want a painless way to push new content without bothering with anything beyond the text. Many of its functions have now been supplanted by services that specialize even further in specific online tasks. What was once a thriving personal blogosphere among the students I knew as an undergraduate collapsed with the rise of Facebook, which offered easy photo sharing along with relative (if now decaying) privacy. My experiment earlier this year—using Nick’s Café to deposit semi-regular bags of links—itself collapsed when I concluded that if all I’m doing is passing things on as I read them, then as a rule of thumb, more Twitter, less clutter. There are easier platforms than blogs to “have what he’s having”, so to speak.

When career journalists got in on the blogging game, they saved their best work for media willing to pay them—something that I think has contributed to their attitude towards a blog as a subsidiary portfolio: on the ball, topical, with a scent of casual Friday about it. Their professional output delivered them a ready-made base of readers, and for this kind of audience the side-of-fries school of blogging makes perfect sense. Not so, I think, for those more interested in analysis than reportage, particularly outside the world of word limits and hard deadlines.

The function of a nonprofessional blog today, as I see it, is to get away from the hustle and bustle of social networks and have a podium to yourself. I turned to blogging in the first place because the anarchy of discussion forums was no longer satisfying: forums brought people with similar obsessions together, yes, but the rapid-fire debates were not conducive to essay-length thoughts or to drawing the attention of passersby from outside the community. Blogging isn’t a night at the pub with your fellow philosophes; it’s more like Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park.

I’m told there is an article in the current issue of Wired, not yet in the online edition, about precisely this: that blogs are by and large becoming a place for infrequent but developed thoughts, rather than brief and pithy remarks. A moment of searching, however, uncovers this article from 2008 (“Twitter, Flickr, Facebook Make Blogs Look So 2004”), which in retrospect seems less prescient than premature.

For my part, I’m quite happy with the shift in the blogging form towards essay-length thoughts—a place where there’s a morsel of sharing thanks to the power of hyperlinks, yet where the primary purpose is not to share, but to produce the objects to be shared.

This is my roundabout manner of promising that I do, in fact, have some things on the way.

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7 rejoinders to “Where the blog driver learns to step lightly”

  1. I admit to being dismayed by the general trend away from blogs (I’ve seen so many fall into abandon) and toward more perfunctory social media, but I suppose it was always bound to happen. The rise of blogs was inherently egotistical: suddenly every person who could sign up for a LiveJournal account was given the opportunity to tell the world detail about their lives that no one but their friends cared about to begin with. When they realized that writing 3 paragraphs about their day was significantly more work than huffy Facebook status updates, the great migration began.

    Generally-speaking, “blog” in its traditional sense of “weblog” is outdated and misleading. You’re really talking about a publishing platform, be it professional or personal, and the vast majority of persons interested solely in relaying personal information have migrated away to other niche platforms.

    When I look at how my blog has changed in the 6 years since I started it, the trend is very much away from “point-in-time” posts and toward date-agnostic content. I’ve even gone back and purged old uncommented pieces about software releases or unexpounded reportage of news item.

    I also came to realize that I have very little desire to turn my personal life into a consumable stream (e.g. no Twitter, have considered withdrawing from Facebook); as much of a grouchy old pedant as it makes me, I enjoy the long form of writing and still don’t trust the Internet with my privacy.

    Thursday, 30 December 2010 at 5:14pm

  2. Part of the migratory phenomenon is due to laziness, yes, but for the people off LiveJournal and the like who aren’t only writing for their friends and forum buddies, I would guess that a lot of it was driven by the desire for a wider and more immediate audience. Being right on the ball, first on the scene, and in the Google top 10 for a popular search result generates a ridiculous amount of traffic and assures you that you are being read. For the ephemeral style of content that this encourages—the point-in-time posts, as you put it—a social networking platform where your subscribers are visible and quantified without any work on your part is an even better fit.

    Like you, I prefer to devote my keyboard time towards something with a bit more permanence—something worth reading again months or even years down the road, and not just for archival reasons or detective work.

    Thursday, 30 December 2010 at 9:29pm

  3. My implication of laziness was unintended (and unfair); I think it’s less a matter of laziness as much as gained perspective. So many early bloggers imagined themselves as having a wide and credulous reading audience, of a size and scope enjoyed today only by commercial bloggers and maintained blogs well within the zeitgeist. The realization that (a) what they really wanted to say was not well-suited for the long form in the long term and (b) their audience for such topics was limited anyway–or more specifically, their traffic pattern of the sort you describe–was not an indication of laziness so much as the mature realization that not everything is worth writing about. Sometimes all anybody wants is social vibrations.

    Friday, 31 December 2010 at 2:42am

  4. I think that in blogging the medium is no longer the message, and that’s a natural part of the maturation of any medium. People blog for lots of reasons.

    Here’s what I posted on Wormtalk and Slugspeak in response to the author’s apologia for not posting as often:

    I do think, though, that “blogging” is no longer any one thing, any more than “radio” or “television” or “printed books” are. The medium, that is to say, is no longer the message (as it still is in tweeting): people blog in a variety of styles for a variety of purposes. You blog to share with us, your readers, part of the contents of your extremely interesting mind, and that’s always a good thing to have available in whatever quantities and qualities you wish. Nor do I detect either sniping or back-scratching in the comments here. If you are chronically annoyed by the dysfunctional communities that form around certain other blogs, just stop reading them. I have done so many times.

    Friday, 7 January 2011 at 2:58pm

  5. That’s a fair way of putting it. Beyond the maturation of the medium as a whole (which is now a vehicle for delivery in the way paper is a vehicle for delivery, as you rightly suggest), I think it takes a while for a blog to settle into a pace that befits its content and subject matter, not to mention its author. Here, I find that the challenge is to balance completely different niches where the flow of news, or of primary material worth talking about, proceeds at rhythms that are overwhelmingly out of alignment.

    I also cannot believe I’d never stopped by at Wormtalk and Slugspeak until today. Lately I’ve been thinking about Tolkien’s Beowulf essay, too.

    Friday, 7 January 2011 at 6:42pm

  6. Hey man,

    I do think that a lot of bloggers went through the motions in 2010 with social networking sites becoming a more viable venue for “blogging” and the building of communities from a commercial standpoint.

    I also didn’t write a lot on my blogs last year since most of my stuff ended up getting published in products pushed by the old media. I’ve been generating some momentum from the past month and hopefully I can sustain it.

    Cheers.

    Wednesday, 2 February 2011 at 8:35am

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