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.