Mon. Jun 12, 2006
Not A Blog Anymore
If “blog” is a relatively new term for you, or if you have no knowledge of (or interest in) the “inside baseball” of the Blogosphere (i.e., probably over 90% of visitors to this site), rest assured that nothing is really going to change around here. At least, not any more than it already has this year. This is just me venting. At length. Again.
But for those of you who know your Technorati from your Elbowroni, this site is not a blog anymore. At least not in any current sense of what blogs are, or most especially, what blogs commonly aspire to be. I’m reverting to what this site was prior to July of 2000 when I first started using a piece of web-ware called Blogger … a personal web site.
Well, it will still be a series of individual articles. Posted in reverse chronological order. With comments. But semantics aside…
I hereby secede from the blogosphere as it is known today.
What’s brought me to this all but irrelevant decision? Perspective, perhaps. I may not have posted much here from February through early June. But I’ve been reading. With a whole different mindset than usual. And before we even bother with my own observations, you don’t have to look far to spot the trend over the first half of this year.
On December 13, 2001, I posted an essay on my personal weblog titled “Two Ships Passing in the New Media Night,” in which I contrasted the energetic, proletariat-embracing exultations of rising blog superstar Glenn “Instapundit” Reynolds with the dreary, public-distrusting defensiveness of thenâ€“Los Angeles Times columnist John Balzar.
I had launched my blog (or shall I say “warblog,” which is what I named it, apparently coining a term I’ve come to loathe) five days after the September 11 massacre and almost immediately found myself swept up in an exhilarating whirlwind of grassroots media creation. As a consumer, it was exponentially more edifying to me than the post-9/11 fumblings of the mainstream media’s binary, Crossfire-style opinion slinging.
“What do warbloggers have in common, that most pundits do not?” I enthused. “I’d say a yen for critical thinking, a sense of humor that actually translates into people laughing out loud, a willingness to engage (and encourage) readers, a hostility to the Culture War and other artifacts of the professionalized left-right split of the 1990s … a readiness to admit error [and] a sense of collegial yet brutal peer review.”
Man, was I wrong.Matt Welch: “Farewell to Warblogging: I used to think blogs would transform ideologues into nonpartisan truth-seekers. Man, was I wrong”
I can’t help but chuckle. It’s almost “Matt Welch as Theodoric of York”: “Perhaps I could lead the way to a new age, an age of rebirth, a Renaissance! [ thinks for a minute ] Naaaaaahhh!” Except instead of “thinks for a minute” it was “thinks for 4.5 years.” But I’ve teasingly ragged on Matt for inventing the term “warblog” for, oh, about 4 years. And one must credit him with almost Oppenheimer-like misgivings about his creation.
Nor is this really new territory for me either, as I vented steam in this general direction in January, 2005, not long after the election, and again in November, 2005. But you’re hearing similar steam from more and more places…
In people’s haste to be first, or different, or just plain ornery and contrary (all the better to get links and readers) a culture of “shoot first and ask questions later” has arisen in the blogosphere that quite frankly, is proving every bad thing that the MSM has been saying about blogs from the beginning. Many of us â€“ including myself â€“ have been guilty in the past of hitting that “Publish” button when perhaps it would have been prudent and proper to take a beat or two to think about what we just wrote and the impact it might have beyond the small little world we inhabit in this corner of Blogland.
Scalp hunting has become the national pastime of blogs. Both lefty and righty lodgepoles have some pretty impressive trophies hanging on them; Dan Rather, Mary Mapes (twice), Eason Jordon, Trent Lott, Ben Domenech, to name a few more noteworthy ones.
But is this what we are? Is this what we are becoming? Are we nothing more than a pack of digital yellow journalists writing pixelated scab sheets vying to see who we can lay low next? If this be the way to fame and fortune in the blogosphere, I truly fear that, like television, the last great technological breakthrough that promised to change the world, we will degenerate into a mindless, bottomless pit of muck and mudslinging, dragging down the culture and trivializing even the most important issues.Rick Moran: “Twice A Victim”
The power of the Web is obvious and undeniable. We diminish it at our peril. But what if the most potent social effect to spread outward from the Internet turns out to be disinhibition, the breaking down of personal restraints and the endless elevation of oneself? It may be already.
Then there’s politics. On the Huffington Post yesterday, there were more than 600 “comments” on Karl Rove and the White House staff shake-up. “Demoted my *** the snake is still in the grass.” “He should be demoted to Leavenworth.” “Rove is Bush’s Brain, and without him, our Decider-in-Chief wouldn’t know how to wipe his own ***.”
From a primary post on the same subject on the Daily Kos, widely regarded as one of the most influential blogging sites in Democratic politics now: “I don’t give a ****. Karl Rove belongs in shackles.” “A group of village whores have taken a day off to do laundry.”
Intense language like this used to be confined to construction sites and corner bars. Now it is normal discourse on Web sites, the most popular forums for political discussion. Much of this is new. Politics is a social endeavor. The Web is nothing if not “social.” But the blogosphere is also the product not of people meeting, but venting alone at a keyboard with all the uninhibited, bat-out-of-hell hyperbole of thinking, suggestion and expression that this new technology seems to release.Daniel Henninger: “Disinhibition Nation”
The era of the shoot-your-keyboard-first and see-if-its-accurate later (and do it in a way that makes a political point you make on your site so it fits in with your ongoing narrative) is upon us.
Despite the incredibible journalistic and informational potential of blogs, weblogs in the early 21st Century have evolved into extended op-ed pages, with occasional smatterings of original reporting and research. There’s nothing wrong with that.
But blogs have also emerged as a kind of cyberspace talk radio where judgments are faster than traditional “snap” judgments, supposition is angrily expressed as utter certainty, demonization is the rule, and some sites are so fixed on promoting personal political agendas and world views that they lose sight of the value of a bit of restraint before politically pigeonholing someone.Joe Gandelman: “Jill Carroll Hostage Case: A Black Eye To Blogging”
I may not agree with every sentiment in those three linked articles, but you catch the drift and tone. It’s reached the point where sometimes we even disgust ourselves.
But the article that really spurred writing this came well over a month ago from Donald Sensing. Donald and I were at Wake Forest at the same time (though we didn’t know each other), and have corresponded a little bit over the years we’ve both had a blog, so I think he’ll understand that I’m using his post as a “jumping off point” rather than picking on him. Because he expresses opinions shared by many.
In “â€˜Never say never,”’ but…,” he noted he had “not blogged here since March 6” and “With every day that passes, it become decreasingly likely that I will resume writing here. I wrote on March 6 that â€˜personal and professional obligations must take priority’ over my blogging.”
I can certainly relate, as “personal and professional obligations” ate my ass alive for months, and the infrequency of updating here reflected that. But it’s in the following excerpts that our opinions begin to vary, and when I began to think it was time for me to secede. Here it is, a bit at a time (not to “fisk” Donald, but to explain my secession):
I have also contemplated the future of blogging and have concluded that single-author sites are the wave of the past. Group blogging, with only a few exceptions such as Instapundit (of course), is becoming the norm. I think it almost certainly because the time requirements for a single author to keep a site going are oppressive, if the site is to have a significant daily readership â€“ say, more than 2,000.
Let me say plainly, there’s not a thing inherently wrong with group blogging, and in many ways, Donald is very right in his predictions. But I think it’s important to note what I see as a shift.
Donald felt his obligations would prevent him from maintaining a high traffic blog by himself (though he has since made what I consider to be a quite healthy number of posts). Now, what was the reason it became a high traffic blog?
Guest bloggers are distinctly “not Donald,” and while that’s not the route he’s chosen (he’s joined the group blog Winds of Change), I’ve seen others do just that in similar circumstance. And it boggles my mind somewhat.
I can easily translate that to my own situation. I knew by early March this site was going to get pretty sparse. For a while (I had no idea just how long). I could have called on two or three guest bloggers to keep this site more active, keep the daily traffic average up, and keep from dropping several thousand spots in the Technorati rankings (as I have in the past few months).
But I never even seriously thought about it. I guess I made a decision for you: that you come here for whatever crazy mix of stuff comes out of my head, not just random new content generated by any “designated hitters.” As importantly, this site has always been intended to reflect, um, me. And if whatever is going on in my life causes me to be absent from this site more than usual, that is also a reflection of my life.
But I’m guilty of it, too. There was an nagging voice in my head that told me I should figure out how to post more here over the past few months. There was a certain unbidden guilt when I didn’t. But I think what I did manage to post ended up reflecting what was going on in my life perfectly well.
However, my point here is that the goals have changed. Not just Donald’s. Once you get that traffic, it’s natural to want to keep it. You do that with frequent posting, and a group of people can do that more efficiently. More traffic, more eyeballs, more influence … who is this beginning to sound like?
If I’m not here for a week or a month, who cares? The site still works, the ads still run, and life goes on for all. But if the nightly news anchor of a major network is not there for a week … well, that’s never allowed to happen, eh? They bring in a “guest anchor.” Because the goal is different. The goal is eyeballs and income, and to achieve that, certain media standards must be met.
Finally, Michelle Malkin’s new and hugely successful blog, Hot Air, does seem to me to be the real wave of the future. Its outstanding layout and design and fantastic audiovisual integration make it the cutting edge blog now. Her daily “Vent” feature is short enough not to postpone viewing, can be downloaded in movie form to iPods and has a high production value. Blogging in general will have to follow her lead and sites that don’t will be fighting for ever-smaller readership numbers. That means that blogging has started to move away from its “amateur hour” status and is now at the start line of becoming professionalized.
Different people blog for different reasons and 100 or so readers per day may be quite satisfactory to them. It was to me for a long time, too. I didn’t seek higher numbers, they just came. But the fact is that low-readership blogs are not significant in importance to the blogosphere at large, no matter how important they are to their authors or few-dozen readers. Increasingly, team blogs and blogs integrating different media will dominate the â€˜sphere, By “dominate,” I mean attract the vast majority of readers and have the most influence in larger society. Yes, Logtar, I do know there are blogs that discuss knitting and they are important to their authors and readers, but frankly, get a grip: they are utterly unimportant to everyone else and have no effect whatsoever in larger society.
I’m not trying to demean those kinds of blogs at all; let me re-emphasize that they are obviously important to their authors and readers. But the vast majority of readers, as well as the ad money that blogs will increasingly generate, will revolve around fairly few blogs.
To recap: single-writer blogs are not going away, but the vast majority of such blogs finally get discontinued (this has been reported many times in the blogosphere, based on data from Technorati and other tracking sources). OTOH, team blogs live much longer and tend to grow readership. If you want to write about model-airplane flying, go for it and have fun. Just understand it’s a small reader pool for you. But if you want to blog about topics of national interest, I think you’ll find yourself increasingly increasingly competing with team blogs whose authors are not continually under the posting pressure you are and whose content will overall probably be higher in both quantity and quality. When these blogs start to migrate to the media integration such as Hotair’s they will become even more attractive to readers.
Once again, I have to point out that I’m not saying there is one thing wrong with any of the above, and Donald is not alone in his opinions. I merely must point out the shifts.
When we talk about blogs in words and phrases like “audiovisual integration, high production value, professionalized” and seek to “attract the vast majority of readers,” have “influence in larger society,” and “the ad money that blogs will increasingly generate” ... we have to see what we are mirroring, indeed, trying to become.
The media. The very thing blogs often decry as biased and overly obsessed with eyeballs and income, to the detriment of substance.
Did I mention there is not anything wrong with this? Just realize the goals. Grow the audience, more eyeballs means more influence, and more ad dollars. These are the identical goals of the media, in all its many forms. This is why much of our media is so sensationalized. It draws eyeballs fast. The reliability and depth of the actual content becomes a secondary concern.
And in the blogosphere, you see similar sensationalism. Dave Sifry recently reported that “The blogosphere is over 60 times bigger than it was only 3 years ago.” That’s not a misquote: sixty times bigger in three years.
It might take some serious sensationalism to break out of that pack. Group blogs may be less prone to that approach, as they have the advantage of an efficient volume. But either way, note the shift: the goals have begun to precede and even pre-empt the content.
If eyeballs are the goal, you can’t wait for further news reports, or take 24 hours to reflect on a new development. You must post your pithy linkbringer within an hour or two, tops. Which leads to the effects Joe and Rick decry above. Cautious thought and conscious reflection are almost deliberately bred out of the process. That is, if you want to keep up with the Blogsters.
Oh, you might say that even if many blogs are moving towards the same goals as the media, it will be different for them. They’ll be able to stay true to their roots and beliefs, avoid sensationalism and partisan hackery in the name of growing the audience, and not spin every event towards a particular favored view. Right.
Which brings us from “wanting to be the media,” to “wanting to be the party.”
This past weekend we had the first of what I’m sure will be many YearlyKos conventions (“the convention, the first of what organizers said would become an annual event, seems on the way to becoming as much a part of the Democratic political circuit as the Iowa State Fair”), and it reminds me a bit of the old radio conventions I used to attend. You get to hang with your peers you’ve heard of but never met before, and all of you get collectively schmoozed by the record company and equipment company reps.
Oh, sure, they don’t have time for every PD from Podunk, Georgia, but they made sure they cornered and … lobbied ... the well known Big Boys in attendance. You know, the few that everyone knows. The ones with influence. Um, do you think it’s any different at YearlyKos or in the wider world of political blogs?
Even the bloggers know it: “Jennifer Palmieri, a deputy White House press secretary under President Bill Clinton, held a â€˜pundit project training,’ where she told bloggers how to present themselves in television interviews â€” what to wear, how to sit and what to say.”
Grooming for my closeup, Mr. DeMille!
Again, there is nothing horribly wrong about this. As long as you’re not trying to fool yourself that you are doing anything new or different. People have been trying to get on TV for various reasons for ages. It’s hardly a secret that news networks have a lot of time to fill these days, and they’re not always picky about who helps them do it. When it comes to who gets the most out of such an appearance, recall that the game is rigged so that the house always wins. Your biggest hint should be when they cut off your glorious revelations in mid-sentence to go to a commercial break.
Eyeballs and income. Now everyone can play!
And it’s true, the ad money is coming (did I mention there is really really nothing at all wrong with that?). Blogs are beginning to be quantified in the ways that make advertisers feel warm and fuzzy.
A new survey released today of over 56,000 readers of blogs shows different segments of blog readers have distinct characteristics. Conducted by the Blogads network, the study breaks out blog audiences into four categories: readers of political, gossip, mom and music blogs.
“There are multiple blogospheres,” suggested Blogads CEO Henry Copeland. “These people actually run in packs and the packs have very distinct characteristics.”
Over 72 percent of these readers are male and the largest age group, nearly 27 percent, is between 41 and 50 years old. In addition, more than 77 percent have a college degree, while over 20 percent have a family income between $60K and $90K. Fifty percent are Democrats, 20 percent Republicans and nearly 20 percent independents.ClickZ Network: “Survey Shows the Blogosphere is Breaking Out”
So we see the effects of the Perfect Blogstorm. The blogosphere has multiplied 60 times in three years, bringing all levels of sophistication to the party. Partially in reaction to that, some are consolidating to form new and larger traffic vortexes (group blogs). Political influence is real, growing, and highly sought after. Ad money is already here now for the lucky few, with more on the way.
And the ad money has already had an effect on some of those lucky few. I know of one person whose site became a very popular and partisan place during the run up to the 2004 election. It wasn’t intentional (as they later told how they grew to hate it), and it started gradually. But the more harshly partisan the site became, the more traffic went through the roof. And the addictive side effect? Ad money. In an amount large enough to pay the mortgage each month.
Though they grew to like it less and less, that ad money was a damn compelling reason to not only continue … but to try and grow it! At any rate, it all came to an end in this case, and I think that person is now much happier for it. If with less traffic and ad money. But in many ways, that’s the new trend in the blogosphere, and from the outside looking in, trust me, it’s a vicious cycle.
Today Technorati reports they are tracking 44.1 million blogs. If I recall correctly, when I signed up for Blogger in the summer of 2000, they were publishing about 19,000 blogs. The heck with “sixty times bigger than three years ago,” that’s about 2,300 times bigger than six years ago. I simply have no desire to “compete.” That’s too big a club for me, or anyone else, really.
I kind of kicked myself out of the political blogosphere some time ago, since my views often vex both red and blue. Traffic has dropped about 50% here since the first of the year, for obvious reasons. What little I’ve been present, I’ve not exactly been my usual smarmy self, and saw no need to blunt that or misdirect with guest bloggers.
You see, once upon a time, Blogger was a piece of web-ware on a server. I tried it out, and not only found it an addictive way to place content on my site, I wished it was around in 1996 or 1997. Later I installed other pieces of software on my server that did the same thing, and more. These were tools that helped me do something I’d done the hard way before.
It’s now an industry, some 44 million strong. I liked it better when it was a medium. With some tools. So I’m seceding.
I still intend to use Textpattern just as I have here lately. There will still be articles, and links, and quotes, and photos. Comments, too. Even ads.
But I aspire to none of the things that commonly bubble to the top of the blogosphere today. I’m not interested in crossing over to journalism, writing a column, or being a guest talking head on cable. This site won’t become a group blog, and the only guest blogger I can imagine might be my wife, so she could tell you my fingers had been cut off, but voice activation would be functional soon. I can’t foresee any circumstances where I’d join a group blog elsewhere. I barely have time to post here.
I feel no need to post on any particular topic, so when there’s an incident in Haditha or Zarqawi is killed, or something where no real blogger worth their salt lets very many hours pass without some kind of obligatory comment, well, you may hear only silence from me.
Or I might write about it days later, after I’ve had some time to think about it, and then made time in my schedule to actually write. Because I do actually enjoy the writing. The last 20,000 words or so that I’ve written have been quite healing. And very non-blog-like.
I just don’t want to be part of a hamster wheel of expectations and goals that I don’t share. I may still write about politics at times (in fact, very soon), but I have no desire to contribute to a partisan “political blogosphere” that I think does more damage than good. I’m certainly not trying to score points for any team.
You can accuse me of semantic masturbation and say this is still a blog, and you could be right. But I do believe it’s about mindset. Mine is nowhere near in sync with what I predominantly see “out in the blogosphere,” nor the larger trends linked within this article. While I know there are millions of MySpace and Blogspot sites that are simple personal sites for family and a few friends, I also see the “cream” of the other side of the blogosphere, including many people I used to consider peers. I see little positive, and nothing I want to emulate.
Maybe Grandpa is just getting old and cynical, but a lot of what I see linked at memeorandum or blogsnow is so transparently manipulative in a “Look at me!” manner, or is entirely predictable partisan pap. I find it more disappointing than disgusting. But there’s a hint of that, too.
And maybe I’ve been looking in the wrong places, too. I have noticed myself gravitating to more personal sites lately. And I try to remember the remarkable diamonds to be found among 44 million chunks of coal (hey, I’m just another chunk, too), like Operation Eden, and more recently, the spectacular work done by Michael Totten on his travels in the Middle East.
It’s also inevitable that a medium that grew so fast would go through massive changes, leaving many “old-timers” grumbling about the Good Olde Days. I probably sound exactly like that, but that’s not my intention. Even in “the Good Olde Days,” we knew/hoped this kind of popularity would come, and should have known such popularity would bring all kinds of unexpected developments.
But as Matt Welch noted at the beginning of this, many of us once felt such promise for this medium, especially in how it contrasted to the major mass media, and the world of politics. But today, it’s in those two general areas that I see some of blogdom’s biggest disappointments.
There are always sparkling individual exceptions. But the reality is that as the blogosphere has grown, and will grow, the face it turns to the world is what’s in the media, and what’s most highly linked on the web. Granted, that’s a tiny fraction of the whole, but, to me, it’s a face that grows a bit harsher and more desperate looking every day.
I don’t want a face like that. I’ve got enough natural ugliness going on without generating it artificially. And that’s just what it would be. Because I could have “come back” swinging for the fences. I’ve got the contacts, I know the buttons to push, and I’m smart enough to play the game. If I wanted to devote the time to that kind of effort, I feel confident I could quadruple traffic to this site over the next couple of months.
And it would all be artificial, a push to get hits and drive traffic for most any reason I could invent.
So I’m more than content with the 500 or so visitors I now average per day. Not nearly enough to be “influential,” or bring in the big ad bucks. But I figure that out of the 500 or so visitors I get each day, many of them have stuck with me at this site through a whole lot of time, and this year, through a whole lot of crap.
I’m truly thankful for that, though I’ve never really understood what compels people to come back here. Just being myself? That’s my best guess, as improbable as that might sound. And being myself means being nearly none of the things I most associate with the blogosphere these days.
In fact, “being myself” has taken on a whole new meaning this year. I can seriously empathize with some of the feelings of Robert Scoble, who’s been through some life changing events this year as well:
I’ve been thinking about similar things a lot. What are my responsibilities as a blogger? Did I sign up to do the equivilent of the New York Times here? How do I keep true to myself in a world that values (and uses) those who have audiences.
It’s why I was depressed a month ago, though. The idea that my blog had become a media property or something I had to do. Or something I had to do a specific way.
I’m glad I went through this personal time after my mom’s stroke. It helped me refocus on what’s important and what my blog means to me. This blog is mine. It is what I’m thinking about, and what I’m seeing in my life. It isn’t a news article. I am not vetted. It isn’t done by a committee. I am not being held to any standards.
So I secede from the blogosphere as it is known today, and rededicate PhotoDude.com as a personal site. My creative playground. A canvas on which I mix photos and observational writing with XHMTL, CSS, and pixels into an irregularly updated stew. It may be made in the same kind of pot other people use to make blogs.
But it’s just not the same stew.