6.17.2009

the blog is dead. yawn.

Why are you all reading this blog? Don't you know no one reads blogs anymore?

About a week ago, I saw yet another blogging-is-dead story in the Globe and Mail. (I can't find the version I saw online, but I did find the same story in the Halifax Chronicle Herald.) The headline was enough to set me off: "For most, blogging is a boulevard of broken dreams - Online writers start out with dreams of money and fame, but the reality is that only 5 per cent of blogs are frequently updated".

What is it about these stories that bother me so much?

First, stories that turn something patently obvious into a "report" generally make me slap my forehead. People start projects and don't finish them? Do tell!

But the "life" sections of newspapers are full of perennials - literally full, that's basically all they are - and while I find most of those stories silly, they don't make me grind my teeth. It's the pseudo-analysis of internet activity, and of blogging, that irritate me here.

Of course millions of people started blogs and didn't continue to write them. That's what people do. Blogging is free, and at some point it became a hip thing to do. So a lot of people started blogs, but didn't continue. The end. But because it's on the internet - ooo, the internet! - it gets treated as news.

So why, as the article claims, are only 5% of blogs "frequently updated"?

Apparently some bloggers stop blogging because they lack readership. There's a shocker.

Another reason bloggers stop blogging, the story suggests, is that they move on to other platforms, like Facebook and Twitter. I would argue that if Facebook and Twitter can replace your blogging, you weren't much of a blogger in the first place. I'm not denigrating social networking or micro-blogging. They clearly have a place and serve their many functions. But those functions are not redundant with blogging. There's no reason Facebook or Twitter should make good blogs obsolete.

But mainly, the writer seems to be trying - somewhat desperately - to make the case that people thought they would get rich and famous by blogging. He doesn't offer much proof. One person says:
I was always hoping more people would read it, and it would get a lot of comments. . . Every once in a while I would see this thing on TV about some mommy blogger making $4,000 a month, and thought, 'I would like that.'

Yes, wouldn't we all. But most of us don't read the subject lines in our spam folders as serious job opportunities.

Another former blogger opines:
Before you could be anonymous, and now you can't. . . The Internet is different now. I was too web 1.0. You want to be anonymous, you want to write, like, long entries, and no one wants to read that stuff.

A third defunct blogger brought in some advertising dollars posting videos of his dog destroying things in his home. Amazingly enough, that got old and fizzled out.

So some people never attracted an audience, others lost interest in blogging, and others people ran out of things to say. Whoever heard of such a thing?

Meanwhile, there's no mention of all the activity blogs - the knitting, home renovations, gardening, cooking, cycling, (etc. etc.) blogs - where people with similar interests read and share ideas.

No mention of all the therapeutic blogs, where people are working out specific issues and offering support to others doing the same.

No mention of all the blogs that serve as personal journals, with no great concern for building readership.

And, most bizarrely, no mention of political blogs. Because yes, people do want to read that stuff.

* * * *

Regarding the millions of people who started blogs and didn't continue them, one word: writing. Blogging is writing. Not everyone wants to write, has a need to write. And not everyone can write.

In another era, the cliche was the unfinished screenplay in the desk drawer; before that, it was the unfinished novel. Now it's the abandoned blog. The only difference is now the unfinished work hangs around online, announcing its abandoned state. The last visible post begins with "Sorry I haven't posted in so long..." and a vow to post more often.

How many bloggers really started out "with dreams of money and fame"? Were so many people that foolish?

I was writing for a decade or more before I learned that some people try to write a book because they imagine it's a good way to earn a lot of money. Writing books as a way to get rich! This still leaves me slack-jawed and head-shaking. For every J. K. Rowling (depending on the generation, substitute John Grisham, Stephen King, Danielle Steel, and so on) there are 5,000 published writers you'll never hear of, who teach (and work in law firms!) to support themselves. There's another 5,000 whose books are never published.

But there's probably another 100,000 who never complete the book. "You're a writer? I always thought I should write a book. I have a great idea..." Oh yes, the great idea. And, "It's all here in my head, I just have to write it down..." I smile and nod. Yes, that's the hard part. Getting it out of your head into a form that someone else can read. That's called writing.

Blogging is easier than writing a book, and it's easier than writing a newspaper column, if only because you're not obligated to churn out a certain number of words every week. Blogging doesn't give you a word length, doesn't oblige you to find credible sources. It also doesn't censor you, tone you down - or guarantee you a readership.

But blogging is still writing. It doesn't make you rich, and it's not for everybody.

Some thoughts on why I blog are here.

21 comments:

Sarah O. said...

Isn't it ridiculous? Where are the newspaper articles about the thousands (maybe millions) of journals and diaries out there with only three days worth of writing in them? "More pre-teen girls than ever give up on Hello Kitty diaries, donating journals for posterity."

Kim_in_TO said...

This is about as revealing as the article by the reported who started to remove people from his FaceBook contact list, because a lot of them weren't really friends. You would think these reporters had just uncevered a cure for cancer, for all their self-importance.

Earth to the Toronto Star:
Every technology has its growing pains, but guess what? You're among the last to discover them. Please don't force us to watch while you struggle to learn how to use your newfangled computer.

Constant Vigilance said...

Is there not a conflict of interest in employees from a dying medium reporting that one of the causes of their demise is itself dying?

L-girl said...

"Earth to the Toronto Star:
Every technology has its growing pains, but guess what? You're among the last to discover them. Please don't force us to watch while you struggle to learn how to use your newfangled computer."

:>)

We've always said this about the New York Times. They are infamous for writing about slang that's 5 years out of date, or some hot new trend that everyone stopped noticing 2 years ago.

"Is there not a conflict of interest in employees from a dying medium reporting that one of the causes of their demise is itself dying?"

Yes indeed. I didn't want to get into that kettle of fish - since it's not blogging per se that's killing newspapers, but the internet itself - but you're absolutely right.

The professional columnist slagging on bloggers is also SO old and tired. Margaret Wente has made a cottage industry of it.

L-girl said...

"More pre-teen girls than ever give up on Hello Kitty diaries, donating journals for posterity."

Right! "New Year's resolutions fading by February!"

(Except they actually write that story every year!)

Jere said...

Jeez, it's as if every Facebook and MySpace and Twitter account are constantly updated and tended to...

L-girl said...

"Jeez, it's as if every Facebook and MySpace and Twitter account are constantly updated and tended to..."

Yes, that's another good point. Although writing "is tired and wishing it wasn't Monday" - the average FB update - is a bit easier than writing a blog post.

Amy said...

I thought of you (and Allan) when I read this article last week (can't recall whether I saw it on line or in print). My thought was that those who quit probably had little to say or not enough to say of interest so who cares? Those who have things to say that interest others and can write well will find a readership and are more likely to continue writing. Just as you and Allan have.

You once suggested that I start a blog (I don't remember why), but I realized that I did not have the drive to keep at it. Others start and then realize they do not have the drive. Just as with diets, exercise routines, and all those things people resolve to do at New Years---it's just human nature to start and not finish when things don't go as easily as you had hoped.

L-girl said...

"Just as with diets, exercise routines, and all those things people resolve to do at New Years---it's just human nature to start and not finish when things don't go as easily as you had hoped."

I agree, Amy. I also think there's something else at play besides the human impulse to start things and abandon them - something specific to writing.

The people who quit may have interesting things to say, but writing is more than having something to say. I think a lot of people underestimate the difficulty of expressing their thoughts in a fashion that other people might want to read.

Richard said...

I think that one big reason for the abandoned blogs (and private journals, for that matter) is that few people are prepared to face the self-exploration and self-revelation that comes with daily writing. Serious writing forces you to face yourself and that can be pretty jarring.

That's also true on Twitter where the average user posts only once or twice and 10% of active users are responsible for over 90% of all Tweets. I guess even at 140 characters, writing is hard.

Saskboy said...

Writing is hard, but it's easier when you don't have a word count to meet, and the only real deadline is one you set for yourself (and if the topic chosen can remain fresh and relevant).

As the proud owner of several semi-abandoned blogs, not all blogs that are finished belong to a writer who has quit. Sometimes they've simply moved to a new writing project.

L-girl said...

"Writing is hard, but it's easier when you don't have a word count to meet, and the only real deadline is one you set for yourself (and if the topic chosen can remain fresh and relevant)."

Many people find the reverse to be true. It's a personal thing, but I know LOTS of writers who find it very difficult to write without a word length and a deadline.

"As the proud owner of several semi-abandoned blogs, not all blogs that are finished belong to a writer who has quit. Sometimes they've simply moved to a new writing project."

Absolutely. It would be absurd to think otherwise. Thanks for pointing that out.

L-girl said...

"I think that one big reason for the abandoned blogs (and private journals, for that matter) is that few people are prepared to face the self-exploration and self-revelation that comes with daily writing. Serious writing forces you to face yourself and that can be pretty jarring."

Another good point.

Writing also forces you to think more clearly than most people want to.

Amy said...

"The people who quit may have interesting things to say, but writing is more than having something to say. I think a lot of people underestimate the difficulty of expressing their thoughts in a fashion that other people might want to read."

I agree. That's why I added and "write well" to my original comment. It wasn't just a reference to grammar and punctuation, but just what you said---writing in a way that makes it both clear and enjoyable for others to read. There have been many things I have tried to read about topics that interest me, but if the writing is poor, I rarely finish it.

I also agree that writing requires a degree of both introspection and exposure that most people find too difficult or uncomfortable. Despite my lifelong dream of writing a book, I know that one of the many things that stops me is the fear of exposing too much of myself to the outside world, even through fiction. (I also doubt I have the skills or passion or determination or time to write a book, plus I lack a good idea...but like I said, it's a dream.)

mister anchovy said...

Everybody is trying to kill off something. Blog communities grow pretty organically, and often not the way one might expect. I'm surprised that some of the people who frequent my little haven in the sun keep coming back. It's not like I'm trying to attract an audience. I must be offering up something that interests them. The space is so big that there's lots of room for a squillion different approaches, big audiences, little audiences, no audiences, bloggers who write, bloggers who never write a word. Everything. The same people who say blogging is dead have already tried to kill off literature, painting, music and so on. How boring.

redsock said...

The thing we call writing is actually re-writing. Just about anyone can spill some thoughts down on paper.

Molding them into something interesting that other people -- complete strangers -- will want to spend their valuable time looking at and thinking about is a separate talent.

Many blogs have no readers because the people writing them do not take the time to edit and revise their words.

(Shit, I'm embarrassed to show my first drafts to Laura. I certainly wouldn't put them out in public attached to my name.)

JakeNCC said...

Laura, I get it now. Nice post.

impudent strumpet said...

What are you listening to them for? Don't know you know newspapers are dead?

L-girl said...

Ha, Imp Strump, very true.

Mister Anchovy, you make an excellent point about the vast space, the room for all, the seemingly infinite varieties.

Also, you mention something Allan and I always say. Things that are perennially dead: the novel, theatre, baseball. Rock and roll. Reading. Marriage. You name it.

Kim_in_TO said...

Also, you mention something Allan and I always say. Things that are perennially dead: the novel, theatre, baseball. Rock and roll. Reading. Marriage. You name it.

Language. Not dead, but always "deteriorating". Going to hell in a handbasket. Damn young people...

A Conformer said...

You mention several kinds of blogs, but omit the most important kind: Red Sox blogs, of course.

But seriously, I am quite curious about what will happen with my (currently) little dabble in this. Will I be part of the 95%?