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.