A few weeks ago, I asked subscribers to the [gorjuss] list if any of them had abandoned a weblog, and if they'd like to talk to me about their reasons for doing so. Several folk got in touch and I enjoyed a handful of frank, honest and helpful email conversations. My thanks to all of them. I'm going to spend some time today re-working some of this stuff into an article for publication elsewhere.
As promised, all the contributors have been made anonymous, which means that in some cases I have made minor edits to the text so as to remove any clues to their identity. I promised anonymity because I wanted people to speak plainly about their feelings, and not be concerned about being flamed for declaring potentially controversial thoughts in public.
M is in London. She took her weblog offline, and I asked why.
"My love/hate relationship with weblogging aside, I decided to put [weblog name] away because it had gradually ceased to have a justifiable place in my life. I started trying to streamline my life. Lots of things lost their place in the shuffle: partying, late nights, last-minute escapes - they either didn't fit with the plan anymore or I figured it'd be best to get used to not having them sooner rather than later. My trivial distraction of a linklog was pretty much doomed in its new context, but for fear of being needlessly hasty I tried a litmus test to see whether being weblog-free would actually make a difference to my productivity: I let a friend look after the site for a month. I became a veritable whirlwind of progress, so QED & goodnight.
"When weblogs became blogs, when they started evolving en masse into individually-run social networks, I went off them in a big way. Not on principle exactly; given the experience I had of SNs at that point I could see how and why this shift was happening, but to use personal publishing tools for that purpose seemed somehow wasteful & inappropriate. I mean, a monitor screen has reflective properties, but that doesn't mean you should use it as a mirror.
"Everywhere I looked I saw the same features with which we're all familiar: hopeful linkylurve, memes, indulgent/tiresome self-disclosure... the only distinguishing factors in most cases being strength and combination. I won't make a sweeping statement about its value - at the very least it entertains, & that's something. But to me, a person who isn't looking to promote myself within it, the 'blogosphere' (CRINGE) is overwhelmingly dull, and I suppose that made it quite easy to opt out.
"I have to stop for a moment to acknowledge the tiny minority of weblogs that transcend the baaaa-nal, whose content justifies their existence apart from networking or attention-seeking.
"I don't classify outwardly-focused sites as 'blogs' - they're weblogs, or special-interest sites, or some other term that separates them from what a 'blog' is now generally understood to be. And I think there ought to be a unique term for the work/life weblogs of people who work in new/emerging media, too. Heck, maybe I just like to label & compartmentalise. But given the sheer volume of differently focused sites that use conventional 'blogging' tools, I think it's fair to make distinctions. I read weblogs, but I don't read 'blogs'. I'm sure this makes me some sort of elitist, but I couldn't care less. :)
"I've also got a wisp of a homepage somewhere else now, to act as a launchpad to my various stuff sited elsewhere. It's no-maintenance & that's all I feel like having these days - a scattered presence suits me better right now than a weblog would. My social needs (such as they are) are satisfied by rl/phone/email contact with friends, & Orkut.
"I'm devouring stuff from Orkut's communities, & have found some great contacts & information there. It's got promise & the community manager in me is fascinated watching it evolve. In terms of a presence I've basically just duplicated my Friendster profile, totally no-hassle & doesn't really go stale. The whole thing is very quick, easy & on my own terms."
U has an enviable job working for a hi-tech consumer company, thinking up cool ideas.
I asked: Is it really that you have nothing much to say, or that you have plenty to say but don't really want to broadcast most of it to the rest of the world?
U's reply was:
"I guess there's a bit of the latter. Working for a multinational company, much of what I would say on a blog, I tend to reserve for discussions with my colleagues (since that's what my employer pays me to do!) There's a lot of blogging like behaviour that goes on in enterprises but never sees the light of the public internet.
"In terms of more personal stuff, I'd only want to share it with a handful of people. If I could easily put together a private blog for my friends and family I might do so, but it seems like the companies that provide free blog services have built their business models on traffic and advertising."
So had he experienced any negative feelings about the process or the social atmosphere (the "blogosphere")?
"Maybe this is linked to my point about employment. The people who are most active in the 'blogosphere' seem to be freelancers and garage hackers. They're the ones who have the time and motivation to publish an on-going stream of thoughts and writing.
"Although their ideas interest me and I'm a regular lurker on a few blogs, I don't have the time to engage properly with that kind of culture. And to those of us who are too busy to join in, it's easy for the time-rich bloggers to come across as self-indulgent. It's not so much that the atmosphere bothered me, more that it just didn't seem relevant to my life.
"It reminded me of a line from the Cluetrain Manifesto - point 84: 'We know some people from your company. They're pretty cool online. Do you have any more like that you're hiding? Can they come out and play?' I guess bloggers are behaving as if the cluetrain world has arrived. The backlash might be a function of the fact that they're mostly kidding themselves.
"Shoshana Zuboff and James Maxmin also paint a pretty good picture of a world in which blogging could thrive in The Support Economy but unlike the Cluetrain people, I think they see it as a long haul involving major social and economic change, rather than a quick fix 'get with the program' kind of thing.
"So perhaps the thesis might be that blogging is an idea whose time has not yet come. It's adoption by a small coterie of netizens does indeed signify just the first peak of a hype curve. But in the long run, given the right social conditions, blogging could find its way to being really useful. Unless, of course, Guardian journalists and the like over-sell it and tarnish its reputation forever in the ensuing trough of disillusionment."
O, who works in online publishing, said:
"I wanted a blog a) cos everyone else had one and b) I had opinions. However there are two downsides to blogs:
"1) getting the damn things up and running. If you don't want it to look like a blogger template you need to fiddle. However if you're neither a designer nor adept at HTML templates it's just too hard.
"2) keeping it going. A blog's for life, not just for Christmas...
"There are further downsides if your blog isn't EITHER a teen/self-referential indulgence OR your main business. In the first instance, you can just parade your fantasies, inner thoughts and trivia and there's a chance it's more endearing than embarrassing. If blogging/punditry is your business then - er - fine. However, if you need to present a professional face AND your business is online publishing then you're on a hiding to nothing.
"I decided to put my energy into writing for existing online titles or launching new ones (ie so I could make money from them rather than sweating over a freebie). However, I have learned a lot from the blog approach and some of the new titles at [company name] would not have been possible were it not for the approaches and thought patterns made possible by ready blogs. The biggest impact on us has been the "group blog" approach and two of our new titles follow this approach.
"A final benefit of blogs imho has been to simplify the look of portal and editorial sites. There's less flash, more white space and generally a simpler, more consistent layout."
X deleted everything on his web site last year. I asked him why.
"General sense of despair with: a) myself, b) the internet population in general."
Was it disillusionment with the format, or with the web, or something else entirely?
"A lot of people writing weblogs seem to be doing so because they believe they have something important or special to say. I don't believe that I'm particularly special and found my regular bleating on a weblog personally abhorrent. The things I wrote were often ill-considered and not something that I wished to represent me on any level. I also don't really want to share the details of my personal life with the whole world (in potentia, at least)."
So had he considered a different way of publishing stuff online?
"I'd like to publish stuff for my friends and family to see, as well as some bits and pieces of stuff that the whole world would be welcome too. I just want a better way to manage that. Sadly I'm not convinced that friends and family are interested enough to go past the barrier of authenticated access (the evidence suggests not), so there it lies.
"I don't like the format, I just like the ease of publication. Maybe it just comes down to not wanting to be a member of a club that would accept me as a member, maybe I just don't want to be associated with a group of hyperactive prima donnas. I also don't like the audience, which is a bit of a killer.
"I do have plans to put things online when I get around to it, and when I find a way to stop crap like RSS robots repeatedly trawling my site despite repeated requests for them not to do so. Whatever happened to robots.txt? The web services world seems to have forgotten its manners."
(17th March 2004)