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Science + Tech

The Death of Pleasure Blogging

Is the golden age of the digital diarist already over?

Rob Peters 24 Jun

Rob Peters' last piece for The Tyee raised the critical question: Should I

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Remember when people used to blog for fun? When you could type in a friend's clever web address and be instantly delighted with the goings-on of their daily lives?

I recall a not-too-distant blogging golden age when just about everyone's dog kept an online journal. The daily musings of friends and neighbours seemed to be a big part of the common online diet.

Lately, however, I'm hard (word) pressed to find a (live) journaler to save my iBook (sorry). Gone are the days when "I already read that on your blog" was a common conversation killer. So what's happened?

Technorati founder David Sifry, who compiles extensive blogosphere stats from time to time, released numbers last spring that showed a potential plateau of blogging growth. While the number of blogs was still increasing at an impressive clip, the stats showed more and more people weren't updating the old ones, thus keeping the number of active blogs stalled at about 15.5 million. Blogging activity appeared to have peaked.

Of course there continues to be a flurry of new business and commercial blogs these days, but I'm talking about the more personal variety -- the ones with that elusive stamp of authenticity that says, hey, I'm a diary that's been made public for some reason. Or as my girlfriend calls them, pleasure blogs. Where have all the pleasure bloggers gone?

Musing fatigue

Perhaps we've realized that blogging every day isn't as fun as it sounds. A happened-upon red swirl of autumn leaves before a backdrop of unusually artful East Vancouver graffiti may very well be a blog-worthy topic. Life's minor muses are perhaps what inspire the pleasure blogger to pick up a keyboard in the first place, but it actually takes work to develop new material on a regular basis. No, writing never becomes easy no matter how long you do it.

Some difficult truths have been brought to light by the personal blogging blitz of the last few years. One such revelation is that most of us aren't as interesting as we think. Waking up every day and jotting down some deep thoughts about breakfast is a difficult way to sustain any kind of readership. A creative writing teacher once told me that everyone has lived one novel-worthy story. One being the operative word, I think.

It's as if we've gone through a few generations of blogging natural selection. The ones left are the big alpha bloggers, well suited to the harsh -- and fickle -- web environment. Said alphas have learned how to make money from their wordslinging, transforming what was once a very grassroots medium into something much more commercial. The pleasure bloggers just didn't have the genes, nor the capitalistic instincts, to survive.

Now, even big newspapers have "bloggers" writing for them. Hmmm... so you have someone writing about current events for a newspaper and getting paid for it. Is that person still a blogger?

Relax! Microblog!

Blogging malaise might be due to the myriad of options now available to the traditional pleasure blogger. A yen for self-expression can be fulfilled online in any number of ways -- social networking, participatory news reporting, Flickring, YouTubing -- you name it. The blog has stiff competition.

Even so, there does appear to be a more realistic version of the blog coming down the fibre optic trunk line. If filling an entire blank page is a little daunting, how does a 200-character text box sound? Enter the microblog.

Twitter and Jaiku are the front-runners in this arena, though Facebook and MySpace have status updates that function much the same way. You write a line or two of text enlightening your friends about what you're up to, and voilà, you've microblogged.

To be honest, I don't know anyone using Twitter or Jaiku other than my geek techie friends, but microblogs are quickly gaining momentum beyond early adopters.

Twitter played a large role in the reporting of the recent earthquake in China, and the company reportedly just secured millions in new funding. Meanwhile, Google acquired Jaiku in the fall, likely a smart investment.

The move from big blogs to smaller ones says a lot about our cultural attention span. One or two lines of text are about as much writing as we can handle -- either creating or consuming it. Which begs the question, why did I write a bloated 750-word blog exposé? I could have just Twittered it in a line or two.

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