Journal: News & Comment

Tuesday, February 22, 2005
# 11:18:00 PM:

The blog: tool, obsession, or religion?

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This will be my final post for awhile that follows up on the Northern Voice weblog conference last Saturday. Blogging about people blogging about a blogging conference can get tiresome, after all. But I had some thoughts.

I noted during the panel I was part of that the very existence of a blogging conference reflects the immaturity of weblogs (something the organizers mentioned themselves on the radio and in print, as well as on the Web). There, I compared it to the telephone: nobody holds big public conferences about how to use the phone, or reflecting on the phone's social impact on humanity. Academics may talk about some of that stuff, but telephones are mostly just there. E-mail is getting that way too, and so will weblogs.

It also felt a bit silly to be up onstage being the pundit/expert on promoting your blog and building traffic when there were obviously dozens of people in the audience with better-promoted and higher-traffic blogs than this one. Yet it was appropriate too, because the other three panelists (the excellent Chris Pirillo, Jeremy Wright, and Suw Charman) all seem to make a living at blogging—and I don't and haven't tried.

Let's go back to that earlier analogy. There are plenty of people who make a living on the phone, but we no longer put it that way (if anyone ever did). They might be phone solicitors, 911 or phone sex operators, taxi dispatchers, salespeople, or pizza parlors proprietors. But we don't think of phoning as what they do. Similarly, Chris and Jeremy and Suw (and others like John and Jason) aren't really bloggers for a living: they are writers, or analysts, or maybe entertainers, and their blogs are their media.

Still, they're a distinct and tiny minority. Almost everyone at Northern Voice, and almost everyone who has a blog, makes little or nothing from it. It is not their job, or even much of a part of it. I used to get quite a bit of business through this website when I worked freelance (and still do some), but the site itself just covers its costs, and certainly doesn't compensate me very well for the time I put into it. I'm really a writer, editor, web guy, drummer, and dad. Being a blogger is related to some of those things, but it's genuinely secondary.

So is it a tool, or an obsession? Tim Bray, who gave the first keynote at Northern Voice, gave a good reason for blogging as "can't not write." That's certainly true for me. Many of us spend rather a lot of time on these things, for reasons that can be mysterious, even to ourselves.

Maybe, given how we proselytize about weblogs, blogging is religious, or at least spiritual. One of the people in Julie Leung's audience identified a number of ways it can be thought of so: in the fulfillment some of us get from it, in how we indoctrinate our friends and acquaintances and even children into it, in how those that don't blog are somehow unblessed.

Then again, you could probably say the same about NASCAR fans, so let's not get too heavy. Off to bed now.


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