Monday, August 25, 2003

Max is hit with some blogger fatigue:

IN THE VALLEY OF FATIGUE, blogospherically speaking, is where I've been. At work I've been busy trying to fry some bigger fish.

"A hurricane in a drop of water" is a memorable phrase used by an old and dead communist named Max Shachtman to describe arcane internecine squabbles within the relatively tiny American left. The so-called blogosphere looks a lot like that. Scores of pissing matches, some entertaining, some informative, and others not. But in general they are starting to bore me. I wonder if they matter at all.

The drop of water analogy seems apt, when you consider that the greatest blogger of them all -- Glenn Reynolds -- is utterly unknown outside his and our small corner of the Web. I'd be amazed if one person in my office, an otherwise literate and informed group, had ever heard of him. Political types in Washington know Josh Marshall and Mickey Kaus, but not because of their blogs. Whatever you think of them, they are real, professional journalists.

Writers who matter in politics are those who come from and publish in dead-tree media -- books, periodicals, newspaper op-ed pages. Scholars who matter publish peer-reviewed material in professional journals, and their work is germane to legislation. They may be involved in crafting legislation themselves. Blogs have little relevance for them....

Many blogs, from both left and right, are full of interesting, well-informed intellectual discussions. But my view is that for something to really count, it has to be on paper. It's still not quite real otherwise. The permanence of paper, and the implied cost of circulating it, lends such material a gravitas I suspect the web does not match at present. Web material is still not quite respectable.
I've been having the same problem recently, but I'm not quite convinced that it's the same thing. (I view Web stuff as far more respectable than Max does, for example, although I think he has a point.)

The problem I'm having blogging, recently, is the way in which it works... with that "sequential scrolling posts" aspect of it; there's a catch-22 at the center of it all. If one writes fairly long, well researched or well-thought-out or whatever posts, there is still a significant possibility (if not a likelihood) that the post will have no impact whatsoever. It'll just disappear into the archives, and once that's happened, it's gone. This creates a disincentive towards longer posts, unless you're absolutely sure that you'll get noticed. Even then, there's the problem of getting people to actually read through the thing, instead of skipping ahead to something more easily digestible.

The alternative is smaller, pithier postings, akin to Instapundit or Atrios. This does wonders for one's visitor numbers, because people come back often to see "what's new", but often there isn't much content to the post beyond the link itself. Atrios doesn't suffer from this that much, but Instapundit is notorious for this problem. It means that blogs themselves become less useful, as there are other, better ways of filtering information (such as Google News). Comments threads can help flesh things out, but they're a crapshoot too... length seems to depend more on the contentiousness of an issue, rather than any intrinsic worth.

Plus, since there's so many blogs nowadays, a "linker's blog" has that much more trouble standing out, and the mad hunt for visits and hits is at least partially due to the fear that one is simply typing into the ether, unknown and unread. (I've been hit with that somewhat lately, despite not being a "linker", and it's starting to affect my entire attitude towards blogging.)

Damned if you do, damned if you don't. Write long original stuff, and too soon it'll disappear, unread and unremarked, into the archive; all that time and effort is for naught. Write shorter link-based stuff, and you're just a links page with some pithy words attached, no different than literally thousands of other writers. Try to find a balance between the two, and length becomes the priority instead of content.

No matter how it works out, it seems like maybe weblogs really are best suited for the purpose that they were originally designed for: personal journals.

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