I was poking around kottke.org and saw a post referencing the 10th anniversary of another blog, waxy.org. It’s a very high quality blog, and I had a great time poking through the archives. What’s been sticking with me, though, are some of the thoughts in the birthday post arguing for a personal vision and less content as the key to a great blog in the new internet landscape:
Ten years ago, I started this site with three simple rules: no journaling, no tired memes, and be original. 18 months later, I added a little linkblog.
In those ten years, I’ve posted 415 entries, including this one, and over 13,000 links.
Personal homepages and weblogs have long since faded from the popular trends. They’re no longer hip and nobody’s launching the hot new startup to reinvent them or make them better.
Most of the interest in writing online’s shifted to microblogging, but not everything belongs in 140 characters and it’s all so impermanent. Twitter’s great, but it’s not a replacement for a permanent home that belongs to you.
And since there are fewer and fewer individuals doing long-form writing these days, relative to the growing potential audience, it’s getting easier to get attention than ever if you actually have something original to say.
The particular information economics of the internet mean that the world of personal blogs and homepages have gone through as much change, though on a smaller scale, as the newspaper industry, though in an even more compressed timeline–and this is coming from someone who wasn’t even writing online in those early days. There’s way more competition for space; almost nobody gets attention anymore by being simply an X [stripper, line cook, police officer] that blogs. Even project blogs, á la Julie and Julia have become passé. And the early standbys of blogs: link aggregation, tv show recaps and the like have been almost entirely consumed by professional bloggers, whether they work for traditional news outlets, non-profit organizations, or commercial blogs. The point that Andy Biao (of waxy) makes is that personal blogs are not going to be able to compete on frequency of updates or density of coverage. The only way that they can compete is with personal vision and quality of content.
This is something I’ve been thinking about a lot as I go through another period of social media self-loathing. I’ve learned not to delete Twitter or Tumblr accounts because I inevitably will want to update or access the network, but just as predictable is the dissatisfaction at spending my time filling my thoughts with what is essentially disposable information.
In a culture where sharing of information has never been as easy. We are pressured to share our opinions and preferences both on a personal level, through peers on social networks, and in the aggregate, through the advertising that supports them. It has become the case that the rules of knowing when to speak, and knowing when to be silent, have broken. Though his famous quotation “Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.” easily fits in a 160 character limit, one suspects that Wittgenstein would not have been a prolific Twitterer.
So I’ve come around to the idea that in a world where we’re constantly incentivized to give our own opinions, in a world where we’re constantly reminded how many of our opinions are shared with so many people, the most radical act of self expression is to discern which are those unique thoughts, to discern which thoughts must be expressed. And if that means that I only update a couple times a month, perhaps that is the exact amount I should be updating.