ruminations

How Blogs Die

wickenden (ASA)A photo of a row of tombstones, heavy with shade.

There are two general signs that a blog is heading toward extinction. The first is a declining frequency of posting, and the second is a proportional rise in the number of posts about the blog itself. These two don’t always go hand-in-hand; sometimes it’s just one or the other, sometimes you don’t get either warning sign. But when either of the two is spotted it’s reasonable to begin wondering how long that curious internet publication will continue to be updated.

I bring this up not to say that Frozen Toothpaste is on the way out, but because I realized that it has recently offered such an impression. My unannounced absence last week was caused by the distraction of a thoroughly awful stomach flu. I really did intend to post.

Back to the point: there’s something that you begin to notice if you spend much time on the internet. Most blogs–used here as a catchall term for all regularly updated, vaguely artistic, internet endeavors–seem to last somewhere between three and six months. Some make it longer, but five uninterrupted years is unquestionably a rarity.

For most people, the intent of a blog is somewhere between a journal and–the unlikely hope is–a valuable public mouthpiece. Given the scarcity of interested and committed readers available on the internet, the average blog ends up being a mostly private journal. And the failure rate of a new blog is about the same as it is for a private journal.

Everyone’s probably done it once or twice: you get this strong impulse–for me it usually strikes in a bookshop full of beautiful and empty pages bound together–to record your thoughts for posterity. At that moment your ideas seem so clear and forceful and fresh that you simply owe their recording to posterity.

But it never seems to last. My aforementioned and unresearched estimate of three to six months for blogs, is roughly how long journals seem to last me. I’m arrogantly assuming that I’m at or above average.

It always seems to be that journals–and blogs–begun with the urgent intensity of someone confident that the simple act of putting their thoughts on paper will clarify or improve them, you soon find that a personal conversation is hard. And whether it’s because you find yourself a poor conversationalist, a slow writer, or an incoherent blabberer the realization generally comes that the results are a little less than magical. The realization dawns that what you’re writing is not really in need of urgent preservation.

So you walk away. You give up. You’ve expelled whatever it was that caused you to create a blog or buy a journal. You’re done with the superfluous recording of everything.

It’s a rather natural process, this sudden enthusiasm and slow disillusionment. But it doesn’t make it any easier to accept all the dead blogs on the internet.

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21 thoughts on “How Blogs Die

  1. So, what do you suggest? How do we make our blog stay? What things could we do to keep the romance alive?

    I just started a blog, and right now it’s pretty nifty. I guess the big difference between a nifty blog and a non-nifty blog is the readership. For me, so far, I’ve been compelled to write because I thought someone was reading it. I have 7 readers according to my feed reader, and that makes me ecstatic. Maybe these people don’t really read what I write, but it’s like a friend counter almost. These people are my peers and they subscribe. I probably subscribe to them too. (If I don’t, and you’re one of them, let me know!)

    Anyway, any good tips on preserving the natural goodness of blogs would be fun to hear.

  2. That’s an interesting question, Ryan. I think it’s really just about having realistic expectations for what you’re doing and what you’re likely to achieve. If you begin a blog able and willing to press on through the vagaries of writer’s block, a lack of motivation, and an inattentive audience, you’ll likely be able to make it forever. If you begin with notions of your genius or how soon you’ll be rich and famous, it seems much less likely you’ll keep on.

    I don’t think that blogs are really fated to die from a lack of enthusiasm, it’s just that those begun with forceful and unrealistic enthusiasm are likely to die as those things naturally wane. Writing regularly is hard work, and most people don’t appreciate that when they begin a blog or journal.

  3. Point well taken. I was actually reading an article called “Cat Theory” over at Adversity University, and the author talks about how a cat will back away if you’re too aggressive, but loves to come to you and snuggle/play if you just sit back, relax, and act confident. It’s an interesting read and something applicable to blogging. You can’t be too aggressive or over-anxious, or you’ll choke yourself out.

    Personally, I find working in waves or spurts of excitement work for me; but then I need a good break to recoup, refocus, and regain my motivation. Sometimes, depending on your blogging schedule, that’s not possible. However, if you pace yourself, don’t set crazy goals (like 5 posts a day), then I think sustainability is possible.

    Anyway, thanks for responding. It’s good to have your feedback.

  4. The difference between blogs that go on and on and blogs that eventually die are the reasons why people keep blogging and that has to be address from the moment you have a blog. People who answer the question of “So I have a blog, now what?” and “Why do I blog?” stand a better chance of passing the 6th month blog stagnation point.

    Also I find that irrespective of posting frequency, people who blog because they “want to” as opposed to people who blog because they “need to” also stand a better chance of staying their hand at blogging. It’s because it’s easier to find a reason and motive to continue. Blogs for the most part aren’t jobs. They are glorified hobbies that can give people plenty of opportunities. If people stop having fun with blogging because they feel that posting something is needed, it becomes a chore and we’ve got enough of those in our lives already.

  5. I agree Edrei, but I’m unclear on real-world difference between “wanting” and “needing.”

    Let me explain. A blogger wants to gain readers because he wants to get job/money-making opportunities from it. This is all very clear. However, does that want become a need when money does start coming in? Does a blogger find that what he once wanted is now something he really needs, either because of the money or the emotional attachment, or the wrath of his thousands of readers threatening him if he ever decided to quit?

    From small to big, blogs themselves create their own need to survive, and blog authors are obliged to fill this need, whether they want to or not. So, whether the passion and drive is in one place or the other, I’m not sure it makes a difference. Maybe it would be better said that bloggers who write because they like it will succeed, and those who hate it will eventually fail.

    Of course, some people are very good at convincing themselves that they like a horrible job simply because it’s the best one they can find and it keeps paying the bills.

  6. Maybe it would be better said that bloggers who write because they like it will succeed, and those who hate it will eventually fail.

    Unquestionably. I’d also say that those who like it but think they’re bad at it–from a lack or audience, low self-confidence, whatever–are rather likely to fail.

    Though I’d add that I’m just taking “succeed” to mean “keep blogging.” If we’re talking about becoming rich and/or famous, I’d have to dissent. Becoming popular is something that seems to happen rather randomly. Some of the best bloggers I’ve known never got very popular; some truly baffling stuff has taken off.

  7. This has been an interesting discussion.
    I have been “trying on” all the definitions of ‘want to’, ‘have to’, ‘succeed’, etc. that have been talked about, and I’ll add what it’s like for me…

    I did not have a plan when I started blogging. It was as if I shouted into cyberspace, and some people shouted back. How cool!

    One thing I was certain of was that I didn’t want to advertise. At all.
    My thinking was that if I didn’t accept advertising revenue, I didn’t have to concern myself with offending anyone. And by not dealing with advertising, I don’t feel compelled to post about topics that will attract hits.

    My blog does not have a topic other than ‘ME’.
    I have the advantage of age and adventures and opinions to keep me flush with post topics.

    I read a bunch of other blogs.
    I try to mold my blog based upon what I find enjoyable on those other blogs.

    The blogs I like best are humorous, or thoughtful.
    I really like to have the blog owner “talk back” via the comment box. I like a good ‘conversation’.
    I like pictures.
    I like self disclosure.

    There are days when I think, “What the hell am I going to write about?”
    Sometimes I try to guess what people would like me to write about, butI think that is an erroneous way for me to approach writing a post.
    I really do best when I write what I want.

    I always enjoy visiting this blog. David, you are a talented writer, and the depth of thought that goes into your writing is astonishing sometimes. I have often read your posts and have been unable to comment because you have said it all succinctly. Anything I would add would sound like a spam comment…”I totally agree”, or “Great post! Keep up the good work!”
    Doesn’t mean I’m not reading πŸ™‚

    So, I guess what I’m saying is, if you stop blogging, you’ll have a shitload of time to visit and comment on my scintillating blog….

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  9. My mean journal length was one entry, my blogs been going for three years. (Perhaps because it’s something I can do at work!)

  10. The signs seem appropriate – however I think motivations vary more widely.

    I’ve been blogging for many years – but only started writing them down in the PC a short time ago. Before that it was emails to colleagues alerting them to news and research with analysis that would richen their experience and before that it was books and articles – serving the same function, just in a different medium.

    Now I’ve adjusted my topic slightly from broader tech trends to focus on egovernment (http://egovau.blogspot.com)

    However the goal hasn’t changed – to help others and myself make sense of what is happening, to open horizons that become limited by too much day-to-day trivia.

    Money will never be the objective from my blog – it is deeper understanding through conversation.

    Though appreciation is always nice πŸ™‚

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  12. Sometimes I feel like blogging is the karaoke of publishing. I’m slamming it out to a half filled room, who don’t remember the words, and as short as the attention span seems to be out there, the reward is when one of my posts piss someone off! Oh yeah! I love having that virtual beer bottle thrown at me on stage! >:)

    When you’re blogging for the limited audience that understands what Jan Svankmejier is saying with his meat puppets, you don’t expect fame or fortune, but hopefully someone ELSE understands with you!

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  14. Listened to a good interview with Maud Newton today – she talked about feeling constrained at one point by the “lit-blog” label. Basically, the key (my takeaway, anyway) is to evolve the blog to fit with your own interests, where you are. If you write to the best of your ability, and people enjoy that writing/viewpoint/content, they’ll probably continue to follow you, regardless of where the site goes. And it will stay fresh for you.

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  18. Mine is one of those rare ones that has made it well past 5 years. But then again, I have an unhealthy fascination with the Internet. The best blogs come from people who have more trouble in the offline world than in the online version. So when people get “Better” they go away from blogging. It’s as simple as that.

  19. I keep two blogs. Both are tightly focused (one on writing, the other on some rural land I own). I have found that this tight focus actually keeps me from wondering what I will write about next. I always know my topic. I think people who have more generic blogs can tend to be without a topic on some days, and once you begin breaking the posting routine, it is easy to slip away from it altogether.

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