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August 12, 2008


You're so right, and I'm a prime offender. These days, much more than before, I read, appreciate, and don't get around to commenting. And for months now, since I changed blog platform, and just out of apathy, I've not had a blogroll! This is mean and lazy and I can and will do better.

I've given plenty of thought recently to many of the phenomena you've mentioned in this post. Here are a few of the conclusions I've drawn. I'll try to be succinct, without hopefully being too cryptic.

Readership: traditional stats packages are now much less helpful than they were a few years ago. Many people subscribe to sites' feeds, which means that they read without ever actually hitting the site itself.

Motivation: obviously if your primary measure of "success" is to be read widely, an apparent dwindling of numbers is going to be a disappointment. Personally I'd rather have 20 people *reading* than 100 skimming.

Motivation again: for me, it's been a slow process of learning to express myself honestly, in a way that reflects who I feel myself to be. I've tried various "voices" over the years. Now I feel like "me".

Feedback: I find that generally the happier I am with a piece of writing, the fewer comments it gets. This used to trouble me, but now I'm more philosophical about it. I say what I feel I need to say.

Comments: I don't leave enough, myself. The volume of blogs I'm now reading is prohibitive. I probably need to be more selective and apply the "quality not quantity" rule to reading as well as readership.

Audience: I think I have three groups, though I can't be certain. Long-term readers - my "tribe" - who are interested in me as a whole. A sub-set specifically interested in my music stuff. Random searchers.

Fragmentation: my blog used to be my sole focus on the web. Now I'm scattered across blog, Twitter, MySpace, Last.fm, Flickr, and so on. Some people follow me across all outlets, many do not.

Blogrolls: I used to have one, I don't any more. I keep intending to reinstate it, though I never actually do it. My "blogroll" is implicit in my friends lists on Twitter, Flickr, and so on.

Community: I used to be part of a fairly clearly defined "UK blogging" community but this concept is now a nonsense and I am part of many different conversations; some overlap but many don't.

Linking: the old "weblog vs journal" debate. Is a blog for pointing out cool things you've come across on the web, or for self-expression? I've done both over the years, but tended more towards the latter.

Generosity: a question of perspective, I suspect. Am I being generous in linking to things you might already have seen, or rather in writing something unique that you won't have read anywhere else?

Social networking: yes, a lot of the trivia and ephemera that I might have blogged a few years ago now finds its outlet on Twitter or MySpace. I see that as a positive move forward rather than a problem for blogging.

Action: do we need to "do" stuff to make blogging more like this or that, or is it better to simply forge ahead with whatever comes naturally and accept that all media change over time?

Interaction: I think this too is becoming more implicit. Maybe more one-way, if that's not a contradiction in terms. I "interact" with many people by reading their blogs and by writing my own.

Re-reading what I've written above, I seem to have several contradictory positions. I guess that means either I've not thought things through properly, or that a lot of these issues require context.

I suppose that my experiences are influenced by the fact that my own blog has narrowed in focus over the years. It used to be about anything I fancied writing about, but now I restrict it to particular themes.

On this basis, I don't expect people I would once have thought of as "my regular commenters" to chime in on every post. Maybe I'm boring half of them senseless, but I do feel a greater sense of purpose than previously.

I could go on and on; blogging as a medium is endlessly fascinating. I'll stop now.

My, you're right, but I can see how folks may be intimidated by the likes of cassandra and her pages...this is like visiting a lovely four color coffee table book with nice manners...I often feel I don't want to smudge it with my less civilized type comments...it's a joy to be here and you are a joy and I thank you for winning my "as things ought be" prize.

My, you're right, but I can see how folks may be intimidated by the likes of cassandra and her pages...this is like visiting a lovely four color coffee table book with nice manners...I often feel I don't want to smudge it with my less civilized type comments...it's a joy to be here and you are a joy and I thank you for winning my "as things ought be" prize.

I'm glad to see that Hg has already articulated the point I clicked through to make, under "Linking." Yes, one kind of blog-ideal makes a conscious point to link to other sites, but I don't think that's the only kind of blog-ideal. If you're is keeping a "journal"-style blog rather than a "weblog"-style blog, you're probably going to link less since your subject is self-expression. A journal-style blog is naturally going to be more "self-absorbed" (to use your term), but I'm not convinced that this kind of self-absorption is necessarily bad. It's just different.

I think it's important to keep in mind that blogging is a medium, not a genre. Just as there are different kinds of books, there are going to be different kinds of blogs, so I'm not sure it makes much sense to talk about them as if they're the same kind of thing just because they're all published in similar electronic formats. A self-portrait painter is going to focus on her or his self; a landscape artist is going to focus on scenes. They both use paint, but they're doing different kinds of things with that medium.

Yes, we all should probably read, link, and comment more...but apart from that, I'm hugely hesitant to make generalizations about "blogging" as if it were a monolithic thing. I think blogging is old enough that it is now encompassing a wide variety of genres that share less in common than the term "blog" suggests. To my ear, trying to decide the nature of blogging today is like trying to decide the nature of BOOKS today: what kind of book, or blog, are we talking about?

Oops, I seem to have missed an italics end-tag. Here's hoping this will fix it.

I forced three of my five ninth grade English classes to blog and to comment last year for almost five months, and my writers’ survey responses concerning the blogging were very positive.

Generally speaking, my students’ writing improved, not because I graded it (I didn’t), but because they were writing for one another. There is such power in feeling read. The survey also pointed out the power of comments. I taught them how to comment: demonstrate how the post got you thinking, compliment some aspect of the writing, and be civil in expressing disagreement with the post’s substance – all things we take for granted. The writers said that they loved getting reflective, thoughtful comments. A handful of them came out of last year embracing a self-image as writers (usually, poets, fiction writers, or bloggers), and that happened in large part because of the blogging and commenting.

Of course, I got the idea from watching my own writing improve over four years of blogging and from watching my thinking broaden over four years of reading other blogs and interacting in comment spaces. We are part of such an important enterprise here, and I thank you, Beth, for bringing the act of blogging back to our collective attention.

I don’t blog or comment as much as many others I see because I have little time during the school year for it, what with 125 students’ papers to grade. (Plus, I maintain my own site on the students’ multiple-user blog for half the school year now!) The bigger reason is that I have to make sure I’m blogging and commenting to have fun. I experience mission creep every now and then – writing solely to post something or to increase readership. This feels like a sickness in me when it starts happening.

Thank you also so much for the very kind things you say about my Faulkner/Merton post. I worried that I was a bit over the top with that Faulkneresque language you excerpted, so I’m glad you said such nice things about it. See? Thanks to your encouragement, I’m going to practice my Faulkner even more upon my readers! Kafka’s Soup doesn’t have a Faulkner recipe (yet) . . .

I don't twitter or myspace nor will I expand into the different flavors of commercial blogging, so I loose potential readers there, as well as potential places to read, I suppose. I have settled down to the people and blogs that I find consistently readable, still interesting after several years, and the people who don't offend me with their beliefs and opinions, as mine do not offend them. I probably have as many readers as ever, but the stats don't show it, nor do the number of comments. But I am not in this to make money, but to hone my writing and get feedback. Reading sites with loads of comments reassures me that I don't really want THAT kind of blog anyway. Trolls have forced me in, and I will not stick my neck out to them again.

I feel I have a set of real friends, not blog "Friends!" I prefer my friends not to need quotation marks.


For me, it's the sheer volume of friends. I have a day job, and a blog job, and it's all a little overwhelming. I read you when I can, and I don't know what the bottom line answer is, except, let's just keep bloggin and see what happens?

I'm a baby-blogger, and I'm learning how to adjust.

I do hope you and J are as well as is possible.

Thank you so much for the kind words, Beth.

Also agree with both with your posts and what a lot of commentors have said. I used to be much more frequent with my comments but honestly work has made it immensely difficult to just keep my blog going and even more to comment on others. I do comment - but rather infrequently and it's something I do fel guilty about. Plus sometimes one really doesn't have much to say or add with regard to a post!

I think a lot of us did harbor a fantasy that we were headed for Real Live Preacher style stardom; I certainly did, though I did at least laugh at myself for it. But it's turned out, reasonably enough, to be like real life: all things being equal -- and over time they mostly are -- the people who will read and comment on your blog are the people whose blogs you read and comment on, just as, in real life, the people who will make time for you are the people whom you'll make time for. There was maybe always something a little icky about the print-culture model of the Author, the man who gets to speak while all the thousands of poor inferior mutes adore him. But we did carry that model in our heads when we first found readers.

It's dizzying now, knowing how many people are writing good stuff. I remember how precious the first few connections were, collected over months, how miraculous it was to find blogs like the Cassandra Pages. Now I know I could find hundreds of clusters of people worth reading, any one of which would absorb as much time as the cluster I'm in now. There are fascinating people who drop by my blog that I simply don't have time to get to know.

(But you're right, I should clean up my blogroll, and make sure everyone on my feed reader is on there. And some links would be a good thing.)

oops, we seem to be inside italics tags, here :->

I seem to be one of the people you're talking about -- I link and comment less than I used to; my energies have partly been sucked away by Twitter. I read by rss reader, so I don't know if my visits show up in your stats. Part of it for me is that I've been yakking away for so long that I'm running out of material -- esp. since my blog has a theme, and I tend to feel odd when I stray from it. Very thought-provoking post.

BTW, have you read Jason Goodwin's Yashim mysteries? They're set in early 19th c. Istanbul. And Yashim is an excellent cook. Goodman has written a history of the Ottoman Empire, and the novels are full of vivid atmosphere. My Name Is Red taken down a bit and made more fun. The Janissary Tree is the first, then The Snake Stone, now The Bellini Card.

I think some people start off blogging thinking they are going to make money at it with google ads and then they find out it is work and they taper off. Or they think they will get a book contract. And of course there are bloggers who have gotten book contracts even when they don't have much to say. For me, my blogging is part of my volunteer work with cats. I do pr and web/ photography work for a couple of animal welfare groups and that gives me photos and stories. The blogging also gives me web friends who I feel would be real life friends at the drop of a hat, some of them not from cat blogs but others. And it keeps my writing going and gives me a small appreciative audience. The cat bloggers are a virtual comunity all their own and work together to support others who have problems. They recently raised enough money to send one to a funeral service and they raised money for one little cat at my local shelter to have an expensive operation. The silliest stories (or the cutest photo stories) do seem to get the most comments but over the years I've realized I like blogging just for what it is.
Hey, I feel like I know you and I wouldn't except for blogging! And I have a few friends in France from reading their blogs. Community is what it's all about.

I agree with a number of the comments here. Personally, once I started working full time (at a very word-intensive job that sometimes leaves my brain and eyes fried by the end of the day), I could no longer post as often and/or write as thoughtfully as I'd like. That goes for commenting, too. So continuing to add even more to my blogroll is prohibitive. That said, I still do add new blogs on occasion (thanks for the link to Love Apples, which I'm enjoying) because it's always wonderful to find something fresh. Many of these get added to my bloglines, which can fill up for many days or even weeks before I get around to many of them.

As for commenting, I've always found it encouraging to have my comments acknowledged - either on the blog or through mutual commenting. Otherwise I figure I've said something stupid or unwelcome. It's the equivalent of receiving a blank stare! I slink off and don't come back... Although I do realize that it's not a convention that a blog author must respond to all comments and many don't.

Beth: This is a good subject to discuss. I am late to blogging so have much to learn about it. My writing is the self-absorbed kind, on-with-the-story type of blog and I don't have a blog roll or do any "linking." I suppose I just want to be read by a few people, being a frustrated writer and all. I do appreciate comments very much but don't leave enough of my own. You've given me something to think about. Perhaps I can come up with something in the future. Oh, lest I forget to say--I always read you with great appreciation.

It seems we are all speaking in italics now! Michael Joyce's book, "Othermindedness: The Emergence of Network Culture" only came out in 2000, so it does not address many of the blogging-specific issues you write about in your post, but it seems to me that many of his ideas could be expanded to talk about blogs. I see blogging as a networking activity, in the sense that texts are always intertextual if you know what I mean. I feel really not comfortable with "institutional" blogs, like those hosted in corporate media's web sites, precisely because they are hierarchical and unidirectional in spite of their attempt to foster communities. But there's also some non-corporate bloggers out there who blog as if they were being watched by Time Warner or something, and couldn't care less about interaction. I'll try to pick up the topic at some point in my blog too. Thanks again for yet another thought-provoking post.

Wow, what an insightful group of comments so far, many of you making points that I'm really grateful to read. (I did want to say that I'm embarrassed the post sounded like a scold to some of you; that wasn't my intention at all, and I would never complain about a lack of comments here.)

Onward...please continue the conversation...

No, no, it didn't come across as scolding! Just as a timely reminder of some big and complex issues about blogging, community, mutuality, online relationships etc - which many of the comments have taken up in a really interesting way and from varied perspectives; you're very good at getting an interesting discussion going, Beth - but also of the small but important things that we can do to acknowledge one another which it's easy to forget as time passes and all this is not the novelty it once was.

I'll have to post on this. ;)

Lorianne speaks for me on the danger of generalizing about blogs and blogging.

I'm personally glad that the hype has moved beyond plain old blogs to shiny new(ish) things like microblogs, tumblelogs and social networks. I never felt like the sort of blogging we do has much in common with the original bloggers - those who want mostly just to link to other people's content and add a sentence or two - so I'm grateful to these other services (which i also use to a varying extent) for siphoning them off. I do keenly feel an obligation to read the bloggers who read me, though like Hg I try to cover so much territory in my reading that I rarely make time to leave a comment. Linking to stuff I like via a column in the sidebar is my way of making up for that. I don't understand why more bloggers don't do the same. It's as simple as adding a few lines of javascript from Delicious - still the premiere social bookmarking tool - or Google Reader to the sidebar. WordPress.com provides RSS widgets, and Blogger's new dynamic sidebar options are pretty cool, too, for those who want something more automatic but still more useful than a static blogroll.

I should add that one antidote to the feeling of atomization you describe here could be collaborative creation, something blogs and other online tools are good at facilitating. See for example this post on collaborative poetry. For photographers, many Flickr groups have a collaborative feel, and at least one - Utata - spawned its own community. Blog networks sometimes manage something similar, if there's a widely-read planet blog collecting the best posts.

So there doesn't have to be a conflict between focusing on our own creative efforts and feeding into something larger, though as you say, the spirit of generosity is key. Obviously that was kind of the idea behind qarrtsiluni, too, though I'd say only a minority of contributors really buy into the ideal of collectively creating an issue. I will say I think the continued presence of reader comment threads there has been key to making it a welcoming place for writers who are accustomed to zero reader feedback. So I still think these online paradigms are attractive and robust compared to print periodicals.

Dave, I didn't know Delicious did that! You just cut the time I take to update my own right column feature by about 95%. Thanks.

Great conversation, everyone. Thanks for opening it up, Beth, and thanks for linking to it, Rana and Lorianne, because your posts brought me back here to the comments (I read the post yesterday on my RSS feed and moved on to my other oblygobblies).

Now, more than ever, blogging seems more about process to me than end result, though there are exceptions. Bird by Bird is filled with sketches I now have no idea what to do with -- in books, on pieces of paper, etc -- and I may well end up throwing some of them away. I'm not committed so much to the sanctity of the double archive. Of course I'd be sad if the server went south along with all its backups, but I think I'd get over it.

I don't read anywhere near as widely as Dave or Hg -- I just barely have time to do the rounds of 30 or so blogs -- but I ALWAYS appreciate it when they or anyone else, such as you, Beth, point out an interesting blog. So thanks for still doing that occasionally.

I've been blogging sporadically for about two years, but still have not linked to any other blogs, mainly because I don't know how to do that. I got into blogging because of a friend of mine, but have not had the time to really sit down at it and find my way through. I think a blogging mentor would be great.

Now that I've found your blog I'm going to come back and read more.



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Who was Cassandra?

  • In the Iliad, she is described as the loveliest of the daughters of Priam (King of Troy), and gifted with prophecy. The god Apollo loved her, but she spurned him. As a punishment, he decreed that no one would ever believe her. So when she told her fellow Trojans that the Greeks were hiding inside the wooden horse...well, you know what happened.