Meta

Hide your puppies, there’s metablogging ahead. Writing that tribute to Digital History Hacks (call it data point no. 1) got me thinking, if I wasn’t already, about weblogs and their natural lifespans, about when and how they change or end, and about how you know when you are done. Oho, you say, could Rob be talking about his own increasingly cobwebby weblog? Very clever of you to spot it. But first, a few other data points:

Data point no. 2: I don’t think I can overstate how much I love the blog Snarkout–named for my favorite Daniel Pinkwater novel, and that just adds to its swelliness. I don’t even know the name of Snarkout’s author but he (I’m taking a wild guess) writes long, smart, link-lousy, digression-infested posts on just about everything under the sun. His posts start out about one thing, like how Isaac Asimov is “the boringest man ever to inspire a Japanese death cult,” then somehow wander off, like late-era Simpsons episodes, to work in the invention of the Pringles potato chip, then end up being about an insane CIA intelligence officer who insisted he was a galactic emperor and may have been the pseudonymous science fiction writer Cordwainer Smith. That’s one post, you understand, and they’re all like that.

But here’s what really impresses a slow blogger like me: Snarkout’s most recent post, on the late “Thundarr the Barbarian” creator Steve Gerber (yes, he also wrote something about a duck), is dated December 30, 2008. His second-to-last post, on White Christmas, Bing Crosby in blackface, and the Little Ice Age of the 17th to 19th centuries, is dated December 25, 2007. And his third-to-last post, on the secret history of St. Nicholas, is dated December 24, 2006. The guy is posting annually. He’s like the Brigadoon of the blogiverse. This is not a blogger who obsesses about his StatCounter reports. And there’s no meta-post anywhere about how sorry he is for not blogging, or how busy he is with work and the kids, and oh woe is me its tough to be a blogger. Not even a slow blog manifesto. If you ever see this, mysterious Snarkout author, I want to buy you a beer.

Data point no. 3: So, I’ve been using various aspects of David Allen’s new age corporate to do list voodoo system Getting Things Done since about the time I started this weblog (yes I do see the irony, you are sharp today aren’t you?). I even posted about the Golden Age GTD back in November 2004. And like many nerds, I came to GTD through Merlin Mann’s often great weblog, 43 Folders. 43 Folders had only been around for a few months, I think, when it got sky-hooked by a bunch of links from Cory Doctorow into being the internet’s number one super-productivity blog. It was full of witty advice, a world of souped-up to do lists crossed with a geeky fetish for Moleskines and index cards, and centered by a sensitive yearning for mindfulness, creativity, and Zen.

But then 43 Folders kind of ballooned outward, and got all Web 2.0 in the hizzle with bells and whistles like a forum, a wiki, and about a dozen guest bloggers. And… it pretty much sucked. One blog post a week about personal productivity is one thing. At thirty or forty posts a week, even us products of the public school system realize we’re being had. That’s the power of the Dark Side: 43 Folders became part of the very distractosphere Merlin had gone to war against.

And then something interesting happened. Last summer, Merlin had some kind of epiphany, or breakdown, or David Allen revealing he was Merlin’s father then chopping off Merlin’s hand with a lightsaber kind of moment. And so Merlin tore down the temple, with a fairly brave and angry denunciation of the whole cottage industry in productivity porn he and the Hipster PDA had built. Then his blog lay fallow for months. Only now has he gingerly returned to the form, his website stripped down to basics and its content dedicated less to the treadmill of productivity and more to careful nurturing of the creative habit.

So? So I’m thinking about those data points because they offer at least three models for shaking things up that I can respect: Bill’s “be awesome for three years, then get out”; Snarkout’s “keep the quality up, let the quantity go to hell, and never apologize or even explain”; Merlin Mann’s “tear down the suck and rediscover why you’re doing it in the first place.”

This blog you’re reading has lurched along in fits and starts for years without apparent ill effect. But I’m unsatisfied with the time the blog is getting in my life. And I’m not predicting any major increases in my free time soon. (Quite the opposite, but that’s another post.) Also I must admit, the aftermath of my post-election day post, which got a lot of nice attention but some heroic point-missing too, eroded a little of my enthusiasm for this enterprise.

So as you see, I’m having those dangerous “why do we blog don’t get me started is it art just because we hang it on the wall?” thoughts. I’m not ready to pull the plug yet, not really. Some demented part of me still thinks the world needs to hear my thoughts on Seth Shulman’s Telephone Gambit or my ideas for increasing the number of robots in American history. So I’ll probably keep trucking along in the short term. But my life, and the blogiverse, have both changed so much since I started blogging (eight years ago!), that I feel like a change could be in the wind.

14 Comments

  1. I loved your post. It came at a very timely point for me as I have been wondering about the amount of time I have been putting into my own blog. I was introduced to Getting Things Done by Merlin Mann and his 43 Folders. I was surprised when my iTunes magically started downloading a new episode of 43 Folders last week. Merlin is back (though he is still absent from my favourite podcast MacBreak Weakly, I wish he and Andy would kiss and make up, well, maybe without the kissing bit).

    I’ve been putting myself under preasure needlessly by scanning the virtual horizon for over an hour each day looking for blog post sources. I’ve been recently re-evaluating and wondering why I do this. This post has made me look in the blog mirror abit more. Perhaps I need a break, rethink, apply a smattering of good ole GTD and see where my ‘time sucks’ lie and why I am so dedicated to my blog when other aspects of my life need some attention.

    Thank you.

  2. Great blog, as ever…! I Know what you mean about blogging & lack of time though…Have you thought of joining the Twittersphere? Haiku blogging, perhaps …

  3. I seem to have settled into the slow-blogging model, with occasional weeks or months of regular posting. This is much better than the “stop-start, change your url, maybe change it again, maybe go back to an old one model” I followed for a few years.

    I sort of think that at some point, if you don’t quit and stay out, you get used to posting occasionally and worry less about having many readers (as long as you don’t drop to none). I’m glad that thanks to RSS feeds, some people will stick around even through long stretches of not posting.

  4. In the age of RSS readers, I don’t see what’s so revolutionary about slow blogging, or so odd about a blogger having different paces depending on projects and interests. The old “post at a constant and frequent pace” advice was OK for when people “surfed” the blogs, checking in on the blogroll list regularly and getting bored if nothing changed. With the RSS reader, though, you can post daily, and your readers know, or you can take a week off, and when you come back, your readers know, or you can take a month off, then post a dozen things in two days, and your readers know. It costs them nothing to keep track of you (unless, as andrew says, you migrate).

    You can change your blogging style without forcing your readers to change their reading patterns. Unless you’re trying to be difficult, there’s no problem.

  5. [from the Snarkout Asimov post] …put together propaganda booklets that encouraged Chinese soldiers to surrender by “chanting the phrases ‘honor,’ ‘duty,’ and ‘humanity,’ which recited in the proper order sounded like ‘I surrender’ in English.”

    I love learning language crossover stuff like that, even if it’s possibly bogus, and especially when I hadn’t intended on learning anything [like last month was visiting a Toronto condo and learned why the 4th, 14th, 24th etc floors were missing [“four” sounds like “death” in Chinese]]. Also, w.r.t. Snarkout ‘n’ GTD, would you be less impressed if his annual postage is because it takes him a year to compose it?

    “What really matters is what we can only be silent about.” – Ludwig Wittgenstein

  6. The world really needs your insights about telegraphs from the dead, and Teddy Roosevelt robots, and what board gaming has to do with the OK Corral, and so on. It doesn’t matter how often the posts come. Don’t get peer pressured into stopping. So, ditto to what Jonathan Dresner said.

  7. would you be less impressed if his annual postage is because it takes him a year to compose it?

    They take me somewhere in the neighborhood of 10 hours to compose, at this point, but the combination of having a good idea and ten free hours to spare Googling doesn’t strike very often these days. (My God, Rob, you’ve made me blush. Thank you.)

  8. Count me as another fan who hopes your blog keeps chugging along at whatever pace. (And I say this as someone who still doesn’t read an RSS feed, instead surfing randomly to bookmarked blogs like something out of 2002.)

  9. Thanks for the feedback and the kind words, all.

    Snarkout: Terrific to see you here! No need to blush. Your blog is great, I’ve been a fan for years, and I could easily amplify everything I said above.

    Jonathan: you’re right about RSS readers, but I think diehard gadget fiends like you and me could be surprised at how many people don’t use RSS. Do you know Ralph Luker doesn’t even use one? He compiles everything for Cliopatria by manually making the rounds of every history blog in existence.

    I also think the RSS reader encourages a certain kind of short, blippy reading, but that’s another post.

  10. Honest, Ralph, I wasn’t taking your name in vain. I think the fact that you manage what you do with Cliopatria every day without an RSS feed is, if eccentric, hugely and heroically impressive.

    I am also reminded of a blog post by Paul Ford of Ftrain.com . Ford is the webmaster for Harper’s magazine and he also writes that section in the back that is a single paragraph mishmash of odd and vaguely disquieting factlets. (Not the Harper’s Index, the other one in the back.) He said that at first he subscribed to a zillion RSS feeds to get all the info for that section; then he found it was easier to just read a paper copy of the New York Times.

  11. I also think the RSS reader encourages a certain kind of short, blippy reading, but that’s another post.

    I’m not sure what kind of reading it encourages, really. For me it works more like bookmarks: I can keep track of what I’ve already read and haven’t yet, what I want to come back to later.

    It does homogenize the experience somewhat: because the native formatting of the blog is erased by the formatting of the reader (not within the post, but the layout of the blog). I don’t know if it’s a good thing or not, but I think it allows me to better focus on the text and ideas.

    It also creates a kind of subtle pressure to “clear the deck” and read everything before going on to other things; I’ve tried to get around that by using some of the organizational tools there, but it’s not easy for a procrastinatory neurotic like me….

  12. Pingback: Early Modern Notes » Recently noted around the web

  13. Pingback: How I’ll Spend My Summer Vacation

Comments are closed.