The picture above was taken from the Way Back Machine. Nice to know that, though I’m talking about much the same things now as I was then, my design sense has improved…
So, it was six years ago today. My friend and colleague Todd Turnbull (whom I’m out of touch with, but who still blogs) introduced me to this neat new phenomenon known as blogs. I wasn’t a complete newbie — Aaron Adel was working towards building a blog into the Transit Toronto website — but Todd showed me some of the interesting server software that managed his site (Movable Type, at the time less than a year old). By appealing to my love of gadgetry, he convinced me to come aboard. I started out with Blogger, but quickly upgraded to Movable Type on my own domain.
A lot has changed in the intervening six years, both personally and on the blogs. I wouldn’t say that the blogosphere has jumped the shark, but it has met a similar fate: it has become normal. In 2002, it was an oddity. In 2003, it was the hot new thing. In 2004, it was revolutionary (single-handedly contributing to former Vermont governor Howard Dean’s rise and fall as a candidate and rise to his current post as the head of the Democratic National Committee). In 2005 the blogosphere was still, sort of, revolutionary. And, now, it’s… not.
It’s so easy to start a blog nowadays that there’s nothing daring about doing so. So many people are baring themselves online, body and soul, these days that it’s impossible to get noticed. Plenty of blogs last no more than a single post. The stories of people being fired because of things they’ve said on blogs, which used to roar through the blogosphere back in the day, now barely merit a ripple. Blogs, which at one point were supposed to be this great new tool to bring the mainstream media to its knees, have become mainstream.
Such was the hype of the blogosphere in years past, and such was its failure to meet these expectations, that it’s easy to forget what the blogosphere has accomplished. Early in my blog’s run, I said that there was nothing magical about blogging — I said that it was merely accelerated HTML. But blogs have participated in a democratization of publishing that has been building since the late 1980s when photocopiers, laser printers and desk top publishing programs started to erode the gateways separating amateurs and professionals in the world of print. Just as fanzines have moved from stapled bundles coming off damp and smelly from Gestetner machines to books indistinguishable from a professional print, many blogs today are indistinguishable from high-powered corporate websites. The influence of blogs on my web design business has been like the microwave oven on dinner — I have no idea what I did without one. Websites that required adventures in HTML (a skill I taught myself, thankyouverymuch) and the drudgery of FTP are now published instantaneously. With a blog’s design templates, I need only to feed content in and go.
There is no reason for anybody these days to go to a publisher in order to have a book see print. Likewise, the blogosphere has allowed everybody a little piece of the electronic soapbox on which to speak. The largest of the old gatekeepers remain: the quality control artists known as editors and professional publishers, and in the amateur world there is a disturbing level of noise overpowering the signal, but the new democratic world of publishing has allowed individuals who deserved to be published but weren’t, a place to publish themselves and find an audience.
And I’d say that overall, it has been a good thing. Yes, there are the concerns, expressed most recently by Dodosville (h/t Saskboy) that blogs are becoming the new usenet, that crassness is replacing cordiality, that spammers are muffling legitimate conversation, and more besides. But those who complain about the blogosphere not living up to its promise are victims of its overblown promises. They are ignoring the benefits that blogging has given us, the communities it has built, and the friendships it has forged. You know, they thought that television would change the world too, bringing enlightenment into our living rooms. Technological advance after technological advance have always been seriously overhyped, promising to change the world into something extraordinary, and failing to deliver, but delivering something amazing regardless. It’s 2008 and we were promised flying cars. But we are carrying computers in our pockets and conversing by videophone with Australia.
Disappointing though it might seem, the fact remains that the new technologies have still changed the world, just not in the way people thought, or hoped. The blogosphere which promised to make us extraordinary has instead allowed us to be normal… in more places than ever before.
In the course of my six years of active blogging, I’ve seen good blogs rise and fall and rise again. Blogging is a surprisingly fleeting activity, and it is a little disconcerting to consider myself an old man in this community when my blog is only six years old.
But I can see why some people might burn out. My greatest concern is repeating myself. Indeed, with this blog post I’m already repeating things I’ve said before here and here. It is possible to run out of things to talk about, and when you’re performing in front of an audience, there’s always a fear of getting stale.
I wonder if that’s why certain hate blogs (you know the ones I mean) get progressively more outrageous as time goes by. Storytellers and entertainers at a single gig always want to top what went on before, living as they do in constant fear of boring their audience, of becoming yesterday’s news. That way, of course, lies madness. The way around trying to top oneself all the time is to back up and see blogging for what it is: a conversation among friends, with strangers overhearing. You don’t try to top yourself when having conversations with your friends, do you? You know there are subjects that you hash and rehash over and over again. I have a few readers and I consider them to be my friends, and this is a comfortable conversation we’re having here; why should we aspire to be something more than we are if, at some points, we are not feeling that ambitious
This is another reason why I suspect my blog might be around for a while. I’ve never had a diary before, but I thought about taking one up on occasion. This blog represents the act of writing, a notebook that I use to keep my fingers limber and my mind fresh, which I’ve happened to leave open on the coffee house table. All of this practise, I’m sure, has helped me to become a better writer over these past six years. So, ultimately I’m the most important audience member here.
Those who get into blogging expecting to change the world are bound for burnout. It was never the blog that was going to do that, it was always the person behind it. But the blog might change something more important: it might change you. But only if you let it.
Happy birthday, blog!