Someone I was chatting to earlier in the week described blog posts as "disposable" and implied that they had a lower worth than other, more traditional media. It was a throwaway comment, but something I've been mulling over all week, wondering what it means for the state and perception of blogging.
As Blog Editor of Words & Pictures, I get to read quite a few blog posts - maybe fifteen to twenty a week. And then I get to write yet another blog post about the best four or five. In many ways, I welcome the role, because it forces me to actually read these blogs every week, which was something I always told myself, in the past, that I didn't have time for. I would feel guilty that I was expecting people to come to this blog every week, but often failing to read or comment on theirs.
Blogging has always been a medium based on reciprocity, which is one of its inherent strengths and also its weakness. You can see the strength of it where a community comes together (such as on LiveJournal or Tumblr), because people are actively encouraged to chat on and across blog posts, with new topics being sparked by a personal reaction to someone else's post. You can also observe this effect at work across the SCBWI blogosphere, but it is often more diffuse – unless a journalist or adult author says something mean about children's books, at which point everyone piles into the discussion like a well-mannered rubgy scrum!
Group blogs, especially sites like Notes from the Slushpile that attract a wide and diverse audience, do see a lot of comments and a lively discussion. But the weaknesses of the reciprocity model can be clearly seen on individual author blogs, especially where that person has yet to be published or build up much of a following. When your social capital is low, it's hard to get people to read and comment on your blog – even if you're writing something fresh and appealing. Although people will keep reading your blog if you're regularly offering good writing, getting them there in the first place is more about networking and promotion. And as we know, writers are notoriously introspective...
To get back to the core subject, a lot of blogs do begin to feel disposable, simply because we perceive a lack of endorsement by our peers. But the most obvious marker of success – the number of comments – can be deceptive. I have had blog posts with a large number of hits and few comments, and vice versa. Some subjects open themselves to further discussion and others do not. Also, there's the way you write the blog post: I like to cover a subject and then close the loop with a hopeful conclusion, but if I was more open-ended in my summing up, then perhaps I'd attract more comments (not that I'm complaining).
Maybe I could substitute a different word for disposable. How about "topical?" If we consider blogs as an offshoot of journalism, then perhaps it makes absolute sense that many posts are up-to-the-minute and date quickly. No-one complains that the BBC's news output is disposable because it changes so frequently, even though their rolling news channel comes perilously close to this status. What I find wonderful about a blog post is that it captures something of the moment – both temporal and emotional – an snapshot of what the writer was thinking and doing at that point in time. I often like to go back two or three years on this blog and revisit how I was feeling or thinking. People always praise me for the honesty of my blog posts, but there's a lot I have to hold back - there are some weeks in my life where I'm amazed I managed to write anything without collapsing into a sobbing mess.
So, to try to bring that all together into a hopeful conclusion – I think there's life in blogging yet, even if the overall numbers of bloggers are dropping. The blog post offers a deeper, more emotional experience than a Tweet or Facebook update, while still remaining easily digestible. I hope that the "Thou Shalt Blog" diktat that publishers give to newly-signed writers is dropping away, allowing authors to make a choice to blog for the right reasons. And finally, the best blog posts aren't disposable at all – they can continue to attract readers for years after they're posted. There are many books that aren't half so lucky.