Disappearance of blogs

I do not have the time to read regularly all the blogs to which I have established links, on my own blog. As a result, sometimes months go by without me reading them, and when I finally decide to catch up, I find out that they no longer exist, or that they have not been updated in months — and probably never will be again.
At that point I remove the link, of course.
I have just finished the above operation, and see that my link list is almost half as long now. There have apparently been many casualties among fellow bloggers, over the past twelve months. And yes, my own blogging has become more difficult and slower, over the same time frame. And I do think that the two things are related.

I cannot help feeling a bit melancholic, every time I see that a blog is no more (of course I am not talking of cases in which blogs are simply moved) — as I do every time I am reminded of the passing of time, in whichever way that happens.
I do not want to sound needlessly melodramatic. It is not as if anyone has died; most of those bloggers are still around (in blogosphere, I mean) — in fact some of them, with their comments, preciously contribute to keeping the debate lively on other blogs. Still, the fact that those blogs are gone, or in any case dormant, reminds me of the transient nature of this activity, and I start seeing the day I myself will decide to end my own stint with it.
But, what is it that makes one stop blogging ? The “canonical” explanation is lack of time, but it does not seem convincing, in general. Why is it that, two or three years after starting to blog, one would suddenly find oneself with less time to devote to what is essentially a pastime ? Does life really get busier as we age ? I think a more likely explanation is that one simply tires of blogging. And, why does that happen ?

Well, I can speak for myself only, but I have been at it for slightly over four years, and can certainly see how and why coming up with new and worthwhile subjects about which to write, has become arduous over the past year and a half. No, it is not lack of time — I have the same time at my disposal that I had four years ago, in fact if anything even more of it.
I started blogging because there are a few subjects and issues that are dear to my heart, and felt the need of expressing my views in writing, in a somewhat coherent and organized fashion. It was exclusively for my own benefit, of course. And it has worked really well for me. I have managed to produce a handful (maybe four or five) of posts of which I am proud, which others have found (and still find) useful — especially some having to do with graduate school and science careers.
But, I am talking just “a few” such issues — as in, two or three. If it had been just about that, I would probably have stopped a long time ago. It is hard to sustain a regular writing activity based on “a few issues” alone. Repetitiveness is inevitable. How many times and in how many different ways, can one write down what one has to say about a specific subject ?

I think that what makes blogging fun and sustainable in the long run, is the second reason why I started blogging to begin with, and that is the regular interaction with fellow bloggers whose writings we find interesting and compelling, and which in turn are the main inspiration for our own posts, in the long run.
I would venture to say that each blogger starts out also, perhaps mostly, because (s)he enjoys reading some specific blogs. We lurk for a while, then timidly start commenting, maybe anonymously at first but then disclosing our identity; with time, we find that our comments become longer, more articulate and confident; and finally, the day arrives when we finally think to ourselves “Hey maybe I should write a whole post of my own on this…”.
There are many, many interesting blogs worth reading, even if one restricts oneself to those discussing one’s favorite topics. One has to start somewhere, and I am sure that those who follow some blogs regularly, for the most part arrive at them in the first place by serendipity — after all, blogs are born and die every day.

Titles like “Incoherently Scattered Ponderings”, “A Mad Tea Party”, “I postdoc therefore I am”, “Transient Reporter”, “Professor in Training” mean nothing to anyone moving his or her first steps in blogosphere now. They are the titles of blogs that no longer exist and/or are no longer updated, which I used to read every day before taking the plunge myself, in December 2007. Some of the authors have actually become my friends, and therefore I interact with them in different ways — but it is not the same as reading their thoughts, mulling over them, wanting to respond with my own opinions. And, as these blogs have faded, been more and more seldom updated, eventually disappearing altogether, my own blogging has become less frequent, and my enthusiasm toward it has weakened.
All of this suggests to me that in many cases it is not about any individual blog, but rather a community thereof. Whether it also means that, for many of us, it may make sense to “join forces” and contribute to a single blog, I am not sure.
There is still something to be said for owning one’s space. Let’s see how long more I last.

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23 Responses to “Disappearance of blogs”

  1. mareserinitatis Says:

    I wonder if blogs, at some point, no longer function in the way they were originally intended for many people.

    For me, blogging fills this need I have to write. It seems to be something I need to do to process my day and let things go, and even before blogging, I used to keep a journal. I also don’t restrict myself to academic topics, so there’s less repetition. Of course that means there are also a lot of people who don’t care to read regularly because of that. On the other hand, I get a lot of people reading outside of academia, especially people who like great, big, fuzzy dogs or are interested in gifted education.

  2. Douglas Natelson Says:

    Hi Massimo – I know what you mean. I really had a fondness for some blogs that have vanished (Incoherently Scattered Ponderings, Schlupp’s blog, The Chem Blog) and others that are zombies (still existing, but with no updates in a year). It feels like a distillation has taken place, with some people moving to platforms with much higher readership (scientificblogging.com, discover.com, wired.com). I’ll admit, it would be great to feel like I was as effective a popularizer as some of our more highly read blogging colleagues (though not every post I write is meant to be a lay-popularization); however, I really have gotten busier in the five+ years I’ve been doing this, and that’s definitely made it hard to imagine shifting to a blogging arrangement that put forth major demands for high posting rates. (On another note, are you going to APS this week? Want to get a beer?)

    • Massimo Says:

      Hi Doug, no I am not going, I am in Germany and did not see the point of flying back for a week. Let’s have a beer some other time, you enjoy Boston.

  3. GMP Says:

    I started blogging, like many people, because I wanted to write. I love writing and like the interaction with other bloggers.

    The biggest impediment to blogging for me, after nearly 2 years, are the blowups that seem to occur pretty randomly, sometimes after the most inconsequential of posts. I know they should not bother me, but they do, and whenever vitriol is spilled over something I wrote, I find it incredibly draining.

    As a result I don’t post nearly as often as I would like or on all the topics that I would like because I feel I have to censor and qualify everything so the sensibilities of someone somewhere would not be offended. I find it to be quite exhausting and even with the work I don’t have perfect success.

    I have been contemplating stopping blogging altogether for a while, not because I don’t have stuff to write — on the contrary, I could probably post daily — but because I am not comfortable posting stuff I want to write; the “sanitation” of every piece takes forever.

    I think we would all be much better off in assuming good will more often than not, but that seems to happen on the internet even more rarely than in real life.

    • mareserinitatis Says:

      You know, a lot of people who LIKE your blog found it because of one of those blowups (like me). I know it’s draining, but it’s also a way to bring people to your blog who may not have otherwise found it.

      And to both GMP and Massimo – please don’t quit writing…most of my favorite blogs have shut down, and I really don’t want to start reading med/physio blogs!

      • Massimo Says:

        I see your point… there is no such thing as bad publicity, eh ? For some reason I don’t seem to generate the same amount of drama on my blog.
        Must be because I am always right…

      • mareserinitatis Says:

        I will concede that there is no point in arguing with you, but that is not the same thing as always being right. :-D

  4. Professor in Training Says:

    Thanks for the shout-out to my now mostly-dormant blog! I’m still lurking although not even commenting very frequently. There is no particular reason for not blogging anymore – it’s more a combination of running out of things to say, not having time to breathe and apathy. One day I might post an update. But I suspect I will be too busy and/or apathetic that day.

  5. Schlupp Says:

    I certainly am busier than when I was still blogging. (Boy, was work easy when I only had two bosses wanting stuff from me…. two students are WAY more demanding.) But I don’t think that’s the reason for the blog’s death, that goes rather into the same direction as GMP’s comments.

  6. Transient Reporter Says:

    So, YOU were the one reading my blog… even my wife refused to read it. (You’re a good man, Massimo…)

    For me, we had our second child and that was pretty much the end of blogging… and reading books, and watching baseball on TV, and eating out, and going to movies, and traveling…

    For what it’s worth, I hope you keep at it. I always look forward to your posts, even though I don’t always comment (Often it’s late, I’m in bed perusing on my iPad, baby sleeping on my chest – not so easy to type). I even slog through the more esoteric physics stuff. On the other hand, the stuff on Canadian politics goes straight out the window (you all have free health care – what the hell else do you have to complain about?).

    Blogging is rather ephemeral, isn’t it? Bloggers come and go. Blog posts disappear from the bottom of the page, rarely to be revisited. Some points:

    1) I don’t think you should worry about redundancy. Look at PZ Myers. He basically has one point (there’s no God), and hammers it home post after post. Readers come and go – if you revisit a subject, I suspect a lot of fresh eyes will be reading it.

    2) If you need blogging ideas, here’s one. How about some physics for the rest of us? I remember you writing about how much you disliked the Brian Greene documentary on PBS. Care to expand? (But for God’s sake, no math). I suspect that it would be challenge to write for a lay audience, but it might prove interesting. You’d have to push into areas beyond your comfort zone, and simplify your prose (without getting stupid).

    IMHO, what you do now – i.e. writing essentially for your fellow sciencey academics – is just too limiting; limiting in terms of subject matter and limiting in terms of the audience you can reach.

    It’s time for you to conquer the world (since you have all this free time…)!

    • Transient Reporter Says:

      BTW, I like your “team blog” idea…

    • Massimo Says:

      I hear you buddy… I don’t know if my wife reads my blog, but every once in a while I hear her in the other room go “Oh, for chrissake, give it a rest now !”, or “Yeah, yeah, you so full of it…”, or “you gotta be kiddin’ me !”… I never ask her what it is that she is reading, I don’t want to find out.

      Thank you for the comparison with Pharyngula, but I am afraid the blogging equivalent of the late Lloyd Bentsen would go “Massimo, I know PZ Myers… PZ Myers is a friend of mine… Massimo… you are no PZ Myers”.
      On a more serious note, I have been asked to write more about physics, and I guess it is an idea but there are two problems:
      1) I still have to let go of the tiny little bit of shame of which I am unfortunately still capable. The problem is that I know just enough physics to realize how much more I should know, and that makes me hesitant. But you are right, I did write a few physics posts and they were reasonably well received (nowhere near as well as my all-time hit, though — I am talking swiss laundry machine, if you know what I mean…)
      2) I do not dislike Brian Greene per se, he is an excellent popularizer, and I suppose his documentary may have gotten someone interested in physics (I doubt it), but the point is, it is much easier to popularize something when it is not even clear what it is. At that point, the line between popularizer of science and TV evangelist gets really blurry. Popularizing what I work on is not easy because it requires some basic understanding of quantum mechanics, and to make that accessible is something at which even R. P. Feynman failed (in my opinion).
      But you are right, I could try. After all, it is not like I have not made a fool of myself in the past (swiss laundry machine anyone ?)

  7. Schlupp Says:

    Eh, Nat. Phys. seems to have its “we love bloggers” edition, what with discussing your Rev. Mod. Phys. and Chad Orzel’s new book! Or rather: They have finally caught up with the quality of your writing, of course.

  8. Cath@VWXYNot? Says:

    I was very sad the first few times a blog I loved stopped being updated – Mad Hatter springs immediately to mind. It’s definitely become more common though, and I’m not sure whether I’m just more used to it now or if time constraints mean I’m a bit more ambivalent when there’s suddenly one less blog to read… there’s also the fact that since I joined Twitter it seems easier now to stay in touch with bloggers who stop blogging.

    My own blogging (and commenting) activity waxes and wanes. There have been a few times when I’ve wondered if I’m losing my motivation, but then I go through a phase when inspiration strikes more often and I end up updating multiple times a week. It helps that I’ve never set any constraints on what I blog about, and have never been shy to post a quick-and-easy photo and caption or other short post. I can definitely understand why people who stick to a narrower set of subjects, or who always post long, thoughtful posts, would start to feel uninspired after a time. But for me, there’ll always be some new research findings, political shenanigans, hockey games, and silly cat photos to post!

  9. JaneB Says:

    Like Cath, because I just write about what comes to mind or wants to be written that day, I don;t see myself running out of material. The cat always does SOMETHING amusing, baffling or cute… but that goes along with fewer readers, I guess, and I’m happy with that.

  10. Comradde PhysioProffe Says:

    I’m still fucken here!!

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