feb 8

Ghost, Blogging

by ADM

I thought it would be funny.

So I walked into Fimoculous on Christmas and started blogging anonymously, without telling Rex, the owner, beforehand. Which -- you guessed it -- means that pretty much everything posted here since then is by me, not him. (How: I spent time as a house-guest here about a year ago, and the keys were still under the mat.)

Just after I started, I learned that Rex had recently been in a kerfuffle in which someone accused him of saying "anonymous blogging is bad," and that he was later characterized as saying "blogging is dead." Even better. My Operation: Goldilocks was evolving into A Scanner Darkly -- turning against itself, or at least appearing to. It seemed like a good opportunity to indirectly engage both of these issues.

Is blogging dead? I don't want it to be, which is another reason I tried to revivify this blog, which was about 10 years old and staggering around like a zombie. In my opinion, there should be room in our online discourse for blogs like this one -- offering a consistent, often thoughtful perspective, collecting and observing things of interest to its readers. But being consistent, thoughtful, and observant requires effort and time, and it requires the same of its audience.

And that, I think, is why blogging, for the most part, appears to be moribund: Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, Reddit, etc., are media that have evolved such that there is no expectation of prolonged engagement with pieces of content on the part of their writers or readers. Consider the recent widespread use of the shorthand "tl;dr" (too long; didn't read). This dismissive assessment is commonly interpreted as fair, expected criticism of the author, not the reader who offers it because he couldn't be bothered to read the content simply because it was long, regardless of its undiscovered merits. The media that are replacing "traditional" blogging value brevity above all, so much of the incentive to write anything that is both long and thoughtful diminishes (since few will bother to read it), and the self-motivation required to do so will only increase over time.

It's funny to be talking about blogging -- which for its entire lifespan has been dismissed broadly for being superficial and narcissistic -- as being a besieged outpost of well-developed, thoughtful writing, but I think that's exactly what's happening. It's no one's "fault" -- it's just the natural evolution of popular content production and consumption towards the most frictionless state: from books to periodicals to personal websites to blogs to Twitter to the Like button. When a medium comes along that's easier than clicking the Like button -- maybe thinking you Like something -- you can be sure everyone will speculate about and then bemoan its death before moving on.

But, even blogging isn't dead yet. There are some people out there who are still committed to the form, even if it seems no one else is, regularly posting smart, thought-provoking analyses and observations of their respective interests. A few that come immediately to mind:

  • Joanne McNeil at Tomorrow Museum
  • The brilliant Danah Boyd, whose research and insight into social media and youth culture is unmatched
  • Geoff Manaugh at BLDGBLOG, who is at once reportorial and speculative
  • The visionary architect Lebbeus Woods
  • Errol Morris and his "too long," multi-part monographs, some of which are probably the best things ever published originally on the web

And there are others who take the time to put together coherent, original posts:

  • Star Wars Modern, where I'm not always sure what's happening, but I appreciate the effort involved
  • Nav at Scrawled in Wax, usually correlating academic concepts of post-modernism with pop culture
  • Amy at Amy's Robot, who has been writing witty, thoughtful posts on pop culture and politics for NINE YEARS. Collaborators (like me) have come and gone at that site, but Amy is still there. Someone oughta be reading her.

A confession before I continue: for every one of those sites I mentioned, I have often found myself getting the gist of a post, thinking "that's a good insight," and then skimming the rest of it. Does that matter?

Continuing, let me also mention some more widely read sites that I think demonstrate originality and effort:

  • John Del Signore at Gothamist, whose humor brings color to stories without obscuring them
  • The Big Picture photo blog, started by a developer at the Boston Globe who is now launching a similar project for the Atlantic
  • Yeah, what the hell -- I'm leaving it on this list: even Boing Boing can be pretty good sometimes, when it's not being a caricature of itself...
  • Maybe you have your own suggestions to share in the comments

And lastly, if you miss Fimoculous now that it's zombified, just replace that section of your brain with Pop Loser, which I've been ripping off mercilessly for the last month and which strikes me as the blog that is the spiritual inheritor of this one.

Will any of these blogs still live in 5 years? Will new ones rise to take their place? So far, trends appear to indicate no: aggregation, automation, voting up, "liking," etc., seem to be resulting in a hivemind where thoughtfulness is replaced with promulgation and sameness. Maybe we need a "link aggregator in reverse" that shows the links of interest to you that everyone else like you hasn't Liked yet.

And what of Fimoculous? You'll have to ask Rex. I'm leaving the keys on the counter and heading back to my cabin in the woods. It's so relaxing there! Especially in the easy chair.

Thanks for reading, or skimming. And thanks, especially, to Rex. See you next time.

Update: Rex offers his take, on Tumblr.


pre-emptive: tl;dr. yeah yeah i know.

also, .

posted by adm at 9:38 AM on February 8, 2011

I'm surprised there aren't more comments. But then that, I suppose, is a sign of something in and of itself.

But yeah - just the other day, I shared something from Pop Loser on Google Reader with the accompanying note "Pop Loser is the new Fimoculous."

posted by Nav at 8:06 PM on February 8, 2011

yes, nav -- i was thinking the same thing about the comments. most of the activity seems to be over on twitter and maybe on tumblr. not much here though! funny the way that happens.

posted by adm at 11:10 PM on February 8, 2011

I assure you, any similarity Pop Loser shares to Fimoculous isn't really coincidental. Rex and I share a friend. She introduced me to this site (probably about five years ago). I liked the pithy style, lack of headlines on posts and bizarre mix of high and low (though I've never liked The Hills and instead of stuff about New York, I post stuff about Canada).

So I did what anyone else on the internet would do... I totally ganked it.

But "spiritual inheritor" sounds much better.

[Fun fact: Rex and I met one time, at SXSW two (three?) years ago. I drooled on him like a drunken fanboy. It was really fucking embarrassing in retrospect.]

posted by Tyler at 11:28 PM on February 8, 2011

I don't think I left a comment here except to thank someone for putting together those lists of year end lists.

I read the stuff as it is posted. But, no, blogging is not dead.

posted by bevo at 7:03 PM on February 10, 2011

Thank you for the great list of quality blogs.

As a sidenote, in my opinion Blogging is currently more popular than ever before. Increasing amount of readers, internet users, etc. And just purely the eagerness of humans to share their experiences.

posted by Paul at 11:34 AM on February 11, 2011

My problem with the whole "blogging is dead" thing is that it doesn't seem to pinpoint what form of blogging. Or what blogging even is.

What defines a blog? Is it the platform or the content? And if it's the content (it is), what does that even mean?

posted by Tyler at 1:58 PM on February 11, 2011

Here's what I wrote about this topic earlier:

"I think it is undeniable that a certain type of blogging is dead, or at least moribund, or at least not nearly as populist as we thought it would be. If you flashed back to, say, 2006, and looked at how 'the personal blog' was hypothesized in the collective internet conscious, events turned out very different than it seemed they would. Everything from Tumblr to Facebook Comments to Twitter to the 'like' button to Gawker Media to 4chan have resulted in a gradual erosion of what blogging seemed like it would be. And thats okay! But 'reblogging' and 'liking' and 'approaching television' and 'finding private networks' and& and so many other things& blogging probably does need some other kind of new stupid name. Or actually, it probably just needs to go away, because its no longer useful."

posted by Rex at 2:05 PM on February 11, 2011

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