THE DEATH OF PERSONAL BLOGS
BY EMILY GOULD
This past December marked the tenth anniversary of the blog, or at least of the shortening of the phrase “Web log.” By now your grandmother probably knows what a blog is. She probably has one, and it’s probably good! No matter, though. In my mind, at least, blogs are done for.
I got sucked into the world of personal blogs around 2003, which, to borrow the parlance of people who have been following each other’s online diaries since 1996, makes me a “noob.” In the late 1990s, the people who were discovering the potential of the Internet were mostly hardcore nerds, so their personal websites had an insular kind of appeal. But come Y2K, these homespun sites were breaking news, humanizing political candidates, and making money. My favorites, though, were the dear-diary musings of strangers, people who were putting their sometimes deep, usually banal thoughts online for anyone to see. Just because they could.
And so could I. Shortly after moving in together in 2003, my roommate and best friend Bennett and I started a site called The Universal Review, and soon our deep/banal thoughts were joining everyone else’s on the Internet. We reviewed and assigned letter grades not just to books and movies and TV shows and restaurants, but also to “types of people,” “lifestyle choices,” and “sundries.” (The bums on our corner, for example, got an F.) When Bennett moved out and our blog broke up, I started a site of my own, which kept the judgmental attitude of The Universal Review but added more girly life-pondering.
We bloggers weren’t motivated by profit, nor by the desire for any kind of attention besides that of our sometimes friendly, sometimes contentious communities of anonymous commentators. We just wanted to express ourselves and communicate with each other without the mediation of editorial approval or advertisers’ agendas, man! At least, that’s how it seemed to me then.
And then came the party crashers. Bloggers started getting book deals, and it seemed like agents and editors were just rushing to cash in on a trend without thinking about whether what was special about a blog would translate to the page. A handful of bloggers, like Wendy McClure and Julie Powell, became authors gracefully; a few others, like Dana Vachon and Jessica Cutler, sold their books for six figures. But what happened more often was bloggers getting smallish deals for half-baked books that no one ever read.
Loads more bloggers succumbed to the allure of corporate blogging. They quit whatever boring jobs had once enabled them to spend hours of their days composing posts about what had happened on the subway that morning and started blogging for a living, recapping television shows for Bravo or enthusing about crap pop culture for VH1’s Best Week Ever blog. I took a job as an editor at Gawker, the then-four-year-old site focused on New York and media-related news and gossip.
Churning out a bunch of blog posts for a biggish audience every day was exhilarating — hard, and scary, like performing in an improv comedy show for ten hours at a time. When not glued to my computer, I was sneaking into parties and interviewing people on the streets of my neighborhood about how they felt about celebrity couples’ breakups — fun! And I loved getting up on my high horse about literary scandals and bad book deals. But soon the coworkers I respected left Gawker, there was a new emphasis on page views, and the tone of the site was shifting. The grind of having to know everything at all times and constantly think of clever ways to repackage information started to wear on me. And my personal blog had gone from infrequently updated to neglected to all but forgotten. It felt like there was too much Internet already. And it felt like I was becoming part of the problem.
I was burnt out, and not in a way that was fun to write about — or read about. On December 1, I quit.
Checking in on the sites I used to frequent five years ago during the golden age of the blog reveals an online graveyard. Many of my old virtual friends’ last few posts follow the same sad pattern — the initial spate of “sorry I haven’t posted in so long”s followed by the inevitable “it’s over, but check out what I’m doing at [corporate blog]!” Of course, hundreds of thousands of new blogs have sprung up in their places — a cacophony of voices shouting into the void, jockeying for their places in the big time, whatever they think that might mean.
Noobs, I wish you the best of luck. &