. . . or, do I really mean, where are these still tentative splinter-blogs that broke away from the mercantilist Guardian going? (see the list on the right hand column of this page)
One effect of the defections that I most certainly didn’t anticipate is that traffic for concentrated discussion of serious subjects on all sites, including the Guardian‘s, would downspiral relentlessly over the months – with only nonstop chatter-chunter sites with a gloss or illusion of substance attracting high comment counts.
Can it be that large numbers of books bloggers have scarpered to social and fantasy networking (Facebook, MySpace, SecondLife) and all-day Twittering – so that blogging itself is being eclipsed in the same way as email socialising was overtaken by blogging? If that’s true, to what extent are the limitations of solo blogging responsible?
The summer before last, three of us commenting often on the Guardian’s books site privately discussed setting up a collaborative blog. Comrade A said that he would want to be editor-in-chief. Comrade B immediately put in a bid to be managing editor. I was silent until Comrade A generously said that he thought I’d make an excellent site organiser and nurturer of talent. Ah, but ducking all such responsibility has been a hallmark of my real life, I explained. I had no interest in managing people and nothing mattered to me more than what I’ll never have enough time for, if I live to be a hundred – getting ideas out to be read and discussed. Getting past the obstacles to saying the too-much I want to say – no matter how deluded, no matter how unwelcome — has to be my chief preoccupation.
I suggested inviting someone else, Comrade C, to be editor-in-chief – a person all three of us like and admire inordinately, who somehow gets away with expressing himself with scorching frankness; whose wit doesn’t just illuminate and delight but coruscates and so, wins over the most awkward and wild fellow-bloggers.
I predicted that dealing with conflicting personalities would be the biggest headache for anyone running a collaborative site. For instance, Comrade B was long a forbearing and steadfast friend of someone on the books blog with a disposition that could only be explained by his having swallowed every under-ripe lime and lemon, and every last drop of vinegar in the world — even though B himself has been the target of some of his most venomous attacks.
Comrade A is a good mate of someone whose blog might be a bit less off-putting to some of us if his obsessive focus on male genitalia, particularly his own, were balanced by a comrade who started a site that dripped menstrual blood and could hymn in texts what the curves and folds in some of Georgia O’Keeffe’s flower paintings celebrate. Then we could see whether an equalisation of highly sexualised gender-centric excessiveness made both the male and female varieties of it not just bearable but enjoyable. (For what it’s worth, I’d guess not, having found Henry Miller only fractionally less tiresome than Anaïs Nin – though I’d certainly bring an open mind to any such experiment in the ether.)
I believe that one of us approached Comrade C about our tentative plan for collaboration and was gently turned down – for the predictable reason that it would steal too much time from his day job. Since he is very young and – judging by his posts – anxious to find the right person to contribute to the DNA pool with him, it was long ago clear that achieving financial security is his most pressing ambition.
There is of course no money at all in literary blogging, as far as I know. That is, unless you take the Tina Brown road and, with financial backers in suits, establish some equivalent of her Daily Beast, which feels nothing like a blog but, in every pixel, like the e-zine it actually is. It’s very much in the mould of the 1990s pioneers, Salon and Slate – but can also be seen as a more loosely edited political section of her old stamping-ground, The New Yorker.
I call the Daily Beast a model of top-down e-publishing – linked to current affairs, in its own case. As a reader, I have so far found it good but resistible. It neither offers the highly polished texts and images of print magazines on high-grade paper pleasing to the touch, nor the endearing eccentricities and highly individual scents – almost like perspiration – of the best solo blogs.
Nearly four months into my own diminutive blogging experiment, though, I see the obvious advantages of the top-down template borrowed from old media’s good old days. The biggest of these is obviously the ability to make a living from it – for as long as the investment capital lasts. Then there is of course no tamaguchi problem – the sensation of being the hapless single parent of a colicky electronic infant. On Beast-ies and their ilk, there are other willing pairs of hands to change nappies (I mean, reverse plunging click-count curves on WordPress’s charts by going out to chat) and stop squalling fits by administering choice morsels of baby food (I mean, write new posts to keep readers coming back).
Blog aggregation is one possible solution to these headaches of soloists. Some investors, mainly in the US, as far as I know, have been grouping together hundreds of individual blogs – such as those of interest chiefly to women – under common umbrellas. Bloggers share small percentages of the advertising revenue that these collected blogs attract.
Since I haven’t yet found any of them interesting enough to visit regularly, I can’t say how well the schemes work. A priori, I find it impossible to conceive of bloggers retaining complete freedom of expression if they are paid by the aggregators, or must worry about being careful not to offend advertisers.
So far, the chief attractions of joining sites with a comrade or two to form blogging co-ops would be:
• covering for each other when off-blog life is being unusually demanding – as mine has been, over the last few days, leaving no time to write new posts or revive dying threads.
• a division of labour – so that most of the chit-chat can be left to members of the co-op who are good at it. That would free others — for instance, those of us who defy the first unwritten rule of drinks parties and sink full fathoms five into conversations with the most fascinating person we can find, for the entire evening – for other tasks. Those with no natural gift for small talk could do chores such as optimising the site for search engines’ crawler-bots and seeking out, and linking to, spots on the internet with overlapping audiences – work that I, for instance, have had no chance to do on acciaccature’s behalf.
Which brings me to my immediate plans for this experiment. Posts will continue to be erratic over the next few weeks, I’m afraid, for reasons I can’t control. In the absence of anyone to cover for me, all I can do is ask my kind regular readers to check for new material with the expectation of finding nothing – until you do. This doesn’t strike me as remotely good enough. . . . It’s also the reason why most solo blogs have lifespans more like sunbursts than galaxies.