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Thursday, May 27, 2004  

Blogospherics: Time and the blogger

A reporter for the New York Times recently visited with some bloggers and discovered they have problems. Wait! Don't go! Jumping to the conclusion that a newspaper is bashing blogging again doesn't solve anything, you know. Besides, Katie Hafner, writing for the NYT, is mainly right. Much of what ails the bloggers profiled in the story turns on time. Readers' time. But, of more importance, bloggers.' How much time should bloggers put into preparing material that only four percent of Internet users will even glance at, anyway? Which comes first - blogging or work? Are there times when one should not blog at all?

To celebrate four years of marriage, Richard Wiggins and his wife, Judy Matthews, recently spent a week in Key West, Fla. Early on the morning of their anniversary, Ms. Matthews heard her husband get up and go into the bathroom. He stayed there for a long time.

"I didn't hear any water running, so I wondered what was going on," Ms. Matthews said. When she knocked on the door, she found him seated with his laptop balanced on his knees, typing into his Web log, a collection of observations about the technical world, over a wireless link.

Blogging is a pastime for many, even a livelihood for a few. For some, it becomes an obsession. Such bloggers often feel compelled to write several times daily and feel anxious if they don't keep up. As they spend more time hunkered over their computers, they neglect family, friends and jobs. They blog at home, at work and on the road. They blog openly or sometimes, like Mr. Wiggins, quietly so as not to call attention to their habit.

"It seems as if his laptop is glued to his legs 24/7," Ms. Matthews said of her husband.

Wiggins, the Bathroom Blogger, acknowledges having few readers. He also admits that he makes no money from his blog. Still, he devotes numerous hours per week to it.

Entertainment blogger Tony Pierce has plenty of readers, probably because he posts cheesecake photographs of women to his blog. But, having a lot of readers can can be a problem, too. No one should feel that he or she has to blog, which Pierce, and some bloggers I know, do. It becomes an obligation. They feel like they are skipping out on what is expected of them if they don't do it.

Where some frequent bloggers might label themselves merely ardent, Mr. Pierce is more realistic. "I wouldn't call it dedicated, I would call it a problem," he said. "If this were beer, I'd be an alcoholic."

But, Wiggins may beat him in blogging pathology still. He has actually passed up renumerated activity to blog for free.

Mr. Wiggins has missed deadline after deadline at Searcher, an online periodical for which he is a paid contributor.

Barbara Quint, the editor of the magazine, said she did all she could to get him to deliver his columns on time. Then she discovered that Mr. Wiggins was busily posting articles to his blog instead of sending her the ones he had promised, she said. "Here he is working all night on something read by five second cousins and a dog, and I'm willing to pay him," she said.

Other bloggers in the article echo Wiggins' and Pierce's problems or expand on them. A researcher who has considered blogging thinks it may come down to delusion. Bloggers create a sense of productivity by their continual activity and having a tangible result to point to. The communal nature of blogging can actually make the situation worse by creating the impression that 'everyone is doing it.'

Joseph Lorenzo Hall, 26, a graduate student at the School of Information Management and Systems at the University of California at Berkeley who has studied bloggers, said that for some people blogging has supplanted e-mail as a way to procrastinate at work.

People like Mr. Pierce, who devote much of their free time to the care and feeding of their own blogs and posting to other blogs, do so largely because it makes them feel productive even if it is not a paying job.

The procrastination, said Scott Lederer, 31, a fellow graduate student with Mr. Hall, has a collective feel to it. "You feel like you're participating in something important, because we're all doing it together," he said.

The echo chamber aspect of the blogosphere leads people to believe they are having a much more significant impact on others, and society, than they are. So, I think it is a good idea to rely on other forms of communication, remembering the blogosphere is tiny. When I find myself reading fewer newspapers, magazines and books, I make a point of easing up on the blog reading and writing and going back to those sources of information and insight. Their publishers have the resources to invest into real mining of information that bloggers don't. I believe anyone who relies on the blogosphere for most or all of his information is depriving himself of factual content, largely missing from it.

I haven't experienced the tendency to give personal relationships short shrift that some of the bloggers in the article describe. They say they find themselves spending time they would use interacting with other people blogging instead. However, the answer to those dilemmas seems rather clear. If you are neglecting your job, your significant other or your child to blog, I think you should have stopped blogging yesterday. It is not nearly as important as any of those. The content of nearly all blogs will prove to be ephemeral. Your need to pay the bills, your marriage and your children will not.

Some people like to believe whatever they're involved in is perfect. I've always been skeptical about that attitude. Everything I've ever done had its pitfalls. I believe it behooves anyone who blogs or reads blogs to consider what the medium is, does and means. Reading Hafner's article, and others like it, can provide worthwhile food for thought. At the very least, it will make you think about how you spend your blogging and/or blog reading time.

5:59 PM