I started this blog on Jan. 8, 2003 and have posted virtually every work day since then. Each January 8, I have posted some thoughts about the blog on its blogaversary (while trying to avoid such self-absorption for the rest of the year). This January, I forgot, but then Andrew Sullivan announced he would stop posting daily after more than 15 years, and various prominent bloggers reflected on whether the whole form was dying. (See Ezra Klein or Kevin Drum.) Those articles reminded me to pause and say something about the evolution of this blog and its context.
In the early 2000s, most blogs were the property and invention of individuals who sought to participate in a national or global conversation called (with tongues partly in cheek) the blogosphere. Some, like Sullivan, were already famous, but others wanted to become pundits or public intellectuals without needing the approval of paid editors and other gatekeepers. These bloggers linked to each other and replied to each others’ arguments. As I noted on Dec. 6, 2004, the blogosphere had a “long tail” distribution, with a few sites attracting a vast majority of the links and many sites drawing only a few. I was definitely out on the long tail, very occasionally noticed by the high-traffic blogs. But, apart from its lower traffic, my blog was otherwise similar to the big ones–self-published, unpaid, part of a network connected by html links. You found new blogs to follow by seeing links on established blogs.
Most of the really popular bloggers are now paid for their work and blog on platforms owned by firms like The Atlantic or Mother Jones or by the bloggers themselves. Some did not start as bloggers but were well-known editorialists who now also maintain blogs. I bookmark a few of these and still read them frequently (now on my phone as well as a computer). They are news sources, comparable to a newspaper, and they draw my attention because of their professionalism and their volume. I am unlikely to bookmark a page that is updated less than once a day.
Meanwhile (like a few billion other people), I follow a lot of individuals and organizations through Facebook and Twitter. Some of these people link to their own blogs, which I read when the summaries interest me. Others post substantive comments on the social media sites themselves. Although short, these tweets and status updates play a similar role to blog posts ca. 2003. One difference is that I personally know and like most of the people I follow. Because these are social networks, they appropriately include a high proportion of baby photos and vacation updates along with political commentary. The link structure of the whole network is more transient and less public than it used to be when people pasted html links into their blog posts.
The traffic on this blog has been remarkably stable for a very long time, averaging between 6,000 and 8,000 visits per month in both 2006 and 2014 (two years for which I saved data). But I think more people are now also catching glimpses via social media. My most popular post of 2014, in terms of the number of unique page views, was “Foucault and Neoliberalism.” I was never able to find the Tweet that sent 6,000 people there in a few days, nor did I see many replies, but somehow it became part of a social media conversation prompted by a Jacobin Magazine article.
One difference between a blog and social media is that the former builds up a public collection of searchable writing. Of my top 10 most visited posts in 2014, two are notes on famous poems (Auden’s “Sept. 1 1939” and Elizabeth Bishop’s “At the Fishhouses.”) They appear fairly high on Google searches for those two poems, and I suspect they are being consulted by students facing essay assignments. The most common searches that take people here include “types of freedom,” “kinds of freedom,” and variants thereof, which send people to a post in which I suggested that freedom came in at least six forms. Again, I suspect that students are working on class assignments and Googling their way here. These posts are more like archived publications than social media contributions.
I guess what I aspire to is some kind of durability. I’d like to write things that people still want to read in a while. Although I strive to engage with events in the world, I’d prefer not to be merely topical. When blogging began, it seemed to be highly responsive, nimble, offering a very short path from conception to publication–but also prone to superficiality. In the era of social media, a long-standing blog is beginning to look more like a curated collection of relatively careful writing than an ephemeral contribution to the day’s discourse. And that’s why I’m still at it.