July 26, 2002

Why I Won't Blog

A blog (short for "web log") is a type of diary on a website, with the most recent diary entries at the top of the site and older entries further down and/or archived. A blog is typically automated in a way to allow one to quickly post thoughts and observations without having to handle icky computer code. Blogs on the Web are explosively popular: one survey on The Economist website said that (as of July 2002) there are some 500,000 bloggers worldwide and growing, due in no small part to a number of easy-to-use blogging services like www.blogger.com and the easy-to-pronounce www.xanga.com.

And I'm not falling for it.

Hear me roar: I won't blog.

There's one very compelling personal reason for me not to blog--computers have already taken over my life. I work full-time in IT, I study as a part-time graduate student in the University of Chicago Department of Computer Science, I already have two personal websites of my own, and I volunteer my time with pro-bono web work for two (perhaps soon to be three or four) organizations. As you can see I've got a lot going on in my life right now and I'm just not ready for the kind of commitment that a blog calls for. I hope I can be forgiven for doing other things in my life. Like the quote attributed to Groucho Marx: "Lady, I love my cigar, but I take it out of my mouth every once in a while."<1>

Insufficient time aside, there are some technical reasons to be suspicious of blogs. For one, blogs appear to be database-driven. I haven't seen this in detail, but I strongly suspect that blog entries are input into a database and then output through a web page, order by timeoflast_change descending, limit somenumberofmostrecent_entries. (It takes one to know one: I spend a lot of my time at work with database-and-webpage interaction.) Databases can aid organizing large-scale amounts of information chronologically, but those entries seem to be put into some distant service that I can't readily access. Some might not care, but if I'm going to input my energy into something, I want some measure of control of the substance behind my work.

And the information in a blog is, most of the time, singly indexed, only by time. To be sure, you can change that to include other indexes (by category, say), but that might take some time if you've got a lot of entries over years. Or you can search through a blog's archive to find some nugget you want, but that might take some time if you've got a lot of entries over years. Then there's the matter of some new technology coming along and throwing a monkeywrench into the whole edifice and having to convert your blog to accommodate it if you want, but that might take some time if you've got a lot of entries over years.

It's another matter entirely of how often you or anyone will actually return, or need or want to return, to past blogging efforts of yours. This might be a matter of balancing quality of product versus quantity of production versus time and resources spent. Still, it's a sad and recurring tune in other technologies. In TV: Scientific American reported in an April 2002 article on TV-watching that most of what people videotape is never viewed a second time. In print: newspaper and magazines tend to pile up. As one headline from the January 31, 2002 issue of The Onion put it: "Stack of Unread ~New Yorkers~ Celebrates One-Year Anniversary."

One question that should be asked before blogging begins: how much do one's efforts add to the overall experience of the web, or to others, or more importantly to one's life? (That's a question that should be asked by more people more generally.) If you can make a blog and make it work, great. But even if you have a non-blogged website, you already have instantaneous and potentially worldwide reach of your thoughts and observations. Blogging doesn't add to it in my view, and might even detract from it. So I choose not to be assimilated by the Blog Borg.

<1> Whether or not Groucho actually said this quote is the topic of some heated controversy. For a fascinating discussion of the debate, see http://www.snopes2.com/radiotv/tv/groucho.htm.