What is the point of blogging?

This weekend is the BloggerCon conference at Harvard.  A young audience member had the courage to ask “What should I say when someone asks me what the point of having a blog is?”

Indeed this is a variant of the early 1990s question the first personal Web sites went up “What is the point of having a personal Web site?”

What then IS the point of personal Web site or blog?

Let’s go back to the beginning.  The commercial publishing world supports basically two lengths of manuscript: the five-page magazine article, serving as filler among the ads; the 200+-page book.  If you had a 20-page idea and didn’t have access to the handful of “long-copy” magazines in the U.S. (old New Yorker, Atlantic, etc.), you could cut it down to a meaningless 5-page magazine piece or add 180 pages of filler until it reached the minimize size to fit into the book distribution system (cf. any diet book or business bestseller).

Personal Web sites are interesting because they support 20- or 30-page essays beautifully, with search engines directing interested readers to those essays right at the moment that they’re curious about that topic.

Blogs are interesting because they support the 2-paragraph idea.  It is sort of ridiculous to create a separate .html file for every little aphorism or fleeting thought and it would be a shame to clog search engines with pages that have such a high machinery-to-content ratio.  Blogs and the RSS format make it work.  Everyone can write like Nietzsche or a Marcus Aurelius, even if few people ever come up with enough clever small ideas to fill a 200-page book.

Of course there remains the question of why write at all.  You don’t make any money from writing and wouldn’t it be more pleasant to concentrate on getting full value out of your digital cable TV subscription and luxury SUV?

What did folks at the conference have to say about this topic?  One panelist noted that Benjamin Franklin was an early blogger (personally I prefer Marcus Aurelius as an example).  Emerson, a Harvard alumnus (just like Ted Kaczinsky) was dredged up.  He would have loved blogs (“A chief event of life is the day in which we have encountered a mind that startled us.”).  The journal is a well-respected literary form and the blog is simply a more efficiently available journal.

Some panelists seemed insanely optimistic.  One guy noted that the nation-state wasn’t working.  We are afflicted with racism, wars, etc.  We need a new way to aggregate the wisdom of people and blogs are the answer.  Listening to this, I was struck by a horrifying thought:  George W. Bush must represent the aggregated wisdom of the American people, i.e., us.  Adam Curry compared the Weblog to the telephone in its potential to revolutionize society.  If the early results are mostly lame he related that “the telephone was first used to call ahead to say that a telegram was on its way.”

My personal answer:  my main site (philip.greenspun.com) is there to relate things that I’ve learned so that others don’t have to repeat my mistakes; this blog is here to entertain friends and if other folks stumble across it and are entertained or find their thinking sparked in new directions, that’s gravy.

17 thoughts on “What is the point of blogging?

  1. Why blog?  You get to meet some interesting people.  I sometimes blog about abusive practices in the pharmaceutical industry.  A few days ago, I received a long-distance call from Germany.  A gentleman told me that he was a former executive for a large drug company (he didn’t say which one, but he hinted that it was Eli Lilly).  He wanted help in publishing a book of his memoires, in which he would reveal all the underhanded tactics he used while he was selling drugs.  He also told me about how he had received death-threats for his prior revelations.

    I think he may have been psychotic, but it was still an interesting conversation.

  2. Nikos: I wonder whether people would have initially bothered to read A la recherche du temps perdu had it been published in pieces via his weblog.

    Euan: click here to gain a depressing insight into why book writing might dry up (especially IT books).

    The question of why anyone would want to write a blog is still interesting. When I come across a new blog, I usually categorize it by my surmise of the author’s motivation:
    a) narcissism, self promotion
    b) exploration of interesting ideas (ie Larry Lessig or this blog)
    c) opening up an organisation to the eyes of the public, teaching stuff (ie Scott Guthrie at Microsoft)

    I find that b) and c) make for worthwhile reading.

  3. i completely agree with your thoughts on blogging to entertain. when i first started blogging and had few visitors, the fun just wasnt there. i almost stopped completely. until, of course, my group of mit friends began spending long periods laughing about things that were mentioned in the blog during times when we were supposed to be homeworking. i guess that makes it all worth while šŸ™‚ blogs = one big, wonderful distraction.

  4. […] What is the point of blogging? Why does one find themselve inadequate if he or she does not write a blog? Personally, I see no point in blogging, but since it is required for my English class, I have no choice but to do it. I was never the type of person that like to share my personal information with a lot of people let alone online. Although, I may have a page on myspace and facebook that I use, but it is only to keep in contact with my friends from school. There is a fine line that I will not cross just to let people know who I am. In my opinion, I just don

  5. I’d like to hear your thoughts on this 5 years later. The point of blogging can be different for many to be sure, but it started as a means by which to write a public journal online, day by day. It’s grown considerably since, and now many people now only publish their own personal mini-magazine, but thousands are now earning a decent living by writing online.

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