By Meredith Farkas | July 22, 2009
I remember the first OCLC Blog Salon at ALA very fondly. It was like fangirl overload for me. I have to laugh now when I remember that I begged Michael Stephens to introduce me to Roy Tennant because I was too nervous to introduce myself to someone so smart and awesome. There was such a great energy in the room — most of the people there had just started their blogs in the past year or two and were just discovering the community that the library blogosphere creates. Most of us had no idea when we started our blogs that these individual media would connect us to other like-minded individuals, giving us not only an outlet for our thoughts, but a distributed space in which to converse and (to an extent) socialize.
Just like previous years, there was a blog salon at this ALA Annual, but when I think about the ones I attended in 2005 and 2007, this event seems to pale in comparison. And I feel like it is symbolic of what’s happened to blogging in general. And I find that depressing.
Microblogging, what have you done to my beloved medium??? I remember joining Twitter reluctantly (since all my friends were there) more than two years ago and thinking that it was a fad that wouldn’t last. I mean, who would want to be online most of the day updating what they’re doing and reading about the minutiae of other people’s lives? What a time suck! Well, apparently a lot of people did, since Twitter and Friend Feed are wildly successful now. I thought, and still think, that microblogging is great for conferences — as a backchannel and to connect people to one another — but I still can’t commit to doing it enough to really feel a part of things. And I never would have guessed back then what a deleterious impact microblogging would have on longer-form blogging.
With Twitter (and even more easily in FriendFeed) you can have the sort of discussion one might have in the comments of a blog post, nearly in real time. And it’s really cool, because you can feel much closer to the people you’re conversing with since the conversation is happening so quickly and in a single space that everyone is on equal footing in. But that time element is also the problem. If a discussion went on during the work day and you find it in the evening, it’s yesterday’s news by then and there is often no point adding to the conversation. I can usually get to Twitter and Friend Feed late in the evening, on weekends, and very early in the morning. Unfortunately, most of my friends are not on there at those times, so I often feel like I’m broadcasting into the vacuum of space, since people usually only see the first page’s worth of Tweets or posts.
I used to spend hours a day on my RSS feeds, reading thoughtful blog posts by really, really smart librarians. Now, I can get through my feeds incredibly quickly since there’s rarely anything from the people whose blogs I used to love. It feels to me like microblogging is more about being clever than thoughtful. You’re only as good as your last quip, and everyone is trying to write something that’s poignant, provocative, and/or funny in the smallest number of words possible. You want to see someone write “Meredith Farkas FTW” (For The Win, for those not “in the know” — and for the record, there has never been a “Meredith Farkas FTW” comment in Friend Feed or Twitter since I’m just not that clever). It’s not a knock on microblogging, but I don’t think it can’t replace the longer, more thoughtful posts many of us love to read in the blogosphere.
Microblogging isn’t a bad thing though. I think it’s brought a lot of people even closer together. I can see it when I go into Friend Feed — the connections my friends have to one another, even though some of them haven’t even met in the physical world. And it’s given people who never blogged before a way to connect. But I actually feel less connected to my online friends than I used to simply because I don’t have the time to be there as much as I’d like. My job got very, very busy last Fall with teaching, and I wasn’t in front of my computer as much as I used to be during the day. Now, with the baby, I’d much rather play with him and stare into his ridiculously cute face than spend my time in Friend Feed or Twitter. And while you don’t have to be there all the time, you miss a lot if you’re not. I always feel like I’m coming in late to a party on Friend Feed and have missed out on all the “in jokes” that folks will be repeating for days. It’s great for the people who can be there a lot, but many can’t. And that’s something that I never saw in the blogosphere because people could be part of the community when it suited them and wouldn’t miss a beat. It was easy to catch up if you were on vacation for a few weeks.
It really depresses me when I hear from people that blogging is over and when I see some of my favorite bloggers (who are now Friend Feed and/or Twitter devotees) cut their blogging down significantly to a “wow, I can’t believe it’s been so long since I’ve blogged” post every once in a long while. If it weren’t for getting pregnant and having a baby, I’d still be posting a lot, so for me, it wasn’t microblogging that affected the quantity of posting.
I feel a bit like Michael Gorman complaining about blogging versus scholarly writing in the journal literature. “Given the quality of the writing in Friend Feed and Twitter, I doubt that many of the Blog People are in the habit of sustained reading of complex texts.” But it’s not about the quality of what goes on in microblogging platforms, but the barriers to becoming part of the community. Because so many of us just can’t be online enough to really feel a part of things in the easy way that people could write a blog post or comment asynchronously on a post. And maybe I’m just this sad little blogger bemoaning that progress has left her behind. Maybe this is the way communication is moving and I should just get over it and get on the train. But I really hope that both can exist (and thrive!) side-by-side. I hope people will find a balance between the two. But what I’ve seen over the past year makes me think that may not be possible and that most people are devoting the majority of their energies to one or the other.
It’s not like everyone has given up blogging or writing thoughtful posts. I still find some great material in my aggregator from some really great library bloggers. Maybe I’m feeling this more because I haven’t added enough newer librarianship-related blogs to my aggregator, blogs from people who are still bursting with enthusiasm about this awesome medium. I just recently added The Librarian’s Commute to my aggregator and was happy to see that there are still people blogging regularly and thoughtfully. What blogs are you enjoying these days? Please, save me from my funk and find me some good blogs to read!