Ok, here we go–first post in a brand new blog! What to say? Oh, the intimidation factor of the blank page.. Though I’ve been journaling compulsively for years and I’m a fairly avid writer, there is an odd feeling to the idea of a public blog. I realize that blogs are primarily an ego-boosting activity for most people and likely to be unread by all but the author and maybe some family members. So I’m under no illusions that my ramblings will be read by anyone but me. But still–writing a blog feels like stepping up to a microphone in some huge auditorium. Granted, the auditorium is empty at the moment, but it’s still a tiny bit intimidating.
When it comes to blogging, I’m still also suffering to some extent from what my wife and I refer to as a strong case of “disdainium”. When I first heard about people blogging, or touting their blogs, I scoffed at what I felt was just a fancy new name for plain old ego-laden personal web pages. Okay, the typography and layout was clearly superior, based on some very nice templates. But that only served to make the trite content more painful to read because it looked so nice.
So what is the deal with blogs? Are they really worth writing? Worth reading? The answer is, for some authors, absolutely. Reading content written by the likes of Steve McConnell, Joel Spolsky, Jeff Atwood, or Mary Jo Foley is always time well spent. These are people who would be writing good books or good technical articles if they weren’t blogging. Actually, these are people who DO write good books and good technical articles. A blog is nothing more than a low-energy mechanism for good authors like this to share miscellaneous thoughts with us. And blogging lets us enjoy them in many tiny little doses, rather than waiting for months to read the next article or for years to digest the next big book.
So we should, indeed, thank the original authors of the blog tools that came up with the now familiar reverse chronological format. Sure, our favorite bloggers could easily be publishing static web content every week, dishing up plain old HTML. But the rise of blogging as a well-known cultural phenomenon just lowers the barriers to publishing one’s own content. And so, for authors of engaging content, blogging is truly a no-brainer.
And what about the rest of us? Just because we can say something, should we? If the band leaves the microphone on while they go on break, should the rowdy at the front table walk up there and start babbling to the crowd? Well, that depends on who the audience is. At the bar, if the audience is mainly the rowdy’s frat buddies, he should absolutely step up–he’ll be well received. At orchestra hall, or a coffee shop, well–probably not so much.
When it comes to blogging, the same holds true. It all depends on the audience. If my audience is my wife and my mother-in-law, then blogging about my daughter’s latest potty-training escapade will be much appreciated. And I won’t truly be that heartbroken when Joel Spolsky doesn’t read my blog. But the beauty of the web is that it’s truly democratic. Though we basically have one microphone, we’re not all forced to sit in this room and listen to whoever is talking. For the most part, natural selection will prevail and the people who are the most interested in what we have to say will end up reading what we write.
So that brings me to the critical first-post question–why am I blogging? This is the same as asking–what do I want to say and who do I want to say it to? The obvious follow-on question is then–is blogging the best way to communicate with this audience?
For me, it turns out that I’ve thought about blogging for a number of years and managed to resist the temptation until now. I always ended up concluding that it would just be an ego-feeding activity with not much real value. Although I love to write and I’ve always written for myself recreationally, I’ve never had much of a desire to write for other people. And given the cacophony of blogging going on right now on the web, I honestly don’t feel that I have much to add that is of value–or that anyone else would care to read. I’m also the kind of person who always has about a hundred personal projects that I’m working on concurrently, so I really don’t need to add what I figured was a low-value project like blogging to the list.
But in the end, I come back to the core idea of blogging–it really doesn’t matter if anyone else reads this stuff. If I have some topic that I’ve invested enough thought into to write it down anyway, why not use blogging as a vehicle for my writing? That way, I end up with all my ramblings and notes in a central place where I can get at them. And if there’s someone else out there that gets a little bit of value from what I’m rambling on about, that’s fine too.
As it turns out, I’ve been journaling at a pretty good clip for years. And, like most diarists, I guess I have a couple of audiences in mind as I write. My first audience is myself. Writing about daily life, experiences, or people I interact with is just a great way for me to process everything.
But as I write, I’m also always thinking about my second audience–posterity. For me, this mainly means–my kids reading my journals at some distant point in the future, after I’ve gone. I’m sure I’ll write a lot more on this in the future, but this ties in with my passion for family history and capturing personal and family experiences. I would give anything to have more snippets of writing from my Dad or other family members who are no longer with us.
So that brings my back to blogging. I’ll never publicly publish any of my journaling on the web. That’s far too exhibitionist for my taste. But aside from journaling, there are plenty of miscellaneous thoughts and ramblings that I wouldn’t mind capturing–for myself and in a format that I can pass on to my kids. I’m under no illusions that I have anything all that mind-bending to say. But it is what it is and a blog isn’t a half bad place to keep this stuff. It’s a place that I can come back to myself, for reference. And if someone else stumbles on my collection of mental trinkets and finds something of value in one of them, then it will have been well worth the effort.