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February 11, 2006

Blogs, going dark

A few days ago I discovered that my friend Lex had shuttered his Blog on the Run. Lex, being a professional journalist with a wicked sense of humor and a wellspring of righteous anger, did a really good job with it. (Thankfully, he's still writing The Lex Files at the News and Record. I have a hard time keeping up with just the one blog!) Lex writes at the link that "blogging hadn't been fun in quite a while."

Perfectly understandable. Blogging, like any other hobby or creative pursuit, can become just another chore from the sheer repetition, especially when there are so many other demands on your time. (Raises hand.) But I've been thinking lately about how fundamentally weird blogging can be.

There was a recent sordid affair where an Iraq veteran (a blogger) was murdered, allegedly by his wife's (a blogger) lover, who was a friend of their daughter's (a blogger) boyfriend. Their son blogged as well. The local newspaper easily found the blogs and published the URLs in its coverage. I believe there were some posts by the children after their father was shot. There were also a host of comments, some of them vile. The newspaper received a fair bit of criticism for publicizing the blogs; the newspaper pointed out that there's no expectation for privacy when you post something on the global internet.

There's also been some interesting stuff in the online gaming world. I recently wrote at length about the self-inflicted PR challenges Sony Online Entertainment faces with their changes to the online game Star Wars Galaxies. One of the developers had a long-running blog about random stuff. Occasionally he'd mention something work-related. But when you've got thousands of worked-up video game obsessives out there unable to let go of the changes to their online community, even the most casual references get magnified. And replicated on your workplace's online forums. And presumably cause you headaches at the offices. So the blog is kaput, archives erased much like Lex's.

Blogging is without boundaries, unless you're using one of the social networking sites like Livejournal which allows blog-style posting to a closed community of friends. (Even then, that's risky.) Google and archive.org can find everything you've ever done and said online. You can't thoroughly separate the online persona from your time at the office. If you're fortunate enough to find a following, you'll find trolls as well, and they'll follow you to every place you're publicly accessible.

Why do we blog? In my case, it's an effort to force some reflection, and I do like the idea of having some opportunities for feedback that a closed diary simply won't allow. Because it's a globally open book, however, I'm reeeeeaally circumspect about what I post. Others have a true publisher's mentality, and are trying to build an audience and deliver a message. I got a taste of that kind of writing and response with the surprising reaction to my SWG pieces, and that's the direction I want to move in. But with global reach comes real human costs. I want to move carefully.

But I can't blame Lex for shuttering Blog on the Run, much as I'll miss reading it. When blogging takes a toll on a pro like Lex, I worry about the folks who blithely sign up for an LJ account and sally forth completely unaware of the fact that there are consequences to being a global communicator. We're fast becoming a nation of public figures with no clue how to handle ourselves or protect our boundaries. Take the way people mug for the cameras, desperate to be part of reality television. Lower the barrier to entry. Turn up the volume.

Wait for the crash. For a lot of people, it's coming.