Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Blog identity crisis

When I first started blogging this summer, it was a bit of an experiment. I had been making websites since Grade 10, pulling together crude HTML on Notepad which I had learned from coding my AsianAvenue page. While my layouts had gotten progressively more sophisticated, they were largely static. I would spend a day or a week designing and coding the site and generating the graphics, then I would upload it, send the link around to all my friends, and... that was it.

For me, my website was a bit like an art project. While it was rich with content about myself, once established, there was little left to add - the initial setup frenzy having passed. As a result, it received little consistent viewership. My friends would visit and admire the new layout, give a little "ooh" and a little "aah", pat me on the back and then never return (until the next website). There was no fresh content, and when I did add something new, it was so unexpected that nobody would be around too notice it.

I toyed with the idea of persistently updating content, like a blog. However, there were two major barriers. Firstly, coding daily entries into HTML on Notepad is a nightmare. All those clever little mechanisms like auto-archiving, time-stamping, comment boxes, etc. require much more sophisticated techniques than I am privy to. Secondly, the one time I had tried such an exercise it had ended in dismal failure. Because I was aware that my website had a readership of approximately one, my "blog" became a kind of indirect-and-whiny teenage channel of communication directed at my best friend. When that whole thing exploded in my face, I vowed never to tempt myself with "blogging" again.

Fast forward to 2008, the summer before entering medical school. Having completed two major websites since the last update of AndyLand (one for DDR Club and one for the lab I had worked in for my fourth-year thesis), I wanted to apply some of the tricks that I had learned to my personal webspace. I figured that I should do this before school started, as I might never have time again (if you're a consistent reader, then you've probably realized this is not true). So I embarked on a quest to make my website new and improved.

But my new layout was to be a more ambitious undertaking. I wanted something to pull people back again and again, so that when I made a major change, they would notice. Yet coding a blog was beyond my limited capacity. The solution? A return to frames. By embedding a Blogger page into one of the frames of my website, I could have access to an easy-to-update form on which I could post persistent content. Additionally, by anonymizing the blog, my identity would be safe from strangers who might stumble across the blog sans the website frame.

The blog quickly morphed into a beast of its own. I revelled in evolving my own style of content, adjusting the value-added features in the sidebar, and tweaking the formatting style of paragraphs and images. Entries began appearing everyday, consuming a larger and larger proportion of my time, and today have even achieved a (very) modest following.

One day, when I was discussing with Kushima my angst over a particular layout bug, he said to me something along the lines of, "You shouldn't worry so much about the appearance. It's the content that people care about."

I had never considered this. Layout and style to me had always been the primary purpose of my website. Content was there to provide an excuse for others to spend time viewing it. And the blog, more than anything, existed to provide an ongoing draw for people to return consistently to the website so that they would be around when real changes were made.

Here I was then, with a blog that had become an enormous part of my life outside of the website proper. I was spending hours chronicling my daily life and personal opinions, and it was captivating. But as I watched readership trend down and down, and as my time became increasingly squeezed, my motivation to blog began to sag.

So here I am, trying to figure out what the future is for this space. Obviously, it will continue to exist and continue to be updated, but the frequency and shape of this content remains in question. On the one hand, I desire for such time-consuming content to reach a wider reader base (though my schizophrenic lack of content focus prevents my blog from appealing to any particular target group). However, greater publicizing of my content would mean more strangers and more loose acquaintances reading my blog (the latter is probably more frightening than the former). On the other hand, leaving things the way they are means sinking hours a day into entries that will be viewed less times than the number of fingers I have on one hand.

I, of course, deeply appreciate each reader and each comment as is. I already feel lucky to have a readership that's greater than zero. But the questions have constantly dogged me, especially as of late, of what I expect my blog to be, how much time I'm willing to commit, and who I expect to be reading it.


brutalturtle.blogspot.com said...

again, not a single word of kevin in the entire post. that's okay I'm used to it.

it is fine the way it is now. I wish it was updated more often because every morning I go through my feeds and I like it when Andrew's blog has (1) on the side. more please.

sandlot said...

"However, greater publicizing of my content would mean more strangers and more loose acquaintances reading my blog (the latter is probably more frightening than the former)."

Why do you think this? I agree btw.

a_ndy said...

Hmm, I'm sure you have about as solid an idea as I do, since I recall you discussing it from time to time, but I'll take a stab at it.

Strangers have the benefit of detachment and anonymity. They read about your life, and they enjoy some part of it, but that's that.

Friends have the benefit of trust. They read about your life, they enjoy and relate to some part of it, but for the most part, they don't use it against you.

Acquaintances fall into the grey. They know who you are, but not well enough to be dependable. It hurts also that things are often more contentious in writing than in personal interaction. You can make a joke to an acquaintance, and they might think it's funny. But that same acquaintance might read the same statement and take it more seriously. It's just one of those damning characteristics of putting words out in the public domain.

It leaves us feeling uncomfortable because we're then left with the question of whether to moderate our online musings. To some extent, I think we all do, but to what extent varies.

In the end, I think the greatest concern is that someone who does not know you well can take your ideas or opinions and use that knowledge in a way that will impact your offline life. Because blogging is by nature rather one-sided, the writer doesn't have the opportunity to explain or counter any conflict that may arise as a result. At the same time, an acquaintance may not be invested enough in the blogger's life to be disinhibited affecting it in a negative manner (and this may be as simple as propagating negative sentiment).

sandlot said...

well said! i couldn't agree more with you.

although, what happens if a stranger who reads your blog eventually crosses over and becomes a acquaintance? Where is your comfort level then?

a_ndy said...

That's a tricky one indeed, and I can't say that I've had any experience with it... what with my readership countable on two hands.

However, I'd imagine that such a situation would have to be evaluated the same way an IRL relationship is evaluated - that is, on a person to person basis. Some randoms on the Internet are creepers, and others are just people. I attempt (perhaps with questionable success, it's never been tested) to keep my ID guarded sufficiently enough that no such crossover can happen off my own terms.

But depending on the level of identifying information you have on your blog, you probably have (at least, I feel like I do) a lot more control over readers making the transition to acquaintance than acquaintance making the transition to reader (my website is listed on both my FB and MSN, so it's not exactly hidden, just of little interest to people who have little interest in me). If that's the case, even if you met said reader, you'd conceivably still have some control about how much you were willing to disclose in response to their suspicions that you are in fact the blogger in question.

sandlot said...

"although, what happens if a stranger who reads your blog eventually crosses over and becomes a acquaintance? Where is your comfort level then?"

New question!

What happens if a stranger who reads your blog eventually crosses over and becomes a friend and eventually, begins dating said blogger? Where is your comfort level then?