Last Friday I gave a lecture on ‘The Perceived Freshness Fetish’ at the Stifo@Sandberg Moving Movie Industry Conference organized by Mieke Gerritzen and moderated by Koert van Mensvoort. In my lecture I focused on the changing notion of authorship in blogging as blogs are more and more becoming autonomous units within the network. This network lives on the premise of constant updates and the blogger is caught in this race to keep content fresh.
I do not have a transcript of the actual presentation (which included a few improvised extras) but here are my prepared notes:
Hi, my name is Anne and I’m a blogger and I’m here today to theorize my blogging addiction.
I look at my blog daily, maybe even several times a day. I don’t visit it to check if it’s still there. I do it because it is part of my daily routine.
My daily ritual starts with checking my e-mail and catching up on reading blog posts of the blogs I’m subscribed to.
After reading my e-mail and blog subscriptions I used to look at my blog’s statistics, how many people are subscribed to my blog and what my ranking in the blogosphere is.
However, a few months ago I stopped looking at these numbers because just like the stock market they plummeted dramatically (and I will explain why later). It made me depressed.
I am still addicted to the blog stats that shows where my visitors come from and what they were searching for because they reveal the network my blog is embedded in.
After viewing these stats, I hit Visit Site and go back to my blog.
This is my daily routine which ends with a confrontation with my latest post.
Blogs posts are traditionally organized in a reversed-chronological order so I am always confronted with my latest post. The postdate immediately catches my eye and it always seems to tell me that it is time to write a new post, that it has been x days since I wrote my last post. It implicitly tells me I have not written for an x number of days. Why do I feel that I need to blog daily?
There seems to be some kind of norm or consensus in the blogosphere that blogs should be updated daily. Several blogs about blogging recommend posting daily and blog search engines such as Technorati’s & Google rank blogs according to their freshness.
There is both an internal and an external focus on freshness or “perceived freshness fetish” in the blogosphere.
The internal freshness fetish could be described as a wish, a personal demand or a wanting to blog daily.
The external freshness fetish could be described as a requirement by external parties like the blog search engines Google and Technorati to blog daily to achieve a certain ranking.
This Wired graphic shows what happens with your blog post once you publish it. It visualizes the external technological factors that influence your blog and blogging behavior.
This technological external freshness fetish is imposed by actors in the network that your blog is linked to through the software. Default settings, standard settings, in the popular blogging software such as WordPress make sure that the blogs you link to are automatically notified of this link and is often also received automatically.
On top of that the software notifies the blog search engines that you have updated your blog.
As you can see in the graphic, your blog post starts living a life of it’s own once you have published it. It becomes part of the network.
These automatic features in the blog software contribute to the dispersion and distribution of blog posts across the blogosphere. They help quickly spread messages in the blogosphere.
The internal and external forces that contribute to the perceived freshness fetish consist of both human (the wish) and technological (the software) factors that have a very subtle and entangled relationship.
The internal drive for freshness (of publishing new blog posts) is a fetish, a fixation. It is something we strive for and when we cannot reach it we feel disappointed and apologize.
Apologizing to one’s blog audience for a lack of fresh content, for not posting anything new, is quite common in the blogosphere. In 2006 the JLS blog compiled a list of blog excuses under the post title of “Sorry I haven’t posted in a while.” The extensive list is humorous but a closer look reveals that the apologies are uttered towards the readers, the blog audience.
This made me wonder if there are any bloggers who apologize to the blog itself instead of to its readers. This resulted in a post titled “I’m sorry blog excuses” where I noticed a few interesting points after analyzing a number of “I’m sorry blog” blog posts.
In this clip of the famous blog data mining visualization WeFeelFine you can search the blogosphere for the feelings of bloggers. When selecting abandonment there is a surprising amount of bloggers who do not talk about feeling abandoned themselves but talk about abandoning their blog.
Here you can see a sample of bloggers apologizing for abandoning their blog. The bloggers who apologized to their blog for not keeping them fresh used a very specific intimate language. The blog posts imply an established intimacy with the blog with references to jealousy, cheating and neglectment.
Most bloggers did not permanently abandon their blog after their “I’m sorry blog” excuse post but some of them did. Their sorry post is the last post they have written and the first post visible when visiting the blog. The blog has become one of the many abandoned blogs out there in the blogosphere and ready to be buried in the graveyard of dead blogs.
But when is a blog dead? Is there a certain threshold for the degree of freshness a blog should maintain? Should we consider a blog inactive or dead six months or a year after its latest post?
The subtle and entangled relationship between the internal and external factors that constitute and contribute to the freshness fetish have led to the vitalizing of blogs as autonomous entities.
The blogger of course has control over the amount of autonomy a blog has by enabling or disabling the automatic linking features of comments, trackbacks and pingbacks for example. It also controls the “kill switch” (see address not found) of the blog.
So what’s in store for blogs as autonomous entities within the network? Let’s turn to Japan.
Blogs aren’t dead, people are.