Tuesday, 18 May 2010

Nothing Ever Happens?


Pete Brown set the challenge. We are all too boring it seems and we need to buck our ideas up a bit and start thinking outside the box. We've settled into a "complacent rut" he says. And you know, I think he has a bit of a point. But only a bit of one. To me, most blogs I read are pretty good, though varying in style and content and some of course are better than others. Wasn't it ever thus? When I started blogging a long time ago (November 2007 in fact) it was due to being inspired by Stonch who has since packed it in. And he isn't the only one. Many have come and gone since then and some were actually quite good. What caused them to go, I can't say, but one thing was for sure, those who blogged then did it for fun and for their own amusement and edification. For most that is still the case, but we do have more "professionals" now and they have a big influence and share of the market, at least as indicated by Wikio? I'll come back to that.

Darren Turpin in a thoughtful piece on his blog said " I've been wrestling with questions like "what's the point?" and "why bother?" and have been on the verge of quitting this blog (and, most likely, blogging in general) several times during the past few months." Well indeed. Who hasn't? But why? For me blogging was a chance to put across my view of beer drinking to a wider audience and my main slant has always been a mix of industry comment and pro pub bias. I don't tend to do detailed beer tasting notes, which to me seems a bit of a nil sum game in a crowded market and which few do well anyway. I like to choose what I think are fairly interesting subjects, then write a piece which is then thrown open to debate. And therein lies at least some of the current problem or malaise. People just aren't commenting any more. There is little debate, which to this writer at least is discouraging. Now maybe I'm just getting my subject matter wrong, but then if that were the sole reason, everybody who does write interesting things would be flooded by comments. But they aren't and when they do get comments, it is generally words of agreement from fellow bloggers. How have we arrived at this point? Well Twitter has a part to play and a bit of the blame to shoulder. It seems easier just to write inane and boring posts there, than to take the time to write a thoughtful response to a blog post. I have little doubt that blogging has suffered from that. Maybe too it has all got a bit cosy? Maybe we have through this cosiness, driven off the casual reader and commenter? Maybe it has all just got as bit complacent, cliquey, self congratulatory and just too bloody nice? Or maybe it is all too boring and samey and just not worth commenting on?

Back to the professionals. When I started blogging there was little by way of blogging from the "professionals". Now we have Pete, Zak, Melissa, Dredgie, ATJ et al, quite prominent in our blogging world. Yes they do self promote, mutually support, name drop, and the rest but while doing so, generally just are annoyingly better writers than the rest of us. It can make you feel a little inferior at times, not just because of the writing, but who they know, the places they are invited to and the like, but is it a contributing factor to making blogs boring? I really doubt it. In fact most of it is to me at least, very interesting and enhancing, but it is a factor in the sense that it is in the beer blogosphere and it is happening and it may just have an effect on other writers. Have they brought about a subtle change in the way we do things? I first tackled what I called the" uneasy co-existence" between the professional and the amateur way back in March 2008. You can read it here. I think then though the beer blogging world was a different beast. Much more independent. At least my post seems to imply it was. So now as more professionals have come in, has it put others off? Maybe. Has it put commenters off? I would think not, but clearly something has happened, as blogging has become a little more competitive than it used to be and sometimes at least, a bit less edgy and it was a kind of edginess that Pete called for. To blame the "proper" beer writers would be inaccurate and wrong. In my view the pros enhance blogging on the whole, by upping the standards, making you think more about what you write and often, just writing very good pieces that are great to read. (Some are more inclusive than others, but you could say that about anyone.) So it isn't them. But I think there is a collective feeling that something has changed.

Assuming we agree it has all gone wrong in some way, how do we make blogging meaningful again? Well I think like Darren, there probably isn't a need to. Is lack of variety the problem? I don't believe so. Beer blogging is still incredibly varied. Darren pointed out some of the types we have doing it. A diverse lot indeed and there are still plenty who write, not about the big wide world, but their local scene. And why not? For most of us, we'll just continue to write our blogs as we wish to. It's probably all we want out of blogging. It may be boring from time to time, but for me, like many others I suspect, it is about the writing. I do it for me. I don't want to become a professional beer writer, I don't particularly feel the need to use my blog to convert people to anything other than (perhaps) pub going, properly kept beer and sparklers, though I do want to open people's eyes a little to the beer world I see. Isn't that what everyone does? Mostly I want people to comment on what I say, even when they disagree with me and I am discouraged when I get few or none. Do others feel the same?

So, yes we can do some things to improve matters, or rather those who feel there is a need to can. For those, I would urge more challenge, more grittiness, more disagreement, less cosiness and maybe the odd row. This is blogging after all. It should be opinionated and open to challenge and comments should be made where possible. It should be fun (always) and controversial (sometimes). We should recognise that blogging and bloggers may inspire or irritate, but we should call it as we see it, whether you are a disgruntled old soak, an evangelising idealist, a dewy eyed cheery beery sort, or just someone who wants to write in their own way about their local beer scene.

So we should keep blogging in our own individual and idiosyncratic ways, but whatever we write, it shouldn't bring about indifference. If we are doing that then we are all getting something wrong.

I keep changing this trying to get it better, but bugger it. Just let me and the rest of us know what you think.

32 comments:

Cooking Lager said...

Yeh, whatever.

Sid Boggle said...

I don't have a view on why commentary, dissent, opinion etc., is less prevalent. I do know that my one popular post (based on comments) lit up when somebody linked it at the BBB, so I guess there's a shrinking readership. I don't tweet, but I'm aware there's another network outside blogging thanks to it.

I don't care what Pete Brown thinks. He's made beer his business, and the best of British to him. But I don't imagine he has time to get around all of the beer blogosphere, so he's possibly basing his view on those he does regularly read.

We all have different perspectives and different interests around the world of beer, but maybe as a community it is all too incestuous - the widening circle-jerk of blogger reading blogger feeding some kind of spurious league table.

Or whatever ;-)

Adrian Tierney-Jones said...

Good thoughtful post — as one of the so-called ‘professionals’ I see blogging as another arm of my writing. I only do a beer blog but if I had the time I would love to do a blog about some of the other stuff I write about (countryside, outdoors, even food) but I have to earn a living. I see blogging as a chance to expand the way I write about beer, which is why I rarely if ever cover press releases (you can get them elsewhere). I see it as a chance to frolic about in a different meadow of writing style; if I want to do a beer review in the style of Hemingway, Larkin or Borges then I can it (however inaccurate it might be, I’m not Craig Brown); I can play with words, I can be as concise and compact as I want without reducing a post to Twitter-style minimalism; I can also stretch out and go on forever. Most importantly I can write about stuff that at the moment is not being commissioned by the mainstream mags and papers I write for (though I do reckon change is afoot) — the lager of the week series for instance.

I also want people outside the beer blogging world to read my stuff, so I am writing for the general reader who might know something about beer. Does that mean I have to dumb down though? Hell no! I was reading something on William Hazlitt the other day on how during his lectures he relied on his audience having sufficient common reference points to grasp the meaning of his many allusions. If that excludes some so be it.

If I have a comment on blogging is that sometimes it can seem a bit self-referential, bloggers referring to other bloggers which might seem off-putting to those outside this charmed circle (food bloggers seem to be a bit like that as well, ‘ooh I love the picture you’ve posted from Heston’s nosherie etc’). Otherwise it’s a robust and rumbustious forum for words and thoughts, sometimes infuriating and commonplace, other times humorous and haughty. It works but it can raise to even greater heights. Glory awaits.

Tyson said...

Usenet's the future.

Sid Boggle said...

@Tyson: I thought that was garlic bread?

Rabidbarfly said...

@Tyson & Sid - I thought it was orange!

ChrisM said...

My view is, it's your blog, so post what you like - what you want to write about, what you enjoy. If other people happen to like reading it, that's an added bonus. Of course it's completely different if you are a professional or semi-professional writer, but the beauty of blogging is diversity.

Mark, Real-Ale-Reviews.com said...

Your challenges Tandleman, imply people should try to disagree. I agree only that people should challenge in comments where appropriate, but I'm not going to start making faux disagreement so people can have a bit of banter (I daresay you are not saying that either to pre-empt your response, but the point needs making).

I agree that having professional writers blogging makes the blogging scene much more diverse and interesting, but I see no problem with anyone else blogging about what the hell they want.

Interesting that ATJ points out he uses blogging to write about stuff he can't in his day job. For most bloggers the same principle applies, but for most bloggers the day job isn't writing. Given that, I think there's huge variety of style and substance in the blogging world and if anyone disagrees then you aren't reading widely enough. Nobody should change because a few folk are bored. Blogging serves many purposes and function.

One last food for thought, it's been said recently that beer bloggers don't write enough varied types of posts. I throw it in the proverbial mixer that when different stuff is written, people have a tendency to ignore it or skim past if it's not relevant to their specific interests*, much like adverts on the TV. It doesn't always mean variety isn't there...

(*I could probably muster some bounce rate analysis to back that up if I had more time in the day)

Velky Al said...

I agree with you about the Twitter thing, I have 160 something followers on there at the moment and less than a third of that number who openly follow Fuggled. Considering that they claim to follow my Twitter feed, I would have thought that they also follow the blog, after all Twitter is for me a support to Fuggled, I want more people to read it.

I would like to think that the writing on Fuggled is better today than when I started, and I have to admit I wouldn't mind doing it on a more professional basis, but at the same time I am not the type to self-promote or push myself to the front of a queue.

I can understand where Pete is coming from though, but I wouldn't say that blogging is becoming boring, but rather that bloggers don't think enough about their blog, using it as a place to do a brain dump of beery notes and thoughts, rather than presenting their knowledge and findings in a structured and cohesive manner.

Mark, Real-Ale-Reviews.com said...

@Velky Al My thoughts on twitter: your twitter audience and blog audience will always be different. Twitter will always serve a wider audience who are less likely to interact with your blog. They are more likely to be passers by and come and go, and more likely to be people who wouldn't have found the blog naturally. I imagine Twitter enhances readership and the fact they don't comment on the blog is a sign of a different audience who won't interact, rather than an existing audience who will detract form interaction

Mark, Real-Ale-Reviews.com said...

By the way Tandy, lovely diagram Did you draw that yourself?!

Tandleman said...

Mark. As you say I meant diasgree where you do and not be afraid of doing so, not for the sake of it.

Not sure I agree about Twitter. Overlapping audiences where the overlap is less likely to comment is my take.

As for the diagram, I used to use it for "round the blogs" and thought it needed another airing. I "borrowed it from the interweb".

Al. More or less what I think. I think.

Pete Brown said...

My views on blogging are just that - my views. I followed up my initial post with a clarification that it does depend on why you're blogging and neither I not anyone else has a right to tell anyone they should be doing it differently, or for different reasons.

Interesting you draw the line between bloggers and professionals. Because my criticism, when I think about it, is twofold: lack of variety/interest; and writing for a closed clique of other bloggers, excluding the casual reader. On the first point, which is the one that's caused most ructions, I think that's true of much 'professional' writing too - it's not just true of blogs, so that line between pro and blogger isn't there in that respect. The writers you name check are good and so are several others but there is a lot of turgid prose in the trade press and other beer publications - some of it the fault of editorial stricture rather than individual writer's talent.

The second point I'd make is that I was blogging - as a 'professional' - pretty regularly from May 2007. That puts me pretty near the start of things so I don't think I've been guilty of coming along and changing anything. I think the sheer number of passionate people has changed things the most - it certainly makes me much more nervous of what I write.

Finally, interesting that you include Young Dredge in the 'professionals'. He is now getting some print commissions which is great whichever way you look at it, but he built his profile entirely as a blogger and only started getting print work after his success in last year's Guild awards. Yes, he did a creative writing course and his job involves some form of writing, but his dedication to building a role as a beer writer online proves that there's no glass ceiling - any of us are only as good as what we write. On top of that it depends on your ambitions, goals and a degree of luck, but Dredgie's well on his way to making a transition from 'blogger' to 'professional'. It happens in other subject areas all the time - why not beer?

In summary then - if you want to blog for your own/your mate's amusement - nothing at all wrong with that. If you want it to be a route to a wider readership, fame, fortune (actually forget fortune, that doesn't happen for any of us), then it's important to keep things fresh, interesting, challenging.

Good post though - enjoyed it.

Mark, Real-Ale-Reviews.com said...

Agree with you on the disagreeing then! Not so much on the twitter thing. Yes, overlaps, yes debate lost to the depths of twitter because it wasn't on the blog. Happens occasionally, although by and large twitter debate was generated from twitter posts. Some people don't micro-blog instead putting their every thought to their blog, I generally split musing between the two, depending on how much (or how little) I have to say. I might not take that mantra to my grave but I find that the extended audience of twitter enhances our blog and ultimately, will increase debate on the site (if not immediately).

Our audience on twitter varies hugely, as does it between bloggers and the rest of our readers. By my calculations beer bloggers make up the smallest group of readers we have on the site and there's plenty of evidence anecdotal and quantitative to show these trends (I won't bore you with it right now as it's my day job and I have more than enough of that there thank you very much). That stath pleases me because we set out to write to all sorts of folk (and we still do, even if some posts are written with beer bloggers in mind).

Cooking Lager said...

@Pete, as you're a famous blogger & beer writer can I ask whether with the fame comes lots of money and hot chicks?

Looking at Tandy's diagram I see 2 routes to the end goal of potential fame but wonder whether it's all it's cracked up to be.

Mark, Real-Ale-Reviews.com said...

The invisible third fork is the inevitable plateau of little influence with eventual demise into self-referential writing in order to maintain the status quo, I'm guessing.

Or simply keep doing it for the fun of it?

Tandleman said...

@petebrown: No criticism of you Pete. You are unafraid to say what you think and you write well. So more power to your elbow. Couldn't fail to include Dredgie, if nothing else for the most blatant ambition shown since Stalin said to Trotsky "I'm not sure I agree with you there." I only examined professionals to point out a degree of difference between then and now, I welcome all beer blogging if it interests me. There I guess we agree.

Montague said...

There's nothing redeeming about being a beer geek. Keep milking it!

RedNev said...

This posting is interesting, as are most of the comments, but what struck me was how inward looking it all is. If Pete Brown has turned beer bloggers into a bunch of navel gazers, that's not progress.

Mark, Real-Ale-Reviews.com said...

Weblogs are introspective by name and nature, but there's an irony that 'the challenge' has got us all looking even further inwards and writing about the same thing.

Mark said...

Great post. I fear this comment could become an essay though...

Flattered to be included as a 'pro', maybe give me a year and we'll see... I do it because I want to write. Beer just happens to be the topic which interested me the most, as I've mentioned a few times before. I've worked hard to learn about beer and to write about it and now I'm trying to earn a little bit of money from it, but it is just that - a little bit. I still do it for the love of good beer and the writing. But the one thing that keeps me going is the comments. If no one commented then I would probably have stopped writing a long time ago - it's what makes a blog. Commenting is very important - the distinction between journalism and blogging is that blogging asks questions to the reader and allows them a space to answer or share opinion - it creates conversation.

I have noticed fewer comments and I have been commenting less frequently recently (I've had four back-to-back commissions to write on top of the day job), but I make a real effort to comment when I can. One problem is the volume of blogs now - I try and read them all and it becomes a time thing for some.

I think Mark makes a valid point: some of these more left-field posts don't necessarily lead to more comments because they are a bit different. He's written some fantastic posts recently but the comments haven't stacked up. Reluctant Scooper is another - his writing is brilliant, but he doesn't have hundreds of comments to each post (then these posts don't really ask questions, they are just great pieces of writing).

As for twitter... it's a different medium and I think it has been both a help and a hindrance. I've gained readers because of it, but I've been lazy on comments also because of it. At the same time it allows for separate conversations to happen. I think we've gained more than we've lost because of it.

I do think that everyone has their own little niche within the beer blogs and they come together as a great community. It is insular, but it's a difficult habit to break - we can only hope to write things which others enjoy reading and want to comment on. At the same time, I have 90-odd followers but get many more unique hits a day and these aren't bloggers, so who are they? I often wonder how we can draw in non-commentors? I thought about posting something last week asking for just those who have never commented to say hello, but I didn't write it. Maybe i'll try this week...

It should be fun and sometimes controversial, but we still need to consider the wider audience - I don't think negativity is good, unless it's constructive. But then I'm a dewy eyed cheery beery sort and you're a disgruntled old soak :)

As Pete says, if you want to keep readers there then you need to constantly improve, be interesting and sometimes challenge, but it's also important to keep regular readers interested. Striking a balance is difficult.

Now, when will we still blogging about blogging and just get on with bloody blogging?! Drink some beer, write about it, it's easy! Blogging about blogging is completely introspective and only seems aimed at the others, not beyond, unless there are readers who silently read all the blogs but never comment.

Paul Garrard said...

Tandleman if it wasn’t for your blog I wouldn’t have known about Pete Brown’s ‘challenge’ as I rarely read what you refer to as professional bloggers. I rarely read beer books either as the few that I have read have tended to bore me shitless. I’ve been blogging about beer since 2005, not that that means anything. What keeps me hanging on in is the fact that my output goes in phases sometimes I have periods of great enthusiasm when I post a lot then there are periods when I really can’t be arsed. After sparse periods I often return with renewed enthusiasm. That’s just me. My blogging is purely selfish as I do it for me. It’s nice if others come along for a gawp and it’s even nicer if they leave comments. As someone who was heavily influenced by punk, have some sympathy for true anarchists and loves the surreal I like the ‘dear diary’ approach of many amateur beer blogs. I am also impressed by brevity. On that note I’ll draw this comment to a close.

Jeff Frane said...

I view blogs like this as the 21st Century version of something once known as "personalzines", a specialized fanzine. You write about the things that interest you, or catch your attention, or the beers you've been drinking. The number of comments may reflect how "controversial" your post was, but one thing I've learned is that the number of comments isn't tied to the number of readers you get. A lot of people apparently read my blog and never comment at all--other than to tell me months later how much they liked blah blah, or my sister telling me my nephew wants to go out eating and drinking with me and my friends (means you, Tandleman), but does he write anything in the comment section?

As long as you're enjoying the writing and the sharing, don't get too caught up in the quantity or even the quality of the comments. The busiest comment sections I've seen are on the most contentious of blogs (especially the political ones!).

As long as you're enjoying yourself, I'll keep reading as well.

Tandleman said...

@markdredege: Can't disagree with a word of that.

@paul: I must work on my brevity

@jefffrane: It is about enjoyment. WhenI stop enjoying it, I'll stop doing it, but I do like comments, though I appreciate you can't expect them all the time from everyone.

Erlangernick said...

Sparklers suck.

DJ said...

I am relatively new to reading blogs and extremely new to writing a blog so I wouldn't know how they have evolved over time but I do feel there is a rich diversity to read from. My only problem is working how to get my people to read my blog!

http://beerdemon.blogspot.com/

Tandleman said...

Well, you've made a start. I've read it! Welcome.

Paul Garrard said...

Erlangernick, I have to take issue with you, sparklers don't actually suck. It is more of a forced blowing rather than a suck. Hence the ice cream effect. Have a nice day!

Gazza Prescott said...

I've been saying this very thing for a long time now and it's getting worse; "cheery beery" I call it and it's a nasty disease.

There's too many so-called "pros" around who may or may not (depending on your opinions) write well and with authority about beer, and these people tend to grab all the headlines and attention leaving IMO much better informed and experienced writers to scrabble for the crumbs or attention that's not lavished on these big names.

But, and here's my main point, many of these big names are relative newcomers who don't seem to have a lot of experience about beer in general or seem fixated on certain areas; for example, reading some of P&S's output makes me want to punch the screen at his obvious lack of beery experience and knowledge plus the attempted cover-up of said lack by flowery prose, and Pete Brown's bizarre obsession with the piss-poor beers at the Bass Museum (oh, sorry, Coors).

Then we have everyone in an ever-repeating circle name-checking and back-slapping... it's rather quite nauseous from where I'm sitting and I don't think it does the beer writing world any good at all.

With the exception of the "big names" who have always peddled to the mass-market and their corporate sponsors beer writing had a decent phase of reactionary anti-establishment, anti-camra and anti-big brewer until fairly recently but, with all attention being concentrated ever more on those in "the circle", the whole thing seems to be degrading into one big CV for writing contracts and this, by it's very nature, means the output is much more mainstream and less opinionated.

I'm not a "proper" beer writer and have no intention to become one, I'm just an opinionated scooper who likes to voice it... ;-)

Mark, Real-Ale-Reviews.com said...

I'm sure you know where to go for *punk* beer Gazza ;-)

Erlangernick said...

So sparklers blow then. Fair enough.

Actually, my 5 days in Lancashier and thereabouts last August turned me back around to not disliking them. I had no beer which I found to have suffered from the sparkling. I'm not sure what to make of that.

We'll see how it goes in Oxford, Wales, and Liverpool in a few weeks though.

Barm said...

Why don't you start a blog then Gazza, instead of wasting your time with idiots like Tim?