Blogging about blogging? Yeah, well, sorry about that; I've been wrapped up in a huge project which may become even huger, and so I've spent the largest part of the last week thinking and working on it, and not pithy content for this blog. But, having taken my daily stroll through my favorite blogs by friends and colleagues (and a few perfect strangers), I started thinking about blogging.
Me, I've been doing it for years. At SXSW 2004, I was having breakfast with Jon Lebkowsky, Howard Rheingold, and a couple of other people and, as I do, I was moaning about there being no work. "Why don't you start a blog," someone (Rheingold, I think) suggested. I protested. I didn't want to give my work away. Writing for free was utterly alien to me and anyway, it wasn't a hobby -- it was how I made my living. Why on earth should I do this? "Easy," Rheingold (and I'm sure it was him this time) said. "You'll show you can write, and it serves as a great advertisement for you as a writer. Also, if you do it now, you'll be an early adopter, and if you wait a year there'll be 30,000 other people doing the exact same thing and you won't stand out." Lebkowsky, gearhead that he is, offered to set me up with something called Blogger, and I was to go buy myself a domain name so that he could do that. (This was in the days before Blogger was acquired and simplified by Google).
So I did: I went somewhere (I'm ashamed to say it was GoDaddy, because it was super cheap and, it was in the days before they started sponsoring NASCAR drivers and airing offensive Super Bowl ads) and bought berlinbites.com and sent the necessary information over to Jon and the next thing I knew I had me a neato template and was ready to rock, and filed my first post on May 30, 2004. I had to learn basic HTML along the way, had to learn how to embed photos into the copy, and, most of all, I had to learn what to blog and what not to. The blog was more or less a diary of my life in Berlin, a city I'd been in at that point for eleven years and was beginning to detest. I hadn't worked in about a year, and was pretty angry about that. There was, shall we say, some oversharing of my personal life, which was at an even lower ebb than my career, and a great deal of complaining about The Way Germans Are. That part, at least, never stopped. But later that year I got my first job in over a year. I'd love to say that it was related to my blog, but, alas, it wasn't.
One thing that was true, though: there weren't many others doing this. Somehow, I found a website with a map of Berlin blogs on it, showing where all the bloggers lived. There was one, in English, right around the corner from me! I quickly called it up and the blogger was praising Saul Bellow, one of those American novelists whose work I've never been able to read. But I contacted the guy, and he told me there were other English-language blogs in town and he was thinking of having a get-together (what the Germans call a Stammtisch) where we bloggers could all get together. Shortly afterwards, he set a date. I showed up at the bar and there he was with his girlfriend (who also blogged). And there was me, and my friend Natalie (who didn't blog, but who wound up as the supervisor of this one. Are we too meta yet?). Natalie eventually left. The second one, a month later, proved much more successful, and even after he moved out of the neighborhood and relocated the get-together to various other bars, more and more people started showing up.
I found this fascinating. Not only were we reading each other's stuff (mostly: there was one guy who blogged a lot about football, which didn't interest me), but we were a community. We hung out together, a lot of us. People who weren't bloggers, too, joined the group. There were a bunch of us who loved food, and so we knew exactly what to do. We started a blog! And while it lasted, it was good fun: we had readers who contributed tips, did a little investigative journalism, uncovering wholesale Italian and Vietnamese markets that were far more interesting than what was available in the local shops, and fought the good fight against the prevailing food culture.
Unlike my blog, which was a scattershot stream of observations and invective, this one served a specific purpose and had a narrower focus. And, as whoever it was back in '04 had predicted, blogging caught on big-time. I'd been a pioneer for once, got written up in a couple of places, and had enough of a devoted readership that I actually made a little money from my Amazon gizmo in the right margin when people bought books or records I recommended. People began to understand what you could do with a blog: keep a diary as you circumnavigated the globe, various approaches to cooking, promote a book, or publish notes as you write one. Or simply do what I've always done and just blither on. In fact, blogging's gotten to be so popular that people who don't have a clue how blogs work are publishing them. No links here, but people I read don't know that you can embed links, or publish their articles as comments so you can't find them because the front page never changes, or abandon them after a couple of posts.
And, unlike a couple of years ago, I can't say that blogging never brought me any work, either. For years it didn't, but when realeyz started up, they asked me if I'd blog for them -- and they'd pay me! But I decided to get sneaky on 'em. I don't think of this as a blog. I think of it as a weekly column without a magazine attached. And if that's not meta enough for you, I don't know what is!
[I'd like to acknowledge stealing the title of this post from the great musician Peter Holsapple, and his mostly-defunct blog Does This Band Make Me Look Fat? He's making music again, so he doesn't have time to blog. That's okay; there are enough bloggers out there anyway.]