“HI, I’m Judy Nichols. Welcome to my rant.”
Thus was born Rantings of a Crazed Soccer Mom, the blog of a stay-at-home mother and murder-mystery writer from Wilmington, N.C. Mrs. Nichols, 52, put up her first post in late 2004, serving up a litany of gripes about the Bush administration and people who thought they had “a monopoly on morality.” After urging her readers to vote for John Kerry, she closed with a flourish: “Practice compassionate regime change.”
The post generated no comments.
Today, Mrs. Nichols speaks about her blog as if it were a diet or half-finished novel. “I’m going to get back to it,” she swears. Her last entry, in December of last year, was curt and none too profound. “Books make great gifts,” she began, breaking a silence of nearly a month.
Like Mrs. Nichols, many people start blogs with lofty aspirations — to build an audience and leave their day job, to land a book deal, or simply to share their genius with the world. Getting started is easy, since all it takes to maintain a blog is a little time and inspiration. So why do blogs have a higher failure rate than restaurants?
According to a 2008 survey by Technorati, which runs a search engine for blogs, only 7.4 million out of the 133 million blogs the company tracks had been updated in the past 120 days. That translates to 95 percent of blogs being essentially abandoned, left to lie fallow on the Web, where they become public remnants of a dream — or at least an ambition — unfulfilled.
Judging from conversations with retired bloggers, many of the orphans were cast aside by people who had assumed that once they started blogging, the world would beat a path to their digital door.
“I was always hoping more people would read it, and it would get a lot of comments,” Mrs. Nichols said recently by telephone, sounding a little betrayed. “Every once in a while I would see this thing on TV about some mommy blogger making $4,000 a month, and thought, ‘I would like that.’ ”
Not all fallow blogs die from lack of reader interest. Some bloggers find themselves too busy — what with, say, homework and swim practice, or perhaps even housework and parenting. Others graduate to more immediate formats, like Twitter and Facebook. And a few — gasp — actually decide to reclaim some smidgen of personal privacy.
“Before you could be anonymous, and now you can’t,” said Nancy Sun, a 26-year-old New Yorker who abandoned her first blog after experiencing the dark side of minor Internet notoriety. She had started it in 1999, back when blogging was in its infancy and she did not have to worry too hard about posting her raw feelings for a guy she barely knew.
Ms. Sun’s posts to her blog — www.cromulent.org, named for a fake word from “The Simpsons” — were long and artful. She quickly attracted a large audience and, in 2001, was nominated for the “best online diary” award at the South by Southwest media powwow.
But then she began getting e-mail messages from strangers who had seen her at parties. A journalist from Philadelphia wanted to profile her. Her friends began reading her blog and drawing conclusions — wrong ones — about her feelings toward them. Ms. Sun found it all very unnerving, and by 2004 she stopped blogging altogether.
“The Internet is different now,” she said over a cup of tea in Midtown. “I was too Web 1.0. You want to be anonymous, you want to write, like, long entries, and no one wants to read that stuff.”
Richard Jalichandra, chief executive of Technorati, said that at any given time there are 7 million to 10 million active blogs on the Internet, but “it’s probably between 50,000 and 100,000 blogs that are generating most of the page views.” He added, “There’s a joke within the blogging community that most blogs have an audience of one.”
That’s a serious letdown from the hype that greeted blogs when they first became popular. No longer would writers toil in anonymity or suffer the indignities of the publishing industry, we were told. Finally the world of ideas would be democratized! This was the catnip that intoxicated Mrs. Nichols. “That was when people were starting to talk about blogs and how anyone could, if not get famous, get their opinions out there and get them read,” she recalled. “I just wanted to post something interesting and get people talking, but mostly it was just my sister commenting.”
Many people who think blogging is a fast path to financial independence also find themselves discouraged. Matt Goodman, an advertising executive in Atlanta, had no trouble attracting an audience to his self-explanatory site, Things My Dog Ate, which included tales of his foxhound, Watson, eating remote controls, a wig and a $400 pair of Prada shoes.
“I did some Craigslist postings to advertise it, and I very quickly got an audience of about 50,000 viewers a month,” he said. That led to some small advertising deals, including one with PetSmart and another with a company that made dog-proof cellphone chargers. Mr. Goodman posted a video of his dog failing to destroy one.
“I guess the charger wasn’t very popular,” he said. “I think I made about $20” from readers clicking on the ads. He last updated the site in November.
Mr. Jalichandra of Technorati — a blogger himself — also points out that some retired bloggers have merely found new platforms. “Some of that activity has gone to Facebook and MySpace, and obviously Twitter is a new phenomenon,” he said.
Others simply tire of telling their stories. “Stephanie,” a semi-anonymous 17-year-old with a precocious knowledge of designers and a sharp sense of humor, abandoned her blog, Fashion Robot, about a week before it got a shoutout in the “blog watch” column of The Wall Street Journal last December. Her final post, simply titled “The End,” said she just didn’t feel like blogging any more. She declined an e-mail request for an interview, saying she was no longer interested in publicity.
As for Ms. Sun of Cromulent.org, she has made peace with being public. She has a new blog, SaladDays.org, where she keeps her posts short and jaunty, not personally revealing; mostly, she offers up health and diet tips, with the occasional quote from Simone de Beauvoir.
What is she after this time around? In person, she was noncommittal, but that night she sent a follow-up e-mail message.
“To be honest, I would love a book deal to come out of my blog,” she wrote. “Or I would love for Salad Days to give me a means to be financially independent to continue pursuing and sharing what I love with the world.”
By DOUGLAS QUENQUA, http://www.nytimes.com