May 27, 2004
For Some, the Blogging Never Stops
By KATIE HAFNER
TO celebrate four years of marriage, Richard Wiggins and his wife, Judy Matthews, recently spent a week in Key West, Fla. Early on the morning of their anniversary, Ms. Matthews heard her husband get up and go into the bathroom. He stayed there for a long time.
"I didn't hear any water running, so I wondered what was going on," Ms. Matthews said. When she knocked on the door, she found him seated with his laptop balanced on his knees, typing into his Web log, a collection of observations about the technical world, over a wireless link.
Blogging is a pastime for many, even a livelihood for a few. For some, it becomes an obsession. Such bloggers often feel compelled to write several times daily and feel anxious if they don't keep up. As they spend more time hunkered over their computers, they neglect family, friends and jobs. They blog at home, at work and on the road. They blog openly or sometimes, like Mr. Wiggins, quietly so as not to call attention to their habit.
"It seems as if his laptop is glued to his legs 24/7," Ms. Matthews said of her husband.
The number of bloggers has grown quickly, thanks to sites like blogger.com, which makes it easy to set up a blog. Technorati, a blog-tracking service, has counted some 2.5 million blogs.
Of course, most of those millions are abandoned or, at best, maintained infrequently. For many bloggers, the novelty soon wears off and their persistence fades.
Sometimes, too, the realization that no one is reading sets in. A few blogs have thousands of readers, but never have so many people written so much to be read by so few. By Jupiter Research's estimate, only 4 percent of online users read blogs.
Indeed, if a blog is likened to a conversation between a writer and readers, bloggers like Mr. Wiggins are having conversations largely with themselves.
Mr. Wiggins, 48, a senior information technologist at Michigan State University in East Lansing, does not know how many readers he has; he suspects it's not many. But that does not seem to bother him.
"I'm just getting something off my chest," he said.
Nor is he deterred by the fact that he toils for hours at a time on his blog for no money. He gets satisfaction in other ways. "Sometimes there's an 'I told you so' aspect to it," he said. Recent ruminations on wigblog.blogspot.com have focused on Gmail, Google's new e-mail service. Mr. Wiggins points with pride to Wigblog posts that voiced early privacy concerns about Gmail.
Perhaps a chronically small audience is a blessing. For it seems that the more popular a blog becomes, the more some bloggers feel the need to post.
Tony Pierce started his blog three years ago while in search of a distraction after breaking up with a girlfriend. "In three years, I don't think I've missed a day," he said. Now Mr. Pierce's blog (www.tonypierce.com/blog/bloggy.htm), a chatty diary of Hollywood, writing and women in which truth sometimes mingles with fiction, averages 1,000 visitors a day.
Where some frequent bloggers might label themselves merely ardent, Mr. Pierce is more realistic. "I wouldn't call it dedicated, I would call it a problem," he said. "If this were beer, I'd be an alcoholic."
Mr. Pierce, who lives in Hollywood and works as a scheduler in the entertainment industry, said blogging began to feel like an addiction when he noticed that he would rather be with his computer than with his girlfriend - for technical reasons.
"She's got an iMac, and I don't like her computer," Mr. Pierce said. When he is at his girlfriend's house, he feels "antsy." "We have little fights because I want to go home and write my thing," he said.
Mr. Pierce described the rush he gets from what he called "the fix" provided by his blog. "The pleasure response is twofold," he said. "You can have instant gratification; you're going to hear about something really good or bad instantly. And if I feel like I've written something good, it's enjoyable to go back and read it."
And, he said, "like most addictions, those feelings go away quickly. So I have to do it again and again."
Joseph Lorenzo Hall, 26, a graduate student at the School of Information Management and Systems at the University of California at Berkeley who has studied bloggers, said that for some people blogging has supplanted e-mail as a way to procrastinate at work.
People like Mr. Pierce, who devote much of their free time to the care and feeding of their own blogs and posting to other blogs, do so largely because it makes them feel productive even if it is not a paying job.
The procrastination, said Scott Lederer, 31, a fellow graduate student with Mr. Hall, has a collective feel to it. "You feel like you're participating in something important, because we're all doing it together," he said.
Jeff Jarvis, president of Advance.net, a company that builds Web sites for newspapers and magazines, and a blogging enthusiast, defended what he called one's "obligation to the blog."
"The addictive part is not so much extreme narcissism," Mr. Jarvis said. "It's that you're involved in a conversation. You have a connection to people through the blog."
Some compulsive bloggers take their obligation to extremes, blogging at the expense of more financially rewarding tasks.
Mr. Wiggins has missed deadline after deadline at Searcher, an online periodical for which he is a paid contributor.
Barbara Quint, the editor of the magazine, said she did all she could to get him to deliver his columns on time. Then she discovered that Mr. Wiggins was busily posting articles to his blog instead of sending her the ones he had promised, she said. "Here he is working all night on something read by five second cousins and a dog, and I'm willing to pay him," she said.
Ms. Quint has grown more understanding of his reasons, if not entirely sympathetic. "The Web's illusion of immortality is sometimes more attractive than actual cash," she said.
Jocelyn Wang, a 27-year-old marketing manager in Los Angeles, started her blog, a chronicle of whatever happens to pop into her head (www.jozjozjoz.com), 18 months ago as an outlet for boredom.
Now she spends at least four hours a day posting to her blog and reading other blogs. Ms. Wang's online journal is now her life. And the people she has met through the blog are a large part of her core of friends.
"There is no real separation in my life," she said. Like Mr. Wiggins, Ms. Wang blogs while on vacation. She stays on floors at the Hotel Nikko in San Francisco with access to a free Internet connection. ("So I can blog," she explains.)
Blogging for a cause can take on a special urgency. Richard Khoe, a political consultant in Washington who in his spare time helps run a pro-John Kerry group called Run Against Bush, posts constantly to the blog embedded in the group's Web site (www.runagainstbush.org). He blogs late into the night, although he knows that the site still attracts relatively few visitors.
"Sometimes you get really particular with the kind of link you want, so you search a little more, then a little more, then you want to see what other people are saying about that link you chose," he said. "And before you know it, some real time has passed."
Others find they are distracted to the point of neglectfulness. Tom Lewis, 35, a project manager for a software firm in western Massachusetts who has a photo blog (tomdog.buzznet.com/user), has occasionally shown up "considerably late" for events and has put off more than a few work-related calls to tend to his blog.
Mr. Jarvis characterizes the blogging way of life as a routine rather than an obsession. "It's a habit," he said. "What you're really doing is telling people about something that they might find interesting. When that becomes part of your life, when you start thinking in blog, it becomes part of you."
The constant search for bloggable moments is what led Gregor J. Rothfuss, a programmer in Zurich, to blog to the point of near-despair. Bored by his job, Mr. Rothfuss, 27, started a blog that focused on technical topics.
"I was trying to record all thoughts and speculations I deemed interesting," he said. "Sort of creating a digital alter ego. The obsession came from trying to capture as much as possible of the good stuff in my head in as high fidelity as possible."
For months, Mr. Rothfuss said, he blogged at work, at home, late into the night, day in and day out until it all became a blur - all the while knowing, he added, "that no one was necessarily reading it, except for myself."
When traffic to the blog, greg.abstract.ch started to rise, he began devoting half a day every day and much of the weekend to it. Mr. Rothfuss said he has few memories of that period in his life aside from the compulsive blogging.
He was saved from the rut of his online chronicle when he traveled to Asia. The blog became more of a travelogue. Then Mr. Rothfuss switched jobs, finding one he enjoyed, and his blogging grew more moderate.
He still has the blog, but posts to it just twice a week, he said, "as opposed to twice an hour." He feels healthier now. "It's part of what I do now, it's not what I do," he said.
Suffering from a similar form of "blog fatigue," Bill Barol, a freelance writer in Santa Monica, Calif., simply stopped altogether after four years of nearly constant blogging.
"It was starting to feel like work, and it was never supposed to be a job," Mr. Barol said. "It was supposed to be an anti-job."
Even with some 200 visitors to his blog each day, he has not posted to his blog since returning from a month of travel.
Still, Mr. Barol said, he does not rule out a return to blogging someday.
"There is this seductive thing that happens, this kind of snowball-rolling-down-a-hill thing, where the sheer momentum of several years' posting becomes very keenly felt," he said. "And the absence of posting feels like - I don't know, laziness or something."
Tim Gnatek contributed reporting for this article.