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Last Updated: Friday, 8 August, 2003, 09:50 GMT 10:50 UK
All over for blogs?
Blogs have been seen by some as a new wave of internet development but are they losing their appeal, wonders technology analyst Bill Thompson.

Escape key on keyboard
Could it be time to quit reading blogs?
One of the most useful things about being away from home - I'm writing this in Venice and then I'm off to California - is that it gives you an opportunity to reflect on the sources of information you really need and trust.

After all, if I wanted to I could be as connected from my little apartment as I am from home.

I've got my laptop with me, even if it does only have a rather creaky dial-up connection over a GSM mobile since I've been unable to get the local GPRS service to recognise that I might possibly want data from a server in another country.

But I can easily use one of the many friendly cyber cafes in the city, charging reasonable rates for a fast service.

Away from the net, there is the TV and, of course, international editions of the UK papers. Or I could listen to the radio.

Yet I have hardly taken notice of any of them. I use my mobile connection to send some e-mail, and I go into a cyber cafe to download the torrent of spam and occasional useful message.

But apart from a brief glance at a couple of news sites to check that no major disasters have befallen the world - and the hottest day on record in London doesn't count - I have hardly used the web at all.

News-free zone

The TV remains switched off, the radio is silent and the papers are on the newsstands. I am largely unaware of all the many things that have happened in the wide world since I left the UK 10 days ago.

I am also, it must be admitted, unaware of what is being said on the various e-mail lists I subscribe to, or on the regular round of blogs that I read when I have time.

Bill Thompson
It seemed to me that the number of useless postings and blog entries was starting to increase and there was less and less there that was really of interest
Bill Thompson
I should feel guilty about this, and I am sure that I'll get back into it when I am home and in my normal routine again.

And it is not that there isn't occasionally something of interest to be found in discussions of the future of journalism, government plans on ID cards, the impact of the internet on democratic politics, or the nature of community in a digital society.

It is just that none of it seems essential, so I am giving it a miss. Instead I have been spending time thinking about the net's future and how we can make sure it serves people's needs and not those of business.

In fact, I had stopped paying careful attention to the lists and the blogs even before I left the country. It seemed to me that the number of useless postings and blog entries was starting to increase and there was less and less there that was really of interest.

This could be the sign of a worrying phenomenon. Perhaps the blogs, after a brief time when they were seen by some as a wholly new wave of internet development, are losing their appeal.

In fact there have been bloggers and blogging tools available since 1997 when the term was coined by Jorn Barger.

But blogging has been mainstream for two years - how many days can someone keep on posting to their LiveJournal site, or visiting Blogger to add more details about their cat's mysterious illness?

Or it may be that the blogs are going through the same thing as UseNet, the internet's original bulletin board system.

Summer silliness?

When I had my first reliable internet connection, working as a programmer at Acorn Computers in 1986, I would assiduously scan UseNet newsgroups each morning.

I was especially interested in postings about the Unix operating system and there was often a lot of useful information in the comp.os.unix group. But there were also places to discuss science fiction novels, and philosophies, and to tell jokes.

Woman in the sea
Long hot days beckoning you outside
It was, at the time, a good online space to hang out, even if there were occasional hysterical rants - flames - and irrelevant postings.

I haven't looked at UseNet for three or four years now, because the openness of the system meant that the quality of postings and the ratio of interesting posts to adverts, rants and rubbish fell rapidly.

It may be that the same thing is happening to blogs, as more and more sites are created by people with less and less to say.

Of course, we now have search engines, indexing tools and news feeds that enable us to find our way through the growing number of blogsites far more easily than we could ever navigate UseNet.

This implies that the number of postings should not be a problem in the long term, provided that interest in blogging does not wane and the companies who are building ambitious business plans on top of the phenomenon do not go bust or withdraw their services, but it could explain what is happening now.

The optimistic view is that the problem is only temporary, and it is just me and the summer.

Sitting at a computer does not seem to be the way to understanding, enlightenment or happiness when the long hot day is beckoning you outside, and reading other people's postings can seem like a waste of good thinking time.

Perhaps everyone else feels the same, so the things we are writing about, the things we are posting, are simply less well thought through, and our filters for what is worth saying are not working properly.

It may even be a sign of the internet's maturity and significance in our lives that it too now has a "silly season" like the newspapers and TV.

Is it all over for blogs? Or have they got something to offer? This is what you had to say:

It's just you and the summer, Bill. But as the amount of blogs increase, it is logical that so too will the amount of uninteresting blog entries. Blogs make it so much easier for the average John or Jane to post whatever they have to say. But the early adopters of the blogging phenomenon were not average at all, but instead entrepreneurial. Now average John and Jane are catching up, and hey, guess what, average John and Jane don't have anything very interesting to say!
Ash, UK

I use my blog as a memory aid, to leave useful URL's for friends and generally as a personal tool. Other people do read it to, and they get an , interesting view into my daily drudge, but I couldn't care less if no-one viewed it. Also, these records of how people go about their daily life could be of some limited use to future historians. Who knows?
Alex, UK

UseNet has improved a lot since everyone's gone away to use blog's and web chat boards.
Giolla Decair, UK

I don't get blogs, webby types usually don't have anything interesting to say in the real world so why all the fuss about them in the virtual?
Sam, UK

I think a lot of people are starting to get away from the idea of something like a blog. Opening things up to the world in such a free way inhibits what you can say; yet with the growth of digital cameras, people seem to be turning to the online image galleries as a way to blog, but without saying anything. After all, the pictures will only mean anything if you know the people in them.
Gareth, UK

Most people are neophobic - afraid of new things - and this fear of change can result in boredom with what is familiar. Fortunately, there are plenty of interesting and fun blogs waiting to be discovered which are written by groovy, well-informed people. As with real life the people you find most riveting are scarce and as a result it is necessary to keep finding the will power to look for new sites once the usual circuit has become tedious. I have experience the same fatigue as Bill and would definitely like someone to invent a good way of finding blogs that match my personal interests or of suggesting good sites I simply wouldn't have found on my own.
Matt, Oxford, UK

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Bill Thompson is a regular commentator on the BBC World Service programme Go Digital.

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