The Long Goodbye.
Friday, April 13, 2018: As of today, dangerousmeta! is no longer being actively updated.
May come as a shock to some, not to others. I will explain in the following paragraphs; perhaps more than some care to read, but walking away after nearly nineteen years requires a certain amount of explanation. Get a cup tea or coffee (or an alcoholic beverage) before you start.
At this moment in time, I find I am Tuco (Eli Wallach, The Good, The Bad and the Ugly). My style of blogging has been standing with a noose around its neck since the debut of Twitter. I have been doing my best to talk my way out of the noose, without actually having to change my format. When paywalls started throwing barbed wire all over the landscape, and the subsequent rise in vitriol since Inauguration Day, the end for my blogging style rushed to the fore faster than expected.
The rope is sawing hard at my neck, no Blondie to shoot the rope and haul my butt out of town. So I'm taking matters into my own hands, wiggling out of the noose and hustling out of town for the time being.
Readers have wanted backstory for ages, I give you backstory in spades tonight.
I faced challenges in five areas. I'll discuss them in order of functional priority, not my value priorities.
First challenge, the insurmountable one: I have been unable to link and comment on prime material because of paywalls. They have gotten really mean-spirited; some even block individual article URLs now. The Times, Post, Globe, FT, WSJ, LA Times, New Yorker, Alb Journal, SF New Mexican … these have always been prime sources … and all behind paywalls. Add to that SMH, Globe & Mail, Haaretz, Times.UK, The Age … and then New Scientist, Chronicle of Higher Ed, Economist and other niche mags, you can see I would go broke trying to pass all these.
Virtually the entire national conversation is based on these prime sources, and they are out of reach except on the first day of the month (when I gleefully had an orgy of reading).
I did not consider myself a 'news junkie.' Far from it, actually. I would have been insulted to be called such. I simply had nearly boundless curiosity, knowledge across many different subjects – and that curiousity was the #1 reason I blogged. I could have easily spent $1-2k a year just to start trying to match my former range of prime sources. I pushed thousands of pairs of eyeballs to news sites over the years to their clear benefit, but small-fry blogging doesn’t matter in their grand strategies for survival. (Most, if asked, would likely respond that my kind should not have existed in the first place; an anomaly, a speed-bump in the history of journalism.)
Then I considered – even if I had charged a price to read here, ponied up for subscriptions at all these news orgs – would my audience have been able to follow me to all those paid-for sources? Not likely. Others link and don't care. I did. I avoided teasing content and then disappointing my audience. I wanted to start conversation, trigger thinking, not broadcast sans checks and balances. Most know about the 'soft' paywalls, so I felt OK pointing to those occasionally. 'Hard' paywalls? No.
As a citizen of the US in these troubled political times, as a human being on this globe, certain news needs to be freely accessible. Thank goodness for AP, Reuters and The Guardian/US. They're about all I had left for definitive sourcing. But for how much longer? Most conversations online run around the editorials on the paywalled major sites, and that's where I needed to be adding context and clarity – applying my long political memory – and I could not.
News orgs should be ashamed for not having thought of package deals by now, but perhaps they just don’t know a good idea when they have not thought of it yet. (Yes, I meant to write that just that way.) I bear them no ill-will for trying to keep themselves in business. I just wish there were other alternatives. I wager the average news-consumer purchases a subscription to one ideologically-compatible national source and one local news source. That's not enough these days. I suppose I'm the only one to hear alarm bells ring over this?
So my range narrowed significantly. Secondary sources (other than the three mentioned above) are loaded with all the ads and autoplay video that ‘free’ entails. Not to mention a bajillion tracking cookies. Some couch their hard news in sensationalist wrappers; you'll hear my opinion about those later. And then I had to triangulate to be sure I was getting an accurate picture. Time, time, time and more time. Often resulting in unrewarding, punishing reading experiences for the frequenters of this blog. If not for RSS, and the range it gave me in a tight timeframe, I would have had barely a thing to write about.
In sum, at this critical crux-point in American history, without the means to respond in any sort of reasonable timeframe with good quality posts, my efforts have been a waste of late. The ever-increasing investment of time to get good source material made this whole endeavor impossible for a solo uncompensated soul. I have raised the white flag, disarmed myself by putting down the keyboard here.
Second challenge: quality and quantity. There is a calculation I thought of when I worked within the self-imposed limitations of DM!’s style: Quality x Quantity = Audience.
Paywalls forced me to reduce my Quality, the time to fish around for equivalents lowered my Quantity, which then seriously impacted my Audience.
Now I could have always upped my Quantity; just posted a little more frequently. But if the Quality's rotten, you can see that all the flailing in the world would not have raised my viewership. I have tested this, and indeed it has been verified. As a direct result of this lowered Quality ... no matter the Quantity ... my RSS subscriber base dropped. The fall was incredibly steep since the thousand that subscribed throughout election season in 2016. The usual uptick for the ’18 midterms has not appeared. There IS a reason for this ... the next challenge.
Third challenge: A reasoned voice is considered ‘not alarmed enough’. This was the most disheartening effect I have ever encountered in my 18 plus years of blogging. Yes, I was unwise enough to decide to blog on political subjects; one of the few weblogging prominente to wade in and engage on such subjects multiple times a day. Politics was not my main subject, but it became a regular feature daily. How could it not? I live in this country, in this world. Others stuck to the great civil rights issues of the periods we blogged through. I insisted on confronting issues straight up, no moderation in my discussion areas. And managed to keep the discussions civil! A significant accomplishment, I think you'll agree.
'Voice' became a vital factor, post-election. Two longtime, engaged, intelligent readers left in a huff – as in permanently, angrily – because I did not reach their preferred level of derangement. Those exits hurt, I have to tell you. And they wanted them to hurt. Others have also left, preferring just to point-and-shoot my posts via Twitter; only the ones that align perfectly with their ideology-du-jour.
So, for a subset of former readers, my Left-leaning bonafides have been revoked because I would not join their little Lord of the Flies reenactment and scrape the bottom of the barrel with my posts. "You don't appreciate the gravity of the situation." I was not shrieking loud enough at every incremental tweet from the Beltway; my avoidance of all things sensational or exaggerated in nature seemed to be perceived as a sign of utter and complete irrelevance.
America has, all-too-swiftly, become a Reality TV/sensationalist society. The language, the tone I used became a litmus test. Should I have rolled out the edge cases, to scripted outrage and vitriol? To report on President Trump, one must become Trump, exponentiated?
He, I expected. You, I never saw coming.
Today's battleground is not our President. It is ourselves.
Bad enough when it was just the Tea Party being reactionary, and the media was focusing on them. Now it is the Left, too - they are significantly more numerous than the Tea Party. Our President, long before election, used a strategy of wild claims and accusations to create mayhem while remaining calm and picking off the easy marks as his intended target(s) go off the deep end. The Left is now in full knee-jerk mode, completely blind to his strategies, being played like violins. “We HAVE to respond in kind!” Which then encourages the already-virulent Right to escalate further. This violent self-absorption is all subtly, gradually corrupting our entire culture into a complete inability to behave ethically, effectively prioritize news, or even recognize reality. Conspiracy theories surface, become the pocket-change of daily media conversation, and episodes of violence increase.
I open my news aggregator each day to the equivalent of the clumsy choreography and cheap theatre of professional wrestling. I refuse to post propaganda for ideological compadres to clap over; I prefer to evoke actual, measureable change. Otherwise, why bother?
Some will want to pass the buck, "Oh, it's the software." Or "Oh, it's the algorithms." No, you don't get off that easily. What stands behind the software, the algorithms? People. I hold people accountable. Someone is saying "It's OK to do this." Someone is saying "This is a good result." Worse is someone is saying, "I'm a small fish in a big pond. I can get away with saying this."
My point - sometimes it is others. Too many times – we need to check our mirrors.
This all just served to make me double down on my core beliefs. I persisted in encouraging people to calm down and think because it was the right thing to do, whether or not it was the popular thing to do. Leading by example is what I imbibed every day from the archetypal bloggers I once socialized with in our heyday. So I avoided the bottom-feeders, the shriekers, the name-callers, the snarkers, the sensational, the trivial, the idiotic, the mindless ideological retweeters and more. Better to starve the sensationalism of oxygen. If my time is over because of this one element, I will sleep like a baby.
The fourth challenge: engagement. I considered engagement my ‘reward’ for all the work here. Pageviews are nice and all, but I would have traded a thousand for a single conversation that spanned beyond a single rejoinder as they used to just a few short years ago. I do not need to repeat the above: you already know Quality and Quantity of posts hurt me here; number of visitors drove engagement. Engagement drove more audience, even more engagement, so ... yeah. Quite the challenge, actually.
Blogs, I found, are swiftly becoming broadcast-only devices. Discussions are spread out over Facebook, Twitter, Slack, Signal ... and many other services. Often hard to predict where a person will choose to elucidate their blog postings. This is a HUGE problem for solos like myself. Great convos are happening, difficult to find, nearly impossible to link. So many privacy settings to pass, so many vacuum chambers. There are cheats to pull Twitter into RSS, for instance, but aggregators are not equipped to deal with Twitter's firehoses and subtweets. More time than it is worth.
Some are just afraid of a public commenting space, expecting cagefights – a legitimate concern. 'Personal branding' is eliminating some engagement - an unspoken rule seems to be developing: 'Never dilute your brand by responding to someone in your niche.' We seem to have changed our philosophy from 'lift all boats' to 'sink all others'. I hope that psychosis exits sooner than later. The overall use of Twitter as a blog-comment device in particular made me want to weep. Besides the fact that the form-factor of Twitter eliminated any verbal momentum you might build up, all that rich contextual material disappearing in the chronological scroll is a damned shame. I could have linked it, commented on it, amplified it, if I had seen it and it was presented in some reasonably linkable form. I would have seen it if it were archived on your blog, alongside the referencing post. Some of you might want to spend a little more time working on this one. You should not be leaving your 'stuff' on a third party service without a local copy, or a reference in your blog post to hang it on.
I longed for the commenter who used to arrive saying “You’re wrong, and here’s why.” You are more likely to get a virtual Three Stooges-style poke in the eyes these days of course, but I never wanted strokes or pokes. I wanted intelligent argument. Classical argument. The kind where we had the wits to agree to disagree, if there was no reasonable resolution. In this, I suppose I was a Utopian. But I also remember '99 and '00, when those sorts of discussion were actually common. (Here is an example, an educational one, in our current political environment. Are you subtle enough to recognize what we have lost, diluting our discussions over third party social services and not holding ourselves and others to higher standards?)
Engagement kept me real, heading the proper direction. My commenters continually served as a check and a balance, and for that I am profoundly grateful. Our former blog communities no longer exist, everyone's scattered, doing their own things now. There are no mutual support systems. Those of you who stayed faithful in spite of work, family and other commitments have my eternal appreciation.
My fifth challenge: form-factor, design. In the midst of the significant challenges of today’s political/social upheaval, I found myself in the position of having intentionally brought a well-worn antique Buck knife to a gunfight with bump-stock AR-15s.
With my workload, I could not meet this challenge at all. Paying clients came first. Squarespace is quite flexible, but there are foibles (social log-ins, in particular) that people absolutely hate. There are many things I could have done, but I would rather use DRY principles in a proper self-hosted CMS so I could manage most of the major functions by myself, without a team, and without relying on a service. With the paywall issues above, I figured this was the least of my worries, so I spent no time on it.
When confronted with this lack in the past, I used to be able buy time by ‘talking my way out’. I would dial up the number of posts, add a little more character to my writing and keep the numbers high. Maybe tweak a font or line things up differently for a fresh look. Oh, I tried. No change with experiments done lately. I needed a whole new aesthetic, new functionality to compete. No time.
So that’s the sum total of the challenges, as they stand. There are many more minor issues wound in and around these five challenges, but I don't want you to be stuck reading this for a week. (Some are no doubt saying, "Hasn't it been a week already?")
Now, some may feel like this sounds like a boatload of excuses and gripes about the world not being the way I want. My model of blogging was crazy for a solo over a decade ago (Anil commented on it once, and I didn’t take the characteristically wise foresighted hint); today it’s patently insane. My competition (those who are not retired or independently well-off) have wisely niched or monetized.
I loved this form. I really enjoyed doing this, until the barbed wire got strung. I was the stubborn holdout, pushing right to the brink of obsolescence and over. When journos would write about unsponsored, unmonetized solo blogging being 'impossible', I got a kick out of virtually waving and saying "I'm STILL HERE." My particular aberrance. I simply adored my complete freedom.
This retreat does not reflect on my abilities, expertise or skill – it has been an encroaching commercialization problem for a while, magnified by social dilution.
You want some irony? I have to visit my local library to let my intellect roam freely as it used to on the internet. You should see the look on my face after typing that. At the library, I can read the Times, the Post, WSJ and and a host of others, without having to deal with paywalls, subscription asks, animated ads, autoplay video or anything else.
Let that sink in for a second. I'm going back to paper for what I used to do on the internet.
Tell me that's not messed up. Tell me. There has to be a way to fix this situation. I'll be damned if I can figure out a model that will work, but maybe someone else can.
Are there ways I could keep dangerousmeta! alive? Of course. But let us take something off the stove immediately. I cannot continue with what I have been doing in the current form. As I have already explained above, it is untenable in the face of paywalls today. I am mightily tired of boiling up and serving second- and third-rate tripe. Monetize? We know tip jars don't work, otherwise I'd consider one. Yet I did not want to become another paywall myself. The only reasonable solution is to go long-form or adopt a cat and do 24/7 cat photos. Long-form, I'd be trying to steal editing time from paying client time. Without a compensation structure, I would blog my way to bankruptcy. Can't do it. Cat photos? I think the wife's allergic to cats. That's a no as well.
I need some distance. There is a solution here, but I'm just not seeing it.
I feel I should reiterate something: dangerousmeta! was an old-school, limited form of blogging. It was a purposeful Jamestown. As little noise as possible between the reading public and the links I felt were important, mildly mitigated by a tart opinion or comment to give context and color. I thrived on limitations. It was a fun, creative text-heavy style. I influenced a lot of folks, changed some lives. But right now, today, evolution has dangerousmeta! dead in its sights. A couple more paywalls, and I would be dead anyway. The Grim Reaper is looking down from its spavined horse, poking me with its scythe: “Dyin’ ain’t much of a livin’, boy.” (Josey Wales)
Therefore I am doing the hard thing today, going out while I still have substantial audience, before the next lynchmob arrives. Harder than I expected, after nearly nineteen years, getting within spitting distance of 100,000 posts, once upon a time within a rock's throw of owning today's hoity-toity 'curation' and 'interestingness' (thanks to Cameron Marlowe for measuring meme generation in the '00s). I tell myself ten years passed without any remarkable feeling of accomplishment, I doubt 20 years will add anything other than another decade. So with this post I take off the saddle and bridle, put dangerousmeta! out to pasture … while I crack my knuckles, stretch my back and contemplate what new devilment I can get into.
Nonexistent fame and fortune aside — my signature accomplishments, the most important things that allow me to walk away with my head held high: I learned how to write compellingly and with character, and to think clearly and not be influenced by the increasingly explanatory/editorial/sensationalist nature of journalism today. Those are more valuable than a dozen Forest Fenn treasure chests to me.
I hereby declare an official end to my long experiment in high-volume basic uncompensated unsponsored free-range gluten-free eclectic politics-included text-based solo link-and-comment blogging.
Say that ten times fast. I think I’ll make a t-shirt.
I believe this is an honorable, merciful end for the venerable blog. All options are now on the table again. I am free. Free of the tyranny of enclosing paywalls, free to find my unlimited voice again. We can be sad for the blog, but please - be overjoyed for me. My late client, celebrated author, race driver and great friend, Denise McCluggage, urged me to write books. Perhaps that will salve the blog-twitch as I work through PTBD (Post Traumatic Blog Disorder).
Thanks for lasting through that long explanation. I believe I have covered all the bases, it should all make sense now. Robert (Bump) will no doubt exclaim this is the longest 'Bilbo' in the history of blogging (something we joked about in the past, and both swore not to do). But I felt that with a little nudge from me – the past master of painfully spare concision – talking at such length might generate some discussion, perhaps change some things for the better.
I'm not ashamed to admit I face the future with trepidation, for the first time in decades. I can only barely remember a time when I was not scanning for items to add to the morning blog posts. Now I have to de-escalate all my supporting tech ... Evernote, Pocket, Instapaper, Newsblur, more. Bittersweet. I would share my techniques here, but my recommendations are already getting republished virtually verbatim on some 'professional weblogger' websites without my say-so.
I have cherished you, faithful readers and commenters. Thanks from the depths of my soul for the shared laughter, heartbreak, life-lessons, and great memories – and apologies for wearing out my welcome. We have together celebrated or lamented – and always thoroughly dissected – every major event of the last 18+ years. Though we couldn’t change the trajectory of history, I hope we boxed its ears hard as it passed. Together we uncovered some absolutely fantastic linkage, learned some amazing things.
Speaking of linkage and historical events, do you REALIZE how much we have blogged through? I was looking at my archives the other day, and left rather impressed: Y2k. Cerro Grande fire in Los Alamos (I was the only blogger in NM at that time, blogging as it happened - a canary in the coalmine for today’s devastating burns). USS Cole. Bush/Gore. Jeffords defecting from the Republicans. No Child Left Behind. 9/11. Anthrax (which was mailed from a PO box two blocks from my birth home). Invasion of Afghanistan. The Patriot Act. AA Flight 587. Department of Homeland Security created. Withdrawing from the ABM treaty. First all-weblogger wedding (mostly - two webloggers, married by a weblogger, witnessed by weblogger and wife). Beltway sniper. Columbia disintegrates (saw the streak from my back portal). Buildup and invasion of Iraq. Saddam captured. Facebook launched. 2004’s hurricane season. Massachusetts makes same-sex marriage legal. Reagan dies. Bush/Kerry - remember my commentary on the veritable Muppet Show of Democratic candidates (Kerry was ‘Sam the Blue Eagle’)? Twitter appears, starts bleeding 2/3’s of my audience. Katrina. Dems take both houses in 06. Pelosi rises. The ‘Troop Surge’ in Iraq. Virginia Tech. RECESSION. Hurricane Ike. Oil prices spike in ’08 (over $4 a gallon out here). Stock market crash in ’08. Obama elected. Tea Party gains maximum attention. Michael Jackson dies. Fort Hood shooting. Deepwater Horizon (in which I started hitting local-to-the-shore news orgs because nationals were posting absolute trash about the actual effects on the shorelines). Giffords is shot. Bin Laden killed. Flooding/tornadoes in ’11. Last Space Shuttle flight. Aurora theatre shootings. Obama/Romney. Newtown, CT mass shooting. Boston Marathon bombing. Wildfires, wildfires, wildfires. Defense of Marriage act defeated. Michael Brown shooting. Same sex marriage legalized. Pulse Nightclub shooting. SpaceX. 2016 Election. President Trump.
Too many shootings by far - Columbine happened in '99, when we started. An odd parallel, that. You know what they say about correlation and causation - a perfect case in point. A friend mentioned I should recite the above as beat poetry. And these are only the major events. National history, local experience and the weblog all intertwined. I hope you’re as happy with what you received, as I am for serving it all up. Do you know, that when I started trying out Userland's Manila blogging software that fateful day in '99, I only intended to spend three days playing with it? Think of it as a warning, for the next time you sign up for some new service (big grin).
I turn my talents to new and different projects, things that I could not accomplish because of the regular care and feeding of a popular weblog. You’ll see me on other services, I’m sure, though I may drop a few that no longer serve my core interests. Most of you are already friends and contacts on those, but if you haven’t hooked up, they’re linked at the bottom of this page. Please stay in touch.
I continue to consult professionally on weblog and social media topics. Though my beat is all but dead because of paywalls, niches, monetization and discussion dilution in the great maw of the social media chronological scroll, I am certainly not pushing up the daisies. (Oh, opportunity for a gratuitous Pythonism!) I may be shagged out after a near nineteen year squawk, but still perfectly serviceable. My skillset is unique as a result of all these years of online observation, winnowing, writing, researching, strategizing, brainstorming, designing and programming for the web. I am also a photographer and videographer, and look forward to enlivening my portfolios with this extra time. I am always available for interviews on the subject of blogs, blogging, blogging history, etc. The easiest way to reach me is via email.
I remain an advocate of all the potential that the blog format offers now and in the future. Well-moderated niche blogs that use small teams to keep them fresh are as vibrant as any in history. Women in particular have become significant weblog powerhouses. Mommybloggers (a niche I particularly admire) have evolved far, far beyond our old deities, the A-listers [of which I apparently am one - first I've heard of it]. Mommyblogs seem to have the basics of running sponsored/monetized blogging sussed - because they iterated faster than everyone else. Soulemama is a particular fave. If you're starting to blog, you could do significantly worse than watching how she does it all with grace and style. Blogging is still exciting, still growing. Form factors are morphing in mind-boggling ways. Millennials are going to be the next powerhouses, along with today’s high schoolers. It’s going to fun to watch, perchance to advise as ‘elders’. Give back to the next blogging generations, generously, at every opportunity.
I have one last grace to gift before I sign off. The blog that gives me the most hope for the future right now is Euan Semple's daughter's, The Fully Intended. Her heartfelt writing is what I aspired to do when I started, and did not achieve for years. She has the ability to convey character – an open and honest heart, just starting to experience the freedoms and responsibilities of adulthood – beautifully. I'm reserving two $20 bills to purchase her first book, in case she ever chooses to dive into print.
So though I declare an end for this particular blog style of mine, I do not intend to impose any sort of artificial sunset to other styles of blogging. A promise, though: if the time comes and the metacosm needs my particular voice again, whether here or in another construct, I will answer the call. You who might need me, know my strengths.
My voice and influence are not gone; they are just localized for the present. I engage with civil rights and environmental interests in my local area. I practice what I preach - action, not words. I recommend you do the same. Be smart, proactive not reactive. Apply your passion and energy where it is most effective.
I leave you with a song. [Spotify link.] Chris has seen me through some very hard periods this spring, so this is most appropriate, IMHO. For a long time, I thought I could survive paywalls. I never really knew their mind.
Adieu, my readers.
And sleep tight, my little weblog. I will miss you every day.
“Live, then, and be happy, beloved children of my heart,
and never forget, that until the day
God will deign to reveal the future to man,
all human wisdom is contained in these two words,
'Wait and Hope’.
– Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Cristo