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The Tail That Wags the Blog
They behave like fun-loving slackers, but they're secretly staging a coup

By Joel Achenbach
Sunday, August 21, 2005

I constantly tell myself: Ignore the blog. Do your work. You are an enormous literary figure and cultural icon, not a mere "blogger." You must produce high-end journalism with grand themes and huge groaning multi-syllabic words like "eschatological," and you can't be dribbling away all your ideas on the blog. Be strong! Resist the blog!

And then . . . I hear it yowling.

The blog is hungry. The blog will not be ignored. It is an insatiable little beast, a creature still unclassified by science -- hairy, warty, slobbering, with its own fiendish agenda. I often fantasize about killing the blog, but I worry that it will respond just like the crazed computer in "2001: A Space Odyssey": It will try to kill me first.

The blog originated in January as a catch basin for mental detritus, for the kind of stuff not good enough for print, but too good to waste on casual conversation or, worse, mere thinking. But this spring I began allowing "comments," and the blog suddenly mutated. America, it turns out, is full of smart, clever, creative people who happen to have no interest in working and whose employers have unwisely given them Internet access. Thus every day, on my blog, these strangers show up, just to shoot the breeze, flirt, kvetch, veer off topic and, most of all, pay zero attention to what I have written.

Let's cut to the chase: The blog ignores me.

I am constantly having to post something new just to make the blog interested in me again. My contribution to the blog is what I call the "Kit." The commenters' part is called the "Kaboodle." Some of the everyday Kaboodlers make references to "our blog," as though they're co-proprietors. It's obvious at this point that the Kaboodle is trying to take over the blog. And it won't stop with me: I can picture the Kaboodle rambling across the countryside, panting heavily, stomping through people's gardens, tinkling on little kids' tricycles, etc.

The general trend in blogs seems to be the diminution of the blogger and the elevation of the commentariat. There may come a day when even the human components of the blog will begin to be overshadowed by automatic features. You can imagine a TiVo-like blog: The blogging software knows automatically what the blogger and the commenters would say on any given topic. Already, many political blogs are so predictable and formulaic it's hard to tell whether the author is a person or a machine. A thousand years from now, blogs will have explored the universe, telling alien races about the human beings who used to be masters of the blogs but, because of irrational and stupid blog postings, had to be exterminated.

I find that my own blogging is increasingly mechanical and formulaic. As an artist, my normal impulse is to write things that people don't care about and, ideally, can't even understand. Gibberish. But my freedom of expression is hampered by the blogging software that tracks every page view. In the old days, the age of print, a journalist had very little data on how many people read a particular story. Now I can track readership second by second, eyeball by eyeball. It's obvious what people want: political screeds and celebrity gossip. A few weeks back, I blogged three paragraphs on Karl Rove. Someone at Google News linked to the blog, and a Rovestorm erupted, a festival of vituperation, with a commensurately outstanding number of page views. Now I pretty much have to write about Rove all the time. (Contrary to what you may have heard, my blog item "Karl Rove Linked to Hoffa Disappearance" was completely fair.)

The continual focus-grouping explains why most bloggers write as though their primary goal is to rise in the Google search results. The more you mention people like Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, the more readers you will have, and the more links, and the more you will rise in Google's estimation. I have nothing really to say about Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, and am not even remotely interested in Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie, but I know that my blog will be read by more people if it mentions famous celebrities who might be secretly boinking, such as Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie.

And let me just add, purely for the sake of Google: sex, alien abduction, Oprah, Tom Cruise, Lindsay Lohan, jumbo hooters the size of watermelons, Dick Cheney, Mark of the Beast, Armageddon, free money.

Read Joel Achenbach weekdays at washingtonpost.com/achenblog.

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