In a thoughtful comment on web site concepts, Vikram Bath asks whether I see blogs, as opposed to social media, filling a need for “less ephemeral content.” The short answer would be affirmative with qualifications, while the longer answer would be my justification, as I began to explain in prior discussion, for moving away, if gradually, from an overarching blog or “web-log” concept toward a “site” concept.
In the same discussion thread, bob supplies a previously written, more expansive definition of the topic:
What changes and what stays almost the same in the experience of abandonment and ruin as one travels through digital-analog space? This socially created, technologically mediated, transduced space deforms, re-forms, informs, conforms, confounds, conjoins the experiences of human and machine individuation and collectivity moment to moment, each arising as ephemeral wholes dependent on their decaying parts.
The status of ephemeral whole dependent on decaying parts describes much else beyond pseudo-locations in the Web, of course. It may describe each and all of us, for example, and it may describe human civilization at all, or everything we call “culture,” but culture, or art in the broad sense, is not only decay, or itself is an argument for each and all of us against time as simply a principle of mortality. The holism of the whole, ephemeral or not, is or includes or asserts a realization or potential (or realization of potential or potential realization, etc.) different from and independent of the sum of its particular mortal parts.
Rather than argue the terms of bob’s description philosophically, however, we can turn our eyes, or simply keep them turned, to the matter right before us, in a sense to these very words as I type but then again as you read them in their first and, as far as we can know and expect, their only meaningful context.
The word “blog” – from “web log,” of course – on its own terms suggests a long series of observations, the vast majority of which will remain unlikely ever to be of lasting interest if re-visited at all. The blog understood in this sense would be a typical denizen of the World-Wide Web and more generally of a media culture of mutually conditioning overproduction and disposability. I think we agree, as many others have also observed, that the problem today for the classic blog – the amateur or independent, continually updated web log that flourished during the internet epoch of “the blogosphere,” and still survives today, of course (even here, wherever this is or is for now) – is that Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms have taken over what used to be the blog’s social, or we might say “social-ephemeral,” functions, especially link- and media-sharing and informal real-time reaction and interaction. Other relatively high profile sites like Medium, Beacon, and Sulia have tried – in different ways, with I think less success, but still to an encroaching effect – to take over “less ephemeral” “platisher” (platform + publisher) functions, while larger commercial and even academic publishers have become more blog-like or have added web logs and e-publishing arms.
In sum, the absorption into other formats of the blog’s key points of attraction has produced as it reflects a vicious circle or bad synergy: On the publishing side, if writers can advance their prospects by “posting” for Forbes or the LA Times, why should they waste their ideas and significant efforts for near-nothing or less, where fewer and fewer people are paying attention? If readers can get the stray musings of Yet Another Celebrity Ex-Blogger for free or almost-free where they also get their news and reviews, why waste eye-time on nobodies at a site that mostly looks stuck in 2006, unless visited by smartphone or tablet, in which case it may hardly be viewable at all?
Still, though the big, slick, expensive sites and services offer many of the things, and better, that ten years ago we went to (each other’s) blogs to find, they are inadequate for anyone seeking more than “the literature of a quarter of an hour,” but not involved in, supported by, or satisfied with traditional commercial and academic publishing. A blog might seem to belong to that species of 15-minute literature, but, once the all-consuming desire for passing interest has been stolen away or stolen back, the blog-as-log begins to disappear, revealing a virtual location: the site, marked by the non- or anti-ephemeral durability of logos rather than log.
A site may host a web-log, or even be led by a web-log, or may seem to consist of nothing else but a web-log, but it always exceeds, as it always implicitly exceeded, the web-log. The site is a “place” already stubbornly “there,” accessible for examination and salvage or even a type of inhabitation, defying the passage of time merely into oblivion by synthesizing it objectively, a virtual binding that encloses a hyper-poem of “fragments shored against [our] ruin.” The site may be what the blog always aspired to be, or what the blogger aspired for it to be, though it may also reveal an exiguity implying only emptiness – a stopping of time or a non-ephemerality of a different type or in a different sense, and not necessarily for the worse, as I suspect bob might want to remind us.
Bath’s reference elsewhere in his comment to the methods of academics is on point, while his reluctance to comment unless he believes he has something substantial to contribute to discussion is probably appropriate for an essentially “anti-ephemeral” enterprise – or for site-keeping as finally simply independent publishing or self-publishing. Yet readers who do not comment either in the threads or from their own sites (while duly pinging back or otherwise notifying) can also respond, or give back for whatever they have gotten, by other familiar means, including by “social” recommendation on Twitter or Facebook or Reddit. At a multi-author or community site, or at a celebrity or other high-traffic site, a more complex interplay of ephemeralities (including those that happen to stay a while after all) and counter-ephemeralities (including those that pass away against intention) will be possible. The site architect or sitewright must determine how his or her code opens itself to the world, and whether and how to facilitate dialogue or community, including by integrating and exploiting, rather than simply denying or resisting, the “social-ephemeral.”
The site – like a church or a shrine or monastery or library or campus – mediates between, or relates, mere immediacy or ephemerality, or simply mortality, and its opposites. The site cannot substitute for – fully replace or displace – all those other places, but it may provide a useful, even important and necessary alternative to them as well as to books, those highly functional icons of the anti-ephemeral, often also instantly available electronically. Not to accept that possibility would, in the age of the internet, amount to an unqualified, not to mention unexpected and untimely, endorsement of established institutions exclusively.