Opportunity, community, and blogging’s midlife crisis: Reflections

Ellis Island reception hall, June 2012

You might think that after doing something for four or five or seven years, or even longer, you’d have a pretty good sense of how it works and how you’re doing with it. You might even feel pretty sure of yourself in comparing yourself with your peers. Or you might not. Even with all your experience, you may feel uncertain of your place in the landscape. Then again, maybe the landscape itself has changed, which means you may have to reconstruct your place within it…or reconsider how much you even want one.

In some contexts, we might call this a midlife crisis. And based on the public reflections and re-evaluations I’ve been seeing for a while, I’d say blogging–at least, blogging as I’ve known it since early 2007–is deep into one. It crosses topical fields and has affected even the most well-established bloggers.

Many of us who consider ourselves “veteran” bloggers recall when it was a smaller world. We were interested in openness and honesty and thoughtful self-expression, no matter what we were expressing ourselves about. And because there weren’t nearly as many of us expressing ourselves, we found each other much more easily, and connections and community grew pretty readily as we did. We were figuring it all out as we went along, and when we did occasionally catch the attention of those outside our realm, they weren’t really sure what to make of us.

But the outside world caught on, eventually, and they saw opportunity–a new market. And in return, they offered opportunity–and when opportunity knocked, many of us answered, eagerly. And the doors of opportunity opened wider, and more bloggers came for the opportunities. Most of the later arrivals shouldn’t be called “opportunists,” in all fairness; plenty still came for the self-expression and stayed for the community. But still, opportunity expanded all around, and the balance of give-and-take began to shift back and forth at increasing speed. A free-for-all began to sort itself into winners and losers–and although it’s never been entirely clear how the cuts are made, the marketers (and the self-marketers) seem to come up on the winning side more often than not.

Certain events can crystallize the feeling that it’s all gotten out of hand, and no event does that like an off-line gathering of bloggers. The aftermath of BlogHer–attended by 5000 bloggers this year–usually brings on a round of post-conference reflections, and one of the recurring themes this year is that long-term bloggers are questioning whether the conference–and by extension, the world of blogging in 2012–is a place where they still have a place. I’ve collected some of those reflections into a Readlist I’ve titled “Blogging vets and the midlife reassessment.”.

The book-blogger sector went through this self-assessment a couple of months ago. There was a strong sense that this year’s BEA Bloggers Conference offered very little to veteran book bloggers for whom being the object of marketing has lost its allure; we’ve learned that “free books” do have a cost. We’ve also learned that “working with” publishers and PR folks (and trying not to work directly with authors, because that can get overly personal and awkward) leaves us less time to do things with each other. But there are so many of us now, fragmented into ever-more-specialized niches, that there are times when it’s very difficult to see us as one single “book-blogger community” doing things together any more.

And there are times I’m not sure that’s a bad thing. The whole community may be too much for one individual blogger to navigate, but within that whole, most of us manage to find our tribes. Andi and Heather are about as “veteran” as book bloggers get, and their new collective venture, The Estella Society (launching next week!), aims to help us through this midlife crisis by reconnecting with our tribal roots.

“(T)he truth of the matter is that the book blogging community is a very confusing place to be these days. Early adopters in the mid-2000s were tickled to find one another. Most of us were searching for other readers such as ourselves and we found each other online in Yahoo! Groups and eventually via blogs. We didn’t fight or quibble. We enjoyed each other and we enjoyed our community. 

In light of the state of book blogging now, Heather and I have arranged an Estella rebirth. This time, as… 

The Estella Society…a reading playground by book bloggers, forbook bloggers. Our goal is to build community. 

Much like Estella’s Revenge E-zine did back in the day, we’ll ask book bloggers to come together to provide the content for this site. We envision feature articles, regular columns, reviews and reactions, original content and syndicated content, read-alongs, readathons, polls, news, humor, and artwork. Your imagination is limitless and we want to know your ideas and have your participation. We urge any and all bloggers to come up with their own dreams to throw into the mix.”

I’m curious to see how this back-to-basics approach will pan out in the current blogging landscape, but I’m excited that the Estella gals are going for it, and I fully intend to be in their playground. I wouldn’t say that my blogging’s in a full-blown midlife crisis, but I am self-assessing. I know I miss the old sense of community, and getting back to at least some of the basics sounds pretty good to me sometimes.

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