Monday, August 4, 2008

Some Thoughts on Blogger Burnout

Ah summer doldrums. Seeing how Mark Dykeman is apparently sending out an SOS, and Corvida isn’t exactly burned out, but just can’t find anything she feels like writing about (and oh man, I know that feeling) I thought I’d chime in with a little bit of perspective from the vantage point of someone who definitely has been through this and burned out.

I wrote and published on the Internet (e-mail and web) at times fairly prolifically from 1994-2000. Then I burned out. How bad did I burn out? Well, in some ways so badly that I let simple things slip (which is one reason why I can’t easily point you to the 1994-2000 archive). But it’s not exactly a cautionary tale of woe.

If you get completely engulfed by the flame, you run the high risk of burning up and burning out. By 2000 I’d hit that point and I shifted my focus heavily away from technology. When the new ballpark in San Francisco opened in 2000, I got seasons tickets and between the 2000 and 2001 seasons I attended over 100 games. Sure, they were all steroided up, but at the time I could relate to it well. I was on mega-doses of prednisone myself because I’d stressed myself out so much I had a program with chronic hives. The prednisone worked, but in some ways the fix was worse than the problem, but I won’t bore you with those details.

All the baseball games on the other hand were a whole lot of fun. Hate Barry Bonds all you want, but seeing a lot of those home runs get dumped in the San Francisco Bay and a lot of them in person was a great deal of fun!

The opportunity to do that came from letting the flame engulf me. Had I not done that, I wouldn’t have probably gotten the hives, but I also wouldn’t be living in San Francisco, seen all those baseball games and had the luxury of not really needing a job for six years.

I don’t regret the outcomes or blame the burnout on being engulfed by the flame, but, I’d be lying if I said that achieving balance via extremes was a good way to go, or necessarily good for the soul. As a preference I’d have rather been writing a little bit for the last 14 years straight rather than writing a lot for six and then taking seven years off from it.

I definitely burned out, but not everyone does. There are plenty of people who were at it in 1995 who are still at it and never burned out or faded away.

One of the reasons I burned out is because I lost my passion for it. This happened because when it was new and you could write about what would likely happen and there were truly new and unique products and services springing up it was exciting. As things matured and played out more or less as expected, it wasn’t as much fun to write the same thing over and over again. So much of what was happening was “me too”. The Netscape browser was a big deal, but by about the 40th company that was spending money in hopes of being an Internet portal, it wasn’t all that interesting. Nor was it particularly interesting to write about how Yahoo had huge scale, but if not for the interest on the cash it had, it wouldn’t really be making any money over and over again.

Ironically one thing that has changed in the last 8 years is that Yahoo definitely figured out how to monetize its scale. It’s biggest crime is that it’s not Google, didn’t improve search as well as Google and didn’t invent the ad market for search. Sure, it’s a big missed opportunity, but I’m pretty sure I don’t have the stuff to write that over and over again like my pal Kara Swisher.

Kara’s been at all of this a long, long time. She was writing in 1995, and God willing, she’ll be writing in 2045. I think the reason is this, Kara loves both the writing and the story itself. I loved the technology and a lot of the story was interesting to me, but interesting on a level where I’d want to buy one of Kara’s books and read her version of it (she’s a great writer, and a great storyteller).

Her partner in crime at AllThingsD, Walt Mossberg is another one who never lost his passion. He’s been writing forever, and about technology for eons now. He went through heart bypass surgery (maybe over 10 years ago now) and came back stronger than ever. Why does he stick with it? Well, the fundamental premise of his Personal Technology columns in the Wall Street Journal when he began them (I think in 1991) was “Personal computers are too hard to use, and it’s not your fault.” I think as much as anything what’s fueled Walt all these years was the desire to improve things on that score and help people (consumers of personal computers and other technological gadgetry out).

I think for Walt and Kara, what they’re really passionate about and what they do are very well aligned. You might not see them as bloggers, but they’ve been sharing their voices for years and years without burning out, and whatever the medium, that’s impressive. I think one big reason I burned out is because my passion and what I was doing were not as completely aligned. That’s all on me.


Mark Dykeman - Broadcasting Brain said...

Um, Robert, ixnay on the urnoutbay.

Don't read too much into my use of the Police lyric, it just popped into my mind as I was looking for a title.

I certainly understand the burnout phenomenon but I'm happy to say that I'm not there at the moment. I just have come to realize and appreciate the effort that goes into good blogging.

gregory said...

people talk too much. and people write too much. silence is preferable.