Sunday, 28 March 2010

Joel Spolsky and the Death of Blogging

Warning: this article contains meta material.  If you are easily offended by blogging about blogging, please stop reading now.

Still here?  Good, let's crack on then.

I personally am not a fan of metablogs - I read blogs for interest, entertainment, and education, and am not particularly interested in reading the authors' pontifications on the state of their respective navels.  One saving grace for blogs in this respect is that they are less susceptible to the curse of self-reference than tech podcasts.  These seem without exception to descend into an analysis of the microphones, headphones, software, and patch cables being used.  I suspect this is largely a by-product of putting geeks in close proximity to, you know, geeky stuff.  Perhaps blogging is slightly less prone to this phenomenon as it features fewer tools - after all, you just need a text editor.

And so it was with some surprise that I found myself writing this.  What prompted it was the recent announcement by Joel Spolsky that he's going to quit (actually, by the time this goes up it will be 'has quit') blogging.  He made the announcement in an Inc Magazine article, and his blog entry on distributed version control looks like being his last.

In case your universe hasn't intersected that of Joel's, he runs Fog Creek Software in New York.  They have several products in their portfolio, but I think it's fair to say that their FogBugz bug tracking application is their main calling card.  Joel has also run the Joel on Software blog for some time, and is a well known pundit and commentator on all things software.  More recently he co-founded the Stack Overflow website, a Q and A website for programmers that has very rapidly gained a huge chunk of mindshare.

In his valedictory Inc Magazine article Joel states amongst other things that blogging is just too narrowly focused to be effective advertising for his company.  Which makes perfect sense if you're using it as a source of potential revenue.

In his penultimate Joel on Software article Joel lists some of the subject articles that have been written several kajillion times, by legions of pundits exploiting the whole democratisation of opinion made possible by the explosion of the Internet.  Which makes perfect sense if what you want to do is something truly original, especially in the narrowly-defined genre of geekerature.

All of which made my pause and consider - why am I doing this?  If someone as well known as Joel has had enough, doesn't see the point, and is getting out, why should I bother?  Why expend time and mental effort re-visiting subjects that other people have already addressed, more incisively and profoundly than I can?


  • I enjoy the act of writing.  I take pleasure in jotting down fleeting ideas or comments, and letting them germinate until they spring forth as fully-fledged articles.  It forces you to articulate and justify vaguely-held opinions and beliefs.  Under the weight of such scrutiny some ideas have self-imploded and got thrown out as blog fodder, but that doesn't diminish the importance of the process one whit.  In fact, if anything it increases it.
  • Joel's been doing this a lot longer than I have.  He's been there, done that, got the T-shirt, and it's time to move on.  Actually, he must have a whole wardrobe full of T-shirts.  For me the world of blogging is still new and shiny and pretty.  I'm enjoying it, so why stop?
  • There's a vague chance that some of my ramblings may be of some use to somebody, somewhere, some when.  Goodness knows I've learnt plenty from other people's blogs, and in some sense it's a little bit of repayment of accumulated karmic debt.
  • The articles act as a reference of techniques and ideas that I can easily find in the future.  If I want to do some fixed point arithmetic, or generate some random numbers, I've got ready-to-go code snippets and links back to original source material.  Of course I haven't actually written all that much yet, but I've already had reason to dip back into the archives a few times.  I've got a stack of blog ideas and sketched-out articles, so this blog will hopefully turn into a useful resource for the future me.
  • It is also of course partly self-aggrandising/self-serving.  The Internet has zeroed the cost of vanity publishing, so I may as well put something out there.  Something I can link to at some point in the future to flesh out my CV a bit.  Something that shows that I haven't spent the last several years just fulfilling a mandate as a corporate drone, but that I also think about and care about what I do.

My apologies for the brief digression into self-analysis.  Relatively normal service will be resumed in due course.

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