China Blog Funk-O-Rama

August 1, 2013

A strange funk seems to have descended on the English-language China Blogosphere, or at least those blogs that I usually follow (i.e., the ones focusing more on news, business, politics, economics and law). Maybe it’s something to do with the air quality here in Beijing, which is no doubt simultaneously making us lethargic, asthmatic, and less likely to blog — it’s quite possibly making us sterile as well, although I haven’t verified that one personally.

Some time ago, the stalwart Sinica podcast devoted an episode to “Death of the China Blog,” and I think things are even worse now. Speaking for myself, I had two two-week business trips, a very busy end of the 2nd quarter, and the complete failure of my laptop as impediments to regular blogging. No excuses, just an explanation.

I can’t really explain what’s going on generally, but there has been a noted drop-off in blog post production by the usual suspects. I won’t name names or point fingers, except at myself, but if you want some hints, you can visit Richard Burger’s blogroll over at The Peking Duck – Richard has apparently culled the hell out of his blog list due to lack of production, and he also admits to being less than motivated these days when it comes to blogging.

What’s going on here? Is everyone just busy and burned out? Being busy comes and goes, and if you are really determined, you can find a way to keep writing. Admittedly, it does get challenging when you are working long hours, but that’s life. I’ve already resigned myself to posting only a couple times a week at best given other commitments, but to be honest, as busy as I’ve been, I easily could have met that goal had I been more motivated.

Which brings us to the Blog Burn-out, which is another matter entirely. I’ve experienced this many times over the past few years. The repetition and sheer drudgery really take their toll after a while, particularly when your blog covers the same topics over and over again. There are many China blogs out there that occupy niches much narrower than mine, and my hat is off to those folks.

Speaking of the same-old same-old, look at the “big” China stories over the past few weeks:

  • A new “labor scandal” for Apple — {yawn}
  • GSK caught for bribery — big company, big news, but a decidedly old topic, particularly in the health sector
  • Foreign companies in China being targeted by the government — gimme a break with this one already; this topic needs to be retired unless we are talking specifically about unfair competition investigations (a relatively new phenomenon)
  • CFIUS might look at Smithfield merger — news flash! Douchebag American politicians are trying to get some TV time by bashing China

Meh. Hard to get motivated to write about any of that. God knows how the professional media types do it. I suspect they self-medicate.

The other oft-cited culprit for the dearth of new blog content is social media. Why slog through a 1,000-word post when you can Tweet something pithy in 18 seconds, particularly if you are not producing original news but simply commentary? It’s a fair point but sometimes just a rationalization for being lazy, something with which I am unfortunately well acquainted.

If you can adequately convey your comments via Tweet, then most likely 1) the topic wasn’t all that complicated to begin with; and 2) your thoughts on it are simple and straightforward. There’s also the possibility that you are hopelessly generalizing, taking a tough subject and sound-biting it because you have no time/energy/inclination to write a blog post. And that’s a shame.

Then again, some topics really are that simple, and social media works just fine. Moreover, the interaction you get on Twitter-ish platforms beats the crap out of blog comment threads. Admittedly, if you post enough Tweets and talk to enough folks about a topic, I suppose you can develop plenty of nuance — seems rather cumbersome and time consuming to me, but that’s just a personal observation.

I know several bloggers who are either threatening to board up the blog and move completely onto social media or have already done so. I have considered this myself, but I have two problems: first, access to social media is haphazard at best.

Some days I can get on my VPN and jump on Twitter, many days I can’t, and that does not even factor in the difficulties of reading news and navigating blocked/inaccessible sites. I’m not sure if the process has gotten any worse over the past year or so, but my patience isn’t what it used to be. I’ve gotten used to instant access, e-commerce same day delivery, and streaming video, and the uncertainty associated with social media and news access really discourages me these days — which is the whole point of the IT infrastructure here, right?

Second, to really get a lot out of social media, you have to put in the time. Whether you are pushing out lots of posts or simply lurking, you basically need these applications constantly updating on your desktop or mobile device. Even if you live outside China or otherwise have stable access to these apps, you still need the time, even if it’s on a multitasking basis, to pay attention to writing/reading this stream of information.

On a side note, this notion of “scheduled Tweets” is absurd given the time-sensitive nature of that kind of social media. Definitely not a panacea for folks with day jobs.

In contrast, with traditional blogging there is no stream of data. Even if you post a few times a day (although I haven’t done that for a long time), the time is spent dealing with a small number of tasks, spaced out according to your schedule. Social media is certainly flexible as well, but I find the “always on” nature of it difficult to deal with.

With respect to readers, unless you have a video or photo blog, it’s getting difficult to capture the attention of folks with plain old text commentary. I have the attention span of a flea these days, and I suspect I’m not the only one. Needless to say, I have not experienced a flood of email over the past few weeks requesting me to get off my ass and start posting again.

Conclusions? Very few, I’m afraid. We might just be experiencing a summer-doldrum lag in blog production and will see an uptick later in the year. It’s happened before. But the long-term trend doesn’t look promising, and if blogs continue losing ground while access to foreign social media and news remains painful and inconsistent (in China), China Hearsay‘s time as a free-standing website might be limited.