On Tuesday, Jason Kottke announced that he was devoting himself full-time to working on maintaining his weblog, and asking for his readers to support him financially so he could do so. There was, of course, a lot of attention and a lot of discussion, since Jason is arguably the most popular individual weblogger on the Internet, and because his framing of his effort is fairly unique in its motivations and execution. What’s more important to me, though, is that Jason’s decision to work on his site professionally matters.
Of course, that’s the kind of statement that gets bloggers ridiculed (often rightly so) for hubris, or for losing perspective. So let me explain. In short, Jason’s decided that blogging as a medium deserves to be supported for its own sake, not as an adjunct or a lesser sibling to other media, and to put his money where his mouth is.
And this comes down not just to believing in blogs, but in choosing what blogs can be. Blogging isn’t about politics, or technology, or food, or design. It’s about all of those things, or none of them, or whatever topic catches your eye. It’s as idiosyncratic and compelling as an individual, and it’s a different medium to every person who’s ever participated, or to every one who’s ever dropped out. (Though they always come running back.) So Jason’s betting on the potential of the medium.
More impressively, he’s bet his rent that bloggers are generous enough and adventurous enough to support their own. That we all care about the medium so much that we’ll make his risk worth his while. Given the track record of in-fighting and cliquishness and polarization that has characterized the weblog realm since its earliest days and worsened over the years, it’s an optimistic and brave endorsement of the medium that Jason’s decided to wager his entire lifestyle on our generosity.
Now, both in the interest of disclosure and as background, I should explain that I consider Jason a good friend of mine. He and I had talked, in fairly vague terms, about the idea of professional blogging some time ago, and when he came closer to a specific idea of trying to do his site professionally as a better incarnation of its current self, I was an extremely enthusiastic supporter.
Should I support him because he’s the first to try to blog professionally? No. (He’s not.) Because he’s the best blogger on the web? No. (Though he is.) Because he’s not just making a living by blogging about a lucrative niche topic? Maybe.
There’s a lot of reasons for my support. First, I admire anybody with the chutzpah to go and do something entrepreneurial. But I also admire someone who bets on optimism, on people’s best traits, on their desire to encourage others. I believe in the idea of everyone being a Medici, except without the nasty Medici habit of infiltrating the papacy. (“Pope Hacking”, coming soon from O’Reilly.) I think that we need more good examples of a personal blog, one that comes from an individual’s desire to explore the world and share their discoveries with the audience they want to reach, whether that’s a few close friends or the entire web.
But I also want to have one of the first and highest-profile weblogs be created by someone who loves the web. Weblogs are the most natural format for content on the Internet, as comfortable a fit for their medium as sitcoms are to television. I remember reading back to Matt’s post about joining Pyra and it reminds me about why I found Jason’s work compelling in the first place, and why I was drawn to blogging with such a passion that I ended up writing almost the same post as Matt when I joined a blogging company myself.
I want the people who get quoted about being professsional bloggers to be people who really love the web, not just people who love what the web can do for their careers, or their notoriety, or for their causes. I don’t want people to start blogging merely so they can “graduate” to television or print, though I certainly am glad that there are people who do so. I just want to make sure that there’s some representation for people who still get excited about what the web can be, and are still looking to find out what the web is becoming next.
Some history is probably in order to explain more about why this is true. I first interacted with Jason because he gave a description of how to unshrink a wool sweater. Hardly profound, but eminently practical, and a classic example of that web serendipity where you find a bit of information you didn’t even know you were looking for.
From there, I went backwards to Jason’s work on 0sil8, his site of influential and innovative episodic web experiments. What I quickly realized was that Jason was someone who fit the the words that Matt later used:
It’s hard to find people that “get” the web anymore. Everyone’s scampering for the next big profit model, doing whatever it takes to create the next successful IPO. These are people that “use” the web or “do” the web, it’s just another medium to them like television or radio (remember when people used to think television could educate us?). The people that really “get” the web are the people that can still remember how magical it was to hear stories from the other side of the world, they can remember the first time a complete stranger emailed them to share experiences similar to the one’s they wrote about, and they know an interconnected world isn’t just about selling stuff to everyone that can operate a mouse.
One of the things Jason and I have in common is we’re both basically geeks from small towns who ended up in New York. It seems to me that we both independently decided to try to appreciate the things that a town with that sort of culture had to offer without either adopting the pretentious tones of people who make Art, or the cynical tones of those who won’t ever let themselves appreciate other people’s work.
I saw that just the other day with Jason’s near-reverent post about seeing The Gates in Central Park. It’s a polarizing work, inspiring lots of people to scoff and respond with either “I could do that!” or “What a waste of money!” or “That doesn’t count as effort!”, but almost none of those responses came from people who have actually witnessed the work, as far as I can tell. It takes vision and conviction to try to support oneself by creating a work in a medium that many don’t yet consider legitimate, and to ask for support from the others who are open-minded and, well, optimistic enough to see the potential of the dream, too.
The idea that someone can make a blog so good you’d be glad to pay for it? That this medium isn’t gonna change the world, or change human nature, or destroy old media, but that despite all that it still matters? That’s a dream I’m willing to pay to support. That’s worth my money. So, I’m a Kottke.org micropatron.