Every year, bloggers tend to do a wrap up of the last years work, hitting the highlights of the period, and linking back to the best posts of the year. I’ve made a practice of it myself, but this year I want to do a little navel-gazing as well about what the Hell I’m doing here and what we here in the Cocktailosphere overall are accomplishing, if anything. I think that there are also things to be learned from this about the Blogosphere and related social media, and how these things that have changed how we communicate in turn are changing themselves.
Why do people blog in the first place? Similarly, why do exponentially more people post on Facebook, Twitter, and other similar avenues? The traditional answer is because they feel they have something to say. I don’t think this is quite on the nose. We write (online or traditionally) because we think that there is something that we want you to hear. And not necessarily something profound. You can make up jokes all day. They only get rewarding when you share them with others.
To be clear, you are not always right when you think that anyone else wants to hear what you have to say. Even your best friends don’t need to see 58 pictures a day of your kids, nor hear of the adorable little BM Junior made, right in the exact geometric center of the potty, today. And that is deathless prose compared to Breaking News that you have “Checked In” at the Starbucks on 34th.
When I started blogging here, my sole intent was to evangelize about the world’s greatest, yet largely forgotten, cocktail, the Pegu. Actually, my real desires were just to see how a blog worked from a technical standpoint, and maybe steer a few
unwitting victims customers to my murder mystery party business. I left myself an out to write a little bit beyond Pegus with my tagline, “… and other ramblings on the cocktail life.” But basically I wrote about everything I could find on Pegus on the web.
Lots of, if not most, blogs start in similar fashion. Someone realizes that they have a few things to say about some subject that they think other people would want or need to hear. Blogs are dead easy to set up, for free or at minimal cost, so they create one, and write a post or two to scratch this itch.
After a couple of months, life intruded, and I essentially abandoned this blog, not posting or even logging in for several months. One day I logged in to my admin page by accident and stopped to think. This has been fun, I told myself, but you have done your schtick. There is only so much you can write about a single cocktail without appearing (more completely) compulsively insane. What I was discovering was that it was easy to set up a blog, and to write about the things I had in mind that made me set it up to begin with.
Now I had a choice. Do I hit the Add Post button and start expanding my subject matter, or do I chalk this up to valuable experience and move on?
This is an overwhelmingly common Rubicon moment. One most bloggers do not cross. Last decade, at least 60% of new blogs were abandoned in their first month, and 95% were abandoned after a quarter.
But I was one of the few who chose to wade across, with my legion of words. I did for a couple of reasons. First, some people were actually reading this site. Hard as it was for me to believe then, and for the PeguWife to believe to this day, a fairly gratifying number of people out there find what I have to say, or at least the way I say it, to be entertaining and/or informative. Second, I found that blogging is a profoundly educational kind of writing. When students in high school do a quarter or year of independent study, they should be required to blog their research as they go. Their advisers would know that they are advancing their study, and they would gain invaluable depth to their understanding of their studies by writing them up as they go.
In the course of these five years, I’ve gone from a guy with a few items of uncommon knowledge and enough general comprehension of the subject to talk a good game about drinks, to someone with such an obscene amount of information, utilitarian and obscure alike, tucked away in his noggin that most people think I’m a serious expert. I’m not, of course. Among the knowledge I’ve acquired is who the serious cocktail experts in this world really are, and what kind of knowledge and skill makes them so.
And I do try to never be serious.
Even once you move on to becoming a Blogger, as opposed to someone who “has a blog”, it remains a hard game to keep playing.
Most importantly, there is no money in blogging. The fraction of blogs run by bloggers worthy of the term is tiny. The fraction of those bloggers who make any money at all is tiny. And the fraction of those money-making bloggers who make a living at it is tinier still. “Sweet, sweet blog money” is as mythical as hen’s teeth, unicorns, and the President’s debt reduction plans. Blogs can be springboards or adjuncts to lucrative livings, but a blog itself is just not going to feed your kids. I do pretty well around here, and yet my total yearly earnings barely cover my annual purchases of Cointreau and Bombay Sapphire. I’ve understood this for a long time, and naven’t let it slow down my work here. But this year, as Doug’s Personal Economic Indicators continue to suck, it has been more on my mind.
That aside, my reward has always been mostly in having readers. Overall, my traffic continues to grow, as it always has. But since I’m an insecure dude, I always worry if this is because as the cocktail renaissance proceeds, there are just that many more readers out there in general, rather than because of a voracious appetite for my my purple prose.
And there is still the matter of my comments, or paucity thereof.
Oh God, no!
Are you going to go off on another of your whinging rants about how your readers don’t comment enough to suit your fancy and salve your ego?
Well, they don’t… But that’s not where I was going. I do love it when I get comments, especially comments that get responded to by other commenters. My point (this time) is that comments help a blogger know what things he’s writing about are really engaging people. Without them, I don’t know if the high-traffic post I’ve written is actually interesting to my target audience, or simply accidentally very SEO-friendly. Honestly, I often get a better idea of people’s reactions to my tweets than to a blog post like this.
But there is another reward to serious blogging that simply does not exist in Facebook or Twitterland: Fellow bloggers. Sure you have lots of friends (with quotes or without) on Facebook and on Twitter, but when you blog seriously, you will find that you have colleagues. In five years of doing this, I have gathered a stable of entertaining and valuable colleagues (and friends) who blog about drinks as I do. And though I’m much worse at this kind of networking than many of said colleagues, I’ve made a good number of contacts in the industry we cover as well. These folks are the readers and correspondents that I value above all, and what have made five years of sometimes ridiculously hard or expensive work all worth while.
So, if all is so right with the world, why the navel gazing, instead of a Happy Birthday To Me post detailing how awesome Tiki Month was this Winter, my incompletely blogged cross-country barcrawl, and how my first trip to Tales of the Cocktail opened up all sorts of new horizons for me?
Because for me and a lot of my fellow booze bloggers, we’ve reached the next great Rubicon moment in blogging: The “is what we are doing ‘over’?” moment. Our situation hardly unique. In fact, I’d suggest that it is universal. Every segment of the blogosphere has this Closing of the Frontier moment. The political blogs had it long ago, the blogospohere as a whole had it long ago. Mommy blogs have had it. Food blogging and cocktail blogging are among the areas that are having it now.
The Closing of the Frontier is when newcomers stop being perceived as, and feeling like, pioneers, and instead are more like the new neighbors. New bloggers don’t have to invent the way things are done anymore, and old bloggers (like me) look around and realize that this community we created isn’t precisely what we meant to or hoped to create. Further we find that there is no gold in those hills (see above). Or if there was, it was a small amount and is either gone or will never be profitable to mine. Colorful figures from the early days fade away, and whether this is due to real life intrusions, demands of the liver, or disinterest in the new, domesticated blogoscape, many readers and fellow bloggers will internalize the explanation as the last of these. And all this makes those of us who remain question our own place in things.
Part of this closing of the frontier in the Cocktailosphere is due to concurrent maturation of the world we cover, classic cocktails. It is no longer (as) weird or obscure. Bartending as a craft is once again becoming a thing. Great bars, and bar which aim to be great, proliferate across the world. And paradoxically, with the blossoming of our subject matter, a blog that looks like the average cocktail blog two years ago now seems a bit superfluous.
Yet, I don’t feel I’m reaching to say that I and especially my fellow pioneers of the Cocktailosphere had no small part in making this all happen. We helped give voice to the bartenders who revived the art. Some of us were those bartenders. Others of us have become those bartenders. We helped them hone the message. We tested and indeed created many of the ideas and themes you see now being used by the giants in the industry to nurture and profit from this growth area. We gave enthusiasts a means to find out about a world of possibilities and opportunities out there as we educated ourselves.
But are we needed now, for that? I know a lot of my friends think not. It can hurt to feel that the baby you helped nurture along is walking just fine now and doesn’t need you that way anymore. I find myself sad as I write this, but want to make sure you don’t think I share that bitterness.
Because, while I don’t think the craft cocktail world needs the kind of blog space the Cocktailosphere has been till now as much as it did, I deeply believe that there is now as much or more material to be written about than there was in the early days. How it is written about may change, and what exactly is the focus of many blogs will change as well. But the need for blogs like this remains, and will remain.
Because hey, what industry doesn’t need snarky quick hits and long-form speculation and innuendo, not to mention the occasional appearance by gin-soaked sockpuppets!
Don’t worry, Guy. You aren’t going anywhere.
My re-appearance at this point indicates that the maudlin reminiscence tone of this post has run its course.
I for one am going nowhere. (That didn’t sound right…) I have no intention of retiring this blog, nor do I accept that just because the frontier has closed, boozeblogging is somehow passé. I intend to continue to encourage the growth and vigor of the Cocktailosphere going forward on this, its fifth anniversary, and…
It’s the Pegu Blog’s fifth anniversary. Are you claiming that you started the cocktailosphere?
Well, he is pretty arrogant, you know….
Yeah, but not usually this much!
Of course not. But I started right about at the point where the wave started to build. There are damn few cocktail blogs older than this one, and fewer still which remain active. I’m quite proud of my own little contributions to the cocktail world as a whole, and slightly larger ones to the Cocktailosphere itself.
So for me, and for the rest of my colleagues in cocktail blogging, we come back to the same place that I wrote about at the top of the post. Do I put it to bed, or do I hit Add Post and start covering different aspects of the cocktail craft, and write about the old stuff in new ways? For those of you who read my regularly, you’ll note that in this, my fifth year, I’ve already made that decision. Look for more to come, please. And let me know what you think.