For a long time, the accepted answer has been that “bloggers do things [and document what they do] so that you don’t have to“. In this worldview, bloggers are net-savvy individuals cursed by a craving for foolish adventure, but somehow redeemed (partially, at least) by their sense of openness.

But as a blogger, I get to see a lot of blogs: and I have to say that many (if not most) of the blogs I have seen emerging over the last 2-3 years are cut from a quite different cloth. Almost entirely gone is the sense of adventure (whether physical or cerebral): that entire urge seems to have lurched sideways into the “bucket list” fake world of Facebook. Also gone is the sense of vicarious and arbitrary participation, a kind of living-by-doing (and then documenting) ethic: this too seems to have been reduced in the Internet’s metaphorical sauté pan down to the rather mindless level of sharing pictures of restaurant lunches on Instagram.

The things that seem to have replaced both of these are instead shallower and rather less intense: barely-informed opinions, defensive snarkishness, an absence of any obvious critical thought, and jaw-juttingly defiant I-am-right-ness. You might disagree, but it seems to me that blogging has in general become a platform for the angrily unengaged: an opinionated echo chamber of prodigiously tiny dimensions, with no sign of any humility or experimentality.

In short, the blogger world circa mid-2017 seems to have lost its collective mojo: the pinnacle of the art has instead become a focus on Google Ads and paid-for reviews. Yeah, yeah, I know, you might think that I think that “it was all green fields here when I started blogging a decade ago“, but that’s honestly not the point I’m trying to make. Rather, it seems to me that in recent years society’s implicit contract with bloggers has changed: the more ambitious have moved on to propagandic vlogging (e.g. Stampy, Dan TDM, Zoella, PewDiePie, etc) or satirical tweeting (e.g. the ever-amusing Wor Cheryl), and it’s only the Adamsian B Ark left, sorry.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, I too am thinking of moving on from blogging: I’m at heart a very positive, creative and generative person, and I’m not currently finding blogging as supportive a platform for the positive, creative and generative things I want to do as I would like. As some will remember, I tried to step sideways into crowdfunded television a little while back: though that didn’t prove successful on that occasion, it’s perhaps still broadly the kind of direction that would perhaps make more sense in the current context than what I’m currently doing.

Incidentally, what I intensely dislike about the television historical documentary genre is its brutal formality, its almost koan-like edited rhythm of talking heads and nicely-shot places of faded beauty. Me, I want to make the road to history visible, not just a soft-focus glamorized version of the destination: personally, I’m fascinated not at all by the sofa-like comfort of that-which-has-been-found-and-understood-and-softened-into-a-societal-lullaby, but instead by the struggle of making history.

For anyone who wants to see the kind of documentary I’d like to make, I’d strongly recommend Icarus on Netflix. This is a completely awesome piece of film, like a forensic surgeon’s keyhole endoscope peering inside the rotting carcass of Sport – dead from the neck down, though its head seems blissfully unaware.

38 thoughts on “What’s the point of blogging?

  1. Hi Nick,

    there’s lots of good stuff being made on Youtube now funded by Patreon supporters. I think you could try that model.

  2. Nick, I wish you all the best of luck with your new challenge. And as long as your film(s) won’t end with words like “we may never know”, I’m really looking forward, too! 🙂
    To be honest, the crowdfunder was doomed to fail from the beginning.. you need to get someone coaching you on how to make this happen. Stuff like having some mouthwatering moving images to present already (hiring some camera-drone operater onsite..), and appearing in person, making everyone believe in your positive and creative quest. Again, good luck!

  3. Greg: Patreon is definitely an interesting avenue to explore, it’s one of the things on my list…

  4. Mark Knowles on August 27, 2017 at 1:31 pm said:

    Nick: I was thinking exactly the same thing about Youtube and Patreon.

    Though I must confess I would be somewhat sad if you ceased blogging.

  5. Nick,
    If you quit, will you save the content in a form we can download and/or buy?
    I’ll pay.

  6. Diane: just to be clear, I’m not planning on deleting or removing anything, the only question is what the best format going forward for the kind of thing I do should be.

  7. Mark Knowles on August 27, 2017 at 2:35 pm said:

    Nick: I would think if you are going to do the YouTube thing you will need to make some effort to make your channel look professional if you are to attract a large number of followers, as people, including me, make initial superficial judgments as to the quality of the content.

    Look at the following page on YouTube as an example of something that looks professional

    KbtlT_j3EDc

    10 Most MYSTERIOUS BOOKS in history!

    MatthewSantoro

    I hate these kinds of videos as they are so short and lacking in content; nevertheless they have the professional presentation which I think in part contributes to the number of subscribers they get.

    I would think you would want to produce something professional looking, but with your level of intelligence, sophication and erudition.

    I think if your videos don’t look professional they could be mistaken for the product of your everyday Voynich, Zodiac etc. crank.

    It takes some time to build up subscribers, so don’t expect to be inundated with viewers at the start.

  8. Mark: alternatively, I could do a PhD. Or I could lecture in crypto history part time, that’s usually a course no lecturer wants to touch. Or I could pitch a series to Netflix. Or I could write a series of books. Or I could write a series of research notes…

    …or I could sit in the sun drinking mojitos.

  9. .. or I could give you a course in reading cryptic imagery, if you like. You provide the mojitos, I’ll provide the mosquitos. Pax at last, eh?

  10. Mark Knowles on August 27, 2017 at 3:44 pm said:

    Nick: Indeed Nick, the world is your oyster.

  11. Diane: if it’s OK with you, I’ll wait for your book. Or perhaps the film of your book, narrated by William Shatner.

  12. milongal on August 27, 2017 at 9:44 pm said:

    It’s sort of interesting that what made blogging popular is also its demise. Blogging was a platform for people from any walk of life to share their experience of (often obscure) ‘geek knowledge’. This in turn exposed other geeks to support, rebut and engage in the discussion – but eventually they either have a disagreement with the host blogger and/or decide that they could be doing the same caper. I think this is where much of the snarkiness comes in. When I worked in the public service I had an epiphany (of sorts). I realised that what made someone an expert was a title, nothing more. In particular, I remember someone shifting into a (physical) security position – and from that day they were a ‘Security Expert’ (ironically, as is typical in the government over the course of their tenure in that position they were sent on many courses so that by the time they left that position they probably actually had become a security expert). With blogging there’s a similar self-fulfilling prophecy – that often the blogger has a tendancy to assume absolute authority on their chosen subject, and suddenly can’t see another’s opinion as being even remotely possible.
    From the other side, the readers of blogs are suddenly inundated with too many sources of information – each of which seem to be pushing their own specific ideas or agendas to the exclusion of all others….and over time it means people get bored of it. But I guess that was pretty much your point.

    It will be interesting where you go from here, I’m sure.

  13. Nick – that’s as silly a remark as a schoolboy’s raspberry. What a shame.

  14. LittleGunnerBoyBlues on August 28, 2017 at 12:39 am said:

    How ’bout decoding that Arsenal game for us?

  15. Bloggers do what they do for a number of different reasons. With many different objectives; to each his/her own. Some bloggers keep interesting subjects alive. This is something you do Nick. If I have in any way discouraged you with my comments, I apologize.

    (It still would be lovely to click up above on the “Tamam Shud/Somerton Man” link to see a list of all related threads…)

    ; )

  16. Misca: do you mean the 123 Somerton Man posts listed here: http://ciphermysteries.com/category/historical-ciphers/tamam-shud ?

  17. Thank you! : )

  18. LittleGunnerBoyBlues: losing 4-0 to Liverpool? Probably a better performance than the 8-2 loss at ManU in 2011… but then again, 11 lame dogs could probably have run rings around the Gunners that particular day. 😉

  19. bdid1dr on August 28, 2017 at 3:44 pm said:

    Dear Nick, I will be heartbroken if you go the route of TV-style blogging. First of all, my eyesight is slowly failing. So, my enlarge-print feature on my computer would no longer work. Secondly, my hearing has deteriorated to the point that any speaker, talking quietly or loudly would not be comprehended by me. I have been deaf (hearing impaired) since the age of four.

    So, a quandary blog ? Or you going the route of “Twenty Questions (or sumthin’ like that?). How about the TV commentator guys “Sisckel and Ebert”. Since I don’t have a TV (captioning issues) I gave up on trying to follow their discussions. I haven’t watched TV since 1968. Sports programs: Wilt Chamberlain … He has been the only athlete I’ve ‘adored’. I’ve mentioned, before, my almost nose to his belt bucket experience — when he was leaving the “Blue Onion” nightclub : He tipped his top hat and held the door open for me. to enter. BIG GRIN He also held the door open for my neighbors, who had escorted me to the night club.

    When I was in my third year of high school, I spent a lot of time in the school’s library. I was in tears because I could not understand the Mathematics the teacher was writing on the blackboard (her back to classroom). Henry Purcell : I’ve never forgotten his graceful tutoring of Algebra and Trigonometry (while we were in the school’s library). I was able to graduate with a 3.85 average.

    So, Nick : Are we still going to enjoy Misca and Milongal’s contributions to your blog ? If they ‘disappear’ from your blog, I just might finally have Mitral Valve failure.
    bd

  20. I should be sorry to see Cipher Mysteries come to an end. True, blogs are no longer a hot new medium and good new blogs are getting rare, but they are still the best medium for certain kinds of content. The question is, do you really want to be at the cutting edge of cybertrends and would a bigger audience be worth having? The web will never again be the high-IQ medium it was 15 years ago but well-focussed blogs, including this one, are still one of the places where intelligence and exact knowledge of interesting matters can still be found.

  21. Philip: the issue is more that as blogging collectively becomes ever lamer (which I personally think is a given now, unfortunately), I don’t know what a better medium for doing what I do would be. Would I be better to write a monthly column for Fortean Times? Or to start a curated wiki? Or to start my own online Journal? After a decade as a blogging caterpillar, what next?

  22. Nick, if I had my druthers, your time freed up from blogging would be contracted to Cyan Worlds Inc. (with a reasonable advance, of course) to help develop Myst-like adventure/puzzle/educational games based on the Voynich Manuscript and other real-world enduring mysteries.

    Of course, I do realize you have a lot on your own real-world plate already without virtual 3D!

    – Frak!

  23. Frak!: it’s a nice idea, thanks for thinking of this. Writing “Frak!4” is yet something else I would like to do one day (Frak!2 was an isometric musical on the BBC Micro, Frak!3 was a sprites + 3d over-the-shoulder experiment on the Acorn Archimedes), but perhaps more as a day job. 🙂

  24. Gone are the days of these excellent micro-computers….

  25. Bumpkin on August 29, 2017 at 6:39 pm said:

    Nick; The point of blogging, I assume, is to communicate ideas on subjects you are interested in to total strangers over the internet. You are doing just that and I hope that you continue to do so. Thank you. Bumpkin.

  26. Bumpkin: that’s pretty much exactly where I was coming from when I started Cipher Mysteries (or “Voynich News”, as it first began) – but a decade later, blogging in general has become something far less substantial / satisfactory, to the point that I’m beginning to feel like a cat in the middle of a dog show. Hence I’m trying to answer the question of what direction to go in now: even though I really enjoy researching these mysteries as well as writing about them, it’s far from clear to me that blogging is the best route forward. 😐

  27. Hi Nick! I’m thinking about continuing work on James Hampton’s secret writing, and wondering about the right format. I was considering a blog so that I could make regular updates. I’d also want a central resource area where I could put software tools, an updated transcription alphabet, new transcriptions, new images, and so on.
    My current website on this is a real mess; you can’t tell the progress there’s been since many years ago.
    I’ll be interested to see where you go for yourself.

  28. Nick

    I think you might find this relevant:

    Blogging On An Island As Opposed To An Archipelago

    I like Razib Khan. He is one of the people who make sense of the science news by reading primary literature which most of us could never decode for ourselves and homing in on the significant discoveries. His blog also contains just enough personal news and opinion to leaven the technical stuff and keep you coming back for more. It is still possible to make a blog do what you want it to if you keep up with the ever-changing rules of the game.

  29. Philip: nice link, thanks very much for that. The difference in the blogosphere than and now would seem to be quite marked (and not just for me): and the more I think about it, the worse fit blogging (as it has become) seems to be for what I want to do. But all the same, it’s not exactly fair of me to pin the blame for that wholly on society’s door: I too have changed quite a lot in a decade, and the differences in my own outlook are without a doubt also contributing to this. So… it’s going to take a while to get a good answer… :-/

  30. Dennis: thanks for dropping by! In many ways, voynich.nu would be a great model to follow: my own attempt at collating historical cipher information ( http://cipherfoundation.org/ ) has already reached many of the limits of the WordPress blog page model, somewhat to my dissatisfaction.

    But I can’t help but wonder if there’s a far better way of approaching the same set of challenges: after all, we’re all basically in the same boat, right?

  31. I’d be sorry to see you go Nick, but with all do respect you have painted yourself into a corner by restricting your search for the solution to the Voynich Mystery to the obvious. After a fruitless century more imagination may be needed. Perhaps before you quit you could give me some guidance on what statistical tests you would accept as an indication that the underlying language of the Voynich is Nahuatl, this work has not been done. It is fundamental, but still has not been done despite the ongoing identification of plants and animals by Tucker and Janick and even an article that names the artist and author of the Voynich manuscript due out this fall in the Romanian botanical journal Naturae Botanicae Horti-Agrobotanici. I know this is a stretch for you, but you can’t have it both ways. Either you are willing to consider the new research, or you aren’t. By quitting just when the historical work is being done and not being willing to help serious researchers with whom you disagree, or worse to not even consider it, you have already taken yourself out of the game. So maybe quitting is just as well. I am hoping you will change your mind and help me to put the Voynich on firm historical ground. I have already found the alphabet. The next step is obvious, to read it. But first the Nahuatl experts must be convinced to risk their reputations. I think the statistics on Nahuatl will allow this. But the work has not been done. And you can help, or not. Peace.

  32. John Comegys: I’m not quitting, I’m just thinking about moving sideways – my focus on cipher mysteries isn’t going anywhere.

    Incidentally, Janick and Tucker’s upcoming paper in Notulae Botanicae Horti Agrobotanici Cluj-Napoca is already readable online:
    http://conference.shst.ro/index.php/horticultura_40/H40/paper/view/5
    http://conference.shst.ro/index.php/horticultura_40/H40/paper/view/5/1

  33. Funny, I checked this morning and could not find the second article in which J & T cite my work. It seems that they have not read it. They cite my work as supporting their reading of three letters in the leaves of f1v that I have never seen and do not identify as written in the courtesan hand. My work cites clear examples for the Codex Osuna identified by Dr. Vicenta Cortes Alonso in her work La Escritura y Lo Escrito (1986) as the courtesan hand and shows that the entire Voynich Manuscript is written in the courtesan hand. It does not show the forms cited by J & T. To be kind, their citation is incorrect and misleading. It is just the sort of thing that needs serious scholarly review, in my ever so humble opinion.

  34. Nick, thank you for the link. I missed it. The work of Janick and Tucker is maddening because they have the big ideas right, but the scholarship is so sloppy and over reaching that any careful scholar would dismiss their views as fantasy, with the possible exception of the botany which is their area of expertise. Or so it seems to me.

  35. John Comegys: even the worst paper might possibly have some kind of redeeming feature… but in their case, you’d be hard-pressed not to admit that the odds are strongly against that being so. :-/

  36. Nick, are you saying that the current blogosphere will not pay attention to the worthwhile things you are doing? Or that the format itself no longer suits you?

  37. I’m guessing that the redeeming feature is identifying the plants using the trained eye of a botanist. Unfortunately, in the one solid instance I personally know of they fail miserably. The plant with the two faces in the bulbous roots f33r was identified as the ‘niño y niña” plant by a full blooded Tarrascan woman from Mexico who said the women there take it when they want to have a baby. Tucker identified it as a cure for diarrhea from Texas. Repeatedly, I check their footnotes and find they have drawn the wrong conclusion or told half truths, as I illustrated above. My article, which I can now see they simply did not actually read, was carefully reviewed by an historian and copiously footnoted and documented. They have followed the lead of my brother and myself in identifuying the Voynich Manuscript as having “Aztec Heritage influences” and “Early Colonial Mexican features”, as confirmed by Dr. Coe and documented in my 2013 monograph at http://voynichms.com or on academia.edu
    I have a grid of the letters from the Voynich and the same letters from various from the Valley of Mexico written in mid16th century in Spanish or Nahuatl or both. I cannot figure out how to post it here. How do I do that? Can I send it to you? This example, unlike that of Tucker or Janick relies on historical precident, not decipherment, and even if the Mesoamerican hypothesis is all wrong is a starting point for decipherment because it proves the alphabet is not unique and provides a crib or key. No one has done this before, not for a century.

  38. Davidsch on September 13, 2017 at 11:12 am said:

    Perhaps you should add co-blogging under your supervision.
    For example Rene or Klaus could write an article, which they can also place on their site. That way you can broaden your (mutual) audience gradually.

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