Talking to yourself on the Web

As i s evident by what you are now viewing, I write blog entries. I also occasionally post reader comments to articles on other sites. Every so often, I wonder how many people actually read this stuff. Not my blog in particular (actually, I can get stats on this from the TMO staff). But blogs in general, especially the smaller more obscure ones. And, most especially, reader comments — at any site.

Now I know that reader comments on some sites, such as Amazon and the New York Times, get viewed numerous times. But that is probably more the exception than the rule. Case in point: I hoofed it over to Entertainment Weekly's Lost site the other day. This section of the EW site is dedicated to the Lost TV show (which is having a spectacular season, by the way). After reading Jeff Jensen's latest recap, I was prompted to post a comment, actually a question I wanted to raise (if you are a regular viewer of Lost, you know there are many many questions that can be raised).

Shortly after posting my question, I checked back to see if anyone had perhaps offered an answer. No such luck. However, this was at least partly due to the fact that readers were adding comments at such a rapid pace, my posting fell off the initial comments page within minutes. Even worse, when I checked back at the article page a few days later, I found that there were now 52 pages of comments. Because of the irritating way that EW's site works, you have to click through each page to get to the next one. I estimated that my question was on about page 42. I gave up clicking long before getting there. Given this arrangement, I'd be surprised if more than a dozen people ever even read my question.

And this is at a popular site like Entertainment Weekly.

At the other end of the spectrum, there are all the blogs that are, at best, read by a few hundred people each day. Many are read by no more than a few hundred people each year! If you visit one of these sites and happen to leave a reader comment, there's a high probability that the only people who will ever read it are you and (hopefully) the blog author. You are basically talking to yourself.

Yet the blogs and reader comments continue to accumulate like an ever-enlarging avalanche. This mass of information can easily leave you feeling overwhelmed. As the author of an iPhone book, I spend a good deal of time checking the Web each day for significant new information about the device. Given that the iPhone is less than one year old, I am still surprised by how much Web content is out there on this subject. Not just articles on technology and general news sites, but entire Web sites devoted only to the iPhone. Just for fun, I entered "iPhone Blog" as a search term in Google. There were over 300,000 hits! Granted, not all of these were for different blogs, but a lot of them were. Want to learn about Apple's "iPhone SDK roadmap"? Enter that term in Google and you'll get over 31,000 hits! You could spend the next month just reading all that was written on this subtopic, and still not read it all. Of course, by that time, you'd be hopelessly behind on all the other news that occurred during the month.

Of course, the reality is that you don't read all of this stuff, even on the subjects that interest you.

The amount of information on the Web that no one ever reads is staggering to contemplate. Granted that much of it is repetitive or unimportant, but you can't know that for sure until you check it out. Trying to stay well informed on a given topic, such as the iPhone, can be difficult. Trying to stay well-informed in general is nearly impossible. There are days that I don't even read all the headlines in my news reader, never mind actually reading all the articles that sound worthwhile.

Admittedly, the information explosion problem has been with us for quite awhile.

You can walk into the Library of Congress, or almost any large library, and stand in awe at the mass of books, realizing that even if you started reading at that moment and never stopped until the day you died, you'd hardly make a dent in the total content.

Similarly, you could pick up a copy of any Sunday New York Times, and realize that it would take at least until Wednesday before you managed to read even most of what was there.

The problem has long been with us. It's just that the scale is now so much greater.

While I appreciate the democratization of information that the Web has given us, I have some nostalgia for the smaller scale of the not too distant past. It was also a bit comforting to know that, before an article made its way to the public, it had been edited for style and accuracy as well as for the general value of its content.

It's two sides of the same coin. On one side is the overwhelming amount of information. On the other side is how much of it never gets read. We wind up knowing an increasingly smaller percentage of information on fewer and fewer topics — and spend an increasing amount of time talking only to ourselves.

Oh well. I guess I am as guilty a contributor as anyone — writing a blog entry about how many blogs entries there are. The irony is not lost on me. Perhaps you'd care to leave a comment?