Searching the blog-o-verse for some real food for thought

Updated: 2011-01-19 07:55

By Jules Quartly (China Daily)

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If hot news is high calorie reading and gossip is empty calories, then I'm in need of something healthier and more nourishing. I've had enough of sensationalism for a while. Those big headlines are so demanding, clamoring for attention, shouting, "Look at me!" like some kid in the playground. And the comments these kinds of stories get are just as irritating, either pontificating or ejaculating, neither requiring much mental mastication.

So, I set off on a search through the Chinese blog-o-verse and arrived at a few sites along the way that offer something like food for thought. The blogger Wang Xiaofeng qualifies in this respect. He's the new-literature equivalent of easy listening or MOR and, as if further proof were needed, he provides one of the more enlightening interviews you are likely to read of the band Eagles, which is winging its way to the capital in the near future for its debut China gig.

Searching the blog-o-verse for some real food for thought

As is often the case with Wang, who was one of Time magazine's star bloggers five years ago, the interview is a product of his imagination, and no less insightful for all that. He warms up by asking the principal members of the band what their impressions of China are. Joe Walsh says, "Bicycle"; Glen Frey answers, "the Great Wall"; and Don Henley replies, "the Great Firewall". Henley then reveals he has a Chinese girlfriend and says if she can't even access his Facebook page, "How come we're allowed to perform in China?"

Wang gets up to 60,000 readers a day, according to Alexa, and this makes his blog the 4,001st most popular site in the country (29,130 in the world). His main audience is 25- to 35-year-old men, many of them childless (where do they get this information?) and with an income of between $30,000 and $100,000 - so presumably they tend to be better educated.

The site is cool, clean and gray, with the head of Homer Simpson staring upside down from the masthead, intimating intelligent reading with a twist. No bold headlines, photos of heads under tractors and near naked women - like many of the Chinese websites and portals I tend to trawl, along with the vast majority.

I was enjoying the change of pace when I hit upon his latest entry, which is The Decline of Blogs and sounds their death knell. He says micro blogs are the dish de jour and like other bloggers he has been losing readers. "And it will only get worse, until one day, all blogs will disappear."

He says this fall-off in traffic is typical of the "interest based economy" that relies on people finding what he writes stimulating and then moving on when they've got the point and had enough. Perplexingly, he cites the case of Twitter and Facebook as US examples of the interest based economy and reckons they haven't materialized any real profits. All I can say in response to this, is I wouldn't mind a share.

As for micro blogs, Wang can't get the hang of them, as he doesn't feel he can express himself fully in 140 characters or less. Well, hallelujah for that. As I say, I've had enough of tabloid style rants and undeveloped arguments. The anti-populist Wang then prophesizes that portals will start closing down their blogging channels soon but, "As long as no one closes down my blog I will keep on writing. Maybe I can't win as a writer, but I will write to the death."

Here we have the classic intellectual's response to pop culture and resistance to "progress" (my quote marks, not his). He says in two years' time micro blogs will also start losing their popularity and in turn be replaced by something else novel. He's not interested. It's a pre-80s generation response, a line in the sand, a call to arms for good writing and reading. And he's got my attention - for a while at least.


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