Failures may not be

Failures, that is.
All the hard-core scientists out there may be saying, “Well, of course not.” That is, an experiment that fails to support a hypothesis or achieve hoped-for results can/should still be valuable. (Probably badly worded, but you know what I mean.)
Here, though, I’m talking about other kinds of failures–as in ongoing activities that cease to be active. For example:

  • Blogs that haven’t had new posts in a month, or a year, or that disappear entirely
  • Journals that cease publication

I was thinking about this as I was looking at the results of my mini-study of public library blogs (which will appear in the September issue of Cites & Insights, out some time in August, possibly together with a similar mini-study of academic library blogs).
Of 252 blogs studied in 2007 (all blogs that had been around at least half a year by the time of the study), 27 had disappeared by mid-July 2009. Fortythree more were essentially moribund, with no post within 120 days before the study’s target date (May 31, 2009), including 25 that had gone more than a year without a post.
Effectively, 70 blogs were dead or nearly so. But are those blogs failures?
Not necessarily.

Most things have lifespans

Walter Cronkite died recently. Nobody whose opinion I respect would call him a failure. He’d ceased to be a news anchor quite a few years before he died. Nobody whose opinion I respect would call him a failure as a news anchor. He stopped doing it–after a successful period.
The Public-Access Computer Systems Review, one of the early open access journals, published 42 issues between early 1990 and early 1998. Was PACS Review a failure? Not at all–it was a success that eventually came to an end.
Let’s say I keep doing Cites & Insights for another 16 months–through ten years and volume 10–and then say “The hell with it.” Would that make C&I a failure? Not at all. It would mean I’d decided that ten years was enough. (Incidentally, the presence or absence of a sponsor for 2010 and beyond may bear on that decision…)

So it is with blogs

Sure, some blogs are failures–particularly official blogs that start out with aggressive schedules and big fanfare, then fall apart within a month or two.
As for individual blogs (e.g., liblogs done by people in the library field), a blog is only a failure if both the blogger and the audience regard it as a failure. I know of one important blog in the library field whose owner deliberately shut it down recently; I can’t imagine calling that blog a failure.
:I just wrote “if the blogger believes it to be a failure,” but that’s wrong: Sometimes a blogger’s expectations are higher than the audiences, and a blog that fails to meet the blogger’s hopes has still succeeded in communicating with an interested audience.
For others…well, it depends on your definition of failure. I’m wondering whether it’s worth the time to go through some of the 70 ceased public library blogs, or at least the 43 that can still be reached, to see how they could be characterized from an external perspective.
In some cases, it’s obvious–there have been some construction blogs, devoted to specific library construction projects. When the project’s complete, the blog’s done–that simple. If it was read, or even if it just provides a resource for later reflection, the blog was probably a success. Similarly for blogs devoted to specific closed-end projects. If you devote a blog to 52 books in 52 weeks, there’s little reason to keep the blog active in week 53. (On the other hand, if the blog falls apart in week 7, that just might be a legitimate failure.)
I’m not saying I will spend the additional time. There are other things to write about, other research to do, other leisure activities… I also don’t need to be labeled more of a Candide than I already am–fact is, some blogs do fail by anybody’s standards.
We shall see…

3 Responses to “Failures may not be”

  1. eddie says:

    One of my favourite blogs that ‘ended’ was and Lou Savva stopped when he thought it was complete.
    A kind of closure, actually.

  2. stevenb says:

    I don’t think time of existence or number of subscribers/readers or comments are metrics for measuring blog success/failure. Whether it’s a success or failure depends on what the bloggers objectives were at the start of the blog. If the objective/outcome was to get readers engaged in a topic and no one read the blog – yeah, that suggests failure. So shut down that blog and create another one if you are persistent. But if your objective was to bring attention to an often ignored or unrecognized issue, the blogger might achieve the outcome in a few months and then decide they met their goal and have no point in going forward. I think ultimately librarians will start a blog because they think they have something to communicate and that others will think it worthwhile. Once it stops being fun or a challenge and starts being a chore, I think that’s when folks will call it a day – and that’s not a fail – just a decision to move on.

  3. Both useful expansions. My primary focus here was actually institutional blogs rather than personal blogs, and I think the stakes may be a little different–although, again, a blog is primarily a failure if (a) the blogger/institution believes it to be a failure or (b) the blogger/institution states (or sets out) explicit goals and the blog utterly fails to deliver–and the blogger or institution doesn’t learn anything from the lack of success. “Losing interest” (perhaps the most common cause of blogs not being updated) may be a slightly different issue for publicized institutional blogs than for personal blogs…