New Delhi: The high point of Seshadri Ganjur’s three-year blogging career proved, ironically, to also be its low point—and indeed, even a foretaste of its ultimate demise.
In April 2006, puzzled that no mainstream media house was willing to probe the honorific title of “Dr” that Vijay Mallya accorded himself, Ganjur conducted some investigations. “One source mentioned that the degree was from one American university, a United Breweries Ltd website mentioned another,” Ganjur says. “So, I started contacting these universities. A couple said no such PhD was given, and in one case, the university itself was fake.”
When Ganjur blogged about his results on Noorentu Sullu (which means 108 lies), his Kannada-English media watchdog blog, he earned his 15 minutes of blazing limelight. “A Kannada newspaper talked about my post in a front page story, and for my blog to be recognized by mainstream media was definitely great,” Ganjur, a vice-president at a multinational firm in Bangalore, says. “But it was also a low point, because there were lots of extremely nasty emails from fans of Mallya and of other journalists I had criticized.”
Illustration: Jayachandran / Mint
Noorentu Sullu (tag line: “You may not be a ‘Dhrutharashtra’, but we want to be the Sanjaya for you!”) slowed soon afterwards and stopped publishing in early 2008. Partly, Ganjur says, this was because he had started another satirical blog named Majavani (voice of fun)—also defunct now—and partly because his career had accelerated. “But also, I realized I have to watch what I say, and I felt a little jittery about writing,” he says. “And being watchful was taking the fun out of it.”
Noorentu Sullu and Majavani thus entered the vast mortuary of Indian blogs—of blogs that were mediocre and half-hearted to begin with, of course, but also of healthy, popular blogs such as Majavani, which attracted a couple of thousand visitors every day at its peak. Only their domain names, on perpetual lease from Blogger or LiveJournal, live on, preserving the content they once showcased.
In part, this may be a natural phase in the adoption of new technologies by people who were first excited by the blog and subsequently realized that they didn’t have as much to say, as many potential readers, or as much time as they thought they did. In 2008, a Technorati survey estimated that fewer than eight million of the 133 million blogs it tracked had been updated within the last four months; in other words, 95% of Technorati’s tracked blogs were asleep, comatose or dead.
Inertia is a particularly potent factor. “In my case, it was mostly inaction,” says one Mumbai-based blogger who abandoned his blog after two sporadic years, and who did not want to be named because his firm does not allow its employees to speak to the press. “But also, I began to feel like it was too much effort for the few people who might read it.”
For others, the ferocious proliferation of Indian blogs was in itself a deterrent; it got harder to stand out and to be read. “As blogs got more prevalent, every Tom, Dick and Harry was starting a blog, and I just didn’t like the idea any more, because there were more idiots out there than intelligent writers,” says Vinod Ganesh, who wrote a popular humour blog in 2004 and 2005, abandoned it in 2008, tried to begin afresh elsewhere, and finally gave it up for good. “Also, I wasn’t gaining anything from it after a point.”
It is also easy to be discouraged by the limited reach that blogs still have in India; blogs are vital enough in the US, for instance, for many to provide their authors with a full-time career. “Here, blogs are still dependent on mainstream media for publicity,” says Parull Gossain, a Mumbai-based publicist who works in particular with clients in Bollywood. “Even when a celebrity blogs, you still have public relations agents calling up journalists and saying: ‘Oh look, so-and-so blogged. Read it, it’s a nice post.’ Blogs simply do not have the reach to be effective on their own.”
Happily, however, not every blog has been abandoned because its owner wanted to entirely secede from the online space. Akshay Mahajan started blogging at Trivial Matters in 2003, when he was an engineering student with a passion for photography. His posted photos and accompanying write-ups won him the Best Indi Photoblog award at the 2006 Indibloggies; more crucially, it won him the attention of a couple of journalists at Tehelka, who garnered him photo assignments. Mahajan quit his engineering degree, and he has been a photojournalist ever since.
Last month, however, Mahajan stopped blogging at Trivial Matters. “It had been a great personal journey for me. It helped me learn so much, and it helped me train as a photographer,” he says. “But I’m involved in a new effort now”—the online photo magazine Blind Boys—“and it would have been too exhausting to support both. In a way, I’ve graduated into a bigger, bolder venture online.”
Ayeshea Perera contributed to this story.
This is the third in a four-part series. Tomorrow: Tweet now, blog later