Project Decay

Project Decay

Thinking about projects which fail before they've really got going got me thinking about another phenomenon which certainly isn't the same but is partially related—projects which used to have vitality but don't any longer, they just have a long fade-out. I feel like it's particularly common—and particularly sad!—when it's a group effort, something around which there was a community.

There are multiple modes of this—there's a blog called the Art of Manliness—cringe, I know, but it sure is effectively search-engine optimised—which used to publish huge amounts of actual blog posts, and now seems to exist largely as a podcast. Presumably there's a hefty amount of historical traffic to the old posts, but the cost-benefit is such that interviewing folk for the podcast is a better return.

Crooked Timber is another example: a group blog that had many of its contributors go on to great things, but which I now find kinda unreadable because it's not really got any vitality—it's just Harry going on about marmalade or whatever, or Chris's pictures (which are very nice!). But they use to do all this stuff,  those book seminar things, and now it just seems very... desultory, just something that's done out of habit.

There was another blog called Caught By The River that I was going to use as an example here, but I went back and looked at it again and it seemed to be somewhat livelier than I remember it being the last time I looked, which is lovely! There's another other example but I vaguely know some of the people involved so I can't name it, but it was a group blog that used to publish regularly but now seems to have lost almost all of its energy to Twitter, various members' podcasts etc. I don't think it's coincidental that these examples are blogs, and it's undeniable that the "energy" of the internet has moved away from blogs. But it happens for other things too.

Often it's just that early on in a project, its whole "thing" isn't fixed, so if it's not been meticulously planned (and sometimes even if it has!) there's way more space and energy for experimentation, which later calcifies as it shifts from 'explore' to 'exploit' and you find yourself with less 'early project energy' to experiment and end up  just wanting to crank out the latest unit and move on to whatever does have that energy. Pretty much all our experimentation, our having fun with the form with Memhaz, for instance, was in the first year or so. A lot of that stuff might still be the most memorable to me. We also used to be very, very regular, and now our publishing schedule is fortnightly-to-monthly.

I think condensing a lot of novelty into a short period of time also makes the earlier phase feel longer in retrospect. My brother often talks about how a lot of what people remember about TV shows is actually from the early episodes. I think about e.g. Battlestar and I remember a bunch of bits: they have to keep jumping every few minutes; Boomer waking up covered in water; Zarek negotiating about the prisoners mining the ice; the explosion on the flight deck; Starbuck flying the Raider. That's actually just the first five episodes! I remember way, way less of the rest of the show—though I haven't watched it in a very long time.

It's something that's obviously not peculiar to the internet; something starting, having an imperial phase, then tailing off–but I guess it's particularly noticeable on the internet, where you can just see it all in front of you, you can look at the blog sidebar and see the dates posts were published. Internet projects also are far less often commercial ventures, and thus far more apt to be impacted by life changes. Projects started in a gang of friends' time-rich 20s may not hold interest as they change and grow, people also have kids, have to look after ailing family, all sorts of things. All this is pretty much inevitable–nothing stays fresh forever—but I always feel a bit of sorrow when I see projects whose spring and summer I knew well descending from autumn into winter.

Annoyingly, I read something really good on this topic a few months back but apparently didn't save it. I will edit a link in if I happen upon it again.

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