Blogging as a Blood Sport

(this article first appeared in the may 9, 2005 issue of newsweek international)

Not long ago I watched the final episode of "Friends," which aired in the United States a year ago. Ross and Rachel's ending up together was such an anticlimax, I told my husband. To this profound observation he replied: "Which one is Rachel?"

What's a TV devotee to do, with no one to share her passion? Launch a blog, of course. Mine is devoted to such minutiae as how C. J. in "The West Wing" always wears a scooped T shirt under her blouse.

I had no idea what I was getting into. Americans debate whether bloggers are journalists or not. Here in Japan, blogging is a sport -- a blood sport. Practice every day or, like the Williams sisters, you'll see your rankings suffer. And make no mistake: there are rankings. We call them PVs, or page views, and everybody knows where they stack up.

Blogging is supposed to be an intimate thing: mostly highly personal forums for friends and people with shared interests to express themselves and their world views. We Japanese want much more than that. We don't want to merely draw like-minded Netizens into our warm little communities. We want to dominate, become national. Here, blog providers (the equivalents of Blogger.com for Americans) prominently display the PV rankings of their users. I pay mine $2.70 a month extra for a detailed "access analysis" of who visits my pages, how often and what words they typed into, say, Google to find me.

I probably should do more. Competitors boost traffic by decorating their blogs with colorful buttons that increase clicks for ratings purposes. Or, better yet, I could link my postings (through blog features called trackbacks) with every single article on other people's blogs that share the slightest similarity in theme: showbiz gossip, fashion, American politics. Anything to draw eyeballs and drive my PV ranking farther up in the blogosphere.

As you might expect, PV solicitation has grown intense. Yesterday I visited my friend Hide's blog about stock markets. Its ranking had slipped lately, I noticed, signified by a blue down icon. So I clicked around and returned several times to give it a few extra PVs, then e-mailed to urge him to do the same for me. Only later did it occur to me that I hadn't read any of his writings.

Why do we Japanese obsess over PVs? My friend Yoshi, a sumo fan, traces it back to the Edo period (1603-1867), when all kinds of rankings -- of sumo wrestlers and actors in particular -- were popular as working-class entertainment. Sumo Internetting? It's not that farfetched. For us Japanese, the bigger the better, whether it's wrestling or the Web. And, of course, in this land of hyperfads, we've clearly gotten carried away. Many of us spend more time wondering how to improve our blogs' rankings than writing them.

Small wonder that some of the most popular sites these days are how-tos for generating traffic. Take the aptly named Blogger Who Sold Her Soul to the Devil for a Better Ranking. The person who runs it, under the nickname Mahoroba, fills her blog with practical tips. Give your postings a title that makes readers ask why, goes one. Her most successful title ever: "I Don't Want to Watch High-School Baseball."

Maybe I should hire her to help me out. Last week my blog's PVs dropped to a record low: nine per day. Obsessed with PVs and researching other people's rankings, I've neglected my own. I've also started losing sleep. Truth be told, I don't know if I'm ever going to be able to relax again. Let alone sit back and enjoy TV.

(The blog I mention here is in Japanese. I run it under an alias.)

(c) 2005 Newsweek, Inc.

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