You may no longer remember but in another life, I was the founder and administrator for DesiPundit, an aggregator of wonderful and insightful blog posts made by Indians, resident or otherwise. I shut it down couple of years ago by simply stating that it was time . Obviously, lot of people were disappointed but with declining blogging habits, it was on borrowed time anyway; at least in its current avatar then.
I liked to ‘blame’ Facebook and Twitter for its demise. While it was mostly true since it took people away to easily accessible publishing platforms with a much wider and quicker-reacting audience, it was a cop-out. Although I officially shut it down on June 20, 2010, the interest in running it and finding source material started waning much before that. However, now that I’ve had time to think about it and understand what motivates most people to share or publish online, there are couple of reasons that happened much earlier that ultimately led to its shutdown.
1. Launching Indic sections
I initially launched DesiPundit for only English blogs because well, that’s what I read. But eventually, given how widespread I was told the Indic blogging scene was, I invited several Indic bloggers to recommend posts on DesiPundit from their Indic circles. Although the people I invited were excellent bloggers, I had only read their English posts. Since I didn’t read those Indic posts, I had no idea of whether those posts met DesiPundit standards because I didn’t read them. But more importantly, the Indic sections did not get as much traffic as I thought it would. Probably I made the erroneous assumption that the Indic blogosphere was much larger than the English one or that they simply were not interested in DesiPundit.
The larger issue was that of lack of focus. Instead of focusing on English blogs, I tried to overreach and try to encapsulate all of blogging in India. I should’ve simply let Indic blogs chart their own territory and curators. Similarly, adding eminent topical bloggers like Baradwaj Rangan and Ashutosh Jogalekar for cinema and science respectively took away from the basic function of curation. I should’ve continued linking to their best posts, like we always did. I’m sure they were pissed when I shut down DesiPundit causing them to look for new homes for their blogs.
This reason has more to do with losing focus and less to do with choosing to have Indic sections. Adding anything other than the core function of the site was a mistake. It wasn’t even like we were experiencing exponential readership growth. The readership was always steady and as I feared, restricted to the same set of people on all networks. I failed to heed the advice of do what you do best instead of trying to do everything.
2. Changing the basic curation model
Just a year before DesiPundit shut down, I completely overhauled the way posts were linked on DesiPundit. Instead of a curation model, we switched to a network model wherein I invited notable bloggers and asked them to self-select their posts to feature on DesiPundit. This was partly borne out of lack of time on my part, increasingly reduced linking by other contributors, and the tendency of linking to a regular list of blogs over and over again. So after some brainstorming, I came upon the brilliant idea which in hindsight was a stupid idea that why not let those blogs chose their best posts.
In theory, those bloggers would highlight their best posts and we’ll have effectively outsourced our curating jobs to those bloggers. We would periodically add or remove bloggers from our list and DesiPundit would be effectively on auto-pilot. But in practice, it fell apart quickly. Bloggers had to use the specially-created DesiPundit category  on their blogs for the posts to appear on DesiPundit . Some forgot to do it and some did it so often and for almost every post they wrote that it eventually broke the system. There was plenty of clutter and definitely not the Best of the India blogosphere it was originally seen as.
I also failed to understand the basic human tendency of being appreciated comes from outside. You want someone else to pick your post and call it good enough to feature on their site instead of you “blowing your own horn”. Also, some notable bloggers refused to join the network and for good reasons, now that I see it. The really good ones didn’t link to their posts as often and given their healthy direct readership on their blogs, they couldn’t have cared less.
In the end, I should’ve had more confidence in my selection and curation. That’s what people came to DesiPundit for when I first started. I should’ve linked to fewer posts if I had less time instead of outsourcing to ensure regular flow. Else, I should’ve kept the list of contributors to the minimum. Some were great, some not so much. Plenty left and I think a lot of bloggers were DesiPundit contributors at some point of time in their blogging life. That wasn’t how it was supposed to go down.
So effectively after the change #2 and Twitter and Facebook gaining widespread usage circa 2009, DesiPundit effectively wasn’t the place to go to read India-centric stories let alone interesting ones. All the outrage was easily done on Twitter with easy to retweet tweets and one-click likes on Facebook. Fewer people wrote long treatises and even fewer people commented on the ones that got written. People no longer started blogging first but instead got Twitter or Facebook accounts. In fact, a majority of the ones that earlier blogged prolifically quit rendering my RSS feed to a ghost town . So in a way, shutting down DesiPundit wasn’t that difficult of a choice. After all, I wasn’t going to continue paying hosting fees for a website that wasn’t being updated or at least to the level I expected it to.
I would’ve avoided those rookie mistakes if I was more invested in making something of DesiPundit but I was wrapping up my PhD at that time and starting my new job that took up far more time than grad school so it wasn’t exactly on the top of my list. Life happened. DesiPundit didn’t exactly die. It just faded away. Not always a bad thing. I still am in touch with plenty of people I met via DesiPundit so all’s not lost. And I still retain the domain name so hey, who knows, it may just come back someday.