By her own standards, the blogger known as Petite Anglaise had been quiet of late. A month went by without a posting and reader responses to earlier items had dipped as low as the high 30s, pleasing as most people with blogs would find such feedback. Suddenly, a new post appears and comments double. How does she achieve this? By announcing, in effect, her departure from the blogosphere. "As far as personal blogging is concerned," she writes. "I've turned the page. And it feels good."
Just one blogger's choice? Or, since Petite is one of the most famous, a sign that the phenomenon of committing private thoughts to online diaries may be entering terminal decline? We shall see. I bear some responsibility for what has happened to Petite, real name Catherine Sanderson, in the past three years. We met electronically when we both lived in Paris (she still does). In our different ways, we both blogged.
Then she was fired, because of her blog, from her job as a bilingual secretary at the Paris offices of an English accountancy firm. I broke the story, with her approval, and it swept the world; Catherine already had a largish cult following but the publicity brought in thousands of extra readers, so many that her site crashed on one occasion. Publishers jostled to sign her up. The resulting deal has led to two books, one the story of her life as a thirtysomething single mum and the other a novel drawing heavily on that life.
Now it is over. Save for any promotional events she may wish to mention, the blog is no more. Sanderson describes a growing disinclination to share her private life with strangers. She cites a British newspaper columnist who has "made a living out of sharing every aspect of her personal life, showing little or no regard for the feelings or right to privacy of the partners/lovers/neighbours that she uses for material" and says it leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.
Among 130-plus readers' farewell comments, there is much regret, but also understanding. There was a little nonsense chiding the press for taking interest; if it hadn't in the first place, of course, there would have been no books, and many of those who have enjoyed the blog would never have heard about it. On whether this has any bearing on blogging's future, I am unsure. There are developments in instant communication that, some say, will replace blogging. Yet look around. When there is big news, bloggers still seem to be everywhere. Most feed on the mainstream news sources they purport to detest, but also weigh in with their own views, sometimes attracting healthy postbags. Some blogs are witty and even wise; others are vulgar and crass. My instinct is that the best, and probably many of the worst, will survive. It is also my instinct that Petite Anglaise, in the manner of all those rock bands that announce premature retirement, will one day embark on the comeback tour.