This week I realized that (1) I don’t enjoy blogging right now, but (2) I think the online community it could create remains valuable. What has changed? Honestly, I have struggled to adjust to the anonymity of the blogosphere (although I’ve been blogging since 2006). I prefer knowing the person with whom I am in dialogue. Also, blog interactions are transient: dialogue partners come and go, so it is difficult to build relationship and repertoire with people. All it takes is one troll, or one overly agressive personality (including my own as the blogger), and suddenly people don’t want to visit your blog anymore, or at least not interactively.
I am caught betwixt two ideals: (1) consistent interactions with a circle of people thinking through similar matters and (2) avoiding the “us-four-and-no-more” mentality that would make some people feel uncomfortable discussing the topics being addressed on the blog.
How does a blogger balance the need for consistent, familiar dialogue partners alongside the desire to be inviting to new acquaintances?
I’ve seen people try alternate options such as Google + and Facebook groups, but those are more chaotic than blogs! I think The Boar’s Head Tavern has the right idea, in part. Since 2002 it has been a blog that anyone can visit, but it thrives as a network of dialogue partners who contribute to the ongoing discussion. Two negatives: (1) no comments, which doesn’t interest me and (2) it seems chaotic too, like a Twitter chat, or Facebook discussion.
Last night my church community had a despedida for a friend who is moving to North Carolina. As we sat around talking I realized that there is something special about common, familiar dialogue partners. Often, the viciousness of Internet debate (in which I have participated) derives from the basic reality that we humans do not respect avatars of people as much as real flesh-and-blood people. We will say things via text to a picture of someone that we’d be hesitant to say to them in person. I have made friends over the Internet, via the blogosphere, but I don’t think virtual relationships are as healthy as those where you have met someone in person.
Sadly, here in San Antonio, I haven’t developed a circle of friends with whom I can meet once a week or every other week. The older you get (more responsibilities), and the more suburban your community, the harder it is to develop a group like this anyway. Online community remains a real and necessary supplement to the transient, suburban world in which many of us live. But how can it be better? How can we re-imagine blogging?
Here are some proposals:
– What if a blog has four or five contributors, each committed to writing once a week?
– What is each week had a central topic and each Sunday one of the five (in rotating order) chose the topic of the week?
– On Sunday the person decides s/he wants to discuss “The Law of Moses in the Gospel of Matthew” and then Monday through Saturday the other three or four bloggers must write posts in response to that topic. When it is Sunday again, the next person chooses the topic of the week, and the cycle resumes.
– In order to prevent chaos the blog should have a theme of sorts: biblical literature and history, Christian theology, etc. If the group allows for topics to be too open ended then it will be hard to readers to know whether or not they’d like to follow the blog and it would be hard for the other bloggers to commit to writing a response each week if there is a chance that the person who chooses the topic may choose something like “Socrates and Sustainable Eating Habits” when the other contributors know nothing or little of Socrates and/or sustainable eating habits.
– Comments would be allowed, but the discussion wouldn’t be dependent upon whether or not people comment. In other words, good comments might be an extra bonus, but bad, or feisty, or or domineering comments/commenters won’t derail the conversation either. The person who writes on Sunday knows that s/he will have three or four solid interactions from three or four trusted dialogue partners. Good, quality comments will enhance the discussion. Irrelevant, conversation altering, person agenda pushing comments can be ignored (i.e., less pressure to entertain troll types because the sustainability of the blog doesn’t demand putting up with those who lack courtesy when commenting).
This seems to me to help solve a few problems: (1) one blogger feeling responsible for writing several times a week; (2) a blogger feeling discouraged if there are no comments or only a few comments; (3) the lack of community and familiar dialogue partners that makes blogging less enjoyable than it ought to be; (4) a blog addressing so many topics that readers don’t know what to expect; (5) trolling or aggressive commenters hogging the scene, making others feel uncomfortable, or getting undeserved attention from a blogger who responds because no one else is commenting; (6) the danger of an exclusive, closed blog where commenters have no means of interacting with the bloggers.
FWIW: I am not planning on scrapping NearEmmaus.com, but I do need to think through whether or not it is benefitting me as it once did.
Interesting thoughts about possible proposals. Time is of essence, bloggers like everyone else, have less time, people read and blog in bed, between errands, as a job! Relationship building is great, but one on one can never be replaced so blogging will take back seat in some cases. I think shorter posts more often is the way to go, keep them coming back without committing them to a long post. Also helps the blogger split up one thought into several posts and saving time and engaging more conversation. One can only digest so much… Lexi-divino is a sentience ore two… More food forethought. Thanks for being a long term blogger from a newbie blogger earning a living doing it!
This is a great way to start a conversation about an important platform for higher level interactions. There are certainly some frustrations in blogging, but also (as you mention) benefits.
One of the turns that is occurring, maybe I’m wrong, is that blogging is allowing scholars in specific disciplines to put out content and guide discussions at a higher level than through traditional avenues. As some major scholars engage with the blogging platform we are seeing them debut leading edge research that perpetuates conversations. This has been rather refreshing.
Of course the challenges abound. Trolls are, among, the worst. They seem to be abated with a refined commenting policy and procedure (Facebook based commenting adds some sanity.) Also, sometimes the content within the blog can become static and non-engaging.
I do agree that Google+ (is anyone using this?) and Facebook are limited. Frankly, I don’t do Facebook for a host of reasons. Yet I believe with a coherent social media strategy, redirecting from these sites back to a blog, one might find success. Having a weekly theme that draws in multiple collaborates is a good idea. I wonder how much an open forum on the backend of a blog would help with the collaborative side.
You’ve got some good thoughts. This is a blog I enjoy following.
I have not had you or your blog on the radar for long, but I truly appreciate the insight that you’re offering here. It is something that really speaks to me as I take a month off my book reviews. Multiple people blogging would really be good for both the bloggers and the readers.
Relying on 4-5 bloggers to initiate a topic would take the onus of creativity off of one person . However, your plan seems to make commenters superfluous and ,really, unwanted. Am I reading this incorecctly?
Brian, this is actually just the sort of model we had in mind when my friends and I started the blog Out of Bounds a couple of years ago. The thought was that we would rotate posting one (materially significant) post every week or so, to take the burden off any one of us needing to post all that frequently. Then we stressed the importance of community conversation, with the other three contributors as built-in dialogue partners.
I think the model is successful, by and large, if you have those friends you can rely on. We’ve had some really solid weeks and conversations. Our problem so far has been the same as every other casual blogger: real life gets in the way (x4), it’s easy to not do it (x4), and once you’re not in the habit it can be weeks or months before it becomes important enough to set aside time for blogging again (x4). Often one or two contributors end up trying to carry the blog with their own sparse posting.
Brian – perhaps the interactions come and go… Recently since my mega carnival, I have been slightly blogged out – can’t bring myself to read more than the first few lines of the posts in my reader. Some of my ‘old’ friends are still there, cyber-acquaintances; some are now only on Facebook and my interaction is limited because of the volume there and lack of focus; some are on both. In some ways I must ‘wait’. There is such a huge community ‘out there’ – how could one possibly self-select? To take Psalm 71 out of context: for you I wait O Lord יהוה // from my trust // from my youth (well, sometimes I waited OK).
From a technical point of view, I use integrated blogger on Facebook and Twitter and I use Google+, but I never ‘go there’. There are too many social feeds and I have trouble managing the passwords for the myriad of online presences I seem to need. Again – I wait – if it is important, I expect it to come along…
I am afraid I may have been frustrating you this week. I apologize for that.
Brian, your investigatory range is amazing. You are a rare prize among the offerings especially so for your sincerity, kindness and patience. You are friend to all visitors, of which I include me. I will miss you friend.
There is crucial recognition of your talent for Near Emmaus. A successful blog site requires fertile seed material and a target. The target will become one of the dissenters without interaction and mediation by the host. Few call menu-like hosts sustain an audience for long. Again it is necessary to note your prolific contributions that are a ministry and great blessing for all visitors. God bless you Brian, brother.
Thanks for “thinking out loud” with us, Brian. As a blogger of about 3 years (actively) now, I’ve asked myself similar questions, though never involved other people as you have already and anticipate tweaking further (good for you… seems to make sense in your situation!)
The purposes for blogging (for the author’s own interests and agenda, and for his/her audience’s) vary widely. That’s part of the reason it gets complex to analyze and discuss. In my own case, I guess my major motivation has been both educational and personal benefit, including needed finances. I’ve written and tried (only mildly) to sell now 2 ebooks mostly via my blog…. No mentionable success or profit there, at least so far, tho I believe the potential exists and some have done it. But the books were NOT written mainly to be good sellers. Rather, because they were in “my area” and topics I felt to be broadly valuable, important.
Same with the blog itself. I know venturing more into popular topics or cultural/political or other areas when overlapping with religion/spirituality might pull more readers and/or commenters, but I don’t choose to go there. Nor do I do other organizational or aesthetic things to my blog much, that would help it, partly because I’ve not mastered how to do it easily and have no helper. I mention that to illustrate that my main intention is to at least make available and as “accessible” as possible content that I believe is either not present in books or on the Net or is under-represented there. And content specifically that follows my own research and learning, since much of that IS of interest and use to other spiritually-minded people, Christian and also non-Christian (though I’ve moved further toward the broadly Christian audience since starting).
I wonder if this might help you some, Brian, as it did me upon reading it: Some blogs are mainly read (pronounced “red”) and some are mainly discussion-oriented (range of comments, dialog, or even argumentation). One is not necessarily better or even more impacting than the other; and some are probably right in the middle on the read-comment spectrum. I’d long wanted to have much more commenting (I rarely have any lately, even tho my page views and viewers have both gradually continued upward). But I understand some of why I don’t and can accept that I don’t need or necessarily want to do what it would take to change that. I’m coming to accept that my situation and what/how I like to post lends more to the read-only side. Perhaps almost 1/2 of the people who HAVE commented are people I’ve known at least some in the “real world”, so the blog is a good place to share and educate for them as well as getting readers from virtually all over the world, and assuming there is at least some positive impact there also… I’m sure your impact is much broader and perhaps deeper than you may realize although the process may not be as satisfying for you on a personal level.
Also, I’m glad that you and a number of others with “professional/academic” credentials choose to blog rather than take the perhaps safer route of not blogging. I understand the dynamics but don’t fully like how scholarly processes tend to be largely cut off from “regular” folks (or “laity” in religious circles) and only reach them indirectly. I’m served a lot by blogs like yours given I’m not an active academic with access to paid subscription journals broadly and person-to-person interaction with scholars, but have been one and have most of the pertinent background in knowledge and skills for doctoral level discussions in a few related disciplines. The Internet helps me stay somewhat up on relevant areas and to have some say myself both through commenting as I have often here and by posting on my own blog…. so overall, I’m BIG on blogging, despite its limitations and frustrations.
One more thing: if you’ve not followed it much, a blog I have appreciated for a long time and consider an excellent model on several levels is RachelHeldEvans.com. It has evolved a LOT in the 3-4 years (or so?) since I started following and sometimes commenting there… tho I’ve not much of either for quite a while now…. I got busier, plus it got just so big I hardly was seeing even familiar names or people I at least slightly “knew” virtually. But RHE seems a good model as a serious thinking writer who sincerely seeks truth and “a better way” to be Christian, while also combining her book writing/speaking with blogging in order to make a living. Plus, reading her blog DID lead to me meeting her and hearing her speak/interact at Big Tent Christianity conf. in Phoenix in 2011… She is very nice, and sharp, in person as well as on her blog; and this is a small example of the virtual and “real” worlds collaborating and converging… I’m sure most of your readers and you have similar stories.
In the post you make after this one you mentioned that the blog has become more academic and less ‘earthy’. I have only been following this blog since last Fall and so I don’t know what it was like before, but I have much appreciated the academic nature of the blog as it has introduced me to new ideas and controversies that have forced me to think in directions I never foresaw myself going–all while remaining pretty accessible by avoiding too much jargon. Regardless of what you end up doing with the blog, I want to thank you for blogging as it has been very influential and a blessing.
Brian wrote “What is each week had a central topic and each Sunday one of the five (in rotating order) chose the topic of the week?”
You were kind of doing this with your Isaiah in the LXX series (a very much enjoyable series incidentally); each week was a different section of the Greek isaiah. The format seemed to work well and was very text-focused. It was apolitical in the sense that the theme itself defined the discussion ..
Comments are closed.