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.