Talking to or about each other?

Evan posts some thoughts on the nature of communication in the Ed Tech weblog (non?)community:

I have a visual representation in my head of the blogging community. A bunch of people talking out loud, but never actually talking to each other. They are all commenting on the same thing, but never having their eyes meet. The room can be deafening with all the clamor, but no one is acknowledging that they are standing right next to each other.

Maybe it’s just me, but I feel so much less of a community with blogging than anything else. I’ve had contact with several bloggers both face-to-face and through email this past month or so. It may start out as interaction through commenting, or running into someone at a conference, or the realization that we share a six-degrees-of-separation circle of friends, or working together. I may read someone’s blog, and not realize that they read mine.

… Perhaps blogging is the ideal form of geek communication. You never have to worry about who accepts/rejects your ideas because unless you seek out who is referring to you, you just never know. And you don’t need to really worry about social mores, because again, unless they seek you out to comment, your blog is your idealized soapbox.

… I’m not sure what I’m searching for – I don’t think it’s there yet. It’s a melding of the two. I wonder how we can create a technology to accomplish it.

I think my own social experience via this weblog has been more satisfying than it has been for Evan. I suspect that’s because I’m one of those geeks who prefers to spout off on top of my own idealized soapbox. My natural shyness is ameliorated by the knowledge that if people don’t want to read what I write, then they’ll simply ignore me. People ignore me all the time, so there really isn’t any novel rejection involved.

I depart from Evan’s analysis, however, on the need for us to “create a technology” to promote more meaningful interaction between webloggers. Between comments, email, RSS, trackback, Technorati, Blogrolls, etc… I think the technology is there. If we are still engaged in a cacaphony of monologues, it probably is a reflection of our temperaments… as she notes.

Like most other communities or social groups, online collectives usually depend on a “social organizer” type to take the reins…a matchmaker who is fed by promoting interaction amongst peers. One example of this type of person is Beth from Cassandra Pages. Though she has a very different approach to weblogging than I do, she has been extraordinarily supportive of my efforts — penning encouraging emails when I disappear, posting friendly comments — and she is very active in fostering community amongst a group of place bloggers, both through her weblog and via the ecotone wiki, a space where place bloggers loosely organize and support each others work. (I’m not suggesting that Beth is the “leader” of this group, or even the most active participant… I just happen to have had contact with her.)

A few Ed Tech webloggers have made an effort to deepen the social element of this loose community of ours, but I suspect that the people in our field could never comfortably coalesce as tightly as the “place bloggers” do. Part of that is temperamental, and I suspect another factor is that our weblogs are part of our professional lives. I don’t wish to suggest that people are any less passionate about work-oriented weblogs, and most Ed Tech bloggers do sprinkle some personal bits into their pages. But I do think that the professional orientation of our weblogs does influence the character of the community.

I should add that my formulation of an “Ed Tech weblog community” may well exist only in my feverish imagination.

About Brian

I am a Strategist and Discoordinator with UBC's Centre for Teaching, Learning and Technology. My main blogging space is Abject Learning, and I sporadically update a short bio with publications and presentations over there as well...
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3 Responses to Talking to or about each other?

  1. evan says:

    But even trackback, blogroll, commenting – for many, those are a patchwork of technologies. Not everyone has the luxury of having all (or any) of those things in their blog. I guess I’m looking for something that intertwines them all into one.

    Of course, too much community, and we lose the nature of blogging itself. 🙂

  2. Scott Leslie says:

    Sorry, what did you say? I think I’ve got some wax in my ears.

    I think the ‘community’ that emerges in the blogosphere is actually a lot closer to the communities that exist in the ‘real world.’ It’s not formally bounded, and I think most of the communities, including geographic ones, that I’m a part of aren’t formally bounded either. And there’s no formal start or end to the community or to its communications, just like most of the communities I participate in don’t have formal formation dates or end dates, I just participate in them. (Note I’m not saying that the communities that emerge in the blogosphere don’t have bounds or starts or ends, just not ‘formal’ ones, or ones that are imposed from without.)

    I think part of the problem is expecting all of the community interaction and communication to be facilitated directly by blogs. Blogs are maybe the starting point for the communities and communication we are talking about, and they are important because they seem maybe more than pre-existing net applications to help “manufacture serendipity.” Once the connections are made, community and communications get supported by many other means as well, one’s blog face and interactions being but one, and yes, sometimes it looks a poor one. But the very nature of the seemingly solipsistic communication of blogs is one of the things that have helped it flourish. You can’t own the channel, you can’t kick people out, you can just decide to tune people in our out.

    But to the point about the technology itself and how it promotes or doesn’t promote communication. Evan’s probably right – without some of the additional technologies of commenting, trackback, etc., blog posts on their own do look pretty solipsistic. But that’s the reason people invented those technologies! Does that mean you get less community/communication if you don’t have them. Yes! Probably! Just like you’ll probably get less readers without an RSS feed. And having those technologies themselves is not enough – you need to use them in ways that opens up conversations with others, and use other people’s in ways that joins the conversations they are starting/having. And pretty soon, guess what, you start to feel like you are a part of something bigger. Is it communication? Is it a community? I don’t know, but I’m here to stay. (By the way Brian, nice to have you back – looks like October was pretty nutty for you).

    Cheers, Scott.

  3. evan says:

    I guess I’m not saying that the blog-o-sphere isn’t a community – it is, in it’s own way. And you’re right, if you make connections outside through email, face-to-face connections, that IS building a community.

    I think the aspect that I was struggling with is that blogs by themselves do not necessarily facilitate community (as Scott mentioned above). That leaves the individual to take a real initiative and perserverance to join the community. More initiative than it would take to join a newsgroup, listserv, etc.

    My goal out of the posting was to try and conceptualize another “thing”. One that I don’t have words for yet. Blogging itself is fine for what it does, but I’m looking forward to imagining what could come next…

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