Tuesday, August 24, 2004

The Sociology of Blogging

A little while ago, I had someone ask me a really tough question, which segwayed into a multi-faceted discussion. The question was basically questioning the value of internet dating, but in the moment, I also brought up blogging. My explanation at the time was at best weak and at worst, added to the confusion. Here, however, I will take a crack at some of the questions I didn't have apt answers for, and some of the things that I believe are important sociological changes that are occurring due to our rapid advances in technology. Bare with me here, because this may be a long one.

Isn't it hard to understand people from typing?


Yes and no. From my experience, you usually understand the subtext of what someone is saying when the other person is more similar. Think of it this way: when you have a really good friend, sometimes you'll have an understanding of each other's thoughts without even speaking a word. I know that my good friend will have a certain reaction to something, and can almost hear his response in my mind, often when he isn't even around. Subtextual understanding comes from experience, commonalities, patience, and a little insight. Sometimes, I'll have commenter say something that I totally misunderstand, sometimes it will just be two words and I'm rolling around laughing at wasn't said, like a truly exceptional comedy routine.

Well, it's easy to lie on the internet, how do you know someone isn't lying?


You'll commonly hear horror stories about people meeting an internet date and finding out that person is nothing like their picture, and sometimes not even of the same gender. People have more paranoia about this than they do in face to face situations because they tend to think they can sense or smell someone who's full of something from a mile away. This also applies back to the idea of subtext, in that it's partially an insight or two and some caution, just like one should play it in face to face dating.

But blogging is different. As a blogger, one generally winds up developing some type of audience, either through a commenting section or from reading a central blog. A lot of the audience/commenters on this blog that are consistent tend to either be people I know in "real" life, people referred from my link in commenting on other blogs, or people who decided to add me to their blog list. You give, and you generally will receive, even if it isn't a one-to-one relationship.

This audience begins to have expectations of you, and also starts to learn about you, as a person, by the quality, quantity, and subject matter of your writings. I've seen everything from psychopaths to neurotics to people I wish I could share a beer with to moral beacons. There are informative blogs, funny blogs, serious blogs, dark blogs, morally devoid blogs, Iraqi bloggers, soldier blogs, inspiring blogs, perverted blogs, frighteningly intelligent blogs, and frighteningly bad blogs. I've seen bad grammar, bad punctuation, bLoGgErS tHaT tYpE cApItAl lEtTeRs eVeRy OtHeR lEtTeR (a HUGE pet peeve of mine, how do you DO that, and WHY????), grammatical perfection, spelling perfection, and people who will go around and quote writing manuals to demonstrate and point out errors. The really cool part about this world is that there is so much to access, and now with the random blog search bar on the top of every blog, it's really easy to just peruse.

As long winded as this section has gotten, what I'm trying to say is yes, you may be lied to, but maybe no more than what you would find at your local supermarket, on the news, in the media, or at a bar. You have to live your life a little out there, and the same applies in blogland.

I bet most of the people who blog are really weird, aren't they?


Yep. I'm a really wacky guy. In fact, most of the bloggers out there are really weird, and that's exactly what makes them interesting. Who wants to be typical anyway? The idea of blogging, much like the real world, is to make your mark and be an individual. Sure, there are those bloggers that may have social problems, but technology has allowed them to have an outlet. There are bloggers out there who are incredibly good looking, witty, funny, and amazing people that can't get dates. There are bloggers out there who cheat on their wives and write about it. There are also bloggers out there that are married, have kids, and write about their daily lives to have a record for those kids when they grow up. All walks of life make for an interesting medley. So if you're worried about weird and want to stick to conformity, watch your ESPN or CNN, do your 9-5, and don't spread your wings. Stick to what makes you happy, or find greater happiness by reaching out into the world.

What do you write about?

Typically, I try to keep my writings about happy stuff, and stay away from darker stuff. I also try to avoid the usage of naughty language, and don't really touch on sexuality as such. I'm basically a really PG blog, because I'd rather have it accessible to a larger audience. Plus, my Mom reads this stuff.

Do you actually have blog friends?

I certainly like to think so. Maybe even a fan or two.

So what's it like, having blog friends and doing that?


Mostly really nice, like a group of people who are somehow supportive and funny. Sometimes it's annoying trying to think of something interesting to write about, and it can't really be disheartening to be uninspired. My writing is more natural now, however, and I've found I have a literary voice. It may not be very loud, per se, but it's a voice nonetheless.

Are they a bunch of geeks?


No, but we geeks are a larger cross section in this social group than in most.

What if I want to start a blog? What are good tips?


Well, having taken my lumps, I'd say there are a few keys to creating a worthwhile and popular blog. First of all, pick an actually theme for your blog, and try to adhere to it as judiciously as possible. Some people talk about their jobs, some people talk about their industry, some of news in their area, etc. Personal blogs tend to not get the same amount of traffic, but they can also be some of the more entertaining ones. Some great writers are out there that just write about their day to day.

It's also important to have an easy to read design, and I would absolutely suggest having comments. Haloscan is what many use, although BlogSpot has commenting ability built in as well. Commenting is important because it makes you much more likely to want to write more, knowing you have an audience, even though the audience can be annoying or crazy sometimes. There are very few times I don't enjoy reading the comments, but even the negative ones are good sometimes too, at least in my point of view.

I would also suggest going around and reading other blogs, and commenting on the ones you find interesting. Inevitably, someone else reading the comments or the author will stop by, and your audience expands. It's the old word of mouth marketing technique that works best.

An important fact to remember, as well, is that you write for yourself first. Your audience comes second. Unless you're trying to do something to get a bigger audience, in which case it's totally cool to sell out.

Lastly, have fun, and write well. You may learn something about yourself. I've learned more about me and people in the world from reading and writing, and it's made me more prone to paying attention to the daily things that happen, because hey, you never know if you just experienced a great story.

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