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Retroblogging: Inclusion and Exclusion of Online Communities

July 30, 2007

The last session on Saturday afternoon had an intriguing title: The Politics of Inclusion and Exclusion of Online Communities. For the better part of the hour and fifteen minute session, we discussed everything from trolls (which has now been affectionately re-nicknamed “blogtards”*), hate e-mail, comments, blogrolls and other forms of building – or avoiding – connections with other bloggers.

My impression was that blogrolls and comments are quite possibly the biggest influence in whether or not a blogger feels welcomed in a community. They link with someone they like, and they assume (or at least hope) that the person will link back to them. It’s a pretty standard best practice that if you want build a solid community, you need to link with a lot of people. It’s like a real-life community. A community isn’t a community if it’s just a group of houses together – the people inside actually need to talk to each other. Likewise, an online community isn’t an online community if it’s just a bunch of blogs floating around cyberspace. You actually need to comment.

That being said, it’s not always easy or possible to find the time to comment on every blog you come across, and certainly not with any frequency. I’ve noticed that I tend to have the same five or six people comment on my blog regularly, with a handful of other bloggers who comment at random. Other blogs also have the same five to six commenters, but they are sometimes different people. And although I consider myself to be in the same community as Donna or Lyrehca, I rarely if ever actually comment on their blogs.

I wanted to ask this question at the conference, but never had the chance, so I will ask it here and hopefully you, whoever you are, will answer with your thoughts. How do you define your community? Are you an O.C. member because all you read and write about is diabetes? Do you think of yourself as a O.C. member because you have diabetes and write about it sometimes? Are you an O.C. member because you are listed in the Directory?

If you are reading this blog and you aren’t a member of the O.C. or perhaps you are a member of another online community, how did that community start? Was it from blogrolls or comments or did you join something that was “official”? Although the O.C. was essentially started from all that blog-hopping and link-exchanging we did back in the summer of 2005, I know most people consider themselves “real members” of the O.C. when I put them up in the Directory. I think it gives me a little bit too much power, honestly, but I can see that having a hub of some sort gives legitimacy to the idea of a community. It also gives us more staying power. The O.C. is something that’s bigger than me, or Kerri or Amy or anyone else. There were discussions about how to create longevity for a community when it circles around one or just a few blogs. It’s very difficult for one person to manage an entire community, but I don’t feel like I have to do that. The Diabetes O.C. isn’t mine just because I keep the Directory updated. It’s ours. Each one of us makes the community whole, so even if we don’t post on everyone else’s blog, we’re still a community. The O.C. is now a completely separate entity from all of us and it will continue to have fluctuating memberships. Some blogs in the Directory aren’t active or the link is broken. Some blogs continue to grow and flourish. Some blogs have taken a completely new direction.

It also makes me wonder about identity. Where does your identity as a blogger come from and how does that influence your participation in a community? Many of us think of ourselves as “people with diabetes” because we are people first, and diabetics second (or third, fourth, nineteenth…). So then, do you think of yourself as a “blogger with diabetes” or a “diabetic blogger.” Many people brought this up in the Momsphere section: they were no longer people, instead they were only mothers, and many of their readers did not want to read about things that did not relate to their children. I wonder how many people come to my blog thinking they are going to read my experiences on the pump or as a diabetes advocate but instead are bombarded with posts about me searching for an apartment or spending the afternoon at the Statue of Liberty.

The more time I spend here on the East Coast, the more I’m finding new things that I want to talk about. I don’t necessarily want to have to talk about the high blood sugar I had after eating Rita’s water ice in order to feel legitimate in posting about how I want to abandon my high-level public relations career to be a manager of a Rita’s. Control over our own blog – what we want to talk about versus what we think other people want to read about – was a pervasive theme at the conference. It seems that online identity and online community are co-dependent. Your identity is influenced by your community and your community is influenced by your identity.

I wish I was able to connect with each and everyone one of you, but it’s very difficult to do so. I try to read as many as I can, but even that is hard. But I want you to know that even if you only have three comments or only have 10 people visit you a day, you are still a part of this community. We are here to listen, even if we don’t always talk back.

I guess we’re kind of like God in that way. Ever-present, always listening and shows in unexpected ways.

(*This word was used in the “Inclusion and Exclusion” session and was not created nor used by the author. I apologize to those who may be offended by the term. It was not my intention. My intention was to reiterate what was discussed in the session. I should have explained that more fully in the original story,  but hopefully this addendum will help.)

  1. July 30, 2007 10:19 PM

    Excellent post, Allison. I blog, therefore I am. Or here: I comment, therefore I am. Love to talk with you more about this topic

    🙂 AmyT

  2. July 30, 2007 11:59 PM

    I like your last paragraph. It pretty-much says it all.
    There are so many blogs that I read every day. But I don’t comment on all of them. Just reading them makes me feel like part of something that I probably wouldn’t feel otherwise.

  3. Sara permalink
    July 31, 2007 1:43 AM

    I know it is not the point of your post but I have to comment on it. There may be people, such as myself, who may be offended by the term you used in replacement for trolls.
    The word that term comes from is an actual condition that people have – friends, family, etc. It is not appropriate to mock it – even in complete jest.
    I do not let my students use that word or ‘gay’ in a derogatory way – think of the words you are using it in replacement for and think if you would want someone to call you or someone in your family that.

    Otherwise an interesting, thought-provoking post!

  4. July 31, 2007 2:49 AM

    I know I’ll probably get slammed (again) for being too PC, but I have to agree with Sara. I saw that word and cringed. It is very derogatory.

    I consider myself part of a couple of communities. I sometimes feel like I’m not really part of the D.O.C. since I don’t write about diabetes that often, although I deal with it every day. I’m also part of the mom-blogger community, although I don’t exclusively talk about my children. I do comment on and link to a lot of blogs, but I do it because I like to read those writers. It’s nice when they reciprocate, but I’m not really into blogging-as-popularity-contest, so it doesn’t bother me all that much when they don’t.

  5. Asskeeper permalink
    July 31, 2007 3:02 AM

    I consider myself part of the D.O.C. Even though I hardly ever post on my blog. I know bad Wendy. I just feel connected to the circle because I have D and this is a community where most anyone is accepted.

  6. July 31, 2007 9:06 AM

    Feel free to comment on my blog anytime!

  7. Allison permalink*
    July 31, 2007 1:07 PM

    Thanks everyone who posted their thoughts! I really appreciate it.

    To Sara and Julia, I’m sorry you were offended by the term. I actually didn’t create the word, and perhaps I will edit the comment to explain that. It was a term used in this session.

  8. August 1, 2007 1:41 AM

    Sounds like the conference was awesome, Allison! Hope you are feeling better.

    On to the topic, I could totally identify with this comment you made: “The Diabetes O.C. isn’t mine just because I keep the Directory updated.” It’s the same with me in the case of I see myself as a facilitator and a member, one who switches hats, but likes to participate every bit as much as everyone else.

    Much in the same case with the O.C. and its blogs, TuDiabetes and its members fluctuates (even at its young age) and people come and go, some daily, some weekly, some once in a while, some never come back again (though I hope that would be the minority). What keeps the community a community, I’d say is the fact that people not only talk to each other but also listen to each other too.

    Bless God for the Internet!! 🙂

  9. Sara permalink
    August 4, 2007 2:36 AM

    Allison –
    I know you didn’t mean any offense by the ‘word’, most people don’t intentionally. I just wanted to make sure it didn’t catch on in the OC!
    Knowledge is power!!

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