Retroblogging: Inclusion and Exclusion of Online Communities
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.)