Burningbird Connecting

Community and Technology

I am cleaning out my weblog after all these many years. Seven years. Seven years of past discussions and writings, many of which no longer make sense when taken out of the context of the previous times.

Every once in a while, though, I’ll find an old post that seems to highlight, not only what I felt then but what I feel now. One such was the following, posted May of 2002. Long before the Techmemes, WordPresses, OpenIDs, and the social networks; much earlier than the Facebooks and Twitters, it read:


Dave responded to my earlier post with a thoughtful and considerate posting that asked a very valid question:

So anyway, here’s a question for Shelley. When I see your site update on Weblogs.Com, I usually go for a visit to see what the bird is burning about now. I think of that as a community feature. Do you think it’s valuable? If not, why do you participate?

First, thanks for stopping by Dave, always appreciated. And as a point of clarification — I dropped that silly rule about comments I had about five minutes after I originated it, so please feel free to drop in with comments.

Back to the question: Why do I participate in pinging, when my interest tends to be on the people aspect of weblogging rather than the technology?

Though my focus is on the participants, I also appreciate much of the technology used in weblogging, particularly the weblogging tools such as Movable Type, Radio, and Blogger. And I also appreciate community services such as that let me know when my favorite webloggers have updated.

To me, technology provides a framework that allows me to communicate with my weblogging community easily and without a lot of hassle. I’ll alway be grateful for the folks who create all this technology that makes my weblogging life a lot easier. Still, technology is only an enabler — the content of the weblogs is the key aspect to “community” in my opinion.

If technology could be considered equivalent to the nerves in the brain, it is the people that provide the chemistry that enables the synaptic (community) connections to be made. Without the chemistry provided by the webloggers, the technology is nothing more than bits and bytes and wires all jumbled about in a chaotic and undifferentiated mess, thrown into the ether.

Consider my own community of webloggers — the virtual neighborhood that I reference fondly and at length. Technology will tell me that Bill Simoni’s weblog can be accessed at the URL, And technology can let me know when Bill has updated his weblog, through

Bill uses technology to create his weblog (using Radio), which is accessed through additional technology (the Internet). And I read the weblog through my browser (Mozilla by preference), contained on my laptop — yet more examples of technology.

However, technology doesn’t tell me that Bill is expecting a baby any day now. And technology doesn’t tell me that Bill has a nice, self-deprecating sense of humor, is pretty excited about the baby, and has a a thing about grammar and spellchecking.

That’s community.

If Userland and Movable Type and Blogger were to discontinue innovating their products as of this minute, we would perhaps have less fun toys to work with. We’d miss out on better products, and more reliable hosting, and more interesting ways to post, and better ways to aggregate the postings, and more efficient approaches regarding notification…

…but we’d still have our community. You’d have to take the Internet down to take down our community, and due to the pervasive nature of the Net, I don’t think this is even possible, now.

Ultimately, the community is not dependent on the technology as much as the technology is, itself, dependent on the community. Because without the community, why would we need the technology in the first place?


What I didn’t know then but I do now is that online communities are both dynamic and mutable, and if not created or destroyed by technology, can be fragmented by technology. When I wrote the original post, if someone would say something online I would know what they said–it would be in their weblog. Now, though, this same person posts photos in Flickr, and short quips in Twitter, and sends virtual chocolates or plays Scrabulous in Facebook, or MySpace or whatever the new thing will be in 2008–and there will be a new thing in 2008–as his or her weblog remains silent, sometimes for weeks. But I only, still, listen to the weblog.

Technology has created new paths and in the wake of passing, left us a conundrum: follow the paths to stay with the community, or remain where we are, either to be part of the fragments left behind, a new community, or no community at all.

Then one looks closer at that long ago post and realizes that technology’s fragmentary effect on community is illusory, at best. Life triumphs over all, as it always has with any community, virtual or not. Every person, but four, in the comment thread or mentioned in the earlier post has either quit weblogging, or died. Of the four remaining, Allan and I are still friends, though our communication with each other is sporadic; I haven’t talked with Bill in months; Dave and I stopped being part of the same community a long time ago–not because of technology, but because of who we are, and who we became.

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