Lines of communication

Recovered from the Wayback Machine.

If you’ve followed this weblog for a couple of years, you might remember a time when I had classified the weblogs in my blogroll into specific categories. The categories were somewhat humorous, or not, but I couldn’t see any harm with what I did.

You can imagine how taken aback I was when one of the people in one of the categories sent me an email about how much he disliked being classified in such a a way. In fact, not only did he dislike being categorized, he particularly disliked the category I put him into because it really had nothing to do with what he wrote, or who he was.

That was my first exposure to categories in weblogging, and people’s reactions to same. Since then I’ve seen other webloggers use classification schemes to much better effect than I did at the time, but I’ve still never forgotten that reaction.

Lately, though, I’m seeing a growing increase in wanting to not only categorize webloggers, but to actually split an entire genre of writer off from the generic term of ‘weblogger’ into a separate classification of ‘journaler’ or ‘diarist’. In other words, separate out the people who participate as part of a community, from those who write online in order to publish their views to a wider audience.

I can see the viability of performing such a categorization, primarily from a viewpoint of community and self-censorship. If I see myself primarily as a writer who is publishing my works online, I may not want to be constrained by community concerns when I write. In other words, I may not want to be forced into self-censorship when I write because I don’t want to put friendships at risk.

However, I have to reject this classification and concern, as one who has written in disagreement with people who I respect and even cherish. I am finding that the people I value the most are the ones who gracefully accept disagreement, and, in fact, may relish it because a true dialog can then emerge, and from this dialog, great writing can result. Not writing from within an insulated vacuum; but writing knowing the full consequences of the impact of what’s been written.

That’s not to say there isn’t risk: I have been clumsy with disagreement in the past, allowing my passion to exceed my intellect and have lost friends as a result. However, even this, though painful, has been informative – I am learning to know when to inject passion, and when to carefully hold it in check; not in order to be conciliatory, but to be a better writer.

And I am a better writer. Oh, perhaps not in my use of proper grammar or spelling, or in measures of popularity and links, but in the only way that truly matters to me: I feel I am a better writer.

Returning to the issue of weblog categorization, Danah Boyd and Liz Lawley published a note about a face to face meeting they’re organizing at the upcoming O’Reilly etech conference, the purpose of which is to explore weblog categorization. Much of the impetus for this effort is derived from Danah’s own perception that …blogs and journals are different.

One issue that I raised was that the circumstances of the meeting precluded participation from the majority of bloggers. In effect, by having a meeting at a US-based, relatively expensive conference composed exclusively of technical folks, the results of the meeting can’t help but be anything other than skewed in outlook and ultimately results. Additionally, though I can also understand that Danah feels a need to get together with some folkand have a face to face, my own response is that if we tout the power of weblogs to aid in communication, then shouldn’t discussions about weblogs be held in weblogs?

However, neither Liz nor Danah were asking for opinions about having this face to face at etech – they were issuing invitations and plotting out their course of action. When they publish their work It’s then up to us to look at the factors surrounding their work, and the work itself, and form our opinions accordingly. Hopefully without any hostile perceptions.

Regardless of approach, I have no doubts that Liz and Danah and the other participants have the best intentions with their effort. There has been conjecture that there aren’t that many women tech bloggers. Well, perhaps the reason why is that the categorization of ‘tech blogger’ isn’t well defined. There has also been discussion that women tend to be ‘journalers’ not ‘bloggers’. Well, this of course begs the question: define blogger? Define journaler?

However, if Liz and Danah have the best intentions, not everyone who wishes to propagate the concept of categorization does. I am noticing a disturbing trend lately to separate those who write about our interests – poetry, family, music, pets and each other – from the more ’serious’ bloggers in our midst. Serious in this instance being, we most only assume, those who write about politics, money, tech, and power without the taint of ‘community’. By creating this dichotomy, this enforcement of ‘insiders’ versus ‘outsiders’, there is an attempt to cut off those of us who write …of shoes and ships and sealing wax; of cabbages and kinds from the ‘personal publishers’ in our midst.

I put the blame for this squarely on the coverage of weblogs in the media. Never an article on weblog goes by without the Journalist writing it mentioning, as an aside, a definition about bloggers that usually begins with, … ‘weblogs, or ‘blogs’, as they are usually called, are daily journals chronicling the life and interests of the blogger, and can cover topics as diverse as what the blogger had for lunch, to the war in Iraq. However, a new genre of blogger is emerging, the political blogger, who is beginning to have a strong influence on politics…”. Well, you get the point.

We writers who write about shoes and ships and sealing wax – and politics and what we had for lunch and yes, even our cats – are pissing in the pool the other more serious bloggers want to swim in.

Jeneane Sessum wrote on this recently in the beautifully titled essay, “When the comment spammers are more of a community than we are”. She wrote:

Yes, I do think a divide is emerging within a medium that attracted us initially by its flatness–no one really weilding any more power than another except through the quality of their writing and ideas and the strength and power of their individual voice.

You see, there was nothing to gain through blogging in the early days. It was my voice informing her voice informing his voice: our whole was greater, but our parts were pretty cool too. There was nothing to lose, specifically, or to benefit from. There weren’t as many pundits and VCs and CEOs and politicians and top dogs playing. WE were all top dogs by virtue of being someplace those types weren’t.

According to the classification discussed in this writing, Jeneane would be a ‘journaler’, not a ‘blogger’. Tell her that, though, and be prepared to be cut off at the knees. That’s the thing: we may classify all we want, but that won’t make it real.

But classifications, applied diligently, can have adverse impact over time.

If we see ourselves as serious writers but become classified in various schemes as ‘party’ people because we engage in conversations within our weblogging communities, will this not, over time, impact on the perceptions about our writing by those following these classification schemes?

If we designate me as a ‘poetry weblogger’, and you come here and I happen to be writing about technology, won’t this generate conflict between the classification and the reader’s perception – conflict that may lead to rejection of my writing, overall?

I would say that weblogs are self-healing and that we write around classifications such as these. However, I’ve been around weblogging enough to know that memes, such as categorization, applied consistently enough, and broadly enough, can have an impact.

I will follow efforts in this regard as it progresses, both with Danah and Liz’s effort, in addition to others because this is a topic that interests me. I would say that this, then, makes me into a ‘metablogger’, if it weren’t for my inconvenient photographs, asides into politics and women’s writing, as well as discussions about purple feet from time to time.

Speaking of which, who wants to see a photo of my purple foot?

(Another conversation along a similar theme formed in comments to a Joi Ito post tangentially related to this topic. Joi has the most amazing ability to build conversational hooks into his posts.)

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