This post is part of the series describing the results of the study of blogger networking practices. Please take into account a couple of things:
- This is a draft. Healthy scepticism and comments are very welcome.
- Statements are linked to the names of people who talked about particular issue, those might be true or not true for others.
Next to an opportunity to learn about others from a distance, weblogs support interaction that may grow into a relation between bloggers over time. When Ton describes how interactions that start from comments help a relation to grow and strengthen, he talks about his weblog as a “gravity pull”: “it’s like they are entering your gravity field, falling towards you”.
Luis emphasises the importance of reacting to comments in his weblog as a starting point for an interaction (“last thing you can do is to ignore your comments”) telling that others appreciate the feedback. While Shawn also believes that interaction in the comments is important, he admits that he is not good in it as he uses his weblog mainly to organise his thinking rather than “as a network building or communication device if you like”. He tells that he is “not much of the typer” and leaves comments only if he “can add to a conversation in a constructive way” and then starts wondering what other people “read” into this behaviour. He also gives an example of Johnnie Moore, saying that his blogging style “seem to have the interaction going”.
Nancy echoes this point emphasising that engaging in personal connections (as opposed to “information relations” described in the section 1.5.1) depends a lot on personalities of people, as some as more likely to initiate contact and to “reach out”. Brett provides an example of others “reaching out”:
I’ve had people I’ve left comments on their blog and by doing that they discover mine and they initiated contact with me. […] they commented on the weblog and followed it more closely […] I guess [they were] more involved, did more steps for a relation than I did. I just commented once and they came to my site and commented frequently. To some extend it makes you feel an obligation almost to go back to theirs to read it more, to comment more. […] I feel that I should look at their stuff more closely to see if I want to reciprocate.
Although initial contacts often happen in comments to a weblog post, at the later stage cross-linking between weblogs and trackbacks that notify bloggers about it becomes more important. For Luis linking conversations between blogs helps to “corroborate what someone else said” while also adding own experiences and sharing with others. For Euan permalinks that allow others to link directly to a weblog post “is another big thing” as “each of those little ideas could be linked to and that allows to distribute sense-making networks.” Martin describes conversations that “travelled around weblogs” as “collective intelligence” (“if we talk about questions long enough the idea would emerge somewhere”). In discussing how blogging helps to develop trust Dave talks about it as “fragmented frequent conversation” and draws parallels between blogging and the way human brains work:”We don’t tell stories to each other, we swap anecdotes and blogs are very similar to that”.
When I ask Ton about the differences between comments and conversations across weblogs he refers to the differences in format and length, as well as different types of conversations they enable:
…the comments are usually short-lived, […] they are immediate responses to the blog post. And a blog conversation spread between weblogs goes on longer. And you can connect it to more things since if you would add links to six different blog posts in your comment it would probably be classified as a spam.
However, he thinks that those different weblog conversations are part of the same process, talking about difficulties of reconstructing paths one follows between comments, people, what they write.
Interaction via weblogs often serves as a starting point for getting in touch via other channels. Shawn suggests that “if someone got the weblog, they are inviting people to contact them” and adds that this is usually the case when he attempts to contact other bloggers by email. He adds that when contacting another blogger, the fact of both blogging creates a commonality, even if content is very different – “I am a blogger, you are a blogger, we should catch up”. Brett calls it “an instant credibility”:
Even if I don’t know someone just the fact that I saw something on their blog, posted a comment, asked a question and they see that I have one. It establishes almost an instant credibility: that this person is worth the time to respond, to read, as to say.
Gabriela explains that having weblogs that provide the context and the history of previous interactions makes contact easier: she feels she can “tap into knowledge of fellow bloggers without [providing] any details”.
Many participants talk about connecting with fellow bloggers via multiple channels. Gabriela gives an example of Jack Vinson, KM blogger she’s never met in person, and says they are mutually connected on different channels. Shawn is not constantly interacting with other bloggers via the blogosphere, saying that if it happens it’s often an email, phone or meeting in person. Luis talks about enhancing his connection with KM bloggers by knowing about their day to day life from Twitter.
For Martin other, more personal channels are needed to get to know others really well “to have a more secure exchange which is not public, to be vulnerable”, which is difficult to do in a weblog “once you become an A-lister”. Ton adds that for those relationships that are established via weblog, most of more personal communication happens via other channels (email, Skype, sharing photos and videos).
Meeting in person is often an important part of the process of building a relation: bloggers tell stories about making an effort to meet other bloggers or synergies of connecting in person after discovering that those they knew via blogging were actually in close physical proximity.
It was amazing. […] It was like two old pals talking about KM and picking it up where we have left it in the blogs.
Euan gives similar example:
First time I met Doc [Searls] there were hugs and smiles and really energetic enthusiastic conversation in a restaurant. And we said at that time that others in the restaurant had known that we’ve never met each other they would think we were mad.
Ton explains that meeting in person brings a relation at a new level. He gives an example of meeting Chris Corrigan and how walking in the forest having “the same conversations” they would have online, created a deeper level of understanding:
Rereading his postings I now hear his voice, but I also know in what kind of context he wrote it, and this additional information helps me interpret what he means on a deeper level.
Martin has similar experiences: “[realising] that they actually have a body helped to appreciate their writing more and use their writing more effectively”.
However, Dave is not sure meeting in person is good or bad after getting to know each other online, as some people “create a different persona in their blog” and meeting in person might results in “identity structure shifts”. When I refer to other bloggers who are eager to meet in person, he tells it depends on a scale: “I can’t afford the time to meet everybody I track or listen to”.
Interacting via multiple channels over time does not only help the connections grow and strengthen, it also contributes to the development of shared understanding and a sense of community. “And then you are talking not about silos […], but interconnected complex network of blogs”, where bloggers know whom to go to for help or an advice (Luis). Gabriela talks about other bloggers as “permanent support network”, “a sort of fraternity” that she can rely on.
While first interactions between bloggers often happen via weblogs, as relations between bloggers grow they engage with each other via multiple channels. In that respect conversations created by linking between weblogs play a special role: those “fragmented frequent conversations” support both collective development of ideas and strengthening the bonds between bloggers. Over time meeting in person and other channels are added to the mix to continue blogging conversations, to interact in more private and secure settings and to get to know others better. Over time those interactions create a foundation that might enable bloggers to collaborate to get things done together.