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Martin Roell

This interview is part of the study of blogger networking practices: links to other interviews and some background, links to the results.

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Martin is German, born and raised in Luxembourg. For the last 6 years he worked as a freelance consultant (internet, e-commerce, knowledge management, web 2.0), but he is leaving it now to focus on personal coaching.

He started blogging in 2002; then he did not know anyone in KM world. He told about discovering others by following blogrolls and being discovered by others (“I write my thing and somebody appears”). He also described how weblogs “kept the connections together”, conversations that “travelled around weblogs” and collective intelligence (“if we talk about questions long enough the idea would emerge somewhere”). “It was not static, not a library – I could take part in the development of these fields”.

However, Martin says that those things are part of the past: he is not blogging for the last 1,5 years. He refers to changes in his work and dynamics around his weblog as reasons for it. In the German-speaking internet his weblog became “quite famous” and got exposed to a “different sphere of people”, who expected him to “be a pundit who knows everything”. From one side he wanted to play that role as it allowed him to get more business. From another side catering for these expectations in his weblog collided with the open and vulnerable style of blogging necessary for learning and networking with peers. At the certain moment there was too much confusion, so he decided to stop blogging. [At the moment of interview Martin started blogging again, now at Gute vragen.]

On languages

Martin wrote mainly in German with some posts in English, so I asked him about it. He talked about the difficulties of making a choice of the language to write: “If I blog in German, most of the world will not read it. If I write things in English, most of my German network will not interact around it online”. He also talked about differences in English(-speaking) and German blogosphere: German as self-contained, shared culture references, English-speaking as being more open for other cultures, other ways of expression, being more careful about understanding each other.

On the role of weblogs in the ecosystem of other tools

Weblogs are good for discovering who is there and to “get to know them from the distance and decide if you want to know more”.

He noticed that after he stopped blogging, reading other weblogs become even more important, “to see what [his contacts] are up to without having to interrupt them, to contact them directly”.

Weblogs are “alive, living, published now; it’s a conversation going on instead of publishing exchange” that gives the feeling that “people are there”. At the same time they are also persistent (“I can see how you change”). It is also personal space of the weblog: “a weblog is about me even if you think you write about a topic”. A blogger can write on any topic, “I can change my job or interests, but the URL will be the same”. With a weblog “you connect to the person, not the topic”.

He suggested that blogging might be good to learn and to explore, but that “a different mode is needed” to get things done. He notices that he tends to confuse work with online interactions: “I have to pull myself out of conversations and learning to do my work […] to get things done offline… to write that article…”

He talked about the work that he acquired as a result of blogging, but stressed that “it’s a side effect of learning and an exploration”. According to Martin, blogging for marketing purposes “has a different attitude and you get clash of the contexts”. Now he would rather express what he thinks and “people will appear who appreciate that”.

When I asked about the role of blogging in making possible to do something together, he described how relations grow from shallow to more deep, starting from a shared interest and then eventually building an image of someone as trustworthy. He said that he had a couple of only online relations that turned into working together: “the way we worked together fits the image I’ve got from blog interaction, there were no big surprises”.

However, he added that meeting people in person was helpful to develop the relationship. “[Realising] that they actually have a body helped to appreciate their writing more and use their writing more effectively”

How blogging helps to develop trust?

“Willingness to expose what you don’t know. Weblog entries that showed insight and ended with questions. Willingness to learn… not yet finished thinking”. Or the opposite, taking a radical position that invites criticism, “being brave and bold”. Also personal things, “anything can help the impression of who you are” and the way one express himself on a weblog. For him, interaction on his weblog played an important role in this process: “there is something special about somebody coming to your place to leave their words there “.

However, he said that “if I really want to get to know another person, I have to change into personal channels to have a more secure exchange which is not public, to be vulnerable” “Once you become an A-lister, it becomes difficult to keep the openness and vulnerability…”

On the types of people connected to via weblogs

He told that blogging connected him to a “very diverse group of people” – young/old, coming from different backgrounds. He also noted that those people are “somewhat diverse and not diverse at the same time” as “there is a certain attitude of expecting diversity, expecting other perspectives”. In this diversity “there is a set of shared values which appear to be pretty global”. He says that this diversity is “something special about blogs”.