Nancy is an independent consultant who does work on communities, learning and online facilitation, primarily in non-profit sector. She lives in the USA, but travels frequently around the world for work and does most of her work online.
She first tried blogging in 1999 with a personal weblog and another one to share resources with a client, but it didn’t work for her then. She got back into blogging in 2004 when many of her clients were asking about weblogs, so she had to get hands-on experiences with it. At this moment her weblog is a central part of her company website.
Although her network was already globally distributed and online and her web-site was pretty well-known when she started blogging, Nancy talks about being “shocked at the response” she’s got from the people she didn’t really knew who welcomed her weblog. For Nancy the weblog was a “new form of web presence”. “It revealed new network that I didn’t reciprocated with. […] Weblog revealed the people who were following my work [without me knowing about it or engaging with them]”. “It was shocking to see that my network was bigger than I thought”. She wasn’t that aware how much the resources from her web-site were used, blogging and attention to incoming links that is part of it led her to finding those people.
She adds that blogging also made her more connected with “people in the KM world”, adding that she is not seeing herself as being in knowledge management and has discomfort with the term. It wasn’t only those in KM, but also “process people” (facilitators, Open Space, Appreciative Inquiry), or edubloggers that she’s got connected to after publishing a paper on blog communities. Other people would position her weblog as a “KM blog” or “educational blog”, while she doesn’t necessarily sees it that way herself. She adds that the variety of people she connected to via blogging is very visible on her Twitter now and that blogging made her appreciate and understand the idea of networks next to groups and communities.
I ask what in blogging results in those boundary-crossing connections. Nancy suggests that it is the public nature of blogs and a lot of cross-linking, so they are easy to discover. However, comparing to communities, where there is usually an “agreement what it’s all about even if it’s about nothing”, with a weblog it is more easy “to cross over” between topics (with both, writing and reading).
Later we also discuss that this is a conscious choice: “If you choose to follow what blogging network exposes to you may accelerate expansion of the network and then you have to make choice how much to keep up with that”.
How weblogs work to support relations
There is a technical side of it and the process side. Technically, it’s cross-linking between weblogs that leads to recommendation, the search that supports discoverability and the ease of publishing.
It’s also the “process and values that many people bring into blogging”, which is “about contributing” that “you get a lot out of”. First it’s publishing one’s ideas to the world, but then cross-linking and commenting that helps to discover others, then “start discerning who you want to read” and eventually a possibility to “start working with those people”.
She adds that selecting what to read also works at the level of a topic, as it’s easy to track a topic via several weblogs or a search feed to learn and to decide if it makes sense to go further. At that level it’s “transaction around information”, and a different type of reputation.
Nancy talks about an “information relationship”, not engaging with people at a personal level, while still having a meaningful interaction, and a “trust in what they are producing, which may have nothing to do with trust in them as a human being”. She adds that weak ties and strong ties are insufficient to describe a relation, that there is a type of relations around artefacts that are not necessarily engage the person. “There is no way I can have a relation with everyone who has something important to say about the things I’m trying to learn”.
However, those “information relationships” might turn into “human relationship”, but it then it depends a lot on personalities of people, as some as more likely to initiate contact and to “reach out”. Weblogs provide a way to get to know people, to learn about them to be able to decide on engaging further or not and do so without a “commitment of giving time and attention to a relation”. Blogging helps to get to know others by providing “a window into their life over time”, “exposure of their thinking over time”, however it depends a lot on how well people write (“you don’t get to know crappy writers via their weblogs”).
Blogging and other tools
Comparing to other tools, public nature of blogging important aspect, “if they wouldn’t be public, lots of things wouldn’t happen”.
Comparing to other tools (e.g. Twitter) where adding people is explicit and often deliberate, “blogs are more about connecting through content”.
Nancy says she doesn’t really keep track of how her weblog could contribute to business, but she assumes that it is a kind of “screening device” where potential clients can check her background. She also says that the communication about business is usually in private (e.g. email or phone).
On exposure and the consequences of it
Nancy tells how now blogging exposes her to “cold calls”, people who want something from her (for free). She tries to help, since “you never know how it comes back to it”, but says that “exposure has a cost”.
We also discuss the difficulties around weblog-mediated relations. “The public nature of blogging puts relation building in a public view”, so it is more difficult to “get out [of them] gracefully” if you need to. While it’s difficult to delineate exactly how weblogs differ from in-person relations, in the discussion we talk about the public nature of it, lack of social cues (“you don’t know people well enough to know what you are getting into”) and the ease of publishing (“I can screw up really easy […] and with more people, so I can look like a fool a lot faster”). She adds that there is a need to adjust the ways to set boundaries and to respect them.