I've had blogger's block lately. As more people read my blog, I realize that I am writing for larger and larger audience. Just about every time I post something, I get thoughtful comments and email from a variety of perspectives. I realize that post early/post often is probably the best policy for blogging, but the rigor in which entries are discussed and the increasing percentage of people who I meet who have read my blog cause me to try to blog about things which are interesting yet not likely to cause me to spend a lot of time defending myself. The fact is, I'm becoming more and more conservative about what I blog.

danah boyd often talks about the collapsing of the facets of our identity. (As I continue to collapse her context by linking to her constantly.) She quotes an article about "Mom Finds Out About Blog". This relates to Erving Goffman's "The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life" where he talks about how we perform differently to different audiences presenting different facets of our identity. The problem with many blogs is that the audience includes so many different communities of people that it collapses the facets of one's identity and requires you to choose a rather shallow facet which becomes your public identity. For instance, I know that people in the US State Department, friends from my Chicago DJ days, my employees, my family, thoughtful conservatives from Texas, cypherpunk friends, foreign intelligence officers, Japanese business associates and close friends all read my blog occasionally. In real life, I present a very different facet of my identity to these different communities, but on my blog I have to imagine how all of them will react as a craft these entries. None of them get the depth that I am able to present when I am performing for them directly. So, although I am exposing many personal thoughts such as my decision to quit drinking, the depth of my identity is becoming shallow because the context is collapsed. Most of the truly thoughtful comments I have received about my drinking have been in email and IM and I am sure my blog will not help me discover my inner goofball.

Halley writes about intimacy. What does it mean? I think intimacy relates to the Robin Dunbar's magic number 150. At this moment there are 87 people hanging out on #joiito and 216 people in my instant messenger buddy list (some are the same people). On the other hand, I have 490 connections in LinkedIn, have 510 phone numbers in my cell phone and get about 1000 new years cards. On my blog, I get about 13,000 unique sessions (30,000 page views) per day. Today, I attended a fund-raising meeting for a non-profit, and a political campaigner said that generally, one was expected to have to shake 50,000 hands to get elected.

Ross Mayfield broke the networks down into political, social and creative at 1000's, 150 and 12, but my feeling is that the political layer is 10's of thousands and next layer is business at 500 and social at 150 and creative at 12. This is not scientific, but just my personal observation. If this is true, this blog is approaching the political layer which explains why I feel that I get more business done on LinkedIn, but I feel much more candid and happy on IRC and Chat and why I still really love dinner conversations most of all. I think that if you can manage the audience size and composition on your blog, you can tune it to any of these layers. Mena often talks about how blogs are more about normal people blogging with their friends than about pundits competing against the media. I would agree and think this may be more rewarding at an emotional level than taking your blog to the political level. What you have to be careful of is that you never know when you might suddenly become popular or when your mom might drop into your blog and your context will collapse around you. Managing your audience and the facets of your identity is a very difficult thing and navigating this has and always will be one of our biggest challenges both in the real world and online.

Blogging about not being able to blog...

21 Comments

I think you will find Mayfield's Law #5: when you blog about not being able to blog you suddenly find you can blog

Tried to send a track back, but was gettign timeouts. So here goes:

http://www.involvu.net/moveable/epicenter/archives/000233.html

- Greg

This collapsing of facets is what led me to develop and maintain different pseudonyms:
http://goatee.net/2001/03.html#_09fr

But in the end, I gave up thinking it would give me genuine psuedonymity, though it still is useful:
http://goatee.net/2003/09#_05fr

"However, I do this split with some trepidation. Ironically, it comes at a time when I'm not as concerned about maintaining Goatee as a completely discrete personal space from the point of view of privacy. In the past, I was extremely rigorous about keeping my personal and professional spheres discrete. However, blogs are now the norm, and not the exception; consequently, it's not so weird to find a site with an essay on some XML application and photos of their kids. And even though you will be hard pressed to find an instance of my name on this site — and I used to ask people not to link to this site, particularly if the link contained my name — if you search Google for my name presently, Goatee is the second return! It still figured it out.

So, this split is a way for me to learn a new tool and to cater to different audiences. While the tension between the personal and professional was often constructive — one can't completely sever one's roles — I often would feel guilty writing something technical that I knew my friends would find boring, or something personal my colleagues wouldn't care about.

Granted, if someone wants to find my personal site, it's now trivial, but if someone were to read something he didn't like, he proceeded at his own jeopardy."

I find the ideas in this entry extremely interesting and just as disturbing. Interesting because I had read Malcolm Gladwell's "The Tipping Point" before and thought it was an outstanding book (a must-read imo since it will help one become a more informed citizen to the Nth degree), and now I see how much farther he could have gone into the chapter on the "150" since apparently you can break it down to different types of connects. I'll probably be doing this soon in my life just to experiment because I realized after reading Joi's entry that I probably have almost as many different groups of people with whom I interact as he does Nyc liberals who find it perfectly normal to engage in swinging with other couples, midwestern conservatives who won't let their kids dance at prom, zionists, pro-palestinian staters, political wonks in the state government, wonks in ngo's, small time drug dealers (I don't touch drugs, but it came with the territory I was in for the last job I had), farmers, musicians of almost every popularity level, graduate students, hs students in seattle, etc.

All of that is only the beginning. I don't think that many of those groups would ever get along with each other if put into a room, yet, I get along with all of them, myself, and now, I'm hesitant to think of what would happen should any of the groups be presented with my identity outside of their original knowledge of my identity.

The idea that they wouldn't get along, so much that it might get me ousted from almost all of the groups, is what scares me because it points out just how socially conservative and xenophobic most people I know are. It seems as if the actual problem is the fact that the people in Joi's life (and others who have as varied connections as he) are unable to accept more than one lifestyle as a fitting enough for them to interact with on a personal level.

I've learned since getting out of college (not too long ago) that it is more of a hinderance to be multi-faceted than it is a help in 99% of situations. On my second job interview, I told the interviewer my exact story, and he said, "I'm going to offer you the job (which I ended up not taking b/c at the time it was just wrong for me), BUT I'd advise you not to tell people about any more than the one, small part of your life with which they will be concerned. People tend not to trust people who do more than one thing or have more than one set of friends. People and employers especially are looking for a single-faceted person."

All of these realizations sadden me, but it does make me wonder if it is better to create one strong identity throughout all facets of one's life or if making lots of identities is better for people. I think the reason that I can be with so many types of people is that I have created a fairly strong identity that has a very strong and unwavering central tendencies which reassure all of the various groups that they are in no danger letting me into their group because I will not kow-tow to any group, theirs included, no matter what the situation so they are safe allowing me in.

Just blog for yourself, Joi. A selfless person blogging selfishly will do just fine for others.

I tend to agree with Don Park. Continue to be yourself and blog what you want to write about. It's what has given you your large audience so to speak. Keep it raw! This is the whole concept of blogging isnt it? The biggest power a blog does have is the ability to say whatever you want without restriction of the powers to be for what ever company you work for. This goes back to the Journalist post - is blogging the future of Journalism etc? Compare it to someone who works for the New York Times who can't just say whatever he wants cause its edited.

I've never really stressed over who's reading my site. I do find out from time to time that a friend saw an article I wrote, or that my grandfather's been reading it for months -- and that's okay.

I guess a problem would occur if you're trying to write for your audience, as opposed to whatever else. I always found it hard to keep in mind just *precisely* how my words were going to be taken by different groups of people that read my website -- and the strangers that come in through Google.

Recently I got a rather angry post from someone selling items on eBay, telling me that I should get used to sniping as a business practice. The best I could discern of their side of the story was that their profit per item would drop were it not for sniping -- a valid concern!

Many of my friends buy and/or sell on eBay, so this viewpoint could very well have been from any one of them; had I spent a lot of time worrying about how it would be taken by them, the article probably would have turned out boring and lifeless.

The only problem I've found with this sort of writing is that it's less likely to draw in permanent visitors. On the other hand, that's not my goal, either. My goal is to write what's in my head and show it to other people -- a process that's strongly affected by thinking about other people.

I guess I agree with Don, sort of. Blog for an individual. It can be a different individual each time; it can be yourself, your mother, or any ghost figure to which you're interested in writing. Simply by writing to an individual, you can strike a chord in a way that writing for a larger audience doesn't.

One caveat comes to mind. If you don't blog for a specific individual reader, they might not stick around. I don't see forgetting your URL to be a problem, but if you're blogging in a voice that's intended to *retain* certain people, I think you'll find that the voice doesn't scale easily.

I guess there are a few issues. I behave differently when I'm speaking to the public than I do when I speaking to someone one-on-one. I think this is natural. The smaller the group the more context that I have. I can say something in IRC and there is a lot of history between the participants and the ability to be self-aware about how people react.

It's different on a blog. Many people arrive here from Google. There is very little context and I have to be careful because things are quoted and indexed. The larger the audience becomes, the more diverse people's contexts become and the less I am able to use context to provide humor, style and depth.

I do agree that I should write for myself and that I should try to create a self-selecting audience, but I guess my point is that as the size increases, the audience inevitably gets diverse and one becomes self-conscious. Also, as more and more people in my real-world begin reading my blog, the impact on my real-life increases.

One strategy that someone I know has taken is to try very hard to move their blog around and shake off many of their readers and shrink their audience. Another would be to try to create a very strong single facet and stick to this. I don't think I can do either. That's why I'm torn.

I will of course continue to be as open as possible here, but being open isn't the same as being personal, contextual and goofy. I think I'll use IRC and Chat for that. Having said that, I will continue to share all goofiness that I believe is universal in nature. ;-p

I have a friend who has a blog that is only able to be viewed by those who are given a specific URL. She also works very hard to 'not' appear in any Google rankings. So, she spends a lot of time obsessively pouring through her logs to see who has hit her site that she doesn't know personally, and whenever she sees an IP address or Internet provider she doesn't recognize, she actually starts freaking out. Basically she wants the privacy to blog and talk smack about anything/anybody she wants. Funny thing is, she rarely posts anything remotely controversial. If I gave her URL right now and she started getting hits, she would totally "freak out", which is pretty silly considering it's not behind a secure network, it's on the public Internet. I must admit, watching her behavior has made me really cut down my contact with her.

I don't know if I have a point with this, but the original post gave me an opportunity to share something that's been bugging me about a friends blog.

Basically I agree with the others, blog openly, or don't blog at all. If you start editing your blogs, you might as well start taking advertisements and make the blog commercial. Which isn't necessarily a bad idea in many cases.

And right on schedule, check out this news story ( http://www.newsday.com/news/local/newyork/nyc-blog1223,0,3411589,print.story?coll=ny-nynews-headlines ) about a New York cop who has a blog ( http://www.xanga.com/home.aspx?user=brooklynbacon ) that looks like it's about to get him in trouble.

Hey RIO. I won't stop blogging and I'll be public about most things. I have no intention of going commercial. I guess I'm trying to make a more subtle point. As the audience grows, my tone changes and I blog more conservatively. I probably will say, "fuck" less, I'll probably refrain from making sweeping generalizations and will try to dive in and be rigorous when I'm trying to make a point. This isn't necessarily a bad thing and doesn't diminish the "content" of my blog much. It's more of a personality issue. I think people will feel less like they're "hanging out" with me and more like they're reading my blog.

Having said that, some content will probably be less likely to be published, but I doubt most people will notice. ;-)

good bloggin' joi.......keep on bloggin'............

doug kenline
atlanta, georgia

Blogs expand, blogs contract. Focus narrows, focus widens. Enthusiasm waxes and wanes. All part of the nature of the beast, Joi. I think most of your core readers will understand this perfectly, so I wouldn't worry about alienating them.

I had a thought about this subject yesterday (that would be the day before I read this, interesting how it doesn't really matter when something is posted, just matters when it was read. But that's a discussion for another day.) I would like to discuss important things on my blog, but would also like to keep that personal information there, two very different pieces if my identity.

My solution to this is to have two different blogs, one for each. Keep Grant.Henninger.name as my personal blog, for less-thought-out things and personal musings. Then get something else for more professional writing, writing that presents complete ideas in an understandable way, something my blog currently doesn't do at all.

Then it would just be a matter of marketing the blogs to different groups. Sure, everybody could read either blog, but they people would know that it isn't intended for them and I don't think they would read it regularly. I think people will understand that different personas get presented to different people. Because of that, I think having multiple blogs would work to solve this problem, then you just need to ensure you update both regularly.

My blog is on LiveJournal, which is unusual in that you can maintain "friends lists" of other LiveJournal users. This gives you "friends pages" which are kind of like RSS aggregators of their journals, but it also allows you to restrict your whole journal or individual entries (or just the ability to comment) to your friends or to specific subsets of friends. That ability to manage access sounds something like what RIO's friend needs. LJ has a kind of stigma in that it's associated primarily with teenage girls, but in fact all sorts of other people use it too, and while it has technical drawbacks, in this one regard it is rather sophisticated.

(Free LiveJournal accounts used to be invitation-only with a limited ability to generate invitation codes, but they recently re-opened them to all comers.)

Matt: I agree. LJ does a VERY good job at this.

What I should say is that given the vital importance of business contacts to a venture capitalist and the fact that you are in some ways a public figure you are probably doing the right thing.

This is how I really feel:

http://www.theartofpeace.blogspot.com/2003_12_01_theartofpeace_archive.html#107223791486349889

I tend to close my mind as to who may be reading and just blog what's on my mind. I much prefer a blog that shows me the 'whole' real person, not just parts of my life like what I ate for breakfast and what movie I saw last night, which many people resort to so as not to upset anyone. The whole person needs to have opinions, rants and moody spells, just like normal life

Scale matters, and Robin Dunbar's numbers (and your numbers) matter -- as humans, we can only take in so many channels. But we like a certain density of channels. So when you're blogging for thousands, your meaningful connection with that audience is pretty limited -- maybe 4 or 5 channels of back and forth that you can take. When you're at a dinner party, you really can have 12 different channels going across the evening, and they can each be meaningful. Much more fun. No conclusions here, just noticing.

I found myself going off on two sustained tangents for a while: one on human capital technologies and the other on political topics. Both turned off my regular readers. So I moved them to other channels: http://EastBayKerry.com became my political outlet, and I created another blog for all the labor market stuff. Then I created two side blogs for some ongoing but infrequent updates: http://blogcount.com on blogosphere stats and http://dijest.com/dontblog on the pending weblog backlash.

Several things happened. I developed personas that were deeper and more narrow in each of the niche blogs. There was almost no spill-over of readers from one blog to the others. My attention was fractured too, so large gaps of non-posting in my main blog could be explained by activity elsewhere, but nobody would know or care to look. It also meant that I had multiple beats to cover regularly, and readers appreciate constancy over quality. It was very hard to pay daily/weekly attention on every front.

So far, I've retired my labor market blog, I made my political blog into a multi-author thing, and I'm putting more attention back into my main blog. That's my core identity, my broad presence, my brand. I'll leave it to system improvements to help visitors navigate to their view of the good stuff and to create contexts they find meaningful.

Being one of the last comments in this thread is defintiely a scaling problem; those who comment first seem to have more access to the blogger. I wonder if measurement would bare that out?

Who are you blogging for ? I'm writing mine for me, simply because I can't be bothered to maintain a paper diary. If visitors "look in through my window" and see what I'm writing then that's good, but I won't moderate myself just because someone might be upset .. as you will see if pay a visit :-)

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