ME and Ophelia

Thursday, December 18, 2003

Tips for professional and personal webloggers

Yesterday, I blogged about Joi Ito's post re Rebecca Blood's 10 tips for a better weblog. After thinking about it all and Tip #3, I've concluded that it would make more sense to me if the title was named "10 tips for a professional weblog". Here is why:

Joi remembers reading the tips when he was starting his blog. He says they were his guiding principles, and that if you're starting a blog and are trying to figure out how and what you should write about, he'd start with:

Tip #3 Know your intended audience. You conduct yourself differently with your friends than you do with professional associates, strangers, customers, or your grandmother. Knowing for whom you are writing will allow you to adopt an appropriate tone.

Joi says "this is the difficult question that many of us deal with because sometimes we end up with unintended audiences or our contexts collapse".

A target audience? Surely that is for commercial websites or non-personal blogs with professional or business aims. I don't conduct myself differently with my friends than I do with professional associates, strangers, customers, or my "grandmother". I act and speak the same way towards all people, strangers or not. The same with my blogging.

There's little difference between what I blog, email or speak to someone in person. For decades I was an avid newspaper reader and would clip news cuttings of things that took my interest. Now, I post electronic cuttings in my blog. My blog is like a scrapbook for future reference, interspersed with personal journal and conversation with people I know on and off line. I do speak my mind but I do not say one thing but mean another. I do not say anything about people that I would not be willing to say to their face. It would not embarrass me to find - repeated in someone's blog - anything I say in person, over the phone or in writing to someone else.

Joi blogs that "knowing for whom you are writing will allow you to adopt an appropriate tone." Appropriate tone? I'm not sure I understand what that means in relation to life or blogging. Does it mean that people put on a mask, or an act or a show of some kind? Different masks and acts for different folks? Do you do this? Now it is making me wonder how many people do act out different facets.

Joi says he has been discussing this issue a lot with American Danah Boyd "in the context of managing the facets of your identity". Facets of identity? Does this mean that most people have different sides to their personality and act differently towards different people? And if so, why?

Also, he says that Rebecca's 'ten tips for a better weblog' are a good place to start "because you'll never be able to manage developing a facet of your identity unless you have enough passion about what you are writing to do it frequently and rigorously enough to make your blog interesting".

Why should one even have to "manage" developing a facet of one's identity? Who says? Is it a cultural thing? A class thing? A keeping up with the Joneses thing? Ages ago, somewhere, I heard that the Chinese or Japanese have four faces. But I cannot recall anything about it. Perhaps something to do with custom and deferential behaviour in public, work, family or private settings - "saving face", that sort of thing. In Britain, when someone is being two faced, or speaking with forked tongue it usually means something dishonest.

Joi says "if you focus on your passion, it's likely you will attract the audience you are looking for, and sometimes contexts do collapse and you get unintended audiences. This can tend to cause a chilling effect and make it difficult to write freely. If your blog becomes popular, this is inevitable. Having said that, it often adds more rigor and forces you to research more thoroughly before posting, which is a good thing."

If I am looking for an audience for my blog it would be to make more new friends, people in different countries, to learn about their lives and how they think, communicate and share thoughts and ideas. I think what Rebecca Blood (professional writer) and Joi Ito (venture capitalist) may be talking about in Tip #3 is the "professional" blog, not the "personal" blog.

For instance, if your blog is commercially driven, you have to portray and nurture a confident image and good public relations. If you have all sorts of different people including potential customers, staff and competitors reading the blog, then obviously you are not going to blog about things that you would say to friends, colleagues, your banker, or your grandmother - especially if it had to do with sensitive information about the business, staff, customers, competitors, finances, concerns etc.

If you were a professional blogger, you'd have to think twice about what you are publishing. If your target audience is customers and business contacts, or your blog is a public relations exercise to showcase and promote your skills, company, products, services or whatever, then you'd have to be careful about what you blog so that it does not create the "wrong" impression, attract bad comments and adverse publicity. If you blog about something you are passionate about, then readers will sense it as something you feel sincerely about, which means the blog will sound less business like and more "personal" - thereby fitting in with the blogging community - as opposed to sitting on the Internet as a commercial site simply using blogging software.

A personal blog is always there for you, to pick up or leave at anytime, you are your own boss, set your own pace and standards. Bloggers who have no commercial interest can easily blog whatever they feel like - and remain anonymous too if they wish. If you are trying to sell something, there is no point in remaining anonymous. Being a "professional" blogger, you'd aim to become high profile in order to advertise whatever it is that you are selling and reach your "target audience". You'd network and link to gain as much publicity as possible, the links you'd select may differ in rationale from that of the "personal" blogger.

On the other hand, if your "personal" blog is discovered by your work colleagues and contains posts where you have blogged or vented about other people like the boss, your colleagues, bad policies and poor business dealings, you'd be creating the "wrong impression" by tarnishing the image that the company portrays as its "public face". So, even though you'd have been honest with yourself and your feelings in your "personal" blog, it is not the truth that people at work would wish to see published anywhere in public. It could be perceived as posing a threat to profit margins, their credibility or positions.

Also, if your "personal" blog is discovered by your colleagues, close friends, family and relations and contains information about yourself and your behaviour that you have not disclosed to them - i.e. trouble with the police, drinking and driving, substance abuse, debt, medical issues or other things that may cause distress and worry for them - then, even though you have been honest with yourself in your blog, it is not what you'd want your colleagues or nearest and dearest to read - because you had specifically chosen not to share that information with them.

So, I guess this is the sort of thing that Joi and Danah are talking about. It's made me realise that people do have sides to them that we do not always see. No wonder work places are such Machiavellian snake pits! People are probably putting on so many acts, their personalities may be as twisted as Jekyll and Hyde's.

Personally, I never put on an act. At work I acted the same way as I did at home. Always tried to be honest, considerate and thoughtful. If I was at work now and colleagues were reading my blog, I'd have nothing to be embarrassed about. As I'd never gone in for gossipy petty chit-chat or been two-faced about people behind their backs, such stuff would never appear in my blog, or in any diary or letter. If I had something adverse to say about someone in my blog, and they found out about it, I would not be embarrassed because I'd never think or say anything about a person that I would not be willing to say to them in person. Friends or family would find little difference in the content of my blog, emails, letters or personal conversations.

It seems to me that this all boils down to is image, integrity and honesty. If you are trying to "create" an image or are being dishonest, you have to constantly be on guard against the image getting shattered, or being found out that you have been less than honest. "Managing the facets of identity" sounds like an awful lot of juggling and hard work. In my book, honesty is always the best policy. Cannot really see how you can go wrong. Lot less complicated too.

My aim in this blog is simply to make friends with people, find interesting stuff, have a bit of a laugh and some fun. Share news and emails and communicate. Make an effort. Join in. Try and keep an open mind and be non-judgemental. Blogosphere isn't a literary circle. It's not male or female, black or white, ill or healthy, able bodied or disabled, young or old...etc. We are all one. The beauty of the blogosphere is that it is for everyone. Anyone at anytime can blog for free - it is not elitist. No class distinction or judgements on personal appearance or clothing or accent. It doesn't matter how one articulates - who really cares if it's "A-list" or "quality" writing or journalism or whatever: to my mind, if it's honest and from the heart, that's just great.

When I visit blogs, I am visiting the blogger, the person, the author. I've visited many blogs around the world. One common complaint is the irritation bloggers feel when visiting a new blog and not finding anything "about" who they are visiting. I get annoyed at this too, so rarely visit more than a few times but I do take the trouble to leave feedback incase it's an oversight or not perceived as important. If I knocked on your front door would you hide or answer by pretending to be someone else behind the door? or open the door with a sack over your head and body? What's the point? If you don't want to reveal your true self, how friendly and trustworthy does that make you appear?

If bloggers do not say anything about themselves, it's hard work for readers to click around trying to figure it out for themselves - most won't hang around to find out anyway - there are too many other blogs out there by people who do give of themselves.

Usually I make an effort to communicate with bloggers, by going out of my way to leave comments, say hi or thanks, or email feedback to blogs I visit but I'd never think of criticising someone's blog. I like almost any decent blog, warts and all. To me, it doesn't matter if someone rants or raves or doesn't write or spell very well - if it's personable and from the heart, who cares about what it looks like?

Everyone has a gift of some sort. You can be sitting anywhere in the world waiting for something, a train, bus or plane or whatever and, no matter who is sitting next to you - if you strike up a conversation with the right questions - I guarantee they will have something interesting to say. That is what's so special about "personal" blogs - everyone is individual and has something interesting to say. Reading "personal" blogs is reading about real people whose soul and character shines through, no matter how they present themselves. Not like "unreal" edited magazines or sensation seeking stuff written by commercially driven authors.
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Apologies for length of this post - one of my favourite themes: community. No thesis - just floating personal thoughts, notes and ideas about what makes community in the blogosphere for my ongoing essay on community. I have just cut this post by half. Unable to edit it down today. Still toying with the idea of starting a special blog on the subject. To be continued at a later date.
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Tips for professional bloggers by Biz Stone

'Biz News' just in from Blogger: Congratulations to Wil Wheaton who recently joined the ranks of bloggers-turned-authors with a fancy three-book deal. For all you great writers out there, don't get left out, learn How To Get A Book Deal With Your Blog.

# posted by Ingrid J. Jones @ 12/18/2003
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