Many Little Ponds

The blogging world is full of personalities, and I’ll run down some of their names tomorrow. But once you begin blogging you become a central personality in that world. A blog is a platform for personal expression. This self-expression could take an overt form if you write about yourself, your family, your business or your art. Or you could take the subtle approach of selecting items from the news flow and calling attention to them. Either way you reveal something about yourself. Never lose sight of your own importance. You have joined a “conversation.”

That’s a concept worth explaining to new bloggers. Think about it. Writing has historically been a one-way communication. So has broadcast. Feedback loops have been built in over time through letters to the editor or call-in shows on radio. But the Web is fundamentally different. The reader who is stirred by some blog entry can usually e-mail the writer, or post a comment on the blog, or refer to the prior post in their own blog. This built-in feedback potential makes writing on the Web, in theory at least, more like a conversation than a monologue. One of the best and certainly most visible expressions of this new “conversation” metaphor is the Cluetrain Manifesto, a collection of statements and anecdotes that may seem obvious now but were quite prescient in 1999 when the authors proclaimed that:

“A powerful global conversation has begun. Through the Internet, people are discovering and inventing new ways to share relevant knowledge with blinding speed.”

At some point you might want to scan the entire Manifesto or learn about its main points, its authors and something of its importance in the Wikipedia (collaboratively-created online encyclopedia). It captures and expresses many of the customs and conventional wisdoms of the Web, albeit from a marketing point of view. If your goal is to get other people excited about your ideas, or to promote some other cause or concept (often called a “meme” in Web-speak) you’ll have to do is translate the Manifesto’s corporate marketing lingo into a political or cultural message more comfortable to you.

Just bear in mind that the defining novelty of the Web, and of blogging, is the potential for two-way communication. Or to repeat the reigning metaphor, it’s a conversation. One of the technologies that facilitates this conversation-like buzz is the hyperlink ( need background ?). If blogging becomes your first exposure to the use of hyperlinks then you are in for a treat. As a writing tool they enable you to embed lengthy explanations (as I did above with hyperlinks) into your prose without having to slow down the story line. You can link to proofs — maybe there’s a data table or a photograph that relates to your point. Because of the ease embedding links, I think of blogging as an evolved form of writing. In fact I’ve blogged about hyperlinks in writing once or twice in the past.

For purposes of this discussion, hyperlinks enable bloggers to refer to one other, to articles in the media, and to any resource on the Web. This is one of the ways bloggers link their thoughts to the wider discussion and “join the conversation.” And here one last point on personality is in order. When you start blogging your voice may be low and timid, especially alongside the big personalities around you. But don’t be intimidated to the point where you quit. Because you’ll find, if you persist, that some people will visit your blog. It may help to envision the Web as a collection of little ponds, with fish swimming inside each pond. A realistic goal would be to become one of the bigger fish in one of those many little ponds.

Tom Abate
‘Cause if you ain’t Mass Media, you’re Mini Media