Thursday Writing: Blogging vs the lurkers

Welcome to the second Thursday Writing! (Here’s what I do on other days.)

Today I was going to write about my ongoing quest to become a better writer, either by discussing content or by musing on structure. But then I read Barbara Jane Reyes’s post, “Blogging Ain’t Dead,” and it got the brain-wheels spinning so fast I thought I’d better devote my entry to blogging instead. Alas, content and structure, you’ll have to wait!

Social Technographics Ladder

Social Technographics Ladder (forrester.typepad.com)

In “Blogging,” Barbara quotes an interview that references a breakdown of people’s internet roles. This breakdown, from a book called Groundswell, is called the Social Technographics Ladder, and it’s shown at left (click on the image for close-up and full explanation). The book and the graph come out of a market-research background, but what the ladder indicates to me is that the internet means different things to different people. I have been saying “the internets” for ages without thinking about it, and now I realize the ladder is one explanation for why I use a plural instead of a singular… and it’s also an explanation for a problem that’s been bugging me for years.

I have been blogging since 2001, which Wikipedia tells me is a mere two years after the first major blog sites like Livejournal and Blogger appeared on the scene. At that time I was a freshman in college and my early posts were often silly, not to mention irritatingly devoid of capital letters. But I stuck with the blog no matter how little I had to say, no matter how few readers I had, and so, it provided me with an interesting window into people’s online behavior. A lot of my friends started blogs at that time; of those, I think only blaurb has kept it up, and she updates only a few times a month. (Typefiend is still going strong and has branched out into all kinds of other web presences, but I didn’t “meet” him until 2005 or so.) Over the 9 years I’ve been blogging, my readers and commenters have changed like the seasons. It didn’t take me long to realize three vital truths: first, blogging is not for everyone; second, not everyone will read your blog no matter how interested they are in you; and third, most people just won’t leave comments. Erik is an excellent example of the two latter truths, since he doesn’t read my blog unless I direct him to specific entries, and he pretty much never leaves comments anywhere. Yet he (my husband) is as interested in me as any person can possibly be!

Delurk

I found this image years ago and it still makes me giggle.

Over the years, I have wondered constantly how to get more of my readers to comment on my blog. I thought if I was just compelling enough, I could convince my more reserved readers to de-lurk. But the Social Technographics Ladder has made me wonder if maybe our internet roles are more fixed than that — that is to say, to wonder if it takes more than interesting content to convince a chronic lurker to cross the line into participating actively. Naturally, having a resident lurker at my side, I asked Erik why he doesn’t participate in the many online communities of which he could be a part. (For instance, he reads reddit every day.) His answer, in a nutshell, was that online participation doesn’t have the immediate relevance to his life as it does to mine; he doesn’t feel like he gets as much out of it as I do. Which is true of the way we interact socially in physical life, as well: I throw parties and talk to everybody; he watches and listens and only joins conversations if they particularly and urgently interest him.

Relevant thread

Lolcats: The internets' finest. From cheezburger.com.

This propelled me to the natural next question: how closely do our online roles line up with the way we interact with others in “real” life? According to the ladder, there are fewer active online participants than there are spectators. How would the ladder look if we were talking about, say, political involvement? Community involvement at a more local level? It may be that when I try to get readers to de-lurk, I am fighting just as powerful an enemy as political apathy or inertia. I’ve noticed on blogs that commenters will pour out of the woodwork when leaving comments will get them something concrete, like a chance to win something, but those comments alone don’t turn seasoned lurkers into regular participants.

I’ve been thinking particularly about this question of comments and lurkers because of the Open Mic I’ve started on this blog. I want the Open Mic to be a lively community, but so far the people who’ve shown the most interest in it are those who are already members of the “Creators” rung of the ladder — people who already have blogs or websites, or who already post content online through other venues. Maybe the Open Mic will be largely a community of creators for creators… which is fine, and a useful thing to realize at this early stage, but it does mean it will be a much smaller base of participants than I originally hoped. Well, who can say? It’s only the second week, and I have guest posts lined up for several future Open Mics, so that will change the dynamic of the event a bit. I’m eager to see where it all goes.

Tomorrow: Open Mic! We will have a guest post by my VONA friend Kuukua, on what’s in a name. See you then!