Yesterday, after reading Randy Charles Morin’s post about the internet “A-List,” I wrote about the difficulties in promoting a web site to its target audience. There were a number of interesting replies to Randy’s post, including a good one by Richard Querin, who wrote that it’s the writing, not so much the reading, that makes all of this rewarding. Brad Kellet agrees.
I agree too, to an extent. I don’t think you need to have 2000 hits a day (much less 2 million) to make all the effort worthwhile. On the other hand, as I have written before, my goal is to encourage the exchange of ideas which in my experience is the first step to community building. Communities can be built around a location, a relationship or a common interest- anything that a few people who know about each other care about.
I spent a lot of time writing the policies that apply to ACCBoards.Com (spam is a problem with big message board sites, but it pales in comparison to schoolyard-type fighting and the protection of a user’s right to express unpopular ideas). The terms of service there is an evolving document, even today 9 years after we started that community. The main thing is to encourage the respectful exchange of information and ideas. If that happens, the commnunity will grow naturally and police itself. The trick is to figure out how much of the stuff we learned there applies to web sites and blogs. I think a lot of it does.
For example, if I’m in a group that’s discussing photography, whether that group is at dinner together, on a message board or on a blog, I love to listen and learn. But at some point, I also want to ask a question or perhaps make a point. If I can’t be involved, even in a small way, in the conversation, eventually I will get discouraged and bored. I can tell you from experience that graduate students are that way too. I believe most of us are. The only difference is the method of cimmunication.
So while I obviously enjoy writing, I want this site to be more than an online journal or a living Christmas letter for my extended family. I want it to be my side of a discussion on whatever topics come up. If my extended family was more interested in the internet as a way to stay connected, I could community build around that. If our friends had web sites (fat chance, it took all I had just to get them to sign up on flickr), I could build around that. I don’t have that luxury, so I look to build connections with other people who write about the things I’m interested in.
In sum, for me it’s a lot about the writing, but it’s also about the building, and the reading and even the being read. The potential for conversation and community is why I’m here.