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Time to revisit an issue that I wrote about on February 12, 2007.  At that time, I concluded:

When all is said and done, however, isn’t the notion of blogosphere “in crowds” or “cliques” pretty darn silly? This isn’t junior high school and what is there to be gained from attaining the status of “most popular” kid on the blogging block?

After all, for the vast majority of us, this blogging adventure is only a small part of our lives. We have other responsibilities, obligations – business to conduct, families to raise, and social interactions with real, live people in our real-life neighborhoods to maintain and enjoy.

I have changed my conclusion.

This week I had an epiphany, brought about by a series of events and experiences which forced me to recognize that there are indeed cliques throughout the blogosphere. They exist. They are tangible, operational, and sometimes powerful.

The blogosphere is, in this respect, no different than “real” life. It is a microcosmic society in which many of the same rules are applicable and control our day-to-day experiences. As I’ve said many times, sociologists will be studying this blogging phenomenon for decades to come. I firmly believe that what really matters is not that such groups exist but, rather, how we respond to and interact with them.

How I came to this conclusion is less relevant than its implications. Suffice it to say I had an experience which caused me to face, head-on, the ugly truth, i.e., the existence and functions of a couple of distinct cliques.

When I could no longer deny their existence, must as I would have liked to, I had to step back and analyze the unwritten rules by which they exist and operate. Finally, I had to acknowledge their impact — upon me and others who blog.

I’m not unhappy about my serendipitous discovery, however. On the contrary, I am extremely thankful for the experiences that inform my new outlook because they coincided with a couple of other observations, making this a very productive week for me.

Ironically, last week I wrote about getting back to basics. Shortly thereafter, I discovered that Darren Rouse of Problogger recommends a First Time Reader Audit for the purpose of gaining insight into how others view your site, what information they gleen from it, how easily they navigate it.

So I took his suggestion a step further. I ran a self-audit on my blog, Colloquium, noting the number of posts I have written since March 2005, the topics addressed, trends in my choice of topics, which posts appear to be most popular, how many readers return regularly, etc.

My conclusions? Unsettling, at best.

To some extent, I’ve lost my way.

My blog was born in March 2005, as Terri Schindler-Schiavo lay dying. I began blogging out of sheer frustration. You see, I provided some minor assistance to her parents and their attorney, and completely supported them in their attempt to save their daughter from dying in a manner she would never have wanted, since I litigated a similar case to a different result here in California. The battle over Terri’s life was, like the battle over Robert Wendland’s, extremely controversial, but controversy has never intimidated or frightened me in my legal work or personal life.

Somewhere along the line, however, I sidestepped controversy. I was having so much fun that I got into a comfort zone, writing about family, sharing humorous anecdotes, posting lists of favorite songs and cute photos of my kids. That kind of writing is, of course, easy. And, to be fair, I have a demanding career and other interests, so “easy” blogging is, to some extent, attractive.

But my searching, forthright self-audit on my blog revealed to me that I lost my edge. I lost my voice.

As a writer, it is easy to lose one’s way. The great writers have addressed the issue from every angle, of course, analyzing all of the detours upon which life has the potential to take us.

I take full responsibility for my own loss of focus on my writing. It is completely my own fault. I believe that I fell into a bit of “group-think.” I lost my willingness to set myself apart from the crowd, express my opinions irrespective of whether they are “popular” or not. I lost my willingness to be controversial if controversy ensues because I write about what I truly feel and believe.

I stepped back into the fray a bit this week and experienced, full force, the power of the cliques whose existence I previously denied. As luck (or some greater force) would have it, I also discovered a couple of intriguing and thought-provoking articles this week. In Wisdom of the Crowds: Is There Such a Thing? the author, citing to another source, states: “The highly social nature of the web therefore makes it highly susceptible to, for example, sensationalized, low-quality information with the sole merit of being popular.” He continues:

For instance, is it just me or do you also notice that about half of the news items that get to frontpage on DIGG is junk? Sure, there is a “consensus” within the set of users, but then again, there’s the tipping point. To better illustrate, I usually ask the question: do items get on front page because they’re DUGG, or do items get DUGG because they’re on front page?

Sure, the fact that an item is already on front page means a lot of people have already DUGG. But because they’re on front page, there is a higher tendency for more people to DIGG—perhaps because frontpage items are more visible, and perhaps because people are influenced to believe those items are indeed of value.

Short of calling most Internet users (or at least users of these social media) lemmings, I would think the wisdom of the crowds does not exactly produce something wise.

More to the point, the Sheriff writes:

It’s sickening to think how many blog readers have turned out to be “yes” or “me too” people. Most of the time when you read through the comment threads of blogs (more particularly the personal-oriented blogs), majority, if not all, of comments basically say “I agree” or “me too” or “same here.” I don’t think people have the [chutzpah] anymore to disagree or at least to give other perspectives. What a shame!

And sometimes I think it’s the fault of a blog owner why his or her readers turn out to be this way. Some bloggers I know would delete or sanitize comments that oppose ideas on their blogs. Sure, that’s fair enough. It’s their blog, after all. But what I find really silly is how other comment-posters would gang up on these people with dissenting (but valid) views. Kind of makes you want to avoid these blogs altogether, eh?

The blogosphere exists for people to have a voice and to express themselves. But where there are people—more especially groups of people—there will inevitably be mass stupidity.

So it is time for me to take my own advice and get back to the reason I began blogging in the first place: Writing. Writing substantive material. Meaningful writing on topics that matter to me. Writing because I love to write. No matter whether anyone reads what I write or not, irrespective of the cliques maintained by the “cool” and “popular” blogs and bloggers.

In recent weeks, I’ve been feeling blase about blogging. I seriously considered giving it up altogether. But I believe that the events of this past week and what I learned from them happened for a reason: To provide me the revelations I’ve shared here. To give me a renewed energy and purpose in my writing. And to remind me that so long as I write honestly and with integrity, it is utterly irrelevant whether anyone else agrees with me or not. I don’t need to be part of the “in” crowd. It’s comfortable there, of course.

But being an effective writer isn’t about comfort.

I think Soubriquet summed it up best with his comment in response to my original post on this topic:

Why blog? I wish I knew. I enjoy the interaction and it requires more care than just writing in a private journal.

But readership numbers? They’re not the real goal.

The way to get readership numbers tends to be to end up as a heap of links. People will come in droves to pick over the dump. But there are writers out there in blogland crafting jewelled watch-movements of words. Their readership is small, because they’re not listed with all the referrers. I’d rather read one such blog than any number of commercially viable sites.




3 Comments

  1. This is a great, thought-provoking article.

    I have been blogging at Zenslaw for almost 9 months, but I also blog at another private site and have for nearly 3 years. I started blogging on that site as soon as a blog feature was offered and have been amazed in that time to see the changes that have taken place. It’s a more closed group than the blogosphere at large, and as such as seen it’s share of ‘small town’ dynamics.

    I have seen it go from new, fresh and somewhat innocent to seasoned to a full on popularity contest. I have seen at least 6 or 7 full scale ‘blog wars’ (Can you think of anything sillier?). I have also seen how the dynamics of the whole thing changed as new ‘features’ were added. First there was a popular ‘front page’ feature which was counted by total number of comments… This drove behavior like commenting separately to every person, and commenting multiple times in your own blog. Then it became number of comments by others which drove even stranger behavior like creating fake ids to place comments and commenting in really old posts just to drive numbers up… Then it became highest number of separate people commenting in a 30 day period which drove people to post 5-10 times a day and to choose topics focused on controversy… All the while those of us who blogged and read there to take part in intelligent conversation about all manner of topics had to wade through more and more dreck every day…

    Sigh… out here it’s harder to find community but it’s easier to stay out of the silliness…

  2. Yes, interesting article. It is a tricky social space to write online. There is that coalescence of views that can happen. Glad to hear you have your sense of focus back.

  3. Clicks or cliques is a great title btw.

    Ach, Is that too affirming?

    I should be more critical I guess but what I hear is that anything negative goes back channel (this is not a heads up). Negative in comments could make a blogger lose face. Using comments to say something is too personal for a more public arena. When this division doesn’t happen, you can get a sort of mobbing of chiming in against an idea. (shrug) Just a theory.

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