The DeHavilland Blog

Thursday, November 17, 2005

A personal thought on blogging

(Heads up: this post is off-target from business/education work, but it’s a thought I wanted to share.)

I think I’m finally starting to get this whole Internet thing.

It’s commonly held that the Internet democratizes information, allowing access to great hordes of information to anyone with a computer and a hookup. We’ve already seen how this has changed many aspects of our society, and I imagine that change will be ongoing.

It also democratizes speech – allows us to get around the gatekeepers and publish our own content. We don’t have to have credentials, the authority granted by mainstream media, or big budgets for printing a newspaper or running a TV station – we can just write and post. And blogging democratizes speech further by eliminating the need for web hosting and fancy web site development software. All you need is a blogging account and the ability to write – that’s it.

But here’s what I’m finally “getting”: that you can speak all you want, but you won’t be heard unless you engage in conversation. This is true in life, and the web reflects it.

I have lots of opinions, and I can sit here and pontificate all day. If I do that in real life, it’s nearly impossible to gain an audience of any size – no one wants to be talked at by a blowhard who speaks but doesn’t listen. But if I find a group of people who share my interests, and we have an honest-to-goodness conversation – sharing ideas, pushing back, respecting one another’s points of view but prodding them and exploring them – now you’re getting somewhere. By listening and conversing with others, we build an audience for ourselves as part of a larger forum.

The Internet operates in exactly the same way. I have my blog, and I can write as much as I want. And I can try to make people aware of my blog by regularly submitting posts to blog search engines (Technorati and the like). But that sort of one-directional approach – traditional marketing, really – has limited value at best.

The real way to build audience is to go out and find other people interested in the same things I’m interested in (in my case, education reform and corporate social engagement) and join the conversation. Read what they’re saying and comment on it. By contributing to their conversation, you make a name for yourself – and since most blogging comment areas can display your home page as well as your name, you make it possible for people to visit your site (assuming what you’ve written intrigues them) and hear what you’re saying there.

The beauty of this is that you can’t do it cynically – you have to join the conversation. If you want to be heard, you must listen and contribute – there’s really no other way. What’s more, if you’re listening and contributing, what you think and believe will be based on broader input and more voices, and will be honed by the challenges and differing opinions you face. Your own thinking improves as a result – and you’re able to provide greater value to the audience you found while in the process of honing your thoughts. It’s a cycle that moves ever upwards towards better thinking and a greater audience.

I still have much more to do in terms of joining the conversation - but understanding things, or at least understanding things a little better, feels like a great start.

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