Monday, August 31, 2009

Blogging and Community

One of the topics that I'm always rolling back and forth in my head when it comes to blogging is community. Kathy at BermudaOnion, an incredible and prolific reader, commenter and blogger, wrote a post this week that got me started thinking. When I started my blog, community was really the last thing on my mind; I started the blog to have a place to write about books, to improve my writing and to build a body of work that I hoped would somehow help my career. And because I didn't really reach out at first, nobody read my blog.

But blogging in a vacuum is no fun, so I started to make an effort. I joined the book bloggers' web ring, the Book Blogs ning site, hosted Tuesday Thingers. I made a concerted effort to visit every blogger who visited me, and took part in a number of weekly memes. I opened a Twitter account, linked my blog to Facebook, even got a MySpace page. I got business cards and started promoting the blog to people I know professionally. Over time things picked up- every week I would have a few new followers, or a few new subscribers.

But I feel like I'm abysmally bad at the whole community thing, no matter how much I want to be everyone's pal. I can't possibly return every visit I get from every blogger. Just yesterday I deleted about 30 comments from the beginning of August I was never going to get around to replying to. Memes were starting to take over the blog and I had to scale back. I participated in only one blogging challenge- the Jewish Literature Challenge, because given that I'm a temple librarian it's one that I could complete in a single workday if I chose. I don't know how people manage real challenges! I can't even finish the ones I set for myself! And I'm unforgivably slow to pass out those blogging awards I receive every now and then- and it's not that I don't appreciate it. Believe me, I do. I signed up to participate in Book Blogger Appreciation Week by serving on a panel, and I feel completely overwhelmed by just that tiny job. Is this normal? Am I just lazy?

What does community mean to you? Does it mean joining certain sites? Does it mean fulfilling certain responsibilities, either to yourself or to other bloggers? Do you ever feel like you're letting yourself down or disappointing someone else if you don't return a visit, reply to a post or pass along an award in a timely manner? What does "timely" mean when a blog is a personal hobby and not a job for which you're held accountable by a boss? When, if ever, do you let yourself off the hook?

Or is "community" more an attitude and less a list of to-dos? How do you define it, and what role does it play in your blogging priorities? Is about respect and courtesy and giving back, or just about self-promotion?

One bright note- I recently joined the BlogHer network of affiliates, and I am loving what BlogHer does to promote community among bloggers by running promotions and highlighting posts so we can visit each other and read things outside our normal watch-lists. Check out some of the posts that get highlighted every week- there are some real gems out there.


caite said...

I have said it before, but I will say it again ('cause I only have so many ideas...) but I truly do not understand where people find the time. I have less demands on my time than many people, and I still do not understand. Twitter? Forget it.

Community...hmmmm....true blogging in a vacuum is no fun. I love comments, real comments, not just vague drive-by comments, and I true to comment on things I find interesting out there in Blogland...but again there is only so much time.

...and I have never been much of a joiner. ;-)

Bibliolatrist said...

For me, community is less about Twitter and Nings and more about simply reaching out to others, visiting their sites and leaving comments.

That said, I'm with Caite - time is a problem. I read dozens of blogs in my Google Reader, and I'd love to comment on them all. Many times, however, I find it hard to comment about a book I'm not interested in reading (say, in a genre I generally avoid), and insightful comments about memes and such are often difficult as well, as I prefer to comment with more than "nice post!"

So, I'm not so good at the community bit, although I do try :)

Care said...

Is 'community' an attitude? I like that question, even if I don't know how to answer. I do enjoy the networking and making friends aspect of blogging and I don't have any grand goals other than a place for me to chat about books. When I feel overwhelmed by wanting to visit everyone, I just try to remember I do this for fun. I respect other's goals and time constraints - including my own!

Tasha said...

"Abysmally bad at the whole community thing?" I think not! You are great at it.

Alayne said...

I think your blog and how much time you spend on it is a matter of where you want to go with it. Like you said, in the beginning it's easy to maintain because it's something new and fun, but (like all the other social networking sites out there) you may start to get bored with the new-ness of it all. I can understand wanting to respond to everyone and make new friends and connections, but can see how it starts to take over after awhile. I don't think you should continue to feel bad if you can't respond to everyone, it's a massive blog-world out there, no one has time for all of it. :) I've started referring to working on my blog as "grooming my blog" because it really does take work and effort to make it stand out. Good luck! I still like yours!


Ellen Steinbaum said...

As a still relatively new blogger I'm learning so much from your example. I think the community is what makes it work. Thank you!

Anonymous said...

I am not necessarily big on blogging communities. I have joined a few, and I emphasize the word "few". Time restrictions control my blogging world.

I try to answer each comment left in my times it is a challenge, but I feel I owe a response, even if it is a short one.

I visit those who I am comfortable with, and those individuals who I have become internet friends with. I do visit blogs other than theirs, don't get me wrong, but only when there is time to do so.

My purpose for blogging is not to necessarily be involved in community, but for conveying a message that I feel is important to remember.

bermudaonion said...

For me, community means helping each other out. Since we all have different responsibilites, everyone needs to contribute in whatever they can and then not feel guilty about it. This is a hobby for most of us.

BurtonReview said...

I didn't start my own blog to be part of a community, luckily I found a niche and so now I am a 'book blogger' and I love it. These are my thoughts on your topic, but are just my opinion and how I see it =)

I do not adhere to strict policies on what makes a specific blogger part of a community, you either are or are you aren't.

A book blog is a fun tool to utilize for those who enjoy reading about new books, old books, and talking about books.

Other than that, there should be no rules except the obvious fundamental rules of respect and courtesy.

If you go above and beyond, and comment, and join in, and participate or host memes, you are socializing. It is not required of you as a person, and to make yourself feel bad that real life has gotten in the way is not the purpose of having the blog as a creative outlet. But much appreciated if you are go-getter and a socializer. And as a volunteer of your time for BBAW, Kudos to you!! I commend your drive to want to help out. Maybe when next year comes you'll be able to rationalize exactly how much time you can get done. Perhaps you will not have the time next year.
Do the best you can, be all you can be, and give yourself a pat on the back.
If you happen to step away from the computer to smell the roses, no one is going to be mad at you.

Ana S. said...

It's definitely more of an attitude to me - feeling like I'm part of a conversation, that there are people I can go to if I have questions, helping others whenever I'm able to, etc. I try to respond to comments and visit any new commenters, but I also try not to feel guilty if life gets too busy for that to be possible. I know that other people are busy too, so hopefully nobody will take it personally if I don't comment for a while.

Kathleen said...

I love the sense of community I have since becoming a blogger. I see it as a two way street. I read and comment on people's blogs and hope they will do the same on mine. I do respond to every comment but I don't get that many since I am new and it is manageable for me. I have weeks where I am ablet to post several reviews and weeks where I am lucky to make one post that may or may not be a review. I work full time and for me this is a wonderful hobby. I dont' let myself get too stressed about it as I don't want to see it as another "job". I really enjoy your blog and read it "religiously" although I'm not sure I have commented before.

Zibilee said...

Much like you, when I first started to blog I never considered the blogging community. Now that I have been doing it awhile, I understand the importance of getting to know the other bloggers and their websites. I usually try to make a little time everyday to visit blogs and leave comments. I always try to visit everyone that leaves a comment, but sometimes I get behind. I agree that it's not fun to blog in a vacuum, and I really feel like I have met a lot of interesting and intelligent people in the blogging community.

Florinda said...

I think you're on to something with that "community is an attitude" idea. I'm on Twitter and Book Blogs Ning and do my bit of official social networking, but community still centers on the blogs for me; not just my own, but the many I read and the commenters who contribute to the conversation.

I've been in the BlogHer network for almost a year and a half, and I totally agree with you about the promotional aspect of their links (I think I get a lot more out of that than the ad revenue, to be honest).

And I'd say you're definitely community-oriented, as illustrated by your starting great discussions like this one!

bookmagic said...

I have found people in the book blogging community to be very helpful and I am grateful for community sites like Book Blogs.

Im trying my best to comment on blogs that follow me or comment on my blog, but I can see how demanding it must be on people who have so many followers and lots of comments.

Bloggin should be like reading: enjoyable and not a chore

Teresa said...

The opportunity to interact with other readers is truly one of the things I like best about blogging, but, like others, I 've found that I don't have time to interact with everyone.

I've noticed that just like offline, bloggers with similar mind-sets are going to end up interacting more with each other than with everyone else. I don't have time to comment on every blog, so I gravitate toward some moe than others. I usually find that certain folks and I have a lot in common, and commenting on their blogs doesn't feel like work because it's easy to think of something to say, just as it's easy to think of something to say to my closest friends. We can't be equally friendly with everyone, right?

I agree that attitude is really the key, more so than making community building an extra bloggy job. For some people, hosting memes or starting projects is fun (at least I hope it is). I've never been the type to organize community activities (online or off), but I'm happy to see it going on, and I'll even join in on the fun from time to time.

Anonymous said...

I have to admit that I don't give two figs about community: my blog is all about me me me. It was initially private, and I only opened it up after about 6 months because my husband and my parents wanted to see it.

I've done a few memes, but usually because I'm bored. I can't see really organizing anything.

I'm all for online communities, but I get that fix from message boards. I think of blogging as a weird cross between navel gazing and information dissemination (with some blogs tilting more towards one end or the other). Kind of a one sided conversation. And yes, there are comments on blogs, but it's not really an even conversation: it's more like giving a speech to an audience who may or may not shout something up on stage, and the speaker may or may not hear and may or may not deign to respond.

Literature Crazy said...

I feel the exact same way. Some people amaze me with their prolific blogging. I figure that I'll just do my best and get what I get in return.

Thanks for posting.

Amy said...

I'm sorry you feel overwhelmed by the panel. ;)

I think of community as an attitude as's sort of when you know each other and you're willing to help each other out, you grieve each other's losses and celebrate one another's victories. I think it matters in book blogging because by supporting each other, we're also raising the profile of books. :)