Weaving a public web, or, why don’t I blog more?

Part 1 of a blogchain with Tom Critchlow on the theme of networked communities — exploring possibilities for conversation space, community networks, open writing ecosystems, working in public, the greater blogsphere present and future… More to come, including a nicer way to browse this and other potential future blogchains as soon as I add a section for it on this site :)

I like to write a lot, but I find it difficult to consistently blog — to put things out there publicly. So to expand on the titular question: how do I productively write, publish, and converse in public, in dialogue with other people? And before the how…what barriers make this feel like a harder thing to do than it intellectually seems it should be?

It strikes me there are a few flavors of epistemic uncertainty for the blogger. Roughly, these might be:

  • Uncertainty of purpose: what is this even about? Am I writing for me or for others? Will I achieve anything by writing this?
  • Uncertainty of effort: how much commitment required? How much time, thought, energy? Blogging can seen unbounded, intimidating…
  • Uncertainty of reception: will anyone read or care? Will it resonate, or endure in any perceivable way? Barring that, might it even start an interesting conversation?

Some of these are internal psychological blocks. A number of them relate to how my writing may connect, or fail to connect, with others.

So a couple related questions: what things make it hard to have meaningful networked conversations, ones intended to spark dialogue and explore ideas with others? What are the challenges to feeling like you’re part of an identifiable community when you’re writing?

Platforms for discussion / community always have tradeoffs, and many seem to allow us networked conversation only in a partial or illusory way. We can have great interactions on Twitter, Facebook, Slack — but they can also be inaccessible, or owned by third parties of questionable ethics, or decay quickly.

That’s why the IndieWeb ethos resonates: a society where everyone tends their own corner of a larger garden, exchanging with others as they like. And this implies a very different shape! Where forums, Slack instances, even group chats are fairly centralized, the blogosphere is distributed. And with many scales or layers, but porous ones.

I think when we talk about “networked communities” that’s one of the ideas we’re getting at: that we can be part of multiple communities at once, with shared, partially overlapping sets of interests. And that we can do this while tending our own digital garden, without having to maintain accounts on a dozen different third-party platforms.

Of course this looseness and fragmentary nature makes some things hard: discovery, updates, dialogue / replies. Some of my initial flavors of uncertainty — who will see this? how will it land? might it endure? — are a challenge no matter the platform.

I am knee deep in reading about the IndieWeb, and all kinds of new specs and standards intended to help with this stuff. It’s early adopter territory for sure and the main issue is that it feels quite complex to even get to square one. But I think for us, specifically, the tech side maybe not be the biggest barrier. I think what’s particularly helpful for me, at least, is having some constraints or conventions to support good habits.

Hence…experimenting with things like blogchains! Which really isn’t a technical concept at all — basically another way of thinking about a series of posts — but does give us a new approach to latch on to. I’m hoping that starting up a few will lower the psychological barriers to publishing and give me some momentum to continue posting more regularly.

And of course, maybe the most important thing of all is plugging into or boostrapping our own small communities of like-minded folks to explore things with, whether chats with book nerds on the Antilibraries forum, or talking with you about web writing and wayfinding here.

Lots more we can continue discussing in this chain, from annotation groups, to reviving RSS, to community aggregators, to different types of publics. But I guess part of the point of this format is not pre-planning too much. So, very open-ended segue: what are you most excited about exploring here?