Sunday, May 14, 2006

On Blogging

Mark in Hanoi has some parting words on blogging as he closes up shop at his own blog. Something for all you bloggers out there to chew on:
When I began writing I was very conscious of those I knew were reading my blog: friends, family and some coworkers back home. Early on I was concerned about how I could balance the demands of such different groups of people. At the same time I tried to keep the existence of my blog relatively quiet and limit my audience. For one thing, I still hadn't figured out how personal I wanted to get.

This strategy proved in vain as readers I didn't even know began to tune in. I think this is because somewhere along the line I had already abandoned the email analogy and started writing as if it mattered. I decided I would only write something when I felt I had a point. I was not travel blogging, and was not interested in posting mere descriptions or lists of places. Those things I would save for private emails when I felt the need. Instead I decided to post observations, reflections, a good story, anything I thought was a window into the culture. Once I began to write for a more general audience I became much more disciplined - not just in the writing process but in the choice of topics.

I don't know if I succeeded, but this is the peculiar potential of the blog, to become a kind of grassroots journalism, personal, engaged and yet disciplined. This is what Global Voices calls the "bridge blog", blogs that are rooted in personal experience and yet can speak to a much broader audience beyond its local context.

Although I wish I had done it earlier, opening up my audience came with certain risks. For one thing, although I adopted pseudonyms, I was still writing about people I knew and I feared them finding out. In any circumstance this would be awkward, but anyone who has read my entries about the dynamics of Vietnamese social groups (The Group, for instance) will know the value placed on confidence amongst friends in a society given to so much gossip, even when it comes to things we wouldn't consider particularly personal in the West. Furthermore, I was often writing about gay men who have more urgent reasons to keep their worlds separate. Consequently I tried not to write too personally about people I knew, even though there were some fascinating stories that were just begging to be told. Same things with pictures of people.

There were other constraints. I think anyone blogging in that part of the world probably has a nagging question about who out there is actually reading your stuff - and I don't just mean personal friends. Let's just say a little bit of self-censorship probably occurs. I'm not even talking about overtly political issues necessarily. It would have been a disaster on so many levels if my workplace had discovered me writing on workplace experiences. It would have entailed a loss of face and trust among other things.

Actually I suspect all serious bloggers probably face at least some of these constraints just by virtue of the fact that blogs are public. The freedom of the diary (even the email) is lost; what is gained is the potential to make your experiences speak to others. And to participate in virtual communities.


Blogger Rob said...

What he seems to be describing is the risk/reward ratio in blogging. Going public contains risks. People that know you intimately (i.e.friends, family) believe they have an ownership stake in what you're doing. What appeals to one group of intimates may offend somebody else you have to sit with at a holiday dinner.

You don't want to let anybody down and go too far. But to get the point across requires being a little provocative and pushing the envelope on occasion. In my experience, feedback from people I know personally is more stressful than strangers in cyberspace. But you have to be true to thy own self regardless. Lately I've been receiving hate email from right wingers which is disconcerting because I believe some of these people are barbaric enough to do something. But it's also a badge of honor and reminder that principles are worth standing up for. Even so, it would be nice not to be vexed about "what to write next" all the time!

10:39 AM  

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