Thursday, March 13, 2008

When Bloggers Are Neighbors: Guest Blogger Erik Hanberg

In my class I frequently invite guest speakers, and so in that spirit I am presenting today a guest blog entry from Erik Hanberg. Erik has an excellent blog at which has a dedicated following, but thought that the topic of his latest post was fitting to the general subject matter of "Living and Working in a Virtual World". In it he discusses changes in civility as the blogosphere tightens into a closer knit community where the blogger you are conversing with is physically located in the same area.

Given that Seattle/Tacoma is considered by Scarborough Research to be one of the top blogging markets at a whopping 15%, could this be a trend for the cities that see an increase in blogging from the local populace? Let me know what you think of the guest blogger idea.

When Bloggers are Neighbors

If you frequent some of the big “national” blogs out there, you will find a treasure trove of partisan attacks, blogs arguing back and forth about who took who out of context, and lots and lots of bile.

Then you look at Tacoma’s blogs. Our local corner of the blogosphere has remained relatively civil. It helps that many of the local bloggers have started with roughly the same common goal (improving Tacoma) and from a similar starting place (already liking Tacoma). Even in the comments of a single blog, readers can frequently manage to get along with a roughly civil tone.

But as the number of local blogs grows, dissent and conflict are going to grow too. Longtime readers of blogs will see that their points of view is not fully represented, and they will start their own blog to fill the void. Conflict is inevitable in the blogosphere.

Things are going to get personal, though. Criticism of how bloggers act in the real world is starting to be posted online.

Take this week’s Volcano article by Natasha, which criticizes bloggers for not supporting local businesses in real life or online (a counter-argument can be found here). And last August I criticized some bloggers for arranging a large group event at a restaurant’s opening day and then mentioning its slow service.

In a city like ours, however, we are not just bloggers we are neighbors. Exit133’s guidelines for comments contain a good piece of advice when you are thinking about criticizing a neighbor online:
Assume Community. Nearly everybody that comes to Exit133 has some sort of interest in Tacoma and where Tacoma is going. Respect others. Any comment that would get you slapped, punched, or kicked out of a drinking establishment may jeopardize your ability to comment in the future.

I tried to follow this piece of advice when I wrote my post about the meetup at Mary’s Burger Bistro last year, but the truth is that just because you assume community doesn’t mean that you’re not going to be criticized right back. There are two options for you:

1) Stay out of it. Don’t express your opinions, don’t react to others.

2) Or deal. If you can’t handle 10 people telling you that you’re an idiot, a fascist, and a troll, you probably shouldn’t be expressing your opinions on the Internet. Because it’s going to happen.

If you still want to wade into arguments with eyes wide open, here are couple things I’ve learned this year:

On the Internet, your words are not your own. Witness Joe at Izenmania, who came up with a good event but one phrase (take back the park) defined it in a way he didn’t intend, thus changing expectations for the event and frustrating him to no end. Witness Ensie, who last year was part of the Mary’s Burger Bistro meetup I criticized. She hated that I—and others—called it a “flash mob.” The term came from but it got picked up by many bloggers who talked about the event. Ensie still doesn’t like the term because it didn’t fit with her perception of the event (as it happens, she’s right). Witness Daniel Blue, who put together a list of businesses and people he likes and “trusts.” The list was disparaged by some in the comments on Exit133 and on other blogs. I would guess that--just like “flash mob” and “take back the park”--the word “trust” triggered a response outside of Daniel’s intentions (had he listed “favorite” businesses instead, I wonder if the reaction would have been as strong). You will constantly be misunderstood and misread on the Internet, and there’s just no getting around it.

Don’t think you’re anonymous.
If you’re trying to be anonymous, you probably aren’t. Likely someone, or several someones, knows who you are.

Link. If you’re going to call someone out, you shouldn’t be vague or unclear about who you’re talking about. The narrower your focus, the better. And you should link, so that your readers can decide if you’re the one full of hot air.

Be prepared to run into people. It’s unavoidable in a place like Tacoma, so be nice when you do see someone you argued with online.

Write a lot. The more you post, the better your readers will understand where you’re coming from when you do get into an argument.

The subject of this post has been bloggers and commenters writing about each other, but many of these things would probably apply when you are sounding off on non-bloggers, too. Good luck, happy blogging, and may all your online arguments be productive and enlightening.

Erik Hanberg regularly blogs at


NineInchNachos said...

My friend, how about podcasting your guest speakers so that the whole internets can enjoy? You're sitting on a content goldmine!

izenmania said...

Well, I wouldn't say "frustrated to no end"... i was pretty much done being frustrated by the time I was done writing that blog entry, because by the end I had determined a solution to my frustration.

It's a valid point, though. There are two important things to do to avoid this, both of which you touched on. First: link link link. If you are commenting on what someone else says, give context. This allows people to decide for themselves whether your interpretation is accurate. Second: follow other people's commentary, and comment back (reasonably). The only way to fix misinterpretation is to point it out. Assume that it will happen, don't get offended when it does happen, and correct people gently, knowing full well that you can't expect them to have understood you the first time every time.

Erik said...

Well said, Izenman -- you touched on many of these points in your post about two days ago, which is what got me thinking about all of this in general.

Droid116 said...

I like the idea of podcasting the guest speakers. If they are up for it. The quarter comes to an end next week so the next Living and Working class is not until Fall. Next quarter is Entrepreneurship in Technology for me. It does have guest speakers though, who may provide fodder for posts.

It is definitely time to expand on the media offerings here.

Anonymous said...

Great article Erik. I love my double mention in a post about arguing online. Are you trying to tell me something?

Droid116 said...

In your post you make the recommendation..

Be prepared to run into people. It’s unavoidable in a place like Tacoma, so be nice when you do see someone you argued with online.

What is funny about such a high concentration of bloggers in a not too concentrated downtown is that what you describe will happen.

However, many times you won't know it.

Knowing a blogger and knowing the author behind the blogs can be two different things. With the number of aliases used online it is impossible to tell the players without a scorecard.

It's one of the reasons I like the idea of taking the time to meet in physical locations as well as talk through the comments section.

Thank goodness for parks and coffee shops.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the guest blog, Erik. I'm not local - I'm from Cicero, NY - but I'm transpanted from the Pacific Northwest, and I like visiting this site to keep abreast of happenings on my preferred side of the country. I even participated in Andrew's last scavenger hunt (*cough* Starbucks card *cough). I happen to be one of those people that refrains from commenting too much, because so many times I see arguments degenerate from the discussion at hand into personal attacks on one's mother. But those are "national" blogs I'm talking about. I'm not too familiar with the local scene. Maybe I'll check it out and report back, and let you know whether people here are relatively civil as well, or whether it's just the people of Tacoma that are so darned nice!

Erik said...

Thanks for reading, Nancy C. And ensie, happy to link twice. Not trying to tell you anything. :)

Anonymous said...

p.s. for those of you looking up the definition of "transpanted", I meant "transPLANTed". lol.

Alicia said...

Nicely said, Erik. And in that vein, I must share this little cartoon my brother just pointed out to me that is an interesting perspective on the "I'll suck you in!" nature of some online chatter. :) Enjoy. I know I got a chuckle ...

Anonymous said...

I don't understand why, if you blogger folks know each other, you don't just pick up the phone and tell each other what's in your head instead of writing it down so it can get misquoted, misused, misinterpreted, etc.

Anonymous said...

While several folk in the local blogosphere have met BECAUSE of their blogs, most still don't know each other, or barely do. And for those who do know each other, it's generally a very recent acquaintance.

Hopefully you have seen the press release from the EDB about Infoblox renewing its lease in Tacoma for another six years. Growing from sixty...