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Friday, November 16, 2007

Blogging Dilemmas

Robin M’s latest post on What Can Thou Say raises the question of how people find her blog. She lists funny phrases like “hip devotional” as some of the ways people get referred to her by search engines. It reminded me of a conversation I had with my kids about search engines this summer, when Harry Potter was a regular dinner topic. To illustrate the strange logic of search engines, I guessed that if a person googled “Quaker,” “mother” and “Voldemort” that my blog would probably come up in the top ten. Sure enough, I was #3 at the time, though this morning I’m #1 for that search!

Robin’s question also made me think about the deeper issues of how we connect on the Internet and for what purpose. On Tuesday, my writers group discussed blogging. A few of our members had attended a blogging workshop in New York that was geared for journalists. They came back and reported what they had learned. The main message was to link, link, link, both to other bloggers and to news sources. The NY presenter had described this as “building community” and said that when you blogroll (list other blogs on your blog) you are essentially saying, “These are my people, my community.” On the other hand, he also advised people to link to those they respect but disagree with so that the online community does not become too insular. Of course, there is also self interest at play. Some bloggers are interested in making money from advertising, which means building readership becomes essential. I doubt this is a motivation for any Quaker bloggers, but I know the temptation of feeding ego and public recognition. It sometimes gets twisted up with the real leading I feel to try to reach others through my writing.

For example, at the previous writer’s group meeting, I learned about Technorati a web site that assigns blogs “authority” ratings based on how many people link to them. When I first checked mine I had what seemed like a modest but respectable rating, though when I checked back last week, I was given “no authority.” What? Where had my authority gone? I know there are people who have linked to me recently, so it seems it should have increased. I checked again this morning as I started this post, and now I can’t even find my blog on their site at all. I proved to myself the danger of caring too much about this sort of thing by wasting a ridiculous amount of time looking for myself online, although the point that I wanted to make was that, as a Quaker, I don’t want to confuse real authority with popularity.

Here’s the twist, though: I am entering a phase where I feel God is calling me to be more public in my work, both writing and teaching. I don’t want to “hide my light under a bushel,” as Quakers are sometimes accused of doing, but I’m also not sure how to pursue things like blogrolling, especially with other Quakers when we have a culture that is rightfully suspicious of self-promoters. There seems to be some balance that’s needed here, so as usual I come back to the issue of discernment, listening for God’s leading. I have no doubt that God can use the Internet for God’s purposes as much as any other forum. In fact I recently found my new literary agent through the Internet. When she called to say she wanted to represent me we had a great little chat. Five minutes into it she asked, “So did you know I was a Quaker?” Actually, no, but it was just one of the things that made this connection seem “rightly ordered,” to use the Quaker jargon. Just like in the rest of life, I have to do what I can to connect with others while trusting that God is at work, and it’s not all up to me to figure out alone.


Anonymous How to Cope with Pain said...

Many of the "how to blog" blogs I read to help me develop as a blogger talk a lot about "growing your blog," especially to help you make money. When I chime in on the conversation, I encourage others to follow what their particular goals are, not just jumping on the "bigger, better" bandwagon. I think it's easy to go astray from what you are led to do.

However, "bigger, better" isn't necessarily bad - my husband has pointed out to me that the wider my blog reaches, the more potential there is to help people. But it's growing to help my underlying goal, not growth just for the sake of growth.

I also trust that if someone is meant to find my blog, God/The Universe will help that to happen. So I agree that only part of this is up to me, and God's the only one with a true Authority Ranking!

9:17 AM  
Blogger Eileen Flanagan said...

Thanks, "Hope to Cope with Pain." I agree with your points.

11:14 AM  
Anonymous Tricia said...

I happen to be the top google hit for "avocado allergy", a one-time post I made. Most of the 'random' visitors who visit my blog (as opposed to people who know me) come to that post. So I can relate to your first paragraph...

But unlike you, I'm not a professional writer, and I'm not aiming for an audience. I know that as a reader, I get vaguely annoyed with mile-long blogrolls and 'tricks' that seem to aim at rankings alone. I like to read blogs that speak to my heart and my interests. But more to your point, when I do happen to stumble across a new blog that speaks to me, I wonder "why didn't I find this sooner?" So from that perspective, I understand where you are coming from at the end of your post. You have important things to say (I'm not a Quaker, but I wrestle with spiritual issues surrounding parenting) so how do you make sure they are heard? I guess one way to do it that doesn't rely so much on 'tricks' is to join some of the blog coalitions, or have your posts featured in online magazine kind-of sites. I don't know much about them or how they work, though, except to know that I've seen "related articles on other blogs" links in at least one blog that I read.

2:10 PM  
Blogger Eileen Flanagan said...

Thanks for your suggestion, Tricia, and thanks for visiting.

5:15 PM  
Blogger MartinK said...

You'll probably be unsurprised to learn that I use Technorati every day to keep track of the Quaker blogosphere. After my response comment to your post exceeded four paragraphs I realized it was probably a post for my own blog, so it's over there now as Focused blogs and side trips.

10:44 AM  
Blogger Chris M. said...

I'm trying to catch up on a blog-backlog and just read this. It speaks to my condition!

The blogroll solution I came up with is "Some bloggers I've met." So there's that physical, personal connection to everyone on my list. I've been able to do that thanks to participating in events at FGC Gathering and my own yearly meeting, primarily.

-- Chris M.

1:00 AM  

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