Community is hard work
I’m not going to say this again ((I’ll probably say it again.)), so pay attention – I’m totally not harshing on any particular people. I have an alternative viewpoint, and I want to share it.
Blogging often introduces us to new people that we really connect with. A lot of times these connections sink in, wrapping you in a cozy blanket of fellowship. I can’t count how many people have wandered into my orbit, or I into theirs, and we found commonality between us.
Belghast would contend that this is not a “community” per se , but something else that just seems like it. These people whith whom I’ve met, formed connections with both on the blog and outside of it, who’s guilds I’ve joined and with whom I’ve slayed internet dragons – this is not, strictly speaking, in his mind, a community.
Now, to be fair, he’s focusing outside of the WoW “community” (I’ll call it that for the sake of argument). And yet things he points out about the larger “MMO community” ring true for the WoW blogging community as well.
One of his first examples focuses on how so many people on Twitter have stopped following him over the years. I have to wonder why they don’t. I also have to wonder why he didn’t follow up on that, if twitter follows are something of importance ((They aren’t, really, but work with me here.)). My point, the unfollows themselves are meaningless without context.
See, the thing that was missing in this case was effort. And no, before anyone thinks it, I’m not dissing Belghast for being lazy ((See, told ya I’d say it again.)). What I’m saying is that twitter follows are a two-way thing. The person that unfollowed did so for a reason. The person that was unfollowed was unfollowed for a reason. Until those reasons are actually KNOWN, everything else is just empty speculation.
However, Twitter isn’t the best of examples, nor is Facebook or even LiveJournal. What they have in common is a built-in framework that forms a false sense of “community”. You have “followed” ergo you are part of that “community”. The implication here – and an incorrect lesson that many may learn to their misfortune – is that communities are “built” in software and have a tangible “framework” that you can monitor the “health” of. A guild, your follow lists on FB, Twitter, LJ, etc. Your mailing lists. Your PHP-BB site. All of these are constructs that can call themselves “community” by dint of having a “box” within which the “community” is found.
But “community” in the “real world” is a lot harder.
When you move into a new house, you don’t automatically become friends with the people next door and across the street. You can’t go borrow a fiver from Bob next door on your first day. He won’t let you watch his kids while he and Mrs Bob go out for dinner. No, you have to earn each others’ trust and friendship. Your “community” is only geographical on the first look – after that, it’s a web of trust and caring, battles won and lost together, crises managed and averted, and so forth.
And that’s the proper analogy for blogging communities. We don’t just “fall together” into a box marked “WoW Blogger community”. That’s just our “geographical location” in greater Blogostan and says nothing about the web of trust (or distrust) that we have constructed.
And, unlike Twitter, you have no means to find out who’s “following” you (other than that “follow” thing in Blogger, and that’s hardly universal). So, people that you used to “follow” stop blogging, and unless you make the effort to follow up ((c wut i did thar)), you’ll never know why.
The question becomes, if a person stops blogging, is that person no longer part of your “community”?
The real world analogy is if your neighbor Bob’s kid grows up and he no longer shows up at the Little League games you umpire for, is Bob no longer part of your community? Well, he lives next door, surely not! But if your only interaction with Bob is at those ball games, you may feel estranged.
Now, in the real world, first links (Little League) forge longer chains. Chances are, if you and Bob connected at the games, you’re probably interacting in other areas as well. As persons, you both put effort into forging a friendship. You do so with many people, and the commonality of it is what forms a very real and lasting community.
And that’s the bottom line of the WoW, or even game blog community. It isn’t that we all play a game and blog about it. That is insufficient to form any real community. But a number of people care enough to reach out and interact and get to know each other. Those people then interact in other areas as well, and form real friendships. In fact, I can say that I consider many former WoW bloggers to be friends. I still consider them to be part of the “community” even if the first link in that chain’s now broken. Other links have taken up the slack.
A blogroll is not a community.
A group of blogs is not a community.
Nor is Twitter, Tumblr, Reddit, or Google Groups.
Even Blog Azeroth is not, strictly speaking, a community on its own.
People are what make a community. Nothing else. The people within those frameworks make it work.
If you’re part of a “community” that started or still orbits around a commonality of blogging, so be it. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.
I like to think communities are an organic thing. You can’t really force them via artificial social networking frameworks. Retweeting your latest blog entry doesn’t enhance anything regarding “community” – that’s just advertising, and that doesn’t help form “communities” either. But it can bring eyes to your site, and that can get the ball rolling.
That’s only the start, of course. Community isn’t a fire-and-forget thing. Your job isn’t done when you hit “publish”. If you have no further interactions, you won’t have a “community”, either.
Belghast may not feel part of a community at this point. But that doesn’t mean it won’t happen. It’s not automatic, and it can’t be forced. Sometimes even hard work won’t help.
But it won’t happen if you don’t keep trying, either. So keep at it.