Why I BlogMon Sep 26, 2005 Miss Vicky
The vehemence with which some readers responded to my comments last week about Jennifer Teague and the Take back the Night March (not to mention the rather unnerving ways some of our discussions have evolved in the last couple of months) led me to reflect a bit on why I do this. I suppose it's a good thing - since our launch in February, the site has grown tremendously. Lots of people are reading it, and folks are starting to participate more in the discussions. So it is time to take stock, I think.
I have have a long fascination with on-line community-building, having been a participant in various on-line fora for over a decade now. I started with usenet newsgroups in the mid-nineties, then branched into listservs and web-based discussion boards like babble. Over the years I have made some wonderful friends (some of whom I have yet to meet in the flesh, but they are dear friends nonetheless), reconnected with lost pals, stayed in touch with others, found family members, struck up romances, organized political and advocacy campaigns, debated, dialogued, researched, exchanged, learned, supported, grieved, educated, amused, distracted, flirted, collaborated, entertained and more, thanks to these tools.
For a while I have been toying with the idea of having an online presence - a home base on the web, not just occasional participation in other people's sites, boards and groups. I registered my domain a few years ago in anticipation, but was never really inspired to do anything about it. Then the blogging phenom started, and I was intrigued, mostly because of the range of blogs out there - from alternative sources of journalism to glimpses into people's personal journals, from a testing ground or performance space for artistic endeavours to reflections, tips and tricks about a particular topic or past-time.
Then of course, there's that whole cat-photo thing. I just don't get why so many bloggers post pictures of cats (theirs or others). But hey, I don't have to! Because there's so much out there!
I also like the interactivity of certain blogs - the potential to create a community, or at least a space for dialogue. And I like the idea of getting into the habit of writing on a regular basis. The former literature scholar in me misses the writing, I guess, even if she doesn't miss the academic lifestyle.
When Webgeek came into my life, underemployed and bored as heck, I finally got the push I needed to start to think about what I wanted to do.
I wanted the site to be about my community, and specifically the corner of the city I call home. I love my neighbourhood. I love how it is changing, and over the last few years I have met more and more people who share this passion and are willing to work hard to help Hintonburg and the city in general continue to grow in positive ways. I see a lot of challenges ahead - finding ways to reduce waste and help people adopt more sustainable habits, for example. Or dealing with increasing density in the urban core, ensuring that vulnerable populations don't get left behind. There's the fundamental problem of community safety, and of course the overarching context of limited sources of municipal revenue combined with lack of action on the part of other levels of government.
So I wanted the site to be a place to reflect on all of this, to comment on the responses of decision-makers, and maybe brainstorm alternative, creative approaches to municipal issues.
I also wanted to use the site to promote community and cultural events, to share some of the secrets of this part of the city. Maybe do a little rabble-rousing on occasion, on issues that I really care about.
Of course, a gal can't be political all the time. At least, this gal doesn't want to. I do like to indulge my domestic side now and then, and I like a good distraction (especially in these oh-so-serious times). So I wanted my site to have the kind of balance I've been striving to achieve - a healthy mixture of work, politics, family, community, food, hobbies, gossip, silliness, friends, art, culture and fun... not necessarily in that order. I'm not always successful at finding that balance....but at least my blog could try!
So we designed and executed the site to accommodate these diverse desires. Within the various sections I have space for discussion of a range of issues ("My main point"), the occasional rant ("Vicky's vitriol"), and promoting spaces, places, organizations, causes and events ("Ringing endorsements"). We added the "Dear Miss Vicky" section because I thought it would be fun to have an advice column. Unfortunately not too many folks have picked up on that part of the site, but you never know. Maybe it'll catch on.
It was important to me to build interactivity into the blog, to make it a space for a friendly exchange of ideas. It's a big decision for a blogger, whether to allow comments, and a lot of folks who get serious traffic decided against it (or chose to cut off the comment feature because the folks who were commenting had more interest in making trouble than having a civil discussion). We added the extra step of registering in order to comment, which we hoped would be offer some disincentive to the "hit and run" variety of internet troll. And this has worked, to some extent. But there are clearly some issues that hit a nerve, and folks have come out of the woodwork. Or out from under bridges.
Blogging is a hobby for me. I do have a demanding job and a busy volunteer schedule, and I don't want to spend all my time bashing my head against a wall debating with people who aren't interested in other points of view or who are just interested in arguing for arguments' sake. I haven't got the energy. And I don't enjoy it. I had hoped we'd be able to establish a certain tone on the site that would foster some degree of civility. Naive, perhaps. Having had some experiences with "codes of conduct" on other sites or listservs, I know that people rarely read them and seldom respect them. So for now I've chosen to rely on the good will of the participants; I cross my fingers and hope that folks will tone things down when I ask them to. And if all else fails, there's always tea and sherry.
As Miss Vicky's grows, I imagine I'll be wrestling more and more with these tensions - how do I keep the site a reflection of my particular voice and perspective (it is a personal blog after all) while keeping it as open as possible to others' participation? What happens when someone just doesn't respect what the site is about? How bad or off-topic does a discussion have to get before I cut it off? When do I ask someone to leave the parlour? Is the world ready for accidental altruist and pinklitva to meet in person?
I imagine I'll be adding to this manifesto as time passes. In the meantime, if you've been reading regularly and have yet to register or participate, I would encourage you to do so. I will try hard to keep this a friendly, cosy place. And if you have particular issues, topics, or questions - or if you're just looking for a recipe - do let me know.