Writing to groups of five

(An early draft of this was posted last night by mistake, so I took it down and finished it up a bit…)

When Yuka and I were deciding what to do Sunday morning and seeing who was around, we thought of seeing Tod & Kristen, but rather than picking up the phone, (as we didn’t have their number anyway,) we got on IRC (Internet Relay Chat) where Tod runs a private server and a channel for them and their friends to come visit.
It functions as a kind of living room, not for everyone, just invited friends.
Joi also runs one, a much more public channel on FreeNode, where people hang out and chat all the time.

I wonder if these little private spaces will become more and more common. It seems a kind of natural extension to the whole blog thing where people are creating these little microcosms of their public personality. Email is of course, becoming a last-ditch medium of communication. After all, how can you be sure that your message will actually reach the person and not get tossed out with the dirty bathwater of spam that most people seem to get these days?

Thinking about this, I got to thinking about weblogs and their role in the writer’s life. This is where what we do differs from Journalism. Journalists do what they do to have people read what they write. A successful Journalistic publication is one that is widely read and influential – the goal, money aside, is to have as many people as possible read their words.

For this reason, people looking at blogging tend to focus on the big players, or the “Alpha Bloggers” as I call them. Those, being the most widely read, must be the best, right? I don’t necessarily think so.

It’s the little blogs, the ones with an audience of just a few people, that are going to define this medium.

These blogs are conversations. They address a very limited audience in a very familiar fashion. They tend to be on a first name basis. They talk about trivial, often uninteresting (to an outsider) topics.
Maybe that’s ultimately where blogs will make the biggest difference – microscale audiences. Personal conversations, not pronouncements.

So given that thought, why do the big-name blogs work? They drop all pretentiousness and speak directly to with their audiences. They maintain a sense of intimacy with the readers, often by adding the little mundane details of daily life. Stuff that can’t be faked.

Franklin Roosevelt knew that a dialogue with the people was important, opening one with the public in the form of his Fireside Chats. Groundbreaking as they were, they still had the tone of a father speaking to his children. It was a one-way dialogue, firm, yet kind. His wife Eleanor, on the other hand, was able to convey a sense of conversation and intimacy in her daily column My Day.

Boston’s infamously-corrupt and colorful mayor James Michael Curley knew the power of these dialogues as well. I never understood how such an obviously criminal man was able to remain one of the most popular leaders of the 20th century – until, that is, I had the opportunity to listen to some of his radio addresses. They were warm and familiar, delivered in a voice that could have been one of the older Barrymores, kind, fatherly and sincere, yet humble in their tone. After hearing them, I realized that had I been in Boston when he was running for office, I probably would have voted for him a few times too.

Listening to Curley, or reading Mrs. Roosevelt’s column, you get the feeling that you are part of an audience of perhaps five people. Intimate..

I think this is what works best for blogs as well, an audience of five, whether that number is actual or perceived.

The Japan expat bloggers are some of the best in the world, in my opinion, because they are familiar with this style of writing. Many of us were writing emails to small groups of family members and friends back home in groups of five or ten, describing the odd happenings of daily life as a stranger in a strange land. A trip to the market becomes something to write home about. A trip to Akihabara that results in a new digital camera adds images to this dialogue. A bit of web space makes it public and some blogging software makes it interactive.

Yet it’s that original bit of writing that is the heart, not the technology. Not the number of readers, not your rankings on the blog popularity charts. It’s the writing.

Someone trying to compare Journalism to blogging will probably not see this, after all, a blog with five readers cannot possibly be a success, can it? Blogging and Journalism are starting to bump elbows and step on eachother’s toes. There are journalists who blog and bloggers who report news, but the overlap is insignificant, (though not unimportant,) in its scope.

Yet in my opinion, it’s the blogs that speak to with their readers in groups of five that are the true successes, no matter how many readers they actually have.

One thought on “Writing to groups of five”

  1. hey bro! just one point, a blog seems to used for stating personal insights with little or no chance of money and recognition, where as writers in other media(newspapers and so on…)tend to shape stories depending on what sells copy(i.e. advertsing). American media is contrived and controlled to force the ad dollar to drive the news and current events

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