Over the last couple of days, weeks, and even months, I've been pondering my participation in various social media: mostly my efforts at blogging and podcasting, but also my participation in things like Facebook and Twitter, as well as the possibility of using things like YouTube. I thought I'd toss out some ideas and ask for some feedback, so if any of this resonates with any of you out there, please feel free to comment.
My first posting on the brainwagon blog occurred on July 21, 2002. Since then I have posted 3,418 posts about a wide variety of topics. I've viewed this blog as an outlet for some of my geekier interests: if you look through it, you'll see some trends which ebbed and flowed: podcasting, programming (especially my Atari 2600 and checkers), mathematics, and of course my recent fascination with ham radio. You'll also see a scattering of just links to blogs and news items that I found enjoyable. I made two conscious decisions: I wouldn't monetize my blog with advertising, nor would I seek to become a "pundit", a talking head whose job it is to render opinions from on high about what people should or should not be doing or thinking.
I'm mostly pretty happy with those basics, except for one thing: I don't feel like I've helped develop a community of people who are interested in doing the same. My blog, as interesting as the subjects appear to be to me, doesn't seem to be very inspiring to others, at least as far as I can judge based on comment and email feedback. (Yes, there has been some positive feedback, but not as much as I would like.)
I'm faced with two conclusions.
One is that I'm interested in stuff that nobody else is interested in. That's certainly a possibility, a very strong possibility. But when I go to places like the Maker's Faire, or even interact with some of my fellow geeks at work, it seems that there are people out there who are interested. If I extrapolate that to the entire country, there really must be thousands of people who are potentially interested in the kinds of things that I'm interested in. Heck, I found a website for a guy who is interested in two of my more eclectic interests (Egyptian hieroglyphics and checkers, of all things) so you people must be out there.
So, I'm left with my other conclusion: that I'm not reaching other people in a fashion which inspires them to respond and engage. I think that there are several possible reasons for that. I think there are basic questions about technology: am I doing all I can to maximize the effectiveness of what presence I do have on the web? Would more use of Facebook/Twitter be helpful? Or maybe YouTube/Vimeo/iTunes podcasting? Or is there room for a new kind of social media that works to generate the kind of community vision that I crave?
But frankly, I think the problem is more basic than that.
I'm basically one of those people who is mostly happy living inside my head. I have recognized and even relished in the idea that what I like is relatively rare and geeky, so I haven't done a lot of work to actually build the real social bonds that connect me to other people who share my visions and interests. Thus, the problem isn't at the root a technological one: it's likely a problem of my own personality and behavior.
While I think that making any significant changes to my personality is probably out of the question, i do think that there are changes to my online behavior which could be achieved. Just as I am trying to convince myself that frequent exercise is good for me, I can try to "exercise" my own efforts in building social bonds based upon mutual interest and vision.
The other thing is to try to simply do more inspiring stuff, and figure out more dynamic ways to share it. Many of my software projects are still in the "not-ready-for-release" stage, but that's kind of cowardly of me. If you read that I had developed some code that did something interesting, and that I'd release it someday, you'd be bored and uninspired. If however, I released it and let you play with it, that's much more engaging. And if I showed how you could use it to do cool things (like, say, predict when the ISS is overhead and photograph it) that would be more inspiring. I should recognize that I have only a couple of minutes of your time at best to get you interested and thinking about the stuff I like, and that if I really want to get you on board, I'll have to work harder at it. I guess that it boils down to a simple new thought:
Mark, expend some effort to engage your audience.
In conclusion, I'm interested in finding peers and mentors who have built the kind of online presence and community that I'm seeking. If you have a blog or podcast that you are proud of, or have used Facebook or Twitter to build an online community, or just have some reading on the subject that you have found useful, please drop me a note at brainwagon at gmail.com if you would be interested in talking to me about this kind of thing.