Tom Critchlow
Part of the networked-communities blogchain + expand

Networked Communities 2 - Blogging as a Social Act

Musings on bringing sidewalk life to blogs

September 4, 2019

I’m starting a new blogchain with Brendan Schlagel called “Networked Communities” to explore ideas around blogging, social writing, networked communities and more. Catch up the first post on his site here.

Brendan kicked off the blogchain series by musing on “flavors of epistemic uncertainty for the blogger”:

It strikes me there are a few flavors of epistemic uncertainty for the blogger. Roughly, these might be:

Uncertainty of purpose: what is this even about? Am I writing for me or for others? Will I achieve anything by writing this?

Uncertainty of effort: how much commitment required? How much time, thought, energy? Blogging can seen unbounded, intimidating…

Uncertainty of reception: will anyone read or care? Will it resonate, or endure in any perceivable way? Barring that, might it even start an interesting conversation?

“Why don’t I blog more?” Is the opening gambit of Brendan’s post - and I’ve often thought the same. On the other side of the coin I frequently advocate for blogging with an argument that “Blogging is good for you!”. Both of these are broadly speaking introsopective arguments. Why don’t I blog more, you should blog.

I/you/me.

But maybe there’s a new line of thinking - that brings in us.

Blogging is a social responsibility to your networks

What if instead of considering the introspective benefits we consider the social benefits?

I recently read the wonderful post reclaiming public life by Nadia Eghbal which explores the idea of “sidewalk life” from Jane Jacobs in a digital setting:

In small communities, the public-private gap is much smaller. More people know and share each others’ business, because they are invested in these relationships for a longer time, and the expected repercussions are lower. But when communities grow to the size of cities, a third form of public-private life will emerge: a hybrid phenomenon that Jacobs terms “sidewalk life”.

Sidewalk life is public life, but it’s one in which social privacy is respected and mutually reinforced. In Jacobs’ view, sidewalk life is one of the most important benefits of living in a city. It is not just a coping mechanism, but something that urban dwellers actively seek after.

Sidewalk life gives us access to unexpected encounters and opportunities in ways that private social gatherings do not

The premise of sidewalk life it is that communities can only form where these hybrid not-quite-public and not-quite-private spaces exist where trust can be higher and serendipitous interactions more frequent.

I believe blogging communities can act like “digital sidewalk life” - semi-public, semi-private affairs that foster serendiptiy, cooperation, support and sharing.

But sidewalk life doesn’t exist in busy highways (i.e. Twitter, Facebook) and they can’t sustain themselves in closed-door suburbia with no meeting places (non-addressable email lists).

And networks can’t self-sustain without participation - so maybe the best argument for blogging is not because it’s good for you but because it’s good for… us?

But Where is the Digital Sidewalk?

But how do you turn a loose collection of blogs into a community?

One feature of sidewalk life is the meeting places - things like cafes, corner stores, hardware stores For further reading check out this wonderful piece community plumbing - a history of the hardware store . Place people can bump into each other, pass through, congregate, meet and gossip.

The internet’s seamless, endless, edgeless nature makes these meeting places few and far between.

For me - most discussion around my blog posts happens on Twitter. And it strikes me that social media didn’t kill blogging - but it did kill comments.

I’ve tried a few experiments recently to actively cultivate conversation on my site - once in hypothesis annotations and once in disqus comments. The conversations there are delightful, but they’re broadly speaking… unsustainable.

Blogchats are one way to create discussion - I loved this recent one between Kicks Condor and Nadia.

And this cross-domain blogchain is another way to experiment.

But where next? What might a corner-store or a hardware store look like as a meeting place and anchor for a community of semi-public, semi-private blogs?

I’m excited to experiment and find out.

Either way, in order for there to be a network we need people blogging - so come sit on the stoop and get blogging. It’ll be better for all of us.


This blog is written by Tom Critchlow, an independent strategy consultant living and working in Brooklyn, NY. If you like what you read please leave a comment below in disqus or sign up for my Tinyletter.