This is webby meta stuff. If you’re not interested in that, why not read Eva Holland’s new piece on Vela Mag instead. It’s a great read.
“Please accept my resignation. I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as a member.”
— Groucho Marx
There was a bit of a flap amongst some travel bloggers last week. The issue? A post by John O’Nolan at a site called Travelllll. (I’ll call the site T5 going forward, I can’t bear typing that name over and over.) O’Nolan blasted bloggers who are selling links, telling them “If you sell paid links, you are less than worthless as a travel blogger, and you should be ashamed of yourself.” The post also threatened to expose link selling bloggers to T5’s readership. O’Nolan revised the remarks later, generating further ire over T5’s revisions policy. There was a swift reaction from bloggers, many were insulted and defensive. Others agreed with the post and in the comments thread, there’s some serious outing going on. It’s ugly. I found it an awful “can’t look away situation.” (Here’s the original, unrevised post.) There’s also quite an elegant apology, make of that what you will.
That’s the back story. The bit that interests me is the reaction from a number of different bloggers who have written response posts (guess I’m jumping on that bandwagon) or left comments along the line of “I thought this was supposed to be a supportive community! I thought travelbloggers were supposed to help each other out! WTF?” I’ve also seen “What’s with all the hating, travelbloggers? I thought we were a community!” I’m simplistically interpreting this as “You’re tearing us apart!” and “I thought we were friends!”
Defining online community is tricky. I went looking; I found interesting stuff from some terrific web nerds, but nothing that suggested we all agreed or offered carte blanche support for our collective practices. Here’s Jeremiah Owyang:
An online community is: Where a group of people with similar goals or interests connect and exchange information using web tools.
Nancy White has a great compilation of definitions of online community but perhaps my favorite is this from an unnamed FCC judge:
Community is like pornography, I don’t know how to define it, but I sure know it when I see it.
I’m a fan of community building initiatives. I think it’s extremely valuable for people who share their interests to work together, to exchange ideas and information, and, if it works out, to build things. These can be things like TBEX, the Travelblog Exchange conference, or forums where issues are discussed, or the project founded here in Seattle, Passports with Purpose, the travelblogger’s fundraiser. Once or twice a year we gather the Seattle Consortium of Online Travel and there’s the Seattle Travel Bloggers Happy Hour group on Facebook. I like all of these things, a lot, they build excellent communities.
But I’m also extremely opinionated and critical. I tend to respect those that share that quality a lot more than the “can’t we all get along” types. I don’t want or need to get along with everyone, and furthermore, that sounds dead boring. If I wanted everyone to agree with my practices or opinions, I’d never leave the house. Or turn on my computer.
I think the mess at T5 was caused by poor writing. It’s never a good idea to insult or threaten your audience. T5’s “You suck and I’m going to tell on you” rhetoric was amateurish and kind of embarrassing. This is where I respond to another common complaint I’ve seen as a result of the T5 flap. “When did this community get so judge-y?” Guess what? I judge your work all the time. I judge your photographs and your writing and the things you link to and define as interesting or valuable. I’m your reader, dammit, I get to judge the quality of what you’re putting in front of me.
I suspect you judge my work as well. And I admit it: I like it when you say nice things, I like it less when you don’t. But I never expect you to agree with me, nor do I expect you to support me if I engage in practices you find offensive. The fact that we’re both travelbloggers implies one thing to me: We both blog about travel. That’s all it implies by way of commonality. We’re going to have to go deeper if you want to draw a circle around us and declare we’re a community.
I was peripherally involved with “the mommy-blogging community” some time back, oh, that was a contentious place, boy howdy. Have you ever looked at “the political blogging community”? Bare knuckle boxing, you’d better be ready.
On the positive side, I love the community we’ve built for Passports with Purpose — we strive towards a common goal and set aside our style and editorial differences while we capitalize on a platform we all use to do good work. I loved the Book Passages community, a group of people who gathered because of their common love for creating beautiful work about travel. These are smaller, well defined communities that share a common goal. Raising money for a good cause. Making good work.
We build our own communities. We define them ourselves. We gather people whose work we respect, whose opinions we trust and we build our communities with them, around them. There’s my travelblogging community and your travelblogging community, and odds are quite good that they are not the same thing. Before we start taking shots at how the travelblogging community behaves, I think we need to define, in specific detail, who we mean.
What do you mean when you say “the travelblogging community”?