The other day I was having coffee with Tara and she mentioned as an aside that she had been invited to speak at an event thanks to a comment she’d made on a blogpost that had been seen by the organizer. I nodded knowingly and recalled similar situations when I’d been reached out to because of some public comment or statement I’d made. It’s been some time since that happened though, which I didn’t realize until I started thinking about it. This assessment ended up running into another thing I’ve been thinking about recently which is that over the past few years there have been more than a small handful of events come up that I’ve been surprised I wasn’t invited to speak at.
I should clarify that so I don’t sound like a raging ego manic, which isn’t to say I’m not a raging ego manic per se, just that this specific statement shouldn’t imply that. Going back many years I considered myself to live very comfortably on the bleeding edge of any number of topics. I’d be involved in conversations where ideas would be proposed for the first time. Sometimes I’d propose them, sometimes I’d just be there to witness their proposal. This was pretty normal for me and I remember some circles of friends telling me it wasn’t a normal thing for most people. I felt lucky to have these things happen almost on accident just because I tried to surround myself by interesting people talking about interesting things.
The result of this would be, months or years later when these topics would be presented to larger audiences I was often asked to be a part of those conversations. Just one example, I can’t tell you how many panels and conferences I spoke at on the topics as blogs as journalism, or vs journalism depending on your position. But these kinds of things happened on a pretty regular basis. And then they stopped happening – though not because I’m not having those conversations with those people anymore, but rather I think I’m having those conversations in different ways.
Lingering back in the good ‘ol days for a moment, I spent collective years of my life writing blog posts and commenting on other people’s posts. This sounds unbelievable to people these days who associate comment threads with nothing but spam and trolls, but I’m sure many of you remember the days where one blog post would propose an idea, spark a very active comment thread which would include countless trackbacks to other blog posts that had been inspired by the ideas in this one. You could spend hours following an idea around the web. It was exciting, and a useful way to spend that time. You felt like you accomplished something, and were a part of something. At least I did. And as I said, these conversations would translate into all kinds of other opportunities.
I can’t pinpoint the exact moment where that changed, but over a few years it did completely change. I’m sure someone could argue that the same kind of thing happens today on Medium or some some Facebook post or whatever, but that feels very different to me. Those are like internet “free speech zones” that are anything but, and by nature are off putting to decentralized web advocates such as myself. The point of making your own blog post and sending a trackback to another site was so that your words and thoughts lived on your own site. Someone else couldn’t edit or moderate you, but also someone could go to your site and scroll through your posts and get a good idea what kind of stuff you were interested in and your thoughts on those topics. Not that this doesn’t happen today, it’s just different.
Let’s get off memory lane – that’s not what I wanted to write about. What I realized is that while I once had these conversations which I found thought provoking in very public forums, I now have them in much more private or semi-private ones. And not intentionally, that’s just how they evolved.
Blog comment threads started filling with spam and trolls so people stopped reading them, and if people don’t read them much of the motivation to contribute to them fades away. And with the introduction of Twitter, blogposts from a few days ago seemed like old news. And while #irc used to provide a forum for realtime brainstorming it had a barrier to entrance for a lot of people and easily Twitter became the realtime way to hash through ideas with people for a while. However unless you were already following all of the people in the conversation, you’d easily miss the replies or never even know the discussion was happening. As more and more people joined twitter the spam and trolls followed and it gets hard to have a conversation when half the replies are from anonymous accounts telling you to go fuck yourself.
Private Slack teams helped insulate some of these discussions, but then again if you aren’t in them you don’t know what is happening. And email, especially private discussion groups, ended up providing a safe space to talk about things with the caveat that they were not fully hashed out ideas. Which I think is an important part – for me I always thought of my blog as a place I could have a conversation that was made up as I went along. I might not have a clear idea in the beginning but through the process of writing about it and talking with others I could help shape the idea into something that made a little more sense. That changed for me at least when people I didn’t know started digging through my archives and throwing half baked ideas from 10 years ago in my face as evidence that I didn’t know what I was talking about. Because in fact I didn’t know what I was talking about, but in the process of writing those posts I was working to figure it out. And maybe I’d written 20 different posts on a single topic – the 20th being much more refined than the 1st, but having the 1st used against me was enough to make me a little trigger shy about making those kinds of posts. Which, as a result, would prevent me from ever getting to that 20th.
I don’t know if anyone else has experienced anything like this, but I realized in thinking through it that I used to find people thinking about the same kinds of things I was because I was blogging about them, talking about them in public. And I haven’t been doing that at all in some time. Sure I have my mailing list that I occasionally use to think out loud, but more often than not it’s just a collection of things I happened to think were interesting without a lot of deep or long form commentary from me. If you already subscribe to that list you know I’ve lamented this before which should serve as evidence that I’ve been thinking about this for a while without any real clear idea of steps to take to change it.
Though, maybe making this post is just the kind of step I need to take. You tell me, if I wrote more longer blog posts about assorted topics, would you read them and help me think through the ideas? I miss those conversations.