Tuesday, August 26, 2008

On the Jblogging Community or Lack Thereof

It seems that a comment I made at the Jblogger convention raised some people's ire and I can't say that it was unintentional. Aside from the "Jewlicious-Netanyahu" exchange, there did not seem to be too many memorable moments so I intentionally stirred the pot (later in the evening there were more memorable moments, with one guy screaming/heckling "Israel is a Jewish state" and Gila scratching the blackboard with her proverbial fingernails by repeatedly saying how people think she should be raped by Hamas). But I still stand by my statement.

What I said is that there is no community of Jewish bloggers (you can see it on the video at 1hr-50m: link). Evidently, this took many people by surprise. The initial reaction by bloggers who were not at the convention was approval but subsequent bloggers piled on me for saying it, some even attempting to find past statements of mine of questionable relevance that they think contradict it. Please allow me to explain.

Click here to read moreA blog is a medium that people use for many different things. Some can use it to post news, some to post Torah, some to post their thoughts about knitting yarmulkas, some to post about their battle with disease, etc. The simple fact that we all use the same medium does not make us a community. I'm not saying that we can't be friends but there is no natural bond between us other than that which exists between all Jews and all people. Do you think that the author of The Yeshiva World has some connection to an atheist, anti-religious blogger simply because they both use blogs? I don't. It's like saying that J. K. Rowling and Shmuel Blitz are in the same community of authors. It's not that one is good and the other isn't, but that they operate within totally different universes despite both being authors of books. To the opposite, I consider Ms. Rowling to be part of the community of Western popular culture and Shmuel Blitz to be part of the American Charedi community. Similarly, I consider blogs to be extensions of people's regular communities. Jewish blogs are part of the Jewish community and its subcommunities. Torah blogs are part of the Torah community, Jewish cooking blogs are part of the Jewish cooking community, etc.

I suspect that of the over 1,500 blogs represented at the convention (both live and online), I've read (even once) less than 5% of them. And judging from the surprise over my beginning with a devar Torah, they haven't read my blog either. That's OK. This blog is part of a small genre that caters to a unique readership. I'd estimate that at least 10% of the readers of this blog do not read any other blogs, and more than 40% read less than 5 blogs. Some do not even have web access for religious reasons and occasionally ask me to PDF comments and e-mail the file to them.

I do believe that the readers of this and similar blogs constitute some sort of subcommunity, particularly those who comment. But I don't see how anyone can suggest that we are in the same Jblogger community as the readers of, for example, a kosher cooking blog (not that there is anything wrong with kosher cooking; I live off of it!). The extended Hirhurim community is a subset of the Torah community that, rather than operate in a shul or yeshiva, operates on a blog (or set of blogs). And there are multiple Jewish blogging subsets of real life communities that people can join. In fact, one of the beauties of blogging is that it allows outsiders a view into different communities via this new medium.

There are definitely some things that people using the same medium can learn from each other on technical issues, and some shared experiences. Additionally, there are people who use the same medium and become friends because of those shared experiences. But that doesn't automatically put us in a shared community. The fact that I'm Jewish and write a blog and he's Jewish and writes a blog does not automatically make us part of some Jewish blogging community any more than my being Jewish and taking pictures with a digital camera and his being Jewish and taking pictures with a digital camera puts us in the J-digital-picture community.

And, finally, I believe that I have a responsibility to my readers not to send them to websites that they don't want to see. Believe it or not, there are many people with different sensibilities than the majority of Jewish bloggers. Whenever I send readers to a newspaper website that has a picture of a scantily clad woman, I get polite e-mails asking that I be more careful to avoid that in the future. When I link to a blog, I sometimes receive feedback from readers who have skimmed through that blog and have been offended by it. There seems to be an implication of approval from linking. One blogger recently put on the back of his newly published book a blurb from me saying that he has an interesting post on a particular subject, despite there being no question that I disapprove of most of what goes on at the blog and presumably in the book (although I haven't read the book -- the blogger has graciously agreed to remove my blurb from future copies). That is why I try to limit my links to other blogs.

The simple fact is that my interests do not include most of what goes on in the Jewish blogosphere. While I try to be aware of what goes on in the world, I don't have time to follow everything closely. Am I a bad guy because I don't knit and am not interested in blogs about knitting? And blogs with random content are, well, random.

I spent a considerable amount of time with David Bogner over the past week or two and enjoyed his company greatly, even when he scared the daylights out of me by carrying a gun. But I can't recall if I had ever seen his blog before, maybe I did a few years ago. It's not because he's a bad writer or a boring person; he definitely is neither. We just talk about very different things and his posts have never popped up on my radar screen. I once put in a bunch of blogs on Bloglines and that's what I read (with an occasional change to the list), and even then I skip a lot of posts that seem too long or outside of my range of interests. There are simply too many blogs to read all of them. Would I like to be in the same community as David Bogner and Batya Medad? We already are, as Jews and as human beings. I've added Treppenwitz to my Bloglines list but other than that, I don't feel a need to read all 1,500+ Jewish blogs.

So, why did I go to the convention if I don't consider myself part of a Jewish bloggers community? 1) Because I got a free ticket, 2) I was curious to meet certain people with whom I've conversed online (including Batya's husband, Yisrael), and 3) I considered it a technical conference where I could learn and contribute.

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Favorites More