Focused blogs and side trips

Over on Eileen Flanagan’s Imper­fect Seren­ity, there’s an inter­est­ing post on blog pub­lic­ity, “Blog­ging dilem­mas,” inspired in part by Robin M“‘s recent “How did you get here?” post. Both bring up inter­est­ing ques­tions about the role of blogs in com­mu­nity build­ing and the loca­tion of that line that sep­a­rates good blog­ging from mere self-promotion and pan­der­ing.

Read­ers will prob­a­bly be unsur­prised to learn that I use Tech­no­rati, Google Blog Search, etc., every day to keep track of the Quaker blo­gos­phere. I act as a kind of com­mu­nity orga­nizer and my searches are for inter­est­ing posts talk­ing about Quak­ers (until read­ing Eileen’s post I hadn’t check my Tech­no­rati “rank” in months). Many people’s first intro­duc­tion to Quak​erQuaker​.org is get­ting linked from it, and I sus­pect I’ve acci­den­tally outed a few begin­ning blog­gers who hadn’t told any­one of their new blog!

I have a pro­fes­sional blog on web design and ana­lyt­ics (with a some­what off-topic but sat­is­fy­ing post on top at the moment) and sep­a­rat­ing that out has allowed me to use this per­sonal blog, Quak­er­Ran­ter, for what­ever I like. Most reg­u­larly read­ers would say it focuses on Quak­erism and cute kid pic­tures and while those are the most com­mon posts, the most read posts are the minor fas­ci­na­tions I indulge myself with occa­sion­ally. Quaker plain dress is some­thing I prac­tice but don’t think about most of the time (806 read­ers in past month). My wife and I love to bust on bad baby names and unfairly unpop­u­lar baby names (627 vis­its). I’ve also detailed some out­ings to semi-legendary South Jer­sey haunts (317) and score high on searches to them.

The con­ven­tional wis­dom of the blog-as-publicity tool crowd would prob­a­bly say these off-topic posts are dis­tract­ing my core audi­ence. Per­haps, but they’re infre­quent on the blog and long-lived on Google. Besides, I think it helps peo­ple to know I’m not just obsessed with one topic. Being a part of a real com­mu­nity means know­ing each other in all of our quirks. I’m more ten­der and for­giv­ing of other Quaker blog­gers when I know more of their story: it puts what they say into a con­text that makes it sound more lived, less ide­o­log­i­cal. There’s cer­tainly good rea­sons for tightly-focused pro­fes­sional blogs (I’d drop Techcrunch from my blogroll if they started post­ing kids pic­tures!), but as more peo­ple read posts through feeds and aggre­ga­tors I won­der if there’s going to be as much pres­sure for per­sonal, community-oriented blogs to be as single-minded in their focus. 

We all have diverse, quirky inter­ests so why not indulge them? I have seen blogs that try too hard to pan­der to par­tic­u­lar audi­ences and boy, are they bor­ing! A cer­tain degree of idio­syn­crasy and sub­jec­tive orner­i­ness is prob­a­bly essen­tial. Per­son­al­ity is at least as impor­tant as focus.

PS: I’m also inter­ested in mak­ing sure I don’t loose the core audi­ence with all my side trips, hence the “lat­est Quaker posts” at the top of the page. I have at least one request for a Quaker-only RSS feed and will even­tu­ally get that going.
PPS: As if on queue, the next post in Google Reader after Eileen’s is Avin­ish Kaushik’s Blog Met­rics: Six rec­om­men­da­tions for mea­sur­ing your suc­cess. Parts of it are prob­a­bly a bit tech­ni­cal for most QR read­ers but it’s use­ful for think­ing about blogs as out­reach.

On job hunting and the blogging future in Metro Philadelphia

I’ve been quiet on the blogs lately, focus­ing on job searches rather than rant­ing. I thought I’d take a lit­tle time off to talk about my lit­tle cor­ner of the career mar­ket. I’ve been apply­ing for a lot of web design and edit­ing jobs but the most inter­est­ing ones have com­bined these together in cre­ative ways. My qual­i­fi­ca­tions for these jobs are more the inde­pen­dent sites I’ve put together — notably Quak​erQuaker​.org—than my paid work for Friends.

For exam­ple: one inter­est­ing job gets reposted every few weeks on Craigslist. It’s geared toward adding next-generation inter­ac­tive con­tent to the web­site of a con­sor­tium of sub­ur­ban news­pa­pers (appli­cants are asked to be “com­fort­able with terms like blog, vlog, CSS, YourHub, MySpace, YouTube…,” etc.). The qual­i­fi­ca­tions and vision are right up my alley but I’m still wait­ing to hear any­thing about the appli­ca­tion I sent by email and snail mail a week ago. Despite this, they’re con­tin­u­ing to post revised descrip­tions to Craigslist. Yesterday’s ver­sion dropped the “con­ver­gence” lingo and also dropped the pro­jected salary by about ten grand.

About two months ago I actu­ally got through to an inter­view for a fab­u­lous job that con­sisted of putting together a blog­ging com­mu­nity site to fea­ture the lesser-known and quirky busi­nesses of Philadel­phia. I had a great inter­view, thought I had a good chance at the job and then heard noth­ing. Days turned to weeks as my follow-up com­mu­ni­ca­tions went unan­swered. 11/30 Update: a friend just guessed the group I was talk­ing about and emailed that the site did launch, just qui­etly. It looks good.

Cor­po­rate blog­ging is said to be the wave of the future and in only a few years polit­i­cal cam­paigns have come to con­sider blog­gers as an essen­tial tool in get­ting their mes­sage out. User-generated con­tent has become essen­tial feed­back and pub­lic­ity mech­a­nisms. My expe­ri­ence from the Quaker world is that blog­gers are con­sti­tut­ing a new kind of lead­er­ship, one that’s both more out­go­ing but also thought­ful and vision­ary (I should post about this some­time soon). Blogs encour­age open­ness and trans­parency and will surely affect orga­ni­za­tional pol­i­tics more and more in the near future. Smart com­pa­nies and non­prof­its that want to grow in size and influ­ence will have to learn to play well with blogs.

But the future is lit­tle suc­cor to the present. In the Philadel­phia met­ro­pol­i­tan area it seems that the rare employer that’s think­ing in these terms have have a lot of back and forths try­ing to work out the job descrip­tion. Well, I only need one enlight­ened employer! It’s time now to put the boys to bed, then check the job boards again. Keep us in your prayers.

Visiting a Quaker School

I had an inter­est­ing oppor­tu­nity last Thurs­day. I skipped work to be talk with two Quak­erism classes at Philadelphia’s William Penn Char­ter School (thanks for the invite Michael and Thomas!). I was asked to talk about Quaker blogs, of all things. Sim­ple, right? Well, on the pre­vi­ous Tues­day I hap­pened upon this pas­sage from Brian Drayton’s new book, On Liv­ing with a Con­cern for Gospel Min­istry:

I think that your work will have the great­est good effect if you wait to find whether and where the springs of love and divine life con­nect with this open­ing before you appear in the work. This is even true when you have had an invi­ta­tion to come and speak on a topic to a work­shop or some other forum. It is wise to be sus­pi­cious of what is very easy, draws on your prac­ticed strengths and accom­plish­ments, and can be treated as an every­day trans­ac­tion. (p. 149).

Good advice. Of course the role of min­istry is even more com­pli­cated in that I wasn’t address­ing a Quaker audi­ence: like the major­ity of Friends schools, few Penn Char­ter stu­dents actu­ally are Quaker. I’m a pub­lic school kid, but it from the out­side it seems like Friends schools stress the ethos of Quak­erism (“here’s Penn Charter’s state­ment”). Again Dray­ton helped me think beyond nor­mal ideas of pros­e­ly­tiz­ing and out­reach when he talked about “pub­lic meet­ings”:

We are also called, I feel to invite oth­ers to share Christ directly, not pri­mar­ily in order to intro­duce them to Quak­erism and bring them into our meet­ings, but to encour­age them to turn to the light and fol­low it” (p. 147).

What I shared with the stu­dents was some of the ways my inter­ac­tion with the Spirit and my faith com­mu­nity shapes my life. When we keep it real, this is a pro­foundly uni­ver­sal­ist and wel­com­ing mes­sage.

I talked about the per­sonal aspect of blog­ging: in my opin­ion we’re at our best when we weave our the­ol­ogy with with per­sonal sto­ries and tes­ti­monies of spe­cific spir­i­tual expe­ri­ences. The stu­dents reminded me that this is also real world les­son: their great­est excite­ment and ques­tion­ing came when we started talk­ing about my father (I used to tell the story of my com­pletely messed-up child­hood fam­ily life a lot but have been out of the habit lately as it’s receded into the past). The stu­dents really wanted to under­stand not just my story but how it’s shaped my Quak­erism and influ­enced my com­ing to Friends. They asked some hard ques­tions and I was stuck hav­ing to give them hard answers (in that they were non-sentimental). When we share of our­selves, we present a wit­ness that can reach out to oth­ers.

Later on, one of the teach­ers pro­jected my blogroll on a screen and asked me about the peo­ple on it. I started telling sto­ries, relat­ing cool blog posts that had stuck out in my mind. Wow: this is a pretty amaz­ing group, with diver­sity of ages and Quak­erism. Review­ing the list really reminded me of the amaz­ing com­mu­nity that’s come together over the last few years.

One inter­est­ing lit­tle snip­pet for the Quaker cul­tural his­to­ri­ans out there: Penn Char­ter was the Gur­neyite school back in the day. When I got Michael’s email I was ini­tially sur­prised they even had classes on Quak­erism as it’s often thought of as one of the least Quaker of the Philadelphia-area Quaker schools. But think­ing on it, it made per­fect sense: the Gur­neyites loved edu­ca­tion; they brought Sun­day School (sorry, First Day School) into Quak­erism, along with Bible study and higher edu­ca­tion. Of course the school that bears their legacy would teach Quak­erism. Inter­est­ingly enough, the his­tor­i­cal Ortho­dox school down the road aways recently approached Penn Char­ter ask­ing about their Quaker classes; in true Wilbu­rite fash­ion, they’ve never both­ered try­ing to teach Quak­erism. The offi­cial Philadel­phia Quaker story is that branches were all fixed up nice and tidy back in 1955 but scratch the sur­face just about any­where and you’ll find Nine­teenth Cen­tury atti­tudes still shap­ing our insti­tu­tional cul­ture. It’s pretty fas­ci­nat­ing really.

Two Years of the Quaker Ranter and Quaker Blogs

An amaz­ing thing has hap­pened in the last two years: we’ve got Friends from the cor­ners of Quak­erism shar­ing our sim­i­lar­i­ties and dif­fer­ences, our frus­tra­tions and dreams through Quaker blogs. Dis­en­chanted Friends who have longed for deeper con­ver­sa­tion and con­so­la­tion when things are hard at their local meet­ing have built a net­work of Friends who under­stand. When our gen­er­a­tion is set­tling down to write our mem­oirs — our Quaker jour­nals — a lot of us will have to have at least one chap­ter about becom­ing involved in the Quaker blog­ging com­mu­nity.

Con­tinue read­ing

The Early Blogging Days

I started Non​vi​o​lence​.org in late 1995 as a place to pub­li­cize the work of the US peace move­ment which was not get­ting out to a wide (or a young) audi­ence. I built and main­tained the web­sites of a few dozen hosted groups (includ­ing the War Resisters League, Fel­low­ship of Rec­on­cil­i­a­tion and Pax Christi USA) but I quickly real­ized that the Non​vi​o​lence​.org home­page itself could be used for more than just as a place to put links to mem­ber groups. I could use it to high­light the arti­cles I thought should get more pub­lic­ity, whether on or off the Non​vi​o​lence​.org domain.

The home­page adapted into what is now a rec­og­niz­able blog for­mat on Novem­ber 13, 1997 when I re-named the home­page “Non­vi­o­lence Web Upfront” and started post­ing links to inter­est­ing arti­cles from Non​vi​o​lence​.org mem­ber groups. In response to a com­ment the other day I won­dered how that fit in with the evo­lu­tion of blog­ging. I was shocked to learn from Wikipedia’s that the term “weblog” wasn’t coined until Decem­ber of that year. I think is less a coin­ci­dence than a con­fir­ma­tion that many of us were try­ing to fig­ure out a for­mat for shar­ing the web with oth­ers.

The ear­li­est edi­tion stored on Archive​.org is from Decem­ber 4, 1997. It focused on the hun­dredth anniver­sary of the birth of Catholic Worker co-founder Dorothy Day. To give you an sense of the early independently-published arti­cles, the Jan­u­ary 2, 1998 edi­tion included a guest piece by John Steitz, “Is the Non­vi­o­lence Web a Move­ment Half-Way House” that sounds eerily sim­i­lar to recent dis­cus­sions on Quaker Ranter.

Below is an excerpt from the email announce­ment for “Non­vi­o­lence Web Upfront” (typ­i­cally for me, I sent it out after I had been run­ning the new for­mat for awhile):

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NONVIOLENCE WEB NEWS, by Mar­tin Kel­ley Week of Decem­ber 29, 1997

CONTENTS

Intro­duc­ing “Non­vi­o­lence Web Upfront”

New Pro­ce­dures
New Web­site #1: SERPAJ
New Web­site #2: Stop the Cassini Flyby
Two Awards
Num­bers Avail­able Upon Request
Weekly Vis­i­tor Counts

With my trav­el­ling and hol­i­day sched­ule, it’s been hard to keep reg­u­lar NVWeb News updates com­ing along, but it’s been a great month and there’s a lot. I’m espe­cially proud of the con­tin­u­ing evo­lu­tion of what I’m now call­ing “Non­vi­o­lence Web Upfront,” seen by 1800 – 2200 peo­ple a month!

— —  — -

INTRODUCING “NONVIOLENCE WEB UPFRONT”

The new mag­a­zine for­mat of the NVWeb’s home­page has been need­ing a name. It needed to men­tioned the “Non­vi­o­lence Web” and I wanted it to imply that it was the site’s home­page (some­times referred to as a “front­page”) and that it con­tained mate­r­ial taken from the sites of the NVWeb.

So the name is “Non­vi­o­lence Web Upfront” and a trip to http://​www​.non​vi​o​lence​.org will see that spelled out big on top of the weekly-updated arti­cles.

There’s also an archive of the weekly install­ments found at the bot­tom of NVWeb Upfront. It’s quite a good col­lec­tion already!

Now that this is mov­ing for­ward, I encour­age every­one to think about how they might con­tribute arti­cles. If you write an inter­est­ing opin­ion piece, essay, or story that you think would fit, send it along to me. For exam­ple, “War Toys: Re-Action-ist Fig­ures” FOR’s Vin­cent Romano’s piece from the Nov. 27 edi­tion, was an essay he had already writ­ten and made a good com­pli­men­tary piece for the Youth­Peace Week spe­cial. But don’t worry about themes: NVWeb Upfront is meant not only to be timely but to show the breadth of the non­vi­o­lence move­ment, so send your pieces along!

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Of Theo, threats and selective press quoting

The Baby Theo blog got a men­tion in today’s Philadel­phia Inquirer, It’s almost as good as being there, by Kathy Boc­cella. They missed out on a huge rat­ings bonanza by not pick­ing Theo for their pic­tures. Stranger was that two inter­views pro­duced only one off-topic sub­stan­tive line: “Mar­tin Kelly [sic] expe­ri­enced the worst of it when some­one threat­ened his infant son on his Baby Theo Web page [via Archive​.org, as it appeared around the time this arti­cle was writ­ten].

Above: Theo on learn­ing he wasn’t going to be the fea­tured baby photo in the Inquirer piece… Real photo cap­tion: This week­end Julie Theo and I took a mini vaca­tion to the Penn­syl­va­nia coal regions. One of the stops was the beau­ti­fully restored Tamaqua train sta­tion, where Theo’s great great grand­fa­ther, the first Mar­tin John Kel­ley, worked as a Read­ing Rail­road con­duc­tor. We woke the lit­tle guy up from a car nap to see the sta­tion and snap this pic­ture, cruel par­ents that we are.

The Baby Theo site has been a lot of fun and it’s had great com­ments and emails of sup­port. It’s really a shame that the arti­cle only used it to strike that tired old refrain about the pos­si­ble dan­ger lurk­ing on the inter­net.

The threat had noth­ing to do with Theo or with the baby blog. I’ve run a promi­nent anti­war web­site (closed, was at non​vi​o​lence​.org) through two wars now, and in the nine years of its exis­tence I’ve amassed quite a col­lec­tion of abu­sive emails. I try not to take them too seri­ously: most come from sol­diers or from the fam­i­lies of solid­ers, peo­ple desparately afraid of the future and surely torn by the acts they’re being asked to com­mit. The inter­net pro­vides the psy­cho­log­i­cal dis­tance for oth­er­wise good peo­ple to demo­nize the “com­mie Saddam-loving peacenik cow­ard.” You could get mad at a Pres­i­dent that actively mis­leads the coun­try into war but it’s eas­ier to turn your anger on some schmuck who runs an anti­war web­site in his spare time. Send­ing threat­en­ing emails is itself cow­ardly and anti-democratic, of course, and as I’ve writ­ten on Non​vi​o​lence​.org, it’s ter­ri­bly inap­pro­pri­ate for “mil­i­tary per­son­nel to use gov­ern­ment com­put­ers to threaten the free speech” of a dis­sent­ing Amer­i­can cit­i­zen. But it hap­pens. And because it hap­pens and because South Jer­sey has its share of pro-war hot­heads, you won’t see our spe­cific town men­tioned any­where on the site. When I asked the Inquirer reporter if they could not men­tion our town, she asked why, which led to the threat­en­ing emails, which led to the ques­tion whether Theo specif­i­cally had been threat­ened.

And yes, there was a retired Lieu­tenant Colonel who sent a par­tic­u­larly creepy set of emails (more on him below). The first email didn’t men­tion Theo. It was just one of those every­day emails wish­ing that my fam­ily would be gang-raped, tor­tured and exe­cuted in front of me. I usu­ally ignore these but responded to him, upon which I received a sec­ond email explain­ing that he was mak­ing a point with his threat (“You, your orga­ni­za­tion and oth­ers like you rep­re­sent the ‘flabby soft white under­belly’ of our Nation. This is the tis­sue of an ani­mal that is the tar­get of preda­tors.” Etc., etc., blah, blah, blah). This time he searched the Non​vi​o​lence​.org site more thor­oughly and specif­i­cally men­tioned Theo in his what-if sce­nario. This was one email out of the thou­sands I receive every month. It was an inap­pro­pri­ate rhetor­i­cal argu­ment against a political/religious stance I’ve taken as a pub­lic wit­ness. It was not a cred­i­ble threat to my son.

Still, pre­cau­tion is in order. I men­tioned this story to the Inquirer reporter only to explain why I didn’t want the town listed. When I talked about the blog, I talked about old friends and dis­tant rel­a­tives keep­ing up with us and shar­ing our joys via the web­site. I talked about how the act of putting together entries helped Julie & I see Theo’s changes. I told Kathy how it was fun that friends who we had met via the inter­net were able to see some­thing beyond the Quaker essays or polit­i­cal essays. None of that made it through to the arti­cle, which is a shame. A request to not pub­lish our home town became a sen­sa­tion­al­ist cau­tion­ary tale that is now being repeated as a rea­son not to blog. How stu­pid.

The cau­tion­ary les­son is only applic­a­ble for those who both run a baby blog and a heav­ily used polit­i­cal web­site. When your web­site tops 50,000 vis­i­tors a day, you might want to switch to a P.O. Box. End of les­son.

For­tu­nately with the inter­net we don’t have to rely on the fil­ter of a main­stream press reporters. Vis­i­tors from the Inquirer arti­cle have been look­ing around the site and pre­sum­ably see­ing it’s not all about inter­net dan­gers. Since the Inquirer arti­cle went up I’ve had twice as many vis­its from Google as I have from Philly​.com. Viva the web!


More:
For those inter­ested, the freaky retired Lieu­tenant Colonel is the chief exec­u­tive offi­cer of a pri­vate avi­a­tion com­pany based in Florida, with con­tracts in three African nations that just hap­pen to be of par­tic­u­lar inter­est to the U.S. State Depart­ment. Although the com­pany is named after him, his full name has been care­fully excised from his web­site. I don’t sus­pect that he really is retired from U.S.-sponsored mil­i­tary ser­vice, if you know what I mean… Here’s your tax dol­lars at work.

A few news­pa­per web­sites have repub­lished up the Inky arti­cle and two blog­ging news sites have picked up on it:

  • Yet Another Baby Blog­ging story uncov­ers dan­ger — but it’s not true ran in Blog​ging​Baby​.com: “When some­one threat­ened his son on his Baby Theo Web page, he took the site down; but left up a pic on his home page. Well, that is, accord­ing to the arti­cle, which some­how man­aged to not check its facts (maybe, ummm – go to the link you included in your arti­cle?) and dis­cover that, in fact, Baby Theo’s page is alive and well. We’re glad, Theo’s a cutie.”
  • Baby blog­gers ran in Net­fam­i­lynews. “The $64,000 question(s) is: Is this a shift of think­ing and behav­ior or, basi­cally, a mis­take?.. Mar­tin Kelly, whose baby was threat­ened by some­one who vis­ited his baby page, would lean toward the mis­take side of the ques­tion.” (No I wouldn’t, as I explained to the web­mas­ter later)

Non​vi​o​lence​.org syndicated

A lit­tle bit of house­keep­ing: There have been a few behind-the-scene changes on the Non​vi​o​lence​.org home­page this week­end. I’ve switched the blog­ging soft­ware over to Move­able­type.
The hard-core blog read­ers will appre­ci­ate that Non​vi​o​lence​.org now has an syn­di­cated news feed. That means that you can now read the home­page with soft­ware like Sharpreader, News­ga­tor, etc.
even the more-casual read­ers will appre­ci­ate that you can now com­ment directly on every arti­cle. There will be other sub­tler fea­tures added over time. Let me know if there are any prob­lems.