It’s social media week here at thedaysman, partly because I’m helping host a conference on campus: @Jesus: Finding the Truth in a Digital World. This is a presentation I gave today: Adventures in blogging. Please note this is a very long post, about three times longer than most.
And so blogging for the rest of us should be about something else, about something more authentic and more meaningful. In fact, all of social media should be about that.
By blogging I mean a two-fold, reverse chronology conversation. It’s two fold, because we engage both our readers and, more and more frequently, other bloggers. And the technology itself requires that readers start at the end of the conversation, rather than the beginning.
These are, in a sense, conversations without context. They start with the last thing we said about the subject, not the first thing we said. And so we must manage context in different ways, using links to extend our readers field of understanding and guarding against our own presumption that they know us. Or even want to.
In some sense, everyone is a blogger now. Or practically everyone. A Twitter or a Facebook status is a microblog. It says something about who we are and what we value. It is used for the same reasons a long form blog is used. And in similar ways. We recommend things, and argue with things, and share things, often in 140 characters or less.
But this is mostly about long form blogs. And about blogging as vocation and craft.
I started by own blog 8 years ago, on typepad, and about two and a half years ago I moved it over to WordPress. And you can still read my first blog post, or at least you could if I provided an archive, which I don’t. It said, and I quote it in its entirety: “motive + message= meaning.”
I still believe that.
My main blog is this one. But I also maintain, or mostly ignore, a professional blog at wallymetts.com. And a static blog at ordinationpaper.wordpress.com, home of some essays on theology I prepared for my ordination a couple of years ago. And, in addition to a Facebook account, a Facebook page, and three twitter accounts, I manage a church website. I also own nine domain names, seven of them unused, including becomingsanta.com.
But of all the things I intended to say, with my best motives and my best messages, my most read blog post was a humor piece last month on products for boomers. I was averaging about fifty hits a day when my post got picked up and recommended by wordpress.com. Then, almost ten thousand hits in 48 hours. And it wasn’t even that funny.
This is a cautionary tale. We never know who will come by and why. Or when. We must be “ready in season and out of season, always ready to give a reason to everyone for the hope that is within us.” (But “do this with gentleness and respect,” Peter adds.)
A couple of hundred of these readers stayed, partly because of what I promise in my about me page—to be biblically faithful and culturally relevant. Many of these new friends read other posts about other topics and liked what they found. A missionary in Vietnam. A Muslim graduate student. Housewives and real estate brokers. Student and seniors.
In that one moment, when I was making fun of Arm and Hammer for increasing the print size on their kitty litter, I was making new friends and building new relationships without even realizing it.
Which leads to a very important question:
What would Martin Luther blog?
Well, probably not jokes about kitty litter.
When he nailed his 95 blog posts to the Wittenburg door in 1517, he was starting a conversation about indulgences that would bring down popes and overthrow empires. And according to Suzanne Stefanac, this happened on the very cusp of a new technology.
Within fifty years of Guttenberg’s first Bible there were over a million books in print, and over ten thousand unique titles. The church leadership was up in arms. The monks were out of work. Book burnings were much more common that you can imagine.
And 66 years after the first Bible rolled off the press, Luther wrote at the top of his thesis, “Out of love for the truth, and the desire to bring it to light” that he wished to “defend the following statements and to dispute them in this place.”
Every blogger should nail this statement to their office door. Out of love for the truth and the desire to bring it to light.
Five years later Luther published the first Bible in the common language, and within seven year, by 1525, one third of all the printed material in Europe was written by him.
Nailing your thesis to the door, or posting your blog posts, is rooted in a very human need for open discourse, for the freedom to take a position and to change it when necessary. Blogging is only a recent iteration of this. And it’s massive.
The largest library in the world has over 150 million books, but there are over 50 billion web pages, most of them written by people much more like you and me than like the privileged class who wrote those books in the British National Library.
Yes, much of what we have written is drivel. But the social implications of this transition are little understood and hardly conceivable.
What kind of blogs are there?
In Dispatches from Blogistan: A travel guide for the modern blogger, Stefanac says there are five kinds of blogs. And it is a helpful list.
The first blog or web log, and an important form still , is the linkfest— a place where we go to find out what else is on the web. The majority of Tweets today serve this function, providing links to places we should go and things we should see or read. Many bloggers do this too—mostly sharing what they find worthwhile with others.
There is also the clubhouse— the blog where people write about their personal obsessions, whether it’s going to garage sales or taking photographs of turtles. Strong communities are built around private passions. And if you have something you care deeply about, others will find you on the web.
You are just a Google search away.
And then there is the diary. And while it is easy to make fun of, it finds its fullest expression in blogs about a struggle with a disease, or even the life of an entire community. Such stories are often the most compelling stories on the web. Yes, no one cares about your breakfast. But they may care about you, if you, or your church, or your community have a story with drama, laughter and meaning.
The rise of citizen journalists turns many blogs into newsrooms: local news, industry news, investigative news, non-profit news, ministry news. And there is an increasing professionalism in this realm, since to be credible you have to be fair and accurate.
This often tends toward, or is supplemented by, advocacy blogs, virtual soapboxes that allow us to see the world as a more spiritual, or more material, or more just, or more partisan, or more human place. And to invite others to join us. Pick your soapbox and you no longer need a street corner. All you need is a blog.
The tools are there, certainly. You can find cheap or free software to do this. People can subscribe with newsfeeds and email. People will find you on search engines and by using tags. You can sell stuff or sell advertising.
And best practices are emerging too. Designs that are clean and consistent, with writing styles that are more conversational, have begun to dominate the blogosphere. If you can get to the point, add to the conversation, and proofread, you can do this.
But can you do it well?
There are legal and ethical boundaries. And obligations. We must be fair, accurate, straightforward and accountable. We must be gracious and careful. And Christians ought to be better at this than anyone else, because we should know how to speak the truth in love, caring about what we say and what happens when we say it.
Message plus motive equals meaning, after all.
And we have something very meaningful to say, that Christ died for our sins and was buried and rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures. This is the gospel. We can say something about this in the way we review a movie or recommend software. We can say something about it in the way we share our passion or our news. We can say something about it in the stories we tell and the causes we advocate. We can say something about it in the way we say anything.
But mostly we can say it straight out.
And from time to time we should.