My name is danah boyd and I'm a Principal Researcher at Microsoft Research and the founder/president of Data & Society. Buzzwords in my world include: privacy, context, youth culture, social media, big data. I use this blog to express random thoughts about whatever I'm thinking.

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constructing an audience

Lately, most of my (de)constructive thoughts have been focused at friends and myself (i.e. not my research). This has been soooo energizing. One on one, back and forth (de)constructive conversation. Critical feedback that is pushed directly and returned.

Plus, i’ve been talking to Fernanda frequently about blogging audiences.

This made me think about my own audience. I, better than most, have a deep understanding that my blog is a public presentation of self. And i have an understanding that while the content of this blog is not nearly as focused as my professional blog, my readership overlaps. But, even i, still foolishly imagine a certain level of security through obscurity.

I forget that people might care about my opinion (particularly those who don’t agree with me). It’s terribly odd to me that people might get upset when i take a week off of my opinion rants on Friendster, et. al. I don’t see myself as a public figure and i still view my blog as a space to put out half-chewed ideas and get feedback. Unfortunately, my audience doesn’t seem to agree. ::sigh::

So, my blogs have weirded me out lately. Even this note feeds oddly constructed… i have no idea who the hell is reading this, but i know it will be part of my public archive. And that’s particularly strange since i deconstruct my own blog entries as though they are just another piece of text and i imagine what i must be like from these entries and what an odd picture…

And then there’s interaction. I created the blog for my own records, but i put it out there publicly to engage folks to challenge me or provide me with better resources. Unfortunately, most commenting comes from spam. And the majority of non-spam comes from extreme opinons (or my beloved roommie) so i know that my audience is not represented in commenting land.

So who is my audience? Now? 10 years from now?

Whenever i go into these introspective moods, or try to go meta on myself, i find myself returning to the one-on-one. I always wonder what someone might think of my email archives. All of those highly directed musings, intended for an audience of one. Those interactions are so rich, so full of my confused head, my critical thinking skills, my philosophies, my religious views. I look back to the IMs and emails from this week and i see a reflection of myself. I look to my blog and i’m bored.

But this begs the question. What is it about this medium that doesn’t let me to play through those thoughts? Certainly, there’s the confusion about who my audience is. And the feeling of interactivity. But there’s also the beauty of truly intimate interactions, the feeling of getting to know someone better, of jumping into their psyche, of saying things that no one else hears, of reaching new depths. We’re all vulnerable at those depths.

But blogs do not provide safety for vulnerability. And thus i find myself going meta long before i dive down into the uncertainties that mark a contemplative mind.

Thoughts to chew on… ’cause this blog is still about the innane, the random and the irrelevant.

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10 comments to constructing an audience

  • Gemma

    Isn’t the audience side of this relationship one for us to worry about. Surely, you need not hold responsibility for this end as well. Could that be the answer to “What is it about this medium that doesn’t let me play through those thoughts? “. You let the audience interrupt. Shouldn’t it be more about our reaction to you? Reacting to us is premature, predictive and out of sinc.
    I liked it better when you gave us what you wanted to give us rather than what you believe we need.
    Maybe? I’m new to all this.

  • jordan

    Danah-
    I’m one of those folks who reads your blog regularly that you don’t know. I’m farily new to blogs in general: I keep up on yours, Howard Reigngold’s, and http://www.thismodernworld.com.

    I think that it’s unfortunate that you’ve been made to feel like a performer in front of an audience.

    I read these blogs because of the emergant, iterative effects of collaborative discourse. Your blogging is related enough to the questions that I’m asking that it reafirms some ideas and addes new peices to the mix.

    It’s cool to have one person who is organizing and focusing ideas, remixing them. In this way, bloging is like playing with turntables or slam poetry. It is an artform.

    Unlike many forms of performance this isn’t a commodity space, so this isn’t performer-on-stage this is shaman-poet-storyteller around the fire, focusing intentions, revealing patterns, helping bring the audience into intellectual sync.

    Thanks for making this blog available, It’s been a great resource, but don’t worry feeling obligated to blog because you have an “audience”- do what feels right.
    -J

  • MichaelP

    What do you want from your blog? You want it to be a personal forum – then make it such. If you want it to be a public sounding board, then it can be that too. It seems that the most successful blogs are those that satisfy the author’s wants – whether it’s intimacy, fame, correspondence, etc. Yes?

  • I like what Cory says about his blogging. He says it is his notebook that he’s sharing with others. Come read it if you’re interested. My blog is a bit different. I probably am creating more of an identity than he is, but it’s become more of a place than a representation of my own identity. danah, I realize that your research causes you to think of the blog as a part of the process of negotiating a facet of your identity, but what happens if you ignore that part for a moment? I realize that people are here and that you are actually creating an identity, but one difference between a blog and your negotiating an identity in the real world is that the audience SHOULD BE (isn’t always) self selecting. If you write what you feel like writing, it should attract the people who are interested. Aren’t YOU creating the context as well as performing in the context?

    I realize that it isn’t that simple and people randomly end up here through google and links, but I think that you have much more control of who is in the audience than in many other environments. I ignore (try to at least) the trolls and encourage active participants and am trying to shape the audience as much as I’m trying to create an identity.

  • I liked one picture Joi made in his blog
    (mapping the space), so funny to
    see Joi’s name above :-).

    I liked the picture because it made me realize that the act of blogging, because it is a form of publishing, is often the act of removing
    (editing out) some of the (most) personal context and interaction would get in a 1:1 interaction like a personal conversation, e-mail or phone call :- in order to make it more universally appealing, to avoid stumbling in public, etc.?

    A bit orthogonal to that though there are many types of weblogs ranging from very personal diaries, to notebooks of ideas (where commentors scrawl in the margins :-), to a podium/stage, shared editing/contributing, to almost a form of newspaper/magazine, etc.

    I find the weblogs I return to read most
    often are the notebook-like ones where the comments are often as (sometimes more) interesting as the original entry.

    I also find that they are weblogs whose author has invested some facet of their personality into making the weblog a good one to read. So rather like a good novelist or actor, a good weblogger has to take a few risks occassionally (but not as many as they might do in rehearsal without an audience), invest something personal of themself
    (or their group), and have good material to work with (to appeal to the audience)?

    The same might be said (but to a lesser degree)
    of the audience/commentors?

  • Shakepeare seems to have been aware of this “who’s my audience?” problem in Sonnet XVII:

    Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
    When in eternal lines to time thou growest:
    So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
    So long lives this and this gives life to thee.

  • All very interesting points, and i should chew on them longer.

    I think the thing is that i’m so comfortable figuring out what to say depending on who i say it to. I’m not comfortable with defending thoughts that are half-baked or feeling the need to do so.

    Hmmm…

  • Oh, and Jordan: i believe that all of life is a performance… it’s a matter of how you read your audience. Check out Erving Goffman’s “Presentation of Self in Everyday Life”

  • I’m another adoring fan, at least in the sense that i am a member of your audience who you do not know, and are unlikely to encounter in “real” life. I came to your blog through your posting of ani’s lyrics about three years ago, and remain a frequent, though sporadic reader. When i have the opportunity to read, i find your posts insightful and diverse, and appreciate your collection of internet wisdom.

    Thanks!