I think the Quaker blogosphere is getting kind of overwhelming.

I remember when I started, there were about a dozen or so of us (Martin, Rich, Amanda, Rob, Lorcan, beppe, Pam, Liz, etc.), and we mostly all were familiar with each other, and it was possible to keep up on everyone’s blogs. Now, I think there’s thirty or forty and counting. Which might not sound like a lot, but it’s more than anyone can reasonably keep up with.

Which is fine – there’s no need to keep up with all of it. But the whole giant verb-fest still sometimes seems to suffer from two problems:

  1. What gets posted does not always seem “well seasoned”. Of course, this isn’t meeting for worship, so we should feel free to relax – and “half-baked” is practically the norm in the blog genre anyway. But I think we might benefit from holding our tongue a little bit more often, and asking whether we are adding to the Quaker conversation or creating noise and distraction. I probably do the latter as much as anyone else. Along roughly similar lines, I’m reminded of what Martin said on a beppepodcast once about how if he were following normal blog conventions he’d have several posts about Cheney’s hunting accident up already, but that he doesn’t feel truly led when he does that sort of thing.
  2. The blog format lends itself to individualism, if not narcissism. Perhaps there’s a bit of irony in the fact that the “Quaker blogfather” goes by the alias “Quaker Ranter.” (I’m in no way suggesting, BTW, that Martin’s blog itself is particularly affected by this tendency.) How might we counter this? By collaborating into group blogs? By starting an old-fashioned forum? I have a domain now at which I am happy to host new projects of this sort.

I have begun to feel more in unity with the spirit of Lorcan’s suggestion a month or so ago for a blogging Faith & Practice, though I was very against it the first time I heard it – not a real F&P, as if blogging was a replacement for real world meeting, but some sort of ‘online gospel order’ to help us navigate this new territory as Friends, and not just follow the conventions already set by the non-Quaker online world. Maybe some queries, on the various pitfalls and joys of Quaker bloggery, might scratch all these itches at once?

17 Responses to “Thoughts on the Quaker blogosphere”

  1. 1 Pam Jun 21st, 2006 at 11:51 am

    Zach - I have thought something similar, actually since before I started blogging. (I think I was motivated more by wanting an “alternative voice” out there than by being called to blog myself. That’s bad, huh???

    In any case, I feel like I was also looking for something more focused and “deeper” (for me) than the various lists and message boards out there. I used to post on belief.net, but most of the folks on the quaker board there are new to it and/or arent’ liberal quakers, and the discourse was usually prety shallow, in my opinion. When I joined quaker-L it was pretty much dominated by discussion of the validity of a “prophesy” of an unaffiliated quaker (which turned out not to be true) and remains really not-up-my-alley.

    I prefer discussion boards, because I’m more interested in a more egalitarian discussion of a topic. I tend to read blogs most that discuss environmental witness, universalism, nontheism, dogma (the need to avoid it) etc. - and I would rather, in most cases, simply participate in a list on those topics. Of course, I probably would avoid a list about christian quakerism (or at best be a lurker) which would be sort of sad, because the blogs of *some* christian quakers have been of great interest to me.

    I have a concern that lists disintigrate into silliness more easily than blogs. With a blog at least someone’s sort of overseeing it, and that’s readily apparent (I’m boss of my blog, whereas if I became “boss” of a “quaker earthfreaks” list - it would be more masked.

    I think also that blog posts undergo more “discernment” than posts to a list, which is a “plus” - also, you can also just stop reading a blog if it seems like a waste of time. I know there is one quaker list with a man on it who posts numerous times every day, and mostly very angry and very nonsensical stuff. It is almost as if the list is his blog, because it quickly becomes apparent to any newcomers that there’s not much point in trying to have it be about anything else, and they leave.

    I tend to think very focused lists are a good idea. I am on an alternative dress one (which goes in fits and spurts, but mostly has conversation that I find interesting and sometimes enlightening) - it only has about 13 members though, only maybe 5 of which are participating. I am also on a nontheists list, which often isnt’ of much interest to me, but I think works well overall.

    I myself would love to see a list focused on the idea of quaker intentional eco-community (we’ve talked about this), perhaps one about simplicity, I’d love a vegan/animal rights quaker list, but it might just be you and me :)

    It makes sense to me that there would be a liberal/conservative Friends list, and maybe a convergent one (I”m not sure who’s converging there, but there are enough that they could make up a list)

    So, just for practical curiousity, is it possible to set up a back-to-the-land board or list on your new site? I dont’ know that anyone but us (again) would sign up, but I’ll start out optimistic!


  2. 2 zach Jun 21st, 2006 at 11:33 pm

    As for the practical question, yes, hcoop.net is an extremely flexible host, so I can do pretty much anything at all now. The only catch is I have to figure out how to do it, since here you\’re not paying anyone to do (very many) things for you. It\’ll probably take me 1-2 evenings to set up a mailman list and 2-5 for a forum, assuming I have clarity on a concept for it.

    I agree with a lot of your sentiments, although I\’m ever so slightly leaning more towards forums or \”communal blogging\” sites and away from mailing lists, because mailing lists are a little more intimidating to join. The example of the latter that I\’m most familiar with (which isn\’t saying much) is Scoop, which is what the liberal blog site DailyKos uses. There\’s a main blog run by a few people, but other users can post their own blogs in the sidebar, which can get promoted in various ways if people like them, and everyone can comment on everything of course. It combines the openness and community of a forum with the focused-ness of a blog.

    Anyway, a forum or Scoop (or Scoop-type — I think there are other programs in the same vein out there) site focused on Quaker ecology might hit a lot of the bases you mentioned at once — it could include ecovillagery, veg*nism/AR, simplicity, and so on… you and me and other Friends could be the team posting to the main blog, and we could invite the Earthquaker and Marshall and Lori Michaelis (from Quaker Green Action, who I met last year) and some other folks to be a part of it too…

  3. 3 Pam Jun 22nd, 2006 at 10:45 am

    Zach -

    That sounds great. I was thinking, actually, but for whatever reason not saying, that I think a forum would be a better, well, forum :)

    Do you feel like you have the energy or desire to set one up? It does sound like a lot of work, and I’d understand if you’re not interested (I’m still pretty much computer illiterate myself, so I’d be no help) I think the idea of just a general quaker eco-list is a good place to start.

    I have a terrible tendency to want to pigeonhole too much, as there are lots of varieties of “environmentalists” - and I’m not particularly interested in an extended coversation about buying a prius, or whatever,

    but would a forum offer the option of having numerous “sub topics” or “threads” - it seems like it would. Sounds like a great idea!

  4. 4 zach Jun 26th, 2006 at 12:27 am

    I have the energy, I think, to set something up over the next two weeks, less if it’s something simple.

    I do think something big will be best eventually, but I wonder if we should just start small, perhaps with an email list and an attractive home page, or a forum.

    I also feel some leading to do an evening interest group in radical sustainability at NEYM sessions, but I don’t feel very qualified to do so, and as I just blogged about I’m kind of taking time off…

  5. 5 Pam Jun 26th, 2006 at 10:28 am

    Hmmmm…. I have been wondering if it’s still possible to set up an interest group at gathering on sustainability. I don’t feel qualified to lead it at all, but I’d love to see just a basic discussion of what people are thinking or doing (although I’d really like to avoid a round robin of “I’m recycling!”) I think though that it might be too late to get one on the list anyway….

    And, I prefer online forums, but they seem to fizzle easily. the yahoo groups format works really well for me - where it can be a mailing list if you want, or you can just go to the site and read posts. Yahoo isn’t the greatest, though, can we set up something like that elsewhere???

  6. 6 Thee, Hannah Jun 26th, 2006 at 3:05 pm

    Hey, look–I can still do basic arithmentic!

    Once again, I missed the boat on this, but please let me know if anything comes up. I know I’m a major offender in the ill-seasoned blog post category but I’m working on it.

  7. 7 zach Jun 26th, 2006 at 3:23 pm

    Basically, yes — we could set up a mailing list and a home page, and then there’s programs that will create an archive of the message that could be read similar to Yahoo Groups.

    Though in the short term it would be easier to use mail-archive.com to do the latter for us (example) — I’m pretty sure there would be a way to get the archive page viewable on our site with our own look and feel (i.e. I think I could get rid of the ads and change colors, etc.)

    I think we need more clarity on the concept, though — is this a general eco/sustainability list, or more specifically back-to-the-landing/ecovillages? I am leaning more towards the former, so more people would be able to join, and I think it’s fine if only some of the people on the list are of that persuasion. (I have second thoughts myself about it.)

  8. 8 Timothy Travis Jun 28th, 2006 at 9:30 am

    I am a refugee from SRQ and I was there for a long time. I came to dislike it mostly because of what it did to me–sucking me into arguments with people who didn’t really read what I was writing (most of whom were not even Friends) and were almost all only interested in self aggrandizements of various kinds. It brought out that side of me and I came to see that I was sent there by God to work on some things–specifically work on how to deal with the Adversary who knows where my buttons are and pushes them with glee, making me a part of That instead of This. It took me a while to catch on to that–I’m a late bloomer–and even longer, once I understood the transformation going on, to actually get a good enough start on the work to reach the place where I could take or leave it. Even longer it took for me to actually leave. It is an ugly place and I helped make it that way, as it brought out into the Light the ugly part of me.

    It also, to be fair, required me to think things through and explain careful as everything I wrote was distorted and mischaracterized in the course of the dominance drills that were par for that course.

    I have yet to see a newsgroup that wasn’t ugly like that, or see anyone who participates in one upon whom at least some of these smudges do not appear, some of the time.

    I have been experimenting with blogging for a while, now, plugging one in and then unplugging it, but I feel more comfortable with what I have going, now, even though it’s not apparently well visited and is no longer mentioned on the feed list. Maybe it suffers, too much, from the ills about which you write.

    But I’ll not go back to anything like SRQ because the interaction among people who are not accountable to one another in any way is not a fruitful one (the testimony of community deserves a plug, here). Such interaction tends to bring out the worst in people, including me. And, as it is written (I think I heard it from Garrison Keilor), “If one wishes not to arrive at a certain destination one should not get on the train that goes there.”

    I think some advices and queries might be good but I also think that a readership or lack of readership is probably the best control over what people post–or at least on the impact what they post has on others. Unlike a meeting, where people can come in physically and disrupt the Gospel Order, the effect of disorderly walking in a blog can be eliminated by not reading it.

  9. 9 zach Jun 28th, 2006 at 1:09 pm

    Hi Timothy,
    I never frequented soc.religion.quaker, mostly because I never could figure out how to use Usenet. It does seem a pretty “Wild West” sort of place though.

    You’re probably partly right about blogs being self-regulating, but I think there may be more to the story. I think blogs that get read often may attract readers because they are well-led, but readers may also be attracted by intellectual controversies (perhaps Fox’s “brain-beaten-heady stuff”) that are not so well led.

    I wouldn’t take it too hard that you don’t have many readers right now, as meaning anything about the quality of your blog. I think one big factor in how much people read a blog is how often they see the author on other people’s blogs. A lot of the people that comment on my blog are people whose blogs I comment on…

  10. 10 Rob Jun 28th, 2006 at 10:04 pm

    hey zach,

    how often the same thoughts have crossed my mind re: the quaker blogosphere. it’s great there are so many voices, but I realized I was losing track and feeling overwhelmed. that’s when I decided to link to the blogs/people I read/know most and make a point of checking in on them once in a while. I can’t keep up with quakerquaker, and I happily don’t even try.

    Are you going to Yearly Meeting? By the way, now that you, Claire, Amanda and I are neighbors, we’re going to have to act like it once in a while. :) Take care, Rob

  11. 11 zach Jun 29th, 2006 at 10:34 pm

    I’m pretty sure I am, definitely for the weekend, hopefully for more if I can get time off.

    See you at brunch I hope…

  12. 12 kath Jul 7th, 2006 at 7:27 pm

    Oh dear. I started blogging in March under the impression that no-one would read what I wrote and adopted the name “quaker fencer”, because I’ve found that juxtaposition of interests strange ever since I took up fencing. I tend to discuss fencing more than Quakerism because it’s easier to write about an evening’s fencing than a Quaker Meeting (silent variety - British). I hope Quakerism informs enough of what I write - and I sometimes communicate with other bloggers from both a fencing and Quaker perspective. But now I wonder if I should have put “quaker” in the blog title. I tend to think it’s OK but I do see that some Quakers might be worried. Mind you, it led to a good discussion with a fellow blogger about the oddity of being a pacifist fencer!

  13. 13 zach Jul 8th, 2006 at 11:52 pm

    Hi Kath,
    Oh dear! Honestly, I was mostly thinking of the narrowly Quaker-focused blogs as perhaps needing to be more focused – more broad ones like yours or Contemplative Activist I think are a different sort of thing. I mean, if you’re reconsidering your blog name for your own reasons, do what you think you should do, but personally I like it. I have the same questions about being a Quaker and (potentially) taking martial arts classes, but that’s another story.

  14. 14 kath Jul 9th, 2006 at 8:01 am

    Thanks for that. I’d rather leave the name which suggests a problem without resolution - I think that sometimes unresolved problems suggest a productive tension. And the “quaker” part reminds me to be thoughtful about what I post, at least.

    I contribute to another blog which isn’t specifically quaker but more political (it deliberately draws on people with a range of views) and I wouldn’t refer to quakerism on that or present my views as specifically Quaker, although I hope Quakerism informs them. It’s http://freecommonwealth.blogspot.com - mainly concerned with questions arising from British politics.

    Actually, given that my most recent post was about the use of “bad language”, I think my views might be quite contentious among Friends.

    I hope you enjoy the martial arts. Fencing has led to some fascinating conversations with people who do martial arts and I’ve come to see some surprising points of convergence between Quakerism, non-violent resistance and a range of martial arts. The martial arts practitioners I’ve met have been surprisingly interesting in such subjects as meditation, self-control, and non-violent responses to attacks. This reminds me of part of Britain Yearly Meeting’s Advices & Queries 7: Be aware of the spirit of God at work in the ordinary activities and experience of your daily life. Spiritual learning continues throughout life, and often in unexpected ways. There is inspiration to be found all around us, in the natural world, in the sciences and arts, in our work and friendships, in our sorrows as well as in our joys. Are you open to new light, from whatever source it may come? Do you approach new ideas with discernment?


    in Friendship


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