Saturday, March 11, 2006

Blogher @ SXSW: Public Square or Private Club

Here's a recap of the 2nd BlogHer panel at SXSW Interactive: Public Square or Private Club? Does Exclusivity Strengthen or Dilute?

Moderator: Lisa Stone

Tiffany Brown
Melinda Casino
Barb Dybwad

Lisa Stone's first question: Why do you think identity-based groups form, and what can you accomplish with them that you couldn't otherwise?

Barb: It's not so different from any other club that bands together, like a cycling club ot a scuba divers club. People like to solve problems together and know they're not alone.

Melinda: first of several mentions of the Feminist Rage Page. While she agrees that this is how like-minded people congregate both off-line and in other online forums, blogging does provide some differentiation, because you have the freedom to create longer essays, and because one has more ownership over one's blog than by participating in a forum or yahoo group. When most productive, such identity-based online groups can channel talk into action.

Tiffany: Somehow it's different when people congregate about gender, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation, because those are qualities your are born with, not opting into. Movements start with these identity based groups.

Side note from me: This is the same argument I always use with people who thought BlogHer was separatist. There is a difference between separatism and solidarity. Great movements start with solidarity. Think Stonewall. Think civil rights. Think the suffragists. (And please don't get on me as though I were Lennon talking about Jesus, I'm just illustrating a point here, not making an association.)

Comment from audience member, Al Chang (who doesn't blog!!) Perhaps identity-based groups are common online because there are precious few places where we discuss race, gender etc. in the public fact we tend to avoid such conversations in mixed company.

Lisa Stone: 2 examples of building following within identity group then pushing into the mainstream: the Indigo Girls and Spike Lee's company 40 Acres & a Mule.

Lisa: But what of the argument that we're isolating ourselves, which is actually disempowering?

Melinda: Well, if a group stays too insular you can get the head nodding syndrome...and you won't let any ideas in from the outside, but not only that - your ideas won't get communicated to the outside. Her example: Radical Feminists who advocated living without men altogether.

Comment from audience, Ruby Sinreich: When you ask about "disempowering", aren't you making the presumption that power is associated with straight white men? You don't get power by hanging out with white men.

Question from audience member, Marshall Poe from the Atlantic Monthly: If their readership is 95% upper middle class and 90% white, is there any way for them to create a "private" online community for their target demographic without seeming totally offensive. And should they?

Side note from me: Jory and I spent quite some time talking with Marshall post-session. He felt like he didn't articulate his question well at all, and that may be driven by his general discomfort with the idea of such a "gated" online community.

Liza: Lots of people trying to get into the Web 2.0 game...whether developers or, like Marshall, media, make the assumption that all users are upper class, English-speaking etc.

Barb: Congress already exists for Marshall's demographic.

Me: A representative dry quip from Barb :)

Another interesting audience member was Joe Yoswa (sp?) who works in communications and on the web for the U.S. Army. They're trying to figure out whetehr they should create a private online community for soldiers. They already know some of them are blogging, and their only policy thus far has been "don't compromise operational security."

To the question of whether to actually restrict participation:

Tiffany: She doesn't have actual barriers to participation on her site, but her focus is clear.

Lisa: If you do shut people down, they'll find another way to make it happen.

Audience comment from Grace Davis: As a member of BlogHer she appreciates that there are rules of engagement. it's easier to have civil discourse in a safe space. Mentioned WoolfCamp, where it wasn't just feminists who attended, and it had to be a safe space for everyone there.

Audience comment from JW Richards. He is behind, which is for African-influenced podcasters. Notice he said African-influenced, not African-American. So he's trying to provide openness.

I actually said out loud: That when Digital Drums or BlogHer makes it clear what our focus are, anyone who shares that interest can participate, but there are those who decide it means they're not welcome and self-select themselves out.

And I continued in my head: and if you're welcome, but choose to self-select out because you don't share that interest or focus, that's fine, but then don't you dare misrepresent said open site or organization as exclusive.

Tiffany: She uses the term "blackness"to represent "the Other", not nevessarily just black people.

Lisa: So, how and when do you open up to the mainstream?

Barb: Just because we want an exclusive space doesn't mean we don't also want to interact with the mainstream. If the identity group decides on goals it might be a good time to approach mainstream groups and articulate those goals and ask how they can help.

On to a discussion of anger:

Tiffany: Tiffany avoids anger and doesn't want it to get in the way of her message. She also thinks that anger from a woman, and even more so a black woman, is dismissed as hysteria or over-reaction.

Question from audience member named Ron: So, they have an angry user on their site who objects to some content being behind a "premium member" should they deal with it?

Tiffany: responding to anger with anger makes it worse.

Melinda: There is good disagreement, which can result in constructive engagement, and there is bad disagreement, which represents the "asshole factor." But anger can be a useful tool, and a motivator to action.

barb: Weblogs inc has no set guidelines on how their many editors should deal with flame threads.

Comment from audience member, and Blogher meet-up hostess Paige Maguire: The aforementioned Feminist Rage Page is controlled and edited, and she doesn't like that; she thinks it is not organic.

Melinda: She likes the content, but didn't know that (and wants to learn more offline.)

Comment from audience member and Blogher Liz Henry: Anger can be productive. If people in power have framed the discussion the purpose of requireing politeness and civility can really be to preserve the frame. Try not to be so afraid to get angry.

Comment from audience member and Blogher Nancy White: Sometimes it's easier to work thru anger in a safe space. She helped create an online group for parents of abbies in the NICU (Neonatal ICU.) Those parents know that their disagreements over politics or abortion or other hot button issues are less important than working through issues about their children. If they were in a room together outside this situation they might erupt into disagreements, but it takes lower priority.

Comment from audience member Belinda: We need to learn and teach our children to be discerning. So they don't get stuck in an echo chamber.

Comment from audience member Simon: He runs two very large tech-focused online communities. The online space is just a projection of human life. He actually hires a full-time community manager to manage issues.

Side note from me: This reminds me of something I often say: I know it's more hurtful when someone we perceive to be within our identity group rejects us or our ideas, because we want support from that person. When a woman disses BlogHer it bothers me way more than when a man does. I recently got an email from a vegan who hated one of my Silicon Veggie columns for reasons i thought were totally invalid and irrational, and it totally ate away at me. but we have to remember that jerks or dopes come in every gender, every race, every everything. Even some of my fellow veggies can be jerks. Yes, I realize I'm sort of equating disagreeing with me with being a jerk, but from my perspective it does kinda mean that. It's like when you play a villain in a can't approach the role knowing you're a villain; you have to find the motivation and believe that character has reasons for what they do.

But I digress.

Lisa closes with a bonus question to each panelist: We've talked about evangelizing our interests into mainstream culture. Who from outside your identity should you maybe get to know and understand better?

Barb: Robert Scoble. Because I believe he means well somewhere under there.

Melinda: Didn't like this question. There's a BlogHer panel tomorrow, "Increasing women's visiblity on the web: whose butt should we be kicking?" This question begins to sound more like whose butt should we be kissing?! So instead Melinda gives us 4 blogs that we all should know about:

Women of Color Blog
Marian's Blog

Tiffany: LaShawn Barber and Dave Winer

Lisa: Tony Perkins from Always On, given what she wrote about their conference last year. (Side note from me: you can't even look at this profile on the Always On site unless you lame is that?)

Finally, because there are so many smart bloggers in the room, Lisa suggest we all put our URLs up in the comments of a post which Tiffany has put up on, so please do so here.

Elisa, thanks for the thorough notes. Great to meet you at SXSW!
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