April 6, 2009

My experience as a contributing editor to QuakerQuaker

Over on her blog, Stumbling Blocks to Stepping Stones, Gil has a post that touches on the tension between ministry and vanity. In that post, Gil inserts a statement with which a few commenters resonate:

I gain a lot from listening to others, but I realise that part of me also wants to be heard. I want to be recognised by the 'proper Quaker bloggers' who choose which posts appear on QuakerQuaker and sometimes I find myself wondering what I have to write to make that happen!
That got me thinking:

How effective have I been in my service to the Quaker blogosphere as a "contributing editor" to QuakerQuaker?

From time to time, I review the guidelines for editors, the pertinent points being these:
  • Post should be explicitly Quaker.

  • Post should be timely.

  • Post should be interesting.
Tucked away in the guidelines are a few other notes of interest, including this one:
  • Don't bookmark everything you find. If the post feels predictable or snoozy, just ignore it (even if the writer or topic is important).

But now let me talk about my own experience in tagging posts--or not tagging posts--for QuakerQuaker.

There certainly are posts I've come across that I've liked but seem to cover territory that is familiar to many blog readers, like the basics of worship. So I leave those untagged.

There are other posts that seem to me to be too specific to the situation of a particular meeting or committee, and those go untagged as well.

And there's a third type of post that may have everything to do with the spiritual development of the Quaker blogger but little to do with how that person is growing into her or his own Quakerism. No tag.

I don't think any of this information, though, speaks to Gil's initial musing.

For me, the reality has been that in the past two years or so, I haven't been able to keep up with the number of Quaker blogs that have come into being. I don't read as much or as regularly as I used to, and I imagine that I simply never get to a large majority of all that is out there. To Gil and Heather, I can tell you until this past week, I didn't look at your blogs unless another blogger whom I read regularly linked to you.

I completely understand how that comes across as elitist, and I'm sorry for that.

On the other hand, I certainly don't feel like "a proper Quaker blogger"--I don't think any of the contributing editors do!--so how can I (or we) work to erase that image?

I also can tell you, even though I've added to my bookmarks in the past two weeks a half-dozen blogs that are new to me, I have yet to look at them since. Circumstances in my life currently require me to be more selective in how use my time:

I read less therefore I tag less.

Maybe all of the other contributing editors of QuakerQuaker have experienced severe time crunches, too, or have fallen into the blackhole of Facebook...

When I first got involved in blogs in 2004-2005, there were a handful of active Quaker blogs, maybe four or five. It was fairly easy to visit each of the blogs, read an entry one day, make a comment, and return to the blog the next day to read other comments as well as see the blogger's personal reply.

As the Quakersphere (Chris M's word) expanded, it was harder to remember where I had left a comment, but worse, it was harder to keep up with the new reading while also continuing to work on The Good Raised Up. Somewhere in there, Martin set up his own "Blogwatch" in which he alone tagged and listed those blog posts there were "explicitly Quaker, timely, and interesting."

The Quakersphere continued to grow, though, and that's when Martin overhauled his Blogwatch and invited a few bloggers and frequent blog-commenters to serve as additional contributors to it. Later Martin turned the whole darn thing into the website QuakerQuaker. (Martin, feel free to correct and/or expand on my oversimplification of QQ's history.)

It seems as if the larger the blogosphere has become, the more infrastructure to the site has been needed. Sometimes infrastructure leads to a perceived but not necessarily real distance between blogger and contributing editor.

I do my best to minimize that distance by commenting on blogs, especially the ones that are new to me and speak to my condition. On very rare occasions, a blogger will send me an email privately, either to say, "Hey, I wrote this post that may have some bearing on QuakerQuaker; will you take a look at it?" or to say "Hey, I read this item that talks about Quakerism; you should take a look at it."

To be clear: I'm not "friendly" to frequent emails of either type and fortunately I've been spared them. When I do get such an email (only one or two a year), I send a personal reply.

Despite its very human and somewhat imperfect tagging system, beyond a doubt QuakerQuaker has been a key entry point for the newest cohort of bloggers, as evidenced in part by the 2007 online "carnival" to celebrate the website and the Blogfather.

Times certainly have changed as the blogosphere has grown up. But as the blogs have ballooned, the number of QQ editors has stayed the same, and some of us, like myself, are dedicating fewer hours, not more, to "scanning hundreds of websites" that might provide material for QuakerQuaker.

I don't know if anything will change. I don't know if my explanation and description of my experience helps. I certainly don't speak for each of the other contributing editors or for Martin as the web manager/web minister.

But what I like about Gil's post is, in the spirit of thoughtful and sometime rigorous exchanges in the Quaker blogosphere, the perceptions and questions about just how things get tagged for QuakerQuaker are now out in the open, and the topic has a bit more breathing room for all of us to consider it more fully.



Martin Kelley said...

Hi Liz,
Don't beat yourself up too much. The reason I brought in the "contributing editor" element was because there was a lot of ground to cover and I myself go into periods where I can't follow blogs. In theory if enough of us are scanning enough different types of blogs then we'll catch more than we'll miss. It's an imperfect system, certainly, but I've always cautioned bloggers not to rely on QuakerQuaker for their audience. QQ can help get someone noticed but it's up to them to get visitors to subscribe to their news feeds. My blog gets less than 2% of its traffic from the QuakerQuaker homepage. A QQ listing is not make or break for anyone. There's also plenty of ways for people to be involved in QuakerQuaker. Anyone can sign up and blog directly on the site or engage in the discussion board.

But I've said before, I'll say it again: QuakerQuaker is explicitly biased.

It has a strong editorial voice. It was supporting the Convergent Friends project before we had a name for ourselves. Friends who aren't seriously engaging with the Quaker tradition in an open, public way aren't going to be featured very much. That leaves out some great bloggers--Dave the Quaker Agitator rarely makes QQ cut because he's too busy preaching our values to do much Quaker naval gazing! It also leaves out those for whom Quakerism is more a welcoming social network than a serious religious path. There are more mechanized, all inclusive blog aggregators out there--Zebby, Planet Quaker--and there are well-funded, much more visible Quaker publications with relatively neutral editorial voices. QQ is a niche. I'm taking a second look at a couple of blogs and I honestly don't think we're missing all that much.

Liz Opp said...

I'm glad you chimed in, Martin, and reiterated a few things, pointed to a few blogs and websites that are worth noting, and reminded Friends not to rely solely on QuakerQuaker in order to track Quaker blogs that speak to their own condition.

I know that these days, I update my own blogroll, on the homepage of The Good Raised Up, only once or twice a year--maybe even less, now that there are things like Google Reader...

Things ain't what they used to be, and there are plusses and minuses to that.


RichardM said...

Couple of points.

I agree wholeheartedly with the idea that QQ should have a strong editorical voice.

Excuse me but doesn't it seem screamingly obvious that you need more editors who share the QQ preference for convergence?

Surely among the bloggers you follow there are more potential editors. Ask them.

(No, I didn't just volunteer.)

Liz Opp said...

Hi, Richard.

You write, "Excuse me but doesn't it seem screamingly obvious that you need more editors...?"

I have thought this from time to time as well, and knowing Martin, he's visited this possibility on his own. Historically (with what little history there is!), the editorial "team" has taken its cues from Martin, the creator of QuakerQuaker.

We don't function as a committee, nor do we provide oversight. We were invited by Martin at one point a number of years ago to serve as editors in this way and here we are.