It all started earlier this year. Around January or so I started seeing more and more instances of that intriguing little widget so many bloggy types are plopping their right navs. See? To the Right there? My Recent Readers? (Are you there, my gentle one?) Being the pursuer of all shiny objects that I am, I got myself the widget and became quite obsessed with it for a while. I even made it orange. For style.
2007 has been the year of the profile image for me. Did you notice? Gingajoy is connoted by mere citrus fruit no more. Instead I decided that an honest-to-god photo was the way to go. This stems in part from all those "how do communities work?" "how do we represent identity?" type questions I've been asking lately. I had resisted a photo, at first for the sake of anonymity, which became less of a concern, and then because I was not sure if I wanted to personalize or stamp the blog in this way. I wanted the writing to speak for itself... (shuddup).
Oh, and I also did not want to distract you with my dazzling beauty.
Photos give us a sense of intimacy and connection. How much is this false or any less "authentic" than the personae we create for F2F communications? Who are we seeing in those tiny snapshots? Who do we want to see? Why is there a certain pleasure in looking at those faces in your sidebar? This are some Big Questions. And if I attempt to answer them here, this post is never going to make it. So let me spew out some of my initial and sketchy thoughts on the MyBlogLog tools and see what you others think.
Who's with me??
(and let me say up front these are my thoughts only--anything vaguely suspect or reprehensible in the following can be attributed to me, and me alone)
When I first got the widget, I found myself automatically drawn to other MyBlogLoggers, because I could go and stamp my face on their site. No commenting required... They knew I'd been. They felt the love.
This is great for me on many levels because I can show support without summoning up something terribly clever or insightful to place in the comments section. In this way, it's a bit like drive-by commenting. You can very swiftly stop by a place, deposit your mark (there's that metaphor again) and the obligation to comment is considerably diminished.
And...if there is no comment there is a nice picture of that face, which, depending on readership, can remain in that nav, smiling beneficently, for quite some time. "I simply must drop by Ginga's place" you think to yourself....
In this way and others MBL's a networking tool par excellence, and (perhaps) more to the point it's a great way to bring traffic to your site. For instance if you go into your MBL communities you can immediately see who "belongs" to certain sites you love. You can then go and visit these foreign-types and go get your face on their blogs (and, uhm, maybe they'll return the favor...). It's a tool that breeds community spontaneously and efficiently.
And yes. It can get a little mercenary. Maybe?
I will admit, there have been quite a few times when I've looked at my own widget and been pleasantly surprised to see some newbies there, especially when that person falls outside my usual crowd. In fact those faces invariably look like quite a different group compared to those who fill up my comments section, and I've come across several fab bloggers as a result. I think there are many positive advantages to tools like MyBlogLog and I certainly enjoy having a more tangible sense of community.
Lurkers are Made of People....
And now even if they are not commenting (which is cool with me) they are at least embodied somewhat.
But. I do wonder sometimes about how the tool can be exploited. (Spammers are already having some fun with it--which is inevitable. I was quite disappointed when I realized that this pretty boy to the right was only interested in me as a potential visitor to his e-card sites. Clever, though, using that face to get me to check out his ass. Totally worked).
How much can a face, a "quick popping my head in for a visit," supplant a written comment? Does it matter if it does? How much is this immediately gratifying sense of community, a posse in your right nav, actually very superficial--like a race to get as many friends as possible into your Facebook Profile, and activity which certainly preoccupies a lot of my student's time?
I don't have answers to these questions at all--there aren't any clean ones (and nor should there be). But as we increasingly live online lives, and rank our worth in terms of comments and links and communities of faces, I think it's definitely worth thinking about.
Edited to Add: Case in point. Without MyBlogLog, I would not have realized that Jean Luc Picard had a blog. Sir. If you are reading this, I would be honored if you'd stamp my blog with your stunning visage.