Monday, February 6, 2012

Building Communities: (Curried) Chicken Soup for the Blogger's Soul

Esperanza and Jjiraffe wrote eloquently this week about community and blogging, more specifically, whether IF blogs have "expiration dates," and what happens when IF bloggers become parents.  They are both gifted writers, and expressed some of what I've been thinking about here: why we write, what happens when a blog changes direction, how we relate to our readers and to each other. You should go read what they have to say, and weigh in.

Many of you commented in response to my last post that blogging was an outlet for creativity, a means of self-expression, and finally, along the way, a means of connecting with others, raising awareness.  Most of us started because we wanted to write, and kept going because we found a community.  That's part of the problem with a change in direction, isn't it?  The fear that the friends we found will somehow disappear, finding us irrelevant, or worse.

The best blogs, in my experience, are not just a two-way street, but a massive tangled intersection.  We write, others respond, and then those people connect to each other; we cite the posts of other bloggers, building a conversation from their ideas, and ours.

Over the past few days, articles about turning blogs into communities kept popping up in my Twitter feed.  There were some interesting ideas: get your followers to create content for you (through guests posts, for example), creating your own social networking forum at places like blokube, becoming a follower of other people and commenting regularly, tapping into existing communities on Facebook or in real life, doing something for your readers, asking questions that can spark conversations among your readers, and promoting your blog through online advertising -- using your url when you comment on the blogs of other people, etc.

I confess that I've never read any of the Chicken Soup series from cover to cover, but I know that they're supposed to be full of short inspirational stories to make you feel all warm and fuzzy. To me, though, the healing properties of chicken soup were never really just about the contents of the bowl.  I sort of feel like community is the equivalent of the blogger's chicken soup.  And while that community may be available on Facebook or Twitter or Tumblr, I don't think that it's as robust as what we can potentially create here, in our small corners of the blogosphere.

What do you think?  How do you create and sustain community with your blog?  Is doing so important to you?  Do you do it intentionally?  How do you experience the communities created by other bloggers?

Curried Chicken Soup
adapted from Cooking In Sens

2 leeks, thinly sliced
2 celery stalks, thinly sliced
2 T. butter
3 carrots, sliced
1 bay leaf
2 t. thyme
2 t. curry powder
2 quarts of chicken stock or water
Salt and pepper
3 chicken breasts, skin and bones removed
4 potatoes,cut into large dice

Melt butter in a large stockpot over medium heat.  Add leeks and celery; saute until soft.  Add the curry powder and thyme and saute for about 1 minute, until fragrant.  Add the carrots, stock or water, salt, and pepper, and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the chicken breasts (whole) and simmer for 15 minutes.  Remove chicken, cut into chunks, and return to pot along with the potatoes. Bring to a boil and simmer for about 15 minutes more.  Serve with a crusty bread.
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  1. The closest thing that I have to community on my blog is me responding to comments, and commenting on other people's blogs. I'm not sure that that's really a community, since it's just a back-and-forth between me and the other blogger. To me, community means that people interact with each other, rather than just with me.

    I think that community is important. I also think that it's really hard. It takes a lot of time and care and intention to nurture an online community. I sometimes worry that social networking will muscle out social LIVING altogether. And while those tips might be useful to build traffic, I'm not sure that some of them (advertising, giveaways, etc) really build community. Building community and building traffic are two very different things, but I think that they can get muddled up together in the blog world.

    Thanks for (another) thought-provoking post!

    1. Love the point about social networking vs. social living. I saw an article the other day about Facebook making us sad ... apparently because people portray their lives as more perfect on Facebook, we feel more hopeless about our own crisis-riddled ones.

      Then again ... sometimes I'm not sure that one is necessarily better than the other. It's sort of like reading a book on a kindle vs. turning the pages. Which is better? Who's to say? (I'm a bibliophile myself ... I think it's important to smell the book and turn the pages. But perhaps some day I will be outvoted ...)

  2. I think there are communities within communities. We have a greater infertility community, and then there are sub groups within that larger neighborhoods. I have found that there are certain blogs that get comments from a circle of people and they just go around and around. Right now I have my feet in two groups, those that are parenting after IF, and those that are still trying. And boy howdy, sometimes they are REALLY two different neighborhoods entirely and it's hard being in both.

    1. I know exactly what you mean. I started out blogging with my feet in both neighborhoods, and find that I want to support the people who are still trying, but that it's hard for me to do so when they come here and read that I've made it to the other side. It's funny, isn't it, that we are lumped all together ... we need each other, and yet, we are so different, too.

  3. I like this topic---I think about it often, and I think the community I've experienced in blog world took about a year to develop. I read and commented, and responded to comments....and people kind of came in and out. Then, it got to a point when I realized that a lot of my readers (writers of blogs I read) are also reading each others' blogs...and all of a sudden we're mentioning each other to each other...and well, it's a community.
    I think community is helpful and important--and it just feels good. It's natural to go in and out of different communities (and sub-communities) throughout life based on what's going on with us.

  4. Oh, I love these questions! I really want to do more to foster community on my blog. I don't think I do enough but I don't really know what else to do. I also think that focusing a lot on community might require a change in tone or subject matter for me and I'm not sure I know quite how to do that, at least not successfully. But maybe it wouldn't. I'm not really sure. It certainly would require a ton of time and innovation, both of which I'm sadly lacking right now.

    I used to respond to all my comments but the reality is I don't have time any more. Right now I'm trying to keep up with blogging, copy editing, parenting, teaching, making my relationship a priority and keeping my house clean (this may seem obvious but it's a relatively new goal for me ;) So something had to give and unfortunately it was that piece. It saddens me because I know I love getting responses to comments on other's blogs and I hoped my readers appreciated it as well. Maybe I can incorporate it every once in a while, or let people know in the post that comments on a certain post will receive a response. I wonder if that would translate into more comments on a post.

    I think the queen of the blog community is Mel. She spends an incredible amount of time and effort creating community building projects, like Creme de la Creme, ICLW, The Grateful Said, her famous blog roll, the Round Up and Lost and Found. I mean, just listing those projects there I can hardly believe it. Her blog is the hub of our community and we are all so lucky that she curates it so thoughtfully. I definitely don't have the time, inspiration or fortitude to create or maintain something like that but I'm so glad someone else is. I can't imagine what we'd do with out her.

    I do believe that I am a part of a community of bloggers, but I don't think I do anything specific on my blog to ensure that. It's more that always try I comment on some women's blogs and they generally comment on mine and I feel in that way we've created a kind of community. I also participate in some people's blog hops, like the Time Warp and Perfect Moment Mondays. Those are other ways to foster community.

    One feature I love on self-hosted Wordpress blogs is CommentLuv. I have been thinking of moving to self-hosted in the summer and being able to have CommentLuv is the main reason I want to do that. I love seeing the posts up on the blogs of other commenters and have been introduced to some amazing blogs that way. That is another fun way to create community.

    1. I agree about Mel. I don't know of other communities who have someone like that, though. There are lots of lists and "hubs," but no one who encourages support of others in the way she does.

      And commmenting ... it *is* time consuming to respond. It's also time-consuming to leave comments. I'm actually thinking about leaving fewer of them, because I leave comments instead of writing my own blog posts sometimes!

      I'd forgotten to list blog hops! Of course. They're also good for "publicity," I guess ...


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