March 23, 2007

Bulk view

Blogging: not just for extroverts

In the middle of my enthusiastic bubbling-over about IBM’s social software offerings, Hossam Ali-Hassan asked me, “Do bloggers tend to be extroverts?” Do you have to be an extrovert to blog, to enjoy the baring of soul in front of an audience?

His question made me stop and think. A lot of people are afraid to blog because it’s like getting to know people. Those of us who remember how painful that was in high school will probably run away screaming now. It was hard enough talking to a few friends one at a time… Imagine getting on a soapbox and talking to the whole Internet! The thought would scare the most confident of extroverts.

But blogging isn’t like that at all. I think that blogging is a natural fit for introverts. I blog because it’s such a convenient way for me to connect with people. I blog when I want to. I read when I want to. I choose whom to read and whom to respond to. I can withdraw and re-join without anyone noticing. Real-life conversations are immediate and sometimes more than a little scary. On my blog, I can spend some time thinking about things and drafting a response. And I don’t even have to pretend interest in other people if I’m not in the mood for connecting with people!

For me, blogging is a low-risk way to get to know myself and to get to know others. I don’t know what I think until I read it or hear myself say it. Writing a blog entry at one in the morning is easier than calling someone up at eight in the evening. I don’t have to worry about imposing on anyone, and I can ramble as much as I need to. *And* I still get the benefits of conversation when good friends talk to me about what I’ve written about. I can keep up on their blogs, too. We can skip all the small talk!

Blogging’s definitely good for introverts. Write an anonymous blog if you want to, but write—if only so that you can discover your voice and find out what you’re passionate about. Who knows, you might make good friends along the way.

So I told Hossam (who seemed like a fairly quiet sort) that being an introvert probably meant he’d get even more out of blogging. “Besides,” I told Hossam, “extroverts wouldn’t have time to blog because they’re always out partying.”

He smiled at that. Maybe I’ll get him to blog yet…

The magic of connection

There are many business reasons why social bookmarking makes sense,
but let me tell you a personal story to show you why social
bookmarking is magical for me.

The books in my grade school and high school libraries had cards at
the back, which we signed when we checked them out. I always enjoyed
reading the list of names and dates. The name of my biology teacher
beside a date stamp ten years ago reminded me that once upon a time,
she was also a student struggling with the same subjects. Running
across the name of a friend in a book that I was reading gave me
something to bring up at my next lunch break. Encountering someone’s
name again and again, I’d guess at another book I hadn’t read yet but
which would fit our tastes—and would not be too surprised to find
that name inscribed there as well.

I always wished that I could find a way to get in touch with these
“friends” I learned about through the library cards. I wanted to ask
them what they thought of the book and what else they’d recommend. I
wanted to share my favorite parts and sneak well-loved quotes into
conversation. I read books because they connected me with ideas, but I
read library cards because they helped me feel connected to people.

Now we have barcodes and RFID tags in books, and there are no more
lists on the inside back cover of library books. No more browsing
through the stacks and discovering people with common interests. And
with much of my information coming in through the Internet, I don’t
even get the sense of read-ness the way I’d scan through the spines of
paperbacks or look at the wear on hard-bound books to figure out what
I might want to read next.

True, I had much, much, much more information at my fingertips – but I
lost the sense of other people.

Social bookmarking brings that back.

As I browse, an icon in the lower-right corner of my window tells me
how many other people have bookmarked a page. I love right-clicking on
it and bringing up a list of names that become familiar over time. I
love exploring the other things they’ve bookmarked and checking out
their comments. And more than that: I can look up their corporate
profile, find their contact information, read their blogs and even
start a conversation or ask a question.

I can connect, and people can connect with me.

Ask me about social computing in the enterprise and I can tell you
stories about how people have mobilized teams and built communities.
I’m learning how to talk about business benefits and return on
investment. But the real reason why I’m so passionate about social
computing is this deep, abiding wonder that we can connect, and I want
to help people experience that joy.

It’s spring

Now I can believe that it’s spring. The sunlight is warm against my
back. The sun gazes on me and I luxuriate in its gentle massage. I’m
glad that I’m working from downtown today. Later I’ll wander outside
with a book. There’s something about being barefoot on a patio and
feeling the grain of the wood with the soles of my feet.

My winter boots aren’t yet too warm for this weather, but my
full-length coats should be cleaned and put away soon. It’s almost
time to break my espadrilles out of storage, almost time to wear my
light cotton malongs and flip-flops, almost time to enjoy long

I should get myself a sun hat. Something wide-brimmed. Something
light-colored – cream, perhaps? Perhaps I’ll splurge on a Tilley.

It’s spring.