Ming the Mechanic
The NewsLog of Flemming Funch

Saturday, May 15, 2004day link 

 Blog as Personal Presence Portal
picture Ton talks about the Blog as a Personal Presence Portal, which I think is a very useful way of looking at it.
If no single medium can satisfy all our requirements to reach a high level of presence, that can cater for our need for discourse, than we need a mix of media to compensate for the shortcomings of any one medium in that mix. Elmine, in my view rightly, suggests that a blog is a very good starting point to present the available media mix to potential conversation and discourse partners. It serves as a fixed marker, that contains enough context to build trust and start a relationship through conversation. It also allows you to provide access to other media (e-mail, wiki, Skype, IM, video, documents etc., contact info for face to face) that can build on the conversations started at the weblog, but in themselves are more fluid which makes using them as a permanent marker less useful. Weblogs are much richer fixed markers as for instance profiles at fora, or YASN's, since they are fixed markers in location, but not fixed in content. Our weblog can serve as our Personal Presence Portal, the hub in our communicational flow.

What a lot of us try to do either with blogs or through a wiki, or whatever other medium we use on-line, is to open up space for conversation, dialogue, discussion, and discourse. We tend to bet everything on one horse though, expecting (and often evangelizing as well) that all our needs are served by one medium. Every medium has aspects that serve our purposes well. Blogs create context and thus help build trust, wiki's open up possibilities of collaboration, fora cater to discussions, e-mail to extended conversations, etc. etc. But as I argued in the previous paragraphs, a mix of media is needed to cater to the different factors in building a sense of presence.[...]

Dave Pollard, somewhat in frustration, asks why it often feels so awkward to start using different media with other people. And apparantly it is this awkwardness that keeps us from using the full mix of media at our disposal.

The awkwardness we feel stems from the difference in richness of media, I think. When I move on from a text based medium like blogs or e-mail to a voice oriented medium, the information richness increases. We get to know more about eachother, but requires that we show ourselves a bit more as well. This might not be a conscious thing, who explicitly is aware that our voice gives away more clues as to who we are then our written words. And when you switch media, you don't know if the other will be welcoming the attempt.[...]

Stepping 'down' from a face to face meeting to other media is no problem. But stepping 'up' without previous personal encounters is more difficult: we do not see our own awkwardness reflected in the other's body language. To get across it we have to make our awkwardness explicit, since we have no backchannel to deal with it in a more unconscious way.
It seems natural to make a number of different media for interaction available for a central place, and a blog is probably the best choice. One can comment in my blog, of course. Or I might have a Wiki where we can work on some interlinked documents together. Or there might be a text chat channel. Or I give you my IM accounts. Or we might talk over voice or video. Or we might meet.

One of the problems is how to make the different media fit fairly seemlessly together. Blogs and Wikis are usually different programs, although some people have made attempts of combining them. IM is for sure through different programs. How's the right way of making them fit together? Usually we don't do much more than linking to the other media, and they remain rather separate. Like, I can give you my e-mail address or IM address in my blog, but my e-mail archives and IM archives remain separate, and I'd have trouble sharing them even if I wanted to.

But also, those media carry different assumptions with them, and the style of interaction is different in each. One shares oneself to a different degree. IM requires more of my attention, and is a bigger interruption than letting you leave a comment in my blog. E-mail requires less attention, but giving you my e-mail address opens up that you might send me a lot of stuff I don't really want. Opening myself up to voice or video calls requires more of my attention than any of those. Do I want that? A lot of the time my own answer would be no. If you use IM as a place to hang out and talk about the weather, I'm not very interested. If your way of using it somewhat matches mine, then no problem. If your idea of an IM interaction is: You: "Hi Flemming", Me: "Hi", You: "How are you doing?", Me: "Oh, fine", You: "What have you been doing?", then I'll probably feel I'm wasting my time, even if I'd enjoy our interaction under other circumstances. If we were meeting in person at a party, it would be perfectly normal. But on IM my expectation is that you get straight to the point.

I don't know if I'd call it akwardness, although that's part of it. I'm less comfortable with an audio call, unless we have a very specific outcome to accomplish. But to me it is more about whether I leave myself open for things that is not what works for me, and I can't easily back out of it. If you leave a comment in my blog and I don't have any urge to answer it, I don't have to. In IM I can also just not answer, but that is beginning to look a little rude. If we're talking over voice, I can't not be there. I'm forced to be present whether I want to or not. It would take me a while to back out of it, even if I'd rather be doing something else. OK, some people are more direct, but I would tend to be "nice" and diplomatic, and not often say I don't feel like talking. And if it were video, even worse, I couldn't just be checking my e-mail while talking to you.

It is useful to have a place, like my blog, that represents my online presence. But it would be nice if it also allowed me to limit my presence when desired. It could be very useful if it showed my whereabouts and schedule, so somebody could plan to meet me where I'm going to be next week. Assuming that I'd want to meet most of the people who'd want to meet me. Which is mostly the case. But if I knew 10 times as many people, maybe I'd be thinking differently about it, and I might need ways of avoiding meeting and talking with people that don't fit in with what I'm about right now. Might seem rude or unfriendly, but it is really about me being in charge of my own presence.

So, maybe that is about facing any possible awkwardness by stating up front what one is available for. Here's my e-mail address, but be aware that I don't answer all the mail I get, so don't count on an answer. Here's my IM, but these are the rules I play by. Here's my schedule, but be aware that I'm busy most of the time.

Anyway, on the subject of a blog page as a personal presence portal, here are some things it might be nice to have:

  • a calendar with my schedule, which other people can contribute to, if they want to fit into it
  • a connection to a GPS device I carry. Maybe just showing what city or neighborhood I'm in, but not exactly where.
  • a public mailbox, where people can leave comments or questions, not related to any particular post, which I can then answer publically
  • an indicator of my general status, like in an IM program. Busy, urgent queries only, not there, available, wanting to chat, etc.
  • something you can click to get my immediate attention, like maybe by sending to an IM program
  • more or less information depending on who the visitor is. Like, maybe only give my location and my IM if I already know them.
  • if I do know who the visitors are, maybe I'd want to make postings that only will appear for certain groups of visitors.

    Somebody or the other has made all of those. But they could become more standard, of course.

    A possible shift in what we perceive a blog to be, could be if we counted on most of the time recognizing the visitor automatically. Then the blog could be a personalized portal connecting us both ways, and would show what fits for my relationship with them. And maybe messages for them, or various kinds of information we share. Like I might have a shared wiki area with a handful of people, which shows for them, but not for others. And they would be able to configure their preferences for what they'd like to see from me.

    And if the ways of doing so are standardized enough, then maybe their blog would talk directly with my blog, and either of our blogs would become a two-way information/connection aggregator, managing what goes in and out according to our preferences.
    [ | 2004-05-15 12:50 | 9 comments | PermaLink ]  More >

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