Home Weblogs as Avatars: some thoughts

Weblogs as Avatars: some thoughts

I’m in a stage right now where there are lots of details that I’m juggling in
my life, both in the real world and my weblog world. My job is busy, with quite a few
relatively exciting projects on the go at the same time. My home life is busy,
looking after a highly energetic toddler in the evenings. And I’ve been busy transitioning my weblog from Radio Userland to Movable Type – I still have a list of things to do on that, including comments system and search functionality. But I’ve finished the
main content migration, new CSS design, topic archives and various other things.
And then there’s my reading and writing. I have some more articles to write and
try to get published in the real world. Plus I’ve stored up a list of topics I want to
explore and write about on my weblog. I recently read Lawrence Lessig’s Free
and I found that very inspirational (expect some posts on that later).
In other reading news, I’m on a Hemingway kick currently – I recently re-read A Moveable Feast and now I’m at the Paris 1920’s stage of a
. So I’m keeping busy with all that and more.

Why am I telling you all these details? Well this morning I read a post from a
fellow who has decided to give up blogging
Chocolate & Vodka
]. His reasoning:

“…my blog self is not my entire self and I must say that I’ve been
cool with that as long as both of those two selves never happen to appear
together in the same room. When that happens, it shines a spotlight right on top
of that partial disclosure or split identity issue and this is something I’m
finding uncomfortable to reconcile.”

This got me thinking about how my own blogging and real-life
“identities” co-exist and sometimes integrate. It reminded me of the ‘weblog as avatar’ concept
which I and others are
interested in. But I have to say I’ve never really been convinced that my weblog
is my avatar (i.e. an online representation of myself). For one thing, I
deliberately hardly ever talk about my personal life and family online. I don’t
write about what music I listen to and I don’t usually mention the books I read
(although I’ve made an exception in this post). I also don’t talk about my day job
here, even though I am a Web Producer by day and my weblog is focused on Web
Technology. Well actually what I mean is, I don’t talk about specific details of
my day job – like the people I work with, the projects I work on, the company I
work for. I do write about topics that intersect with my day job, I just don’t
personalise any of it. 

This is because there is a distinct split between
my real-world self and my weblog self. That split is inevitable
in any professional writing and I’d argue very healthy for a weblog. I wouldn’t
have it any other way, but maybe that’s because I see my weblog as a publishing
tool first and foremost. A social publishing tool perhaps, because I do
converse with other people via my weblog.

Unless you think of a blog as an online diary, you shouldn’t have any reason
to fully integrate your real-world self with your weblog persona. Integrate
aspects of your personal life, sure. But there’s a big difference between
infusing your writing with personality (which I try to do) and transcribing your
daily life into a weblog (the online journal variety of blog). Some people are
doing both – i.e. they have a ‘professional’ blog and a diary blog. Other people
have blogs that mostly focus on their topics of interest, but they also include
selected tales from their personal life. It’s a fine line – but the more
personal your weblog writing is, the more your weblog ‘avatar’ begins to resemble
you. The less personal your weblog is, the more your weblog avatar has its own unique identity – which
you can keep at arms length if need be (e.g. if your boss starts reading your

I have to admit I’ve been thinking of adding a bit more of ‘the offline me’ into my weblog –
e.g. perhaps I will start talking about music more, maybe I’ll add some
multimedia components to my weblog that highlight my personality some more,
maybe I’ll start to write some personal essays. But there will always be a
line that I don’t cross, especially when it comes to people in my
private life (e.g. family, work).

Let me return to the ‘weblog as avatar’ concept, most
famously stated by Tom Coates
last year:

“This flexibility of publishing [for weblogs] creates a fluid and living form of self-representation, the ‘homepage (as a place)’ has become the ‘weblog (as a person)’ that can articulate a voice. And when there are a multiplicity of voices in space, then the possibility arises of conversations. And where there is conversation there is the sharing of information. And conversation about what? Well everything from music and movies and animation and medical information.”

I agree with the concept of a weblog as a kind of personalisation of the
tradional web homepage. However in the case of a ‘professional’ weblog, if
you’re describing it as an avatar then it would be a highly focused one – or extremely limited,
depending on your point of view.
For example if you were to think of my weblog as my online avatar, then you’d
come to know me as a person who witters on about topic-mapping, knowledge
management, web design, the universal
, and various other esoteric
web-ralated topics. You’d completely miss how important my family is to me, my
musical tastes, my interest in rugby, the fact that I play squash (including
with one of the guys on my blogroll), and a whole lot of other ‘personal’
details that I don’t talk about on my weblog. Did I say “talk about” –
I meant “write about”! Heh heh, see what I mean?

You also can’t really tell what kind of a person I am from my weblog.
In real life am I funny
like Chandler? Macho like Joey? Quirky like Ross? Or maybe I’m nothing like a
character! 🙂 You could probably take some educated guesses after
perusing my weblog archives. For example I’ve mentioned
before that I’m an INTJ, so that perhaps gives you some indication of my
personality. And, as I mentioned above, I try to infuse my writing with my

My point is that one’s weblog avatar is
limited by the scope of one’s weblog content. 

So your weblog avatar doesn’t have to be “in the same room” as your
real-life identity. If that happens too often, your online persona will
eventually clash with your real-life identity (most likely, it’ll be your online
persona that gets your offline one into trouble). Incidentally I’m sure Tom wasn’t implying that weblogs are
fully representative of a person. His main point I think was that compared to
static old-style homepages, weblogs have much more personality. I agree and it’s
a good thing. It’s what makes the Web such a fun place and I get to meet lots of
interesting weblogs…er, I mean people!

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