Cross-posted to Asexual Agenda.
This post is the first in a series of rants about blogging, wherein I try to help other would-be writers join the ace blogosphere. Please view the masterpost here.
In this post, I want to contextualize this series by examining both my history of blogging and experiences with different asexual communities in their earlier years, leading up to my decision to join WordPress.
I’ve been blogging for a very long time. I started this blog in 2008 (back then it bore the terribly unoriginal moniker Shades of Gray), and it has been wildly more popular than I ever intended it to be—to be fair, I only expected maybe 10 readers. I haven’t blogged continuously, but this single blog does not represent my entire blogging experience. If you go searching for my name, you won’t find my other blogs; I used separate pseudonyms for each one. I don’t ever link to them (and mostly can’t anyway—they are long gone). If you happen to know me from them, I’d appreciate it if you don’t either. Because I’ve had blogs since my early teens, and boy are they embarrassing.
LiveJournal is open-source, so a number of different sites use LJ’s format. I started out on one of those LJ-like sites, because at the time I started blogging (but we didn’t really call it that), you couldn’t create a free LJ account without an invitation. This occurred because LJ was so popular that its servers could not handle the load. After the site opened its doors to all, I migrated there.
In 2004, I joined the Asexuality LiveJournal community. This community started a month and a half before AVEN and used a more inclusive definition of what it means to be asexual. Andrew Hinderliter researched the definitions used in both communities and wrote about them in great detail. I generally agree with his thoughts on how the definitions developed and what their consequences have been, but I find his analysis of why AVEN’s definition succeeded… maybe technically correct, but lacking a full understanding.
Siggy summarized Hinderliter’s arguments here, and concludes:
However, asexual communities do not rise or decline solely on the basis of their definitions. In the history linked earlier, Hinderliter argues that AVEN succeeded because of superior web design. Hinderliter points out that Asexuality on LiveJournal has always displayed a different definition. Their definition probably never caught on probably because LiveJournal’s never been very popular.
Never been very popular? Really? Are we talking about the same site?
LiveJournal used to fill the role that Tumblr fills now. There are significant differences, but generally, people joined LJ for communities, fandom, and personal connections. In its heyday, it was quite popular. It just wasn’t the first contact point for media, like AVEN became. It was never meant to be. It was a more private space.
It’s weird to me, as someone who was part of the LJ community long before other asexual communities and more consistently engaged with that community than any other, how frequently LJ is ignored and discounted. AVEN is considered to have historically been the asexual community, but it was never the only space we had. What also tends to get ignored is that there’s more than one asexuality-related LJ community. Anyone can create a community, although generating and maintaining interest is a lot more work. Still, it tends to be a good place for specific, private focus groups. Those little pockets of aceness purposefully hidden away from the wider community are almost never considered. Community bubbles blinked in and out of existence all the time on LJ, and people dropped in and out of them whenever they wanted—when they were allowed in.
AVEN & Apositive
I joined AVEN in 2005, after lurking for close to a year.
Sometimes when I read others’ discussions of early asexual communities, I have to raise an eyebrow because the language they use implies that LJ and AVEN were competing against one another. They weren’t really. They existed alongside one another and served different purposes. Many people in the asexuality LJ community were also members of AVEN and contributed significantly to it.
AVEN and LJ served different roles. AVEN was an activist space, focused primarily on spreading awareness. LiveJournal was a social place, which afforded significantly more privacy to those who were looking for support. And it’s important to remember that the asexuality community on LiveJournal was only one part of the site. A key part of understanding how LJ is different from AVEN is realizing that LJ worked for so many people because it provided users a place to be their whole selves. It wasn’t just about asexuality; that was there, and it was important, but it was only a small part of any given user’s friends list feed. Every other interest was also included, as well as the individual posts of one’s friends.
Daily personal sharing like that was not appropriate on the AVEN forums. But what AVEN did well was provide a space for organizing activist work, and introducing new people to the idea of asexuality. David Jay is unquestionably the most successful webmaster/community organizer that we have ever had, and he attributes much of his success to collaboration with many other community members (who sustain him with community-based intimacy). He assembled a team for media inquiries and became our poster boy, which reinforced AVEN’s place at the center of asexuality activism.
So when I wanted to get into activist work and explore asexuality very deeply, I went to AVEN. But I didn’t stay there. I used it for specific purposes when LJ wasn’t enough.
One thing that frustrated me about AVEN and other forum-based communities is that they are inherently hierarchical. Users are ranked based on how many posts they’ve made, and that in a sense makes quantity better than quality. You need to spend significantly more time investing in posting to be recognized as a valuable member than you would on a blog, and you need to say the same things many times because posts get lost to the archives soon after dying down. Things get wild sometimes, too. A forum is like a garden that needs to be carefully pruned in order to keep it nice, and that requires significantly more moderators and community managers than a community on LJ generally would. The bigger a forum gets, the more demanding it gets to maintain.
Even in 2004 and 2005, AVEN was already too big of a community for my tastes. As it grew, the mods had more trouble keeping up. A significant elitist faction grew on the forums, and for a while they rampaged unchecked. Tired of the flame wars and the basic 101 questions, I fled to Apositive shortly after it was created. The smaller community of more dedicated aces there fostered more in-depth discussions, but that didn’t last, either. From what I understand, the original admin had to abandon the project. The vision for what the community should be was lost; it is no longer a place where I am comfortable.
Rise of the Blogosphere
By 2008, I was having difficulties with both forum-based communities and LiveJournal—which, to be clear, I had never left.
I enjoyed the deeper, 201-level discussions on Apositive, but I missed the more individualized community intimacy of blogging formats. There were several topics I felt were way too personal to post to a forum, or were otherwise not likely to be considered on-topic or particularly interesting to other posters.
My thoughts about asexuality would likewise not have been particularly interesting to my LJ friends. Most of them were not ace, and a significant portion of them were offline friends as well, and I really didn’t want to share this with them. While LJ has an option to allow you to filter friends’ access to your posts into as many customized private lists as you need, it’s tedious to use, and after filtering so heavily, the number of people who could’ve read those posts dwindled to virtually nothing. What would be the point in posting them online, then? I might as well use paper.
I thought about posting some of the things I was thinking about to the asexuality LJ community, but unfortunately, I found a girl who used to bully and cyber-stalk me hanging out in the comments sections there. So that was out.
What else could I do but pick a new name and make a public blog?
WordPress allowed me to rant as much as I wanted. I could scream into the void, and if anybody listened, then maybe I could find a community who would understand this vital aspect of myself. This wasn’t my first attempt at a public blog. I expected this one to be the same as my others: never read.
And for a long time, yeah, I had a pretty small audience. But even the tiny audience I had in the first few months was still more than I had expected. Four people immediately chimed in, and others gradually joined them. A whole community of bloggers grew up with/around me, and this unexpectedly made me a recognized voice in asexual discourse—or, as one commenter put it, an Awesome Serious Blogger.
In subsequent posts, I will explore other factors in my weird rise to prominence (in such niche spaces as the ace blogosphere, which apparently now constitutes “Mainstream Ace Discourse”), including Google’s dedication to the Necromantic Arts and the way certain posts are popularized while others are ignored. I’ll also talk about some of the mistakes I’ve made, so that you can learn from my failures. Next time, I plan to talk more about the early blogosphere.