Awhile back, I was at a blogging conference and went to dinner with a small group of people as usual before heading to the more crowded (and always noisier) evening events. The dinner party I was fortunate to be a part of included some very prominent bloggers & speakers – most of whom make their livings in the Social Media arena.
I can’t remember the prompt, but someone in the group said something that I responded to with “well, we’re all oversharers, so it’s to be expected.”
That statement was met by shock and denial by one of the women in the group in particular.
“I am most definitely NOT an oversharer!” she said firmly.
I replied with something I had believed, up to that point, to be a truism: “Come on, all bloggers are oversharers by definition. You kind of have to be in order to want to write about the details of your life for anyone and everyone on the internet to see.”
She shot me a look (one that I have come to understand means ‘you’re out of your mind, but I’m not going to belabor the point’) and maintained her stance that she was anything but an oversharer.
About now, you’re wondering who this was – but I’m just going to call her Jane Doe – because it’s important to where I am going with this post that it not be about Jane specifically, so much as it is about people like Jane. If she chooses to out herself at some point? Well, that’s her call.
You see, I’ve been thinking about that night and those few moments we shared. Processing what I said, in light of Jane and what she said, and what I know about Jane.
My statement about oversharing comes from years of both writing and reading blogs. The average blogger doesn’t start out writing a business blog, but instead s/he writes things of a more personal nature. We call them lifestyle blogs. Sometimes they’re about hobbies, or parenting, or technology, or whatever the author is passionate enough about to consistently post on.
However, I realized that my friend Jane? She’s not the typical blogger. The personal things I know about Jane come from knowing her – not because she writes about them. Her online presence has always been warm & welcoming, but professional. If you Googled her history, you’d find that she’s pretty much always blogged on the topic she’s considered an expert in. You won’t find blogs about her personal life, bad hair days, or relationships.
Realization #1 – I was wrong. Not everyone at that table was an oversharer.
In fact, pretty much everyone at that table was someone who lives a very public career life, but tends to keep their personal details out of their work-related content. The range was from “not at all sharing personal details publicly” to “shares some things about personal life on particular social networks, but not on others.”
So where did my logic go wrong?
Well, when I started blogging, I had several ‘personal’ blogs myself. For years, I wrote about anything and everything that came to mind. Politics, relationships, beliefs, positions, theories, heck – even random dinner parties. But I did all of those under pseudonyms. Having once taught University, I was well aware that one of the first things computer-savvy college students do is Google their instructors. Everything I wrote back then had to be unfindable by your overly-curious student trying to avoid working on his/her assignment.
Something I learned the first semester I taught – when I found my online resume being copied and pasted “for the good bits” by one of my less-ethical students.
When you are writing ‘anonymously’ – there is a strange sense of security that even though you might have shown your best friend and your cousin your blog – certainly you won’t have to worry about anyone else figuring it out. It wasn’t until 2002 that the term “dooced” came into common online vernacular thanks to Heather Armstrong losing her job over things she had said on her blog.
But some of us transitioned from “lifestyle blogger” to “blogging as part of our business” without much thought about the transition. I know of more than one person who simply ditched their old pseudonymous blogs as they chose to become professional bloggers with their content attached to their names and reputations.
Realization #2: Just because I used to overshare doesn’t mean I do now.
Those who criticize platforms like Twitter & Facebook often focus on the usage habits of Socializers when they say ‘I don’t care what you ate for breakfast or that your Farmville chicken is producing eggs.‘ They are often looking for a business case for Social Media not to be found in the habits of Socializers, who use it to keep in touch with their friends and families only.
The comfort threshold is different for everyone as to how much personal information they share online with friends, with family, or with absolute strangers. But if the recent brouhaha over Facebook’s privacy settings tells us nothing else, it certainly states that most of their users aren’t comfortable with the thought of “everybody on the internet” knowing things about their personal life.
Realization #3: Bloggers have different levels of comfort with sharing personal details.
When I went back to thinking about the case of Jane, and the other bloggers that were at dinner, I realized that most of the details of their lives that I knew, I knew from private social interaction with them. Even though I wouldn’t say I’m particularly close friends with most of the people I was at dinner with, our social circles are overlapping. We are not strangers to each other.
Those at dinner? Were bloggers who tend not to write about the details of their personal lives, so much as they write with a personal voice when they do.
So I started thinking about other prominent bloggers I “knew of” but didn’t really “know” in the sense that we have similar social circles. Some of them? I can think of details of their lives that I don’t know about my best friend. Others? I don’t even know if they’re married, have kids, or if there’s anything they are passionate about outside of whatever subject they blog on.
Then I thought about which ones are the blogs I tend to read with frequency…
Realization #4: People have different levels of comfort with reading personal information.
I had a totally different experience at another semi-recent blogging conference – when someone I knew peripherally said “you mean you don’t know about my hysterectomy? Don’t you read my blog?“
Actually, no… I had to admit that I only read most blogs when someone puts a link on twitter that I notice, or when someone I’m close to brings a particular post to my attention. Because the number of people I know with blogs is literally in the thousands., I could read 50 posts a day and still get behind unbelievably fast.
So back to Jane Doe & oversharing…
Jane’s blog is one of the very few that I have an RSS subscription to. Because every post Jane writes applies to the business I’m passionate about – and if she writes warmly and in a personable voice? She doesn’t add in a bunch of stuff I don’t need. Jane doesn’t overshare – she shares information that she has that may be useful to others.
It’s something I’m examining for myself. Do I spend too much time sharing information that is unimportant to the point of a given blog post? I’m going to go with yes, for now. I mean – I look over this post your reading and think: Well, is it important that I went to dinner? No. But am I going to cut that out? Um, no.
Apparently I’m still working on my personal information/sharing balance.
What do you think? How much personal detail does a blog that you read regularly ideally have? Should I have named Jane? Or is she irrelevant to the story except as an example?