Type of blog communities and power structures
Nancy White described three different types of communities that can be created around a blog:
- one blog/one blogger communities: people gather around one-blogger blog, visit the blog consistently, and leave comments;
- topic-centered communities: several bloggers connect by discussing a common topic, linking to each other’s blogs, and commenting each other posts (e.g., mommy bloggers, travel bloggers, food bloggers);
- multi-blogger communities: several bloggers contribute to the same blog.
Communities also differ in how the power is distributed among members. For example, in the one blog/one blogger community the power is usually concentrated in the hands of the blog owner. She chooses the topics and sets the tone and the rules of the discussion. (In some cases, the discussion in these type of communities has a hub-and-spoke shape, with each reader addressing the blog author rather than other readers.)
In other blog-based communities, power can be distributed among community members: for example, in topic-centered communities each member has her own blog where she has control on the content and the discussion. Even in this case, though, there is always some power inequality, driven by readership size and social status of each blogger within the community. In multi-blogger sites, the power structure depends on the site organization: Who decides who participates? Who edits the content?
How to create a blog community (breakout session)
In one of the four breakout sessions, Nancy White led the discussion on how to build a blog-based community. (The other sessions were how to maintain a community, technical issues, and legal issues around building blog-communities. More about legal issues below).
The first step in building a community is to identify what the new space can provide to the individual and to the community. To clarify objectives and benefits of a community blog we need to ask questions to people in the community we want to serve (rather than just making assumptions on what they needs or want). What are you looking for? What do you need? What is important for you? What would make you feel safe expressing your opinions?
Nancy briefly discussed the difference between a message board vs. a blog: message boards are less about individual identities and more about information sharing. Blogs are very much about sharing individual identities, feelings, and opinions.
Also important to investigate is what people expects from the community. In many cases, for individual members the value of a community is receiving a response. We need to finding the “center of interest” within the community.
Nancy also discussed the importance of matching the blog voice with the needs and the identity of the community.
Legal issues around community blogs (breakout session)
Disclaimer: I am not a lawyer and what follows are just general legal considerations on online content publishing. As Lauren Gelman said during the session: Do not make business decisions based on the information on this post. Consult a lawyer and discuss your specific issues with her before making any decisions.
Lauren Gelman discussed the legal issues that can arise when building online communities. The three most important legal issues around online content online are copyrighting, pornography, and liability.
Copyright: In general, you are not responsible for content that others write on your site and that you are not editing. (This protects large company that allow their users to publish content, such as Yahoo, AOL, or Google.) But do set up an email address where people can send messages about violations of copyright on your site.
If you edit content that others publish on your site, things become more complicated. You will have the same responsibility that a newspaper has for material written by its contributors. For example, the New York Times is responsible for all the material published on the newspaper. Legally equating blogs to newspaper is good for source protection, but it increases the liability for copyright issues.
Liability is the worst issue and there is no special protection for bloggers. If you (or anybody contributing to your site) say something that can be proven factually inaccurate, there is a liability risk. The keywords are can be proven and factually inaccurate. For example, it’s possible to prove that the statement “Joe is gay” is factually inaccurate (being or not being gay is a fact; so you are liable if you wrote that Joe is gay and it is proved otherwise); however, it’s not possible to prove that the statement “Joe is an a**hole” is factually inaccurate (Joe being an a**hole is an opinion, not a fact).
Using “in my opinion” or “I think” to mitigate a statement can help, but not if the accusation is precise and can be proven factually inaccurate. For example, if you write: “I think Joe is an embezzler” and it can be proven that Joe is not an embezzler, you will still be liable.
The first act in a liability lawsuit is to prove that what was written is factually inaccurate. If the statement is about a “public figure” (the definition of “public figure” is quite broad), they will also have to prove that you knew what you wrote was false (this second requisite for a liability lawsuit does not apply to private citizens).
Is a blogger who blogs using her own name a public figure? Yes, she is; but only in the context of the topics discussed in her blog.
Disclosure of personal information about another individual (such as home phone number and home address) can also lead to liability lawsuits. Releasing business contact information and emails is always OK.
Another legal resource for bloggers suggested by Lisa Stone and Lynne d. Johnson in their writing session is the Electronic Frontier Foundation.
Additional information and resources on this session can be found on the online facilitation wiki Starting a blog-based community.
This session has been blogged also by: