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[personal profile] dicta_contrion
A caveat: this is almost certainly an imperfect metaphor. But while there is community on tumblr, it works differently than community on lj - more like building community in (an idealized version of) a coffee shop than (an idealized version of) a dinner party. And since community was at the top of so many lists, a bit of overview/context is likely useful before getting into the details.

1) Imagine a dinner party

And probably a semi-formal one, at that. If you're the one hosting, you do a fair bit of work before having people over. You'll consider the menu, shop, cook, time everything so it's hot, take dietary restrictions into consideration. Clean the house, set the table. You'll have a guest list to make sure you're not inviting more people than you'll be able to interact with. You'll also want to make sure it's got people who you're comfortable having in your home, and probably that they'll get along with one another. The people you invite will be people you know pretty well, or who you've already met somewhere and want to get to know better, and who you already trust enough to invite into your space.

Your guests will probably do some preparing, too. Make sure to bring flowers or a bottle of wine, maybe read up on the news to make sure they've got something smart to say. After all, being invited into someone's private space is not nothing. They'll also need to set aside a set amount of time to be there - a couple of hours, at least, as will you.

Once you've all sat down for dinner, you're in shape to have really substantive conversation. You're all seated comfortably and focused, you're facing each other and have time to let a conversation meander down different paths. You can have lengthy discussions about the news, personal anecdotes, trials and tribulations, things you've recently read or watched. When you leave, everyone knows each other better, and has a better sense for how much they liked the other guests and who'd they'd want to invite to their own dinner party, and maybe of having developed some idea or interest, and guests may start planning their own dinner parties so that getting to know each other and community-building can continue.

This is the livejournal model of community-building, or closer to it, at least. Not everyone will do it quite like this (the same way some people serve three course meals and others invite the neighbors over for a casual potluck) but many of the people I've spoken to talk about livejournal with this sort of intentionality - they put time and thought into their posts and comments and have a sense of face-to-face group interaction. Higher investment, deeper immediate reward.


2) Imagine a coffee shop

There are some tables and chairs scattered around, but no one's set the table or planned a guest list. It's open to the public, so anyone can stop in any time, no one needs permission, and there's no cap on the number of people who can come through. In fact, the coffee shop owners probably want there to be more visitors. Groups of friends might come in together, but a lot of the people who stop through over the course of the day will be there for a quick pick-me-up, popping in and out to grab coffee and maybe wave at familiar faces.

You stop in at 9am every morning and order a large iced soy vanilla latte, or maybe a basic coffee that you'll add milk and sugar to. You start to notice the same people hanging around at the same time, waiting for their coffees and large iced soy vanilla lattes, and you start nodding at them or waving, saying good morning. Eventually, you maybe say "how's it going?" and they say "the kids are driving me into the ground, I should've gotten an extra shot" and then their order's up and they leave. You see them again a couple of days later, reading an issue of Parenting. "Kids still keeping you up?" you ask. "Omg, and how. Do you have any?" "Nope," you say, "just a hyperactive labradoodle." They laugh. "I had a lab once..."

(or maybe they scowl at the very idea that you might think the two things are at all alike, in which case you might be a little relieved that you didn't find this out while stuck at a dinner party with them.)

You really only pop in when it's convenient for you, and stay for as long as it takes to get what you need, but you keep seeing the same people every so often because their needs and schedules are similar to yours, and you share little bits of banter and information and start to realize you're looking forward to seeing them in the course of your daily routine. You read some of the same magazines, and you both like the articles the other person recommends. Eventually you realize you've had half your latte before leaving, and when their kids start talking about getting a dog you trade numbers so that their kids can walk your labradoodle and try it out. You might never have them over for dinner. If you do it'll be after you've traded numbers and hung out outside of the coffee shop. If you don't, it will be or will have been a pleasant interaction that brightened your day.

This is the tumblr model of community-building, or closer to it, at least. A central hub where a lot of people stop by to share their mutual interest in something, grabbing a little bit of a pick-me-up and throwing out quick bits of information that may pique someone else's interest, and connecting with people who happen to be there at the same time and for the same reasons. It takes less work and less intentionality than a dinner party, but you probably won't become best friends if you never take your interactions outside the coffee shop. On the other hand, by the time you know you want to hang out for longer than it takes to get a latte you know you have similar interests, and it doesn't require as much of an upfront investment as inviting a new colleague or acquaintance over for dinner. Less investment, less immediate reward.


3) Is tumblr really as friendly as a coffee shop?

Honestly, in my experience, yes. Which is to say: people are not mean and there are lots of people around who would be very happy to see a friendly face. Which is also to say: there will sometimes be people who are distracted or on their way out as you're on your way in, or already there with a group of friends. It helps a lot if you're willing to say hi/nod/smile first, and if you don't take other people's busy-ness personally. They're not slighting you, just late for work. And when you're late for work and too busy to stop for a chat, they'll understand the same way, because those are coffee shop norms.



4) What about those terrible rude kids who talk in extremes and tell everyone they're terrible?

Last summer, a guy you know called the police on your summer party for a noise violation when it was barely dusk. Total dick move. Now you're throwing a dinner party for a good friend's birthday, and since she's close to him, you've got to invite him, even though you're still pretty annoyed. You and he are both a little bit on edge all night. Snippy comments are made. He 'accidentally' spills a glass of wine on your tablecloth and makes some condescending remarks about the decision to have sundaes instead of cake for dessert. But you can't really say anything because, thanks to that mutual friend, you know you'll be in the same space again multiple times. So you continue to be on edge, really practically seething, and when the tables are turned you're certainly tempted to 'accidentally' spill something on his tablecloth. When he turns the music up and opens the windows around 10pm, your blood straight-up boils and you call him out on his hypocrisy. You argue, and there's fallout for ages. Your friends try to convince you to sit down and talk it out. You know your friends are talking about it, and some of them take sides. It gets so you don't want to go to anyone's party, and your friend group is so sick of it all that they don't really want to throw them, and it all keeps going until you find a way to resolve things - if that's even possible. Sometimes it isn't, and your friend group never gets back to what it was.

That's wank. That's part of the livejournal model.

You're in a coffee shop and you bump into the person in front of you. They turn around and glare. You put your hands up in semi-apology; you didn't mean to, but they seem really upset. "That was really fucking careless," they say. "Don't you know how to watch your space? Or are you so entitled that you just go around shoving people? Don't you know that some people have real issues with being touched without permission? What if I was an assault survivor? What if I had PTSD? And you just carelessly shoved up against me because you're so fucking lucky that you don't have to think about that kind of thing? Guess you're just the kind of person who doesn't care about survivors, you piece of trash. Step the fuck off and stay away from me." They turn back around. You try to apologize and explain that you really didn't mean any harm, you don't even think it really counts as a shove, and of course you care, and it was an accident, and maybe you actually do have PTSD or you are a survivor and the accusation is really hard to hear and you want them to know that, but they've already put their headphones on and turned up the music. You're left feeling a bit rattled because you do care, and you don't want anyone to think that about you, and did you really do something wrong? Maybe you get a little more careful about bumping into other people - not that that's necessarily a bad thing, because in a situation where it's avoidable bumping into someone is actually a bit rude and non-ideal. But whether or not you do, the interaction ends there and you can leave the coffee shop and go about your day, and at some point on your way to work it strikes you that if they had such an intense reaction, it's probably something to do with them and not really entirely to do with you.

That's (often anon) hate. That's part of the tumblr model.

Neither is great. You don't want to sit through dinner with your blood boiling, or be/put friends in a position of having to take sides, even if it feels justified. You don't want random people to turn around and tell you off. Again, lj comes with more immediately deep rewards and risks, while tumblr has less of both.

(tumblr also gives you the ability to (a) delete anon messages, so if someone yells at you no one else has to know about it; (b) change your settings so that anonymous people can't contact you and only people you choose to follow can instant message; (c) delete replies to your posts; and (d) permanently block users, including anonymous users, which prevents them from messaging you, following you or reblogging or replying to your posts. So it's not only that you can leave the coffee shop, but you can ban them from being in the same line as you in the future.)

(Wank vs hate distinction from Slashcast #42, which is worth listening to - a couple of years old, but a lot of the key questions are the same. The tumblr part of the convo, hosted by Emma Grant, is from 10:45 to 52:05. H/T to [livejournal.com profile] vaysh for recommending it!)


5) Can you actually make friends on tumblr? Seriously?

Yes, absolutely. It really is a lot like making friends in the course of your daily routine. Say hi, nod, smile, tell someone that something made you think of them, ask how they're doing. Or, in tumblr terms, reblog and like their stuff, send them posts you think they'd like, message them and ask how they're doing. If there's friend click, things will grow organically, just as they would if you hit it off with someone in your morning coffee shop.

I'm going to step away from the metaphor here for a second, because IRL I am much more of a dinner party person, and you might be too. But online, the coffee shop model really works for me because it's so low-maintenance. On days when I don't have time to stop for a coffee and a chat it's enough to wave through the window (liking a post or reblogging it with friendly tags). It's also lot easier, in my experience, to sustain a connection when there's an easy way to say "hey, I'm here, still thinking about you! look at me waving!" (via a reblog or like). If a friend doesn't respond to any of your dinner party invitations (lj posts) for six months or a year, that might start to feel a bit strained. You keep setting a date and making a guest list and cleaning the house and they don't seem to care...it's going to start feeling crappy after a while. Especially if it's multiple friends who have gone MIA, why keep on hosting dinner parties at all? And if you're the friend who's been doing the ignoring, even if you have really good reasons, how do you broach the topic? It can be a bit awkward. But if you change your route to work or go on vacation for a couple of weeks and then re-appear in the coffee shop, not really a big deal. "Hey, happy to see you!" "Same! I was on vacation/trying to make my own coffee at work, but I missed the latte here!" It's easier to pick up where you left off, and since less work goes into it and more people are coming in and out, people are less liable to be hurt or awkward if you don't stop in.


6) How exactly do I have those coffee-shop type interactions on tumblr?

There'll be a more detailed version of this in one of the next posts, possibly a chart, but basically:

Likes: telling someone you liked something they posted or reblogged; sort of a nod of acknowledgement
Reblogs without text: telling someone you liked something enough that you wanted to share it with your friends; sort of "hey, cool! I like that too and am in a community that also likes that!" (and you can say stuff like that in the tags)
Reblogs with text: adding new content that will reblogged by anyone who reblogs a post from you; a way of sharing information or commentary more widely.
     (example. irrationalwitch has reblogged with text, adding a bunch of ideas to flesh out the original post. runrunhurryhurry has reblogged with text to thank her. I have reblogged without text, and have instead put my thoughts (general excitement about the interaction I've seen) in the tags, which means that my followers will be able to see them and will know what I thought of this but that anyone who reblogs it from me will do so without reblogging my opinions. this means that the post stays visually clean, but i'm still able to offer my opinion for fun/so my followers get to know me/as a conversation starter).
Tags (organizational): don't necessarily have a social meaning, are used to organize content, will talk more about that later (example)
Tags ("tumblr style"): used to add commentary, share opinions or information about yourself, or address (depending on content) an OP, reblogger, or your followers; sort of equivalent to saying something in a stage whisper so that it's meant to be heard, but with a sense of having been sort of unofficial (example)
Following: "Hey, I've noticed that you consistently are interested in stuff I'm interested in too!"
Share
: uses the instant messenger to send a post directly to another user; "hey, this made me think of you, what do you think of it?"
Asks: messages sent by one blogger to another. anonymous messages can only be answered publicly, ignored, or deleted. non-anoynmous messages can be answered privately or publicly or can be ignored or deleted. If you don't want your ask answered publicly it's good practice to start with "private please!" This is a way of starting a conversation, with the acknowledgement that that conversation might be made public and come to include many more people. (example)(tumblr's reorganized their posts a little so it's gotten easier to tell who's saying what since this post was made, just fyi!)
Messages: private Instant messages between two users. the most direct way of starting a conversation that can turn into something a bit deeper.

These are generalizations, and I'll get more specific in a post or two.

Upcoming: how to set up and use tumblr, the content that's out there and how to find it, how to find blogs to follow, how different interactive tools are used, tumblr norms, how to create dialog, and reblogging as fandom participation. Also happy to take more questions!
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