Researchers of new information and communication technologies (ICT) who are interested in online communities usually end up in, well, offline communities. Most of those people spending hours chatting or sending each other e-mails or SMSs are classmates, family or otherwise meet every day. Often they could just walk into the next room to see the person live, rather than downloading the newest photo.
Online can be quite offline
A (self-) experiment by Ducke and Thoma (2006) indicates that the reverse is also true. Spreading information via the Internet and communicating online does not work well in widely dispersed groups. Such as: blogging travellers and their non-travelling friends. We had some discussion in German about this in e-mails and in the blog comments of our travel blog, and decided to postpone our next entry about the Silk Road and to join the meta-debate. We know from access statistics and feedback that only a relatively small number of people regularly visit the site. Although there are several options for feedback, even fewer comment on the contents of the texts and photos.
Like most people, we don’t exactly cherish the idea that our friends don’t care or just forget about us. Indeed we have urged them to look at the blog to the point of feeling like bullies. However, we are not seriously concerned that we could, say, disappear in Turkmenistan without anyone noticing. And we do get positive feedback (and compliments) that always encourages us.
Blogging as dialogue?
But when we created the blog we hoped to reach more of you in this way, and we hoped to use it as a dialogic tool rather than just a one-way medium of information. The communicative aspect (as comment or e-mail) is important to us for several reasons. First, we cannot adjust the style and amount of our photos and postings if we cannot see your reaction. If we met you to show a pile of photos after a year of travelling, we would hopefully notice when more explanation was needed, or whether you got tired and hungry – but how should we notice on the blog?
Second, we move in countries where we meet few people with whom we could communicate: Tourists are rare, and most local people speak, at best, Russian. Thus, your thoughts on our observations can provide us with new perspectives (special thanks to Ursula here).
And third, we are actually quite locked off from news – not just from news about the lives of our friends (that we do not think boring at all, as some of you seem to think), but also from world news. Without English newspapers and with irregular, slow connections in Internet cafes, we are likely to miss something important that everybody else is talking about. For example, we only found out about the attempted suitcase bombings in Germany when we spent an afternoon in the library of the Goethe Institute in Tashkent. And we just forgot about the LDP elections in Japan.
Ok, travel blogging was our choice, but …
We understand that it is us who have changed our lifestyle and that we cannot demand you to adjust to it. We enjoy travelling, and we like to share our experiences with you. However, it seems that we receive less information from you the more we tell you about us. We also know the blog is a form of communication that we have selected, and that it may not be your preferred choice. Still, we can think of no better one. For us, too, blogging is a new experience, and we are looking forward to exploring its possibilities.
The blog is password-protected and not listed in search engines. Only about 50 to 60 people have access. We both have individual private e-mails that we check regularly, plus a joint e-mail. And: We will not quote without permission!
PS: A few months after this post we lifted the password protection. The blog is now openly available – and so are the comments made after the conversion.