On blogger pronouns

The discussion around whether responses to other people should be written in the second person has developed with point and counterpoint being made in equal measure. I am deliberately writing this in the (more usual) third person because of what it is in response to.

"The more I think about, the more the blogosphere sounds like a parliament: instead of addressing our interlocutor, we address the Speaker of the House, who happens to be the impersonal whole of the internet." - James Shelley

Josh Ducharme wrote that he "Can’t (Yet) Shift From Third to Second Person" and outlined his reasons why. Among them he places weight on whether what he writes is something "a broad audience might want to read versus just the individual I’m conversing with..." Additionally, by not writing in a conversational style, he feels the need to write longer posts (no doubt to establish the necessary context) thus limiting the further potential for a back and forth:

Also, writing in this way is a deliberately public act, which I feel would change the nature of the conversation. This is publicly stating, "I am having a conversation with another person and I want you to be able to eavesdrop."

In drawing the comparison with letter writing Josh points out that most would be horrified to discover the contents of a letter written to them had been made public. I dont think this analogy entirely holds up as the original "letter" which prompted a response was itself written in public but I take his point.

Still, there are degrees of public. It's complicated.

What is clear is that there is an element of disconnect in moving parts of a conversation from its traditional location.

The conversational, second person approach in blogging is normally reserved for comment sections where a response is directly connected to the post. It's a contextual thing. Although the response is made publicly with the knowledge it will be visible by anyone who visits the post the crux is that people have to visit that post and will, therefore, only see the response in its original context.

To move a response to another location feels alien, wrong. The fragmentation of conversation has been an issue for almost as long as social media has been around.

Yet we mix contexts all the time on social networks. We reply in this very public way which allows others to see the conversation, to interject should they feel so inclined. It is encouraged. The practice of putting a period in front of a Twitter username, for example, was adopted specifically so that others would be able to see replies to others that would not normally have shown in the timeline. Maybe, because this is the very nature of a social feed, we are okay with such actions, we know that everything is fully public without any pretences to the contrary.

As I mentioned in my reply to James the intent of the indieweb is to create an "owner first" environment where anything (original post or reply) is published on the author's site before being distributed for display at the target address. This second element seeks to get round the disconnect above but means we are left with multiple entry points to the conversation.

The goal may be total ownership of content but it does deliberately introduce the somewhat voyeuristic element of allowing our readers a view behind the curtain, to see what we are doing elsewhere. Much like seeing replies in our social timelines.

It's just that having our interactions exposed in this way is not the norm for blogs.

The question isn't just whether it is right to address someone in the second person, we would do so elsewhere without qualms, but whether it is right to do so in an environment outside their control. As Josh says, he has concerns about the agency of the person he is responding to. It is curious, however, that we are perfectly happy to talk about someone in the third person in all manner of forums but not to them. When you think about it, the former actually seems to be less appropriate.

Posting commentary rather than a response still encourages a reader unconnected with the "conversation" to investigate. When we link to someone else's work we are doing so to establish context, to tell the audience "you should check this out for what I'm saying to make sense." Despite fears that we are opening up context specific conversations to an unintended audience, by writing in the third person we might actually be generating greater interest - and doing so intentionally - by creating an entirely new framing.

By writing a commentary we are inviting our readers to take notice, to become involved, whereas a properly framed reply might discourage engagement.

  1. Greg McVerry says: #
    “What up, Colin I dig this post”

    “Third person is how we sound smarterest (Walker, 2016)”

    “The best approach to commenting on blogs recognizes cultural differences in naming authors. While Colin Walker laid out strong arguments for a third person web….”

    “bloggers
    Shift from third
    space?
    temporal mental
    disconnect
    Repurposed
    letter writing
    blogs as vehicles
    become involved

    Your post inspired a found poem”

    It’s the #IndieWeb. Be independent. Forget conventions. Keep the web weird.

    It’s the #IndieWeb. It’s your Domain. Don’t like my comment? Cool delete it.

    I get to keep it. It’s on my domain. It’s the #IndieWeb

    We do need to focus on inclusive pronouns and that includes first, second, third and all the persons in between.

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