I've been asked a lot, recently, to comment on the value of weblogs and to explain why I evangelize them as a communication tool. I tend to focus on the literal, quantifiable benefits, since weblogs are fast and easy and work better than any other format in leveraging the strengths of the web. There are always questions about "the weblog community" which I either respond to with laughter or the question, "Which weblog community?" depending on how civil I'm being. Because it's true that there are weblog communities, but they're typically very fractious and insular and petty, and none of those are attributes I assign to my mental definition of "community". And benefits? From a medium that's obsessed with bickering and esoteric technicalities?
There are people who remind me of the great joys of having a weblog. That putting one's voice out on the web means you'll sometimes have people hear it. That sometimes, you'll even have people respond. There's an undeniable connection that comes from having read a person's words every day for years.
So a member of my weblog community is Brad Graham. Besides having become a good friend whose writing I enjoy on the web, he's one of the people who most epitomizes to me how a community that's mostly based around words on a computer screen is still nothing less than completely real. That a community can have an impact. And it's true in both small and large scales.
In the small scale, last week I was looking forward to going to an actual physical record store and buying an actual physical compact disc to listen to new music at the end of a long, tiring day. But it was pouring down rain and I didn't feel like trudging 10 or 20 blocks for an uncertain shot at something entertaining, so I just wandered home instead. Awaiting me there was a copy of a terrific CD, from my Amazon wishlist, courtesy of an unprompted act of generosity by Brad. That's a community, the one I belong to where a friend brightens my day out of nothing but kindness. I'd been wanting that album for about ten years.
But there's a larger, more important community, too. Brad organized Link and Think three years ago, too, and it's become an enormously successful and visible effort in the online campaign for AIDS education, awareness, and prevention. Each year on December 1st, in observance of World AIDS Day, personal website publishers have participated in Link and Think (and its former incarnation, Day With(out) Weblogs) by writing about personal experiences relating to the AIDS pandemic or by linking to information about the causes, effects, and impacts of the disease.
And every year I've learned things I would never have anticipated, even though I consider myself reasonably literate on the subject. It's changed my perceptions, and in the past I've seen it changes people's hearts and minds. So I suppose I'm not doing justice to people who publish personal websites when I scoff at the existence of community. If I want to be aware of communities, I should probably just do more to participate in them. If you have a personal site, This year, I'll be observing Link and Think for the third time. And I guess I'm hoping the effort will make a difference in the fight against AIDS, and maybe that goal will define a community. Thanks, Brad.