I first got online back in 1998, I remember it well because it was the year that I went back to school thinking maybe this time I would actually finish and get my bachelor’s degree after a previously failed attempt. I had recently transferred from a community college to a private university and one of the things I was told to do was have access to a computer and the internet. Back in what now seems like the dinosaur ages I remember thinking why did I need to be online, hell I know how to use a library…little did I know how much the requirement to get online was going to change my life. When I first started school I didn’t have my own computer instead having to use the Spousal Unit’s Apple but after a few months I got my own PC and I haven’t been without one since that time.
Initially my forays online were pretty much limited to accessing academic databases, but around that time I was starting to think about letting go of my relaxed hair and wanted some information on managing natural Black hair. I quickly found an online community dedicated to Black hair and to say it changed my life was an understatement. That first hair site allowed me to connect with a group of Black women many who became dear personal friends to this day, the first site (sorry the name escapes me) went under and what would become the premier site for Black natural hair, Nappturality was born.
I remember by 2000-01 there were tons of search engines, Dogpile, Ask Jeeves are just two that come to mind and of course Google. But Google then wasn’t the household name it is now. Back then when one wanted to do a search you had choices, technically we still have choices, Bing, Yahoo, and I am sure there are some smaller ones out there but Google pretty much is the man when it comes to search engines these days.
Despite having gotten online in 1998, it was around 2005 or so that I discovered blogs. Initially I thought why would I want to read someone else’s personal thoughts? Well in 2005, home with a new baby after a 13.5 year hiatus from babies and well I needed some assistance especially since my real life support was lacking. Oh, by then I was participating on multiple parenting discussion boards, Babycenter, Mothering Magazine’s MDC community and a few others but blogs really opened my eyes and gave me food for thought as well as support. I quickly went from reading parenting blogs to discovering the Black blogosphere…holy moly! By 2007, I had discovered sites like the Field Negro and a myriad of other Black bloggers and I was like a kid in a candy store. So much good stuff, commentary, news, yikes! And it was all free. A girl could get sucked into blogs and for a while I did. Though by late 2007, early 2008 I thought maybe I would launch my own blog. My first blog was on blogger and at that point I was still uncomfortable with the idea of just writing for an unknown audience so after a few posts I let the blog die. But by late in 2008 I got the idea to start up again and this time went to the WordPress platform and voila Black Girl in Maine was born.
While I wanted my blog to be cross between a Field Negro and a Soule Mama, I quickly realized that much like many areas of my personal life, I defy categories. I am a mother who occasionally talks about parenting but no one would ever call me a Mommy blogger. I talk about race and social justice issues but they too aren’t my strong suit, instead I am just an old fashioned shit talker. In many minority communities there is always some wise old soul who just drops knowledge and sometimes foolishness…in many ways that is the role I play. In my first two years of blogging I met some fabulous bloggers like Big Man at Raving Black Lunatic, Chi-Chi at Where there is a Will, there is a Way, Rippa at Ripped Dem Up and the awesome KIT at KIT (Keep it Thrill). These were bloggers most similar to me especially KIT as we often provided our views and commentary on world happenings. Good times, I tell ya.
However somewhere around late 2009, early 2010 it seemed like the blogging world changed as we saw the rise in social media sites like Twitter, Tumblr and Facebook. All of a sudden the longer essay style blog posts from folks who previously never had a voice in any form of media had seemed to go out of vogue. It was suddenly no longer enough to just blog, you had to promote your shit via these other channels and frankly money became part of the equation. I realized that some of my other favorite bloggers like the Black Snob had gone from straight ahead blogging to being social media folks. Blogs started serving as the jump off for career growth and earning money.
Now the truth is none of us got in the game hoping to make money, we did it because we had something to say and for a while we had a good audience but life and trends got in the way. Also expectations, whereas I used to just write a post and folks came, now I had to start promoting my stuff if I wanted anyone to read it. Well adding social media to the mix becomes a time consuming piece and frankly I still don’t do it well, I do have an agency to run, kids, spouse you get the picture. I also started seeing my blogging peers dropping off one by one because no longer could we compete just from the time perspective.
Kit who I have considered my blog mentor stopped blogging almost a year ago, I talked to her not too long ago so I think I can say this and still respect her privacy and not put all her business in the street. But life got in the way and her financial house crumbled and all of a sudden she didn’t have the ability for a number of reasons to blog. The thing is like me Kit was not the type of blogger that would attract a ton of sponsors, so even ads on her blog wouldn’t have brought in a great deal of revenue to at least keep her writing.
Yet in the past several months I have distinctly noticed the blogosphere has changed, there is less active participation from a diverse array of voices. Now I will be honest and say that I have long suspected that class is a barrier these days. Oh, it’s easy to say anyone can get on, that’s true but as we become more and more pressed for time, folks might hit the link to your blog from a tweet but sit down, type in your url and look you up? Nah, not so much anyone except perhaps your die hard supporters.
Truth is I am not the only one to notice that in many ways after a few boom years the blogosphere is getting less diverse, Renee over at Womanist Musings recently had a great post talking about this very issue. Lets just say that while racially anyone can jump in and blog those who will reach the widest audience and maybe get enough ad clicks to cover what is now becoming at the very least a part time job will break down along class lines in many ways. It takes time to not only write your blog and post it but now it’s pretty much expected that bloggers will have twitter accounts, even Facebook fan pages. Let’s not even talk about networking with other bloggers and conferences. I would love to check out some of the blogging conferences but unless someone pays my way or a conference is held in my area it isn’t happening. For many working class and lower income folks, that is just too much of an investment of time for a hobby. The result is the blogs become less diverse and in essence an echo chamber of the same voices.
For those of us in the US, these are rough financial times. In an unprecedented move we are seeing schools and libraries close. In Detroit Michigan they are seriously considering mass library closures on top of schools being shuttered and this situation is not unique, its happening all across the country. Practically speaking that means access to information is being closed off, it’s yet another attack on people who are primarily poor and or working class. Those who are still financially comfortable will be able to access information but those who aren’t? Oh well it sucks to be them.
Now you may be asking how the hell does library closings relate to the blogosphere? Well if diverse voices online especially working class and other marginalized voices can’t afford the cost of participation because the game has changed and it is too time consuming, frankly that affects us all. I don’t know about you but even as a news junkie there are too many times I will hear a story that missed me yet thanks to the hard work of some blogger who had the time to access the story and then shared it with us I am learning something new.
Basically it breaks down to this if we care about hearing the voices of the marginalized online we need to consider supporting them. I realize this may come across as self serving since I am running my own spring support campaign but its not. If you don’t want to support me that’s fine but please consider clicking ads or donating to bloggers like Renee at Womanist Musings. I know her readership is way larger than mine and was surprised when she talked about how little financial support she receives. Renee often has multiple posts in a day, all good stuff and it needs to be supported. I also know that Bilerico a blog that covers GBLT issues also blogged about this very issue. People don’t realize that in today’s climate that the amount of time it takes to make sure good information and views are out there requires support. I liken the blight of social justice bloggers and other critical but not as popular (meaning they don’t attract financial supporters via ads) to National Public Radio, sure you can listen and never pay a dime but believe me your support matters.
I remember when I first moved to Maine after years of listening to Chicago’s WBEZ public radio station and wondering why the fuck did Maine Public Broadcasting Radio suck? Money, plain and simple, smaller state, less money for similar broadcasting, granted some of what they broadcast is a matter of taste in this area but money matters. I was always a supporter of public radio in Chicago but now in Maine I upped my giving, I only give $10 a month but I like to think if everyone who listens and is able to give something it will keep the lights on. So while yeah, I would like your support I say just support any blogger who adds value to your life.