Your Audience Has Strangers

I was just over at From the Grey Box, a blog entirely about what a guy finds in his apartment building’s ‘free box’:

Look, I know for a fact at least a few of my friends check out this blog occasionally. I also know for a fact that at least one person I don’t even really know checks out this blog occasionally (that would be my friend Liz’s friend, to whom Liz introduced me as “the guy with the grey box blog” (I’m paraphrasing), which friend said he checked out my blog occasionally, which made him the first person I’ve met who’s read my blog before actually meeting me, which I’m not sure what I think about this.

I left a comment, which I thought bore repeating. I’ve tweaked it a bit:

As a, er, student of all this blogging stuff, I’ve observed a recurring theme: there comes a time in every blogger’s life when they recognize, for the first time, that strangers read their blog. Or they discover that a particular peer group–say, their workmates–know about and read their blog, despite their not having revealed it to them.

The response, especially among personal diarists, is often to immediately shut down their blog and start again, anonymously.

It’s like being on stage, and looking out into the audience expecting only to see friends and family. All of a sudden, there’s a bunch of strangers looking back at you.

Maybe this has been one of the appeals of Facebook (and previous such networks)–that you can have precise control over your audience?


  1. There comes a time in most blog readers’ lives when Darren writes about somebody that they actually know.

  2. I think you’re right about Facebook, although many people there seem to leave their privacy settings pretty wide open, perhaps not realizing how widely that exposes them as well.

    People seem to be able to convince themselves ether that, “Oh, no one except people I know would ever be interested in this,” or, contradictorily, “My family and friends will never find this.”

    It’s weird that those two assumptions are complete opposites, however. I wonder whether psychologists or others could figure out what makes someone believe one or the other?

    I’ve understood from the beginning that a blog is a website, and a website is public, and therefore anyone and everyone can read it. But while many people understand that on a theoretical level, it doesn’t seem to sink in until evidence shows that.

  3. Darren,

    I anonymized my blog a few months back to ensure that nobody could Google my name and find my blog. It didn’t work, thanks to Google Cache. They still can find it, but I do feel a bit less ‘public’ (and happily so, in some cases).

    My blog has a tendency to sometimes discuss my personal life (not in-depth, but just like, what I did last weekend). Those type of posts I doubt people would be interested in.

    Some other times I reflect about issues that are important to me (like, whether we have become complacent and stopped doing meaningful work towards cleaning the environment). Those posts, I would think are relevant to readers who don’t really know me.

    Finally, there are the posts where I review new restaurants I’ve tried in Vancouver, or movies, or coffee shops. Those I would also agree are relevant to a general audience.

    But here are two surprises:

    a) My readership has increased, and I can tell that those readers do not know me in person.

    b) The readers who don’t know me tend to be more prone to comment on my blog than the readers who DO know me.

    After I did the Blogathon 2007 I found my readership increased enormously. But I am by no means at the level of readership of other bloggers in Vancouver.

  4. >> It’s like being on stage, and looking out into the audience expecting only to see friends and family. All of a sudden, there’s a bunch of strangers looking back at you.

    Actually, in my case, it was like being on stage, and looking out into the audience expecting to see no one, and all of sudden, my friends and family – and a stranger or two – were looking back at me. 😉 I’m only slightly exaggerating. I’ve done very little to promote my blog and I’m always surprised when *anyone* tells me they’re reading it, let alone enjoying it. Which I kind of like. I’m a writer, and I wanted to blog more as a writing exercise than anything else, but I didn’t want to blog about my life, at least not directly, and I’m also something of a miniaturist, which is why in the end I chose to focus on the grey box, and anonymously (plus and the fact that I really was finding fantastic things in the grey box). My initials are as close as I’ll ever come to really revealing “myself” online. I work in film – I’m on the IMDb, and my work is on several sites, including YouTube – and that’s all the web presence I need for now. I’m certainly never going to join Facebook – no way I’m going to get sucked into that vortex of narcissism and voyeurism – I spend too much time online as it is – we all do!

  5. * Clarification – my initials are fine for my blog, my full name and company name are fine for the IMDb and YouTube. I enjoy blogging anonymously. Hmmm – maybe one day I’ll start blogging anonymously about Canadian film. I know literally dozens of people who would care … !

  6. I’d better get used to the idea of having an audience – a CBC producer has just contacted me to interview me for a segment she’s doing about “living with less”. That may be the end of the anonymity right there.

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