by janie m
Blog communities are like "real life" communities in some ways, and not like them in others. In my experience there are very few real life groups where a departure wouldn't be noticed or commented on, but with blogs someone can just not comment one day, and no one notices, because well, people do get busy, and then another day goes by and another and another, and finally you have the stalwart, faithful dozens (plus lurkers : - )) at the Obsidian Wings of 2017 where there were the hundreds (maybe thousands) in 2008, which is when I first came here to read Andy Olmsted's last post. Andy's departure may seem to contradict my premise, but I would argue that the loss of a front-pager is different from that of a commenter, and Andy's circumstances were of course special in ways far beyond that.
I can't say it better than I did in a Flickr discussion thread a few years back:
Ever since I started reading blogs about ten years ago, I’ve been fascinated by the total voluntariness of commenting communities. People come, people go, occasionally people are banned (depending on the site), but far more often commenters arrive without fanfare and disappear without notice, and they also comment in widely varying amounts and rhythms when they’re around. It would be fascinating to see a study of this flow of people in and out, and of the mix of dominant and occasional “voices” – if anyone in Eszter’s world is working on it, I’d love to read the articles. (Hint, hint.)
That passage was from my introduction to the theme of the week – "Flow" – in the Flickr photo group p5214, the second year of a project started by Eszter Hargittai of Crooked Timber in late 2012. Having completed four years of picture-taking together, the dwindling group dissolved at the end of 2016.
The group was a lot of fun. I miss the people and I miss the inspiration to take a picture every week and share it with some internet friends. We never talked politics, we never argued or got testy with each other (maybe those two facts are connected!). We just shared pictures and comments and enjoyed getting little glimpses of how other people saw the world through the lens of a camera.
The Flickr group was much like a blog in the sense that people came, people went, and sometimes people who felt like friends disappeared one day without a trace, never to be heard from again. I disappeared a couple of times myself, though I did come back last December in time to post a last picture or two to p5216, and to say thanks and bye.
Besides Eszter and Chris Bertram (another Timberite), the original p5213 group included one other handle I recognized, that of the commenter known as Baskaborr here at Obsidian Wings. At the end of that first year Baskaborr told us a story:
In one of her comments JanieMaine said she joined on a whim. I think my decision to join was mostly an act of defiance. I have stage 4 colon cancer. This time last year I was digesting bad news. After spending a little over two years on chemo the cancer sites in my liver, lung and lymphatic system were growing again. Both my oncologists agreed that I was unlikely to survive another year. When I saw an item about this project on Crooked Timber, it seemed tailor made. I've loved photography since I was a kid. One year was a good goal. So I decided I would join and I would, come hell or high water, complete the project.
Baskaborr posted his last photo to the group in May of 2016. Given his story, it was an ominous absence that followed. On the other hand, as I keep pointing out, people come and go from blogs – and photo groups – and most of the time you never know why.
With Steve, in the end I found out why. His wife wrote to me in January via Flickrmail that Steve had died on December 7.
I'm sad; I feel like I've lost a friend in that peculiar way of online connections. But part of Steve isn't gone; the internet being what it is, he left a legacy that can be searched, for anyone who's interested.
He wrote about and took pictures of horses, and birds, and cancer, and gardening, and politics, and life. My favorite picture of his – in fact, one of my favorite pictures of all time – is this beautiful and perhaps a bit sly commentary on modern life.
It's easy to go to Flickr and look through Steve's photostream; you can even find pictures of the man himself. As for blog comments, I had the best luck when I typed "Baskaborr obsidianwings.blogs.com" in a Google search box. "Baskaborr" alone yields comments he made elsewhere, too.
I could say a lot more about the dynamics of blog comments, but maybe we can do that together...in the comments.