just a thought – dismembership disorganization

In the beginning, there were fashion bloggers.  Then came the coalitions, the affiliations, the communities, the aggregators and the networks to collect and organize them.

This post has been on my mind ever since The Grumpy Owl joined Sayntly.  Grumpy, like most owls, is not exactly a pack animal, and when he joined up (albeit as an agent of chaos) I felt a comment coming on, and it has taken a while to form itself into a semi-coherent thought.

I guess the need to network is born out of the challenges of being a struggling fashion blogger.  Seeking connections and invitations, being frustrated with getting lumped in with Perez Hilton and other bloggers with undesirable reputations, measuring your puny traffic against the clout of larger websites with more people behind them, and of course the ambition to turn fashion blogging from a hobby to a career.

With the best of intentions behind them, networks never seem to… work.  In my experience, networks create politics, not community.  Here is my story, from the beginning.

I started blogging on my old blogspot (RIP) in 2005.  I received no comments or emails for the first six months, but I continued because I enjoyed trying to express myself this way.  My first comments were from Julie Fredrickson at Almost Girl, another fashion blogger in Chicago.  Within a couple months, Julie had launched the first fashion blog “carnival” and the effect was that as a niche, fashion blogging began to have a group identity.  Around that time, the first “fashion blog network” GLAM started sending around long complicated contracts trying to recruit fashion bloggers.  Shortly after that Julie started her own collective community called (in retrospect, very aptly) Coutorture.

I have always been hesitant of joining up with any blogging group or organization.  I like being independent.  I joined Coutorture out of loyalty to my first fashion blogging friend.  Though I was supportive, from the beginning I never understood why fashion bloggers needed a community organizer.  Up until that point the power of Google and the informal network of emails, comments and links seemed to naturally create their own community, so why try to “herd cats”?

Though Julie is my friend, I do not always agree with her.  When we were blogging as ourselves, that was fun – it made for interesting debates and lively comment threads.  In our roles as a member and a leader of an organization, it was more problematic.  When she took positions I disagreed with, as the representative of a network I was a member of, I felt, well, misrepresented.  So I was not a very active member of Coutorture and always felt some misgivings about belonging to it.  The result has been an awkward distance between me and my first fashion blog friend.  Julie has since sold Coutorture, moved on to bigger and better things, and given up the social side of fashion blogging.

After Coutorture, the only blog network I have joined is Independent Fashion Bloggers, which I like a lot (terrific articles and a helpful, genuine community that actively fights the tendency to get cliquish) but still prefer to keep myself at arms length from it.

A lot of fashion blog networks have arrived on the scene.  As Grumpy puts it, there have been some “periodic kerfluffles”, the latest of which is the ridiculous Sayntly/Style Coalition spat.  The thing is, when I think of blogger networks, I think of all the power grabs, cliques, rivalries and exploitation I have observed over the past few years.  While not without exception, I have seen networks exacerbate the worst of fashion blogging, and worse, turn some very talented bloggers off of the medium.

The benefits of blogging independently, in my opinion, far outweigh the benefits of blogging as a member of most types of networks.  Its easier to choose who you associate (or disassociate with), and you have more control over your reputation.  If you choose to have advertising, you don’t have to give up a percentage of it to your representative.  You have the opportunity to form direct relationships with publicists instead of being subject to second-hand accreditation (or blacklisting).  As you build your pagerank, your content and hard work will direct traffic to your site and not an aggregator’s site.

Fashion blogging naturally creates its own informal community.  It is open to anyone, anywhere, and it is full of different characters and new ideas, changing all the time.  In my opinion, disorganization gives the best kind of fashion blogging room to grow.

Have a different point of view?  Or your own story?  I’d love to read about it in the comments.

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13 thoughts on “just a thought – dismembership disorganization”

  1. Independence — the very topic I just spent an hour discussing on the phone, though in a different context.

    As a knit/craft blogger, I am continuously watching the mostly female community flock together, grouping, regrouping, knitting-along, swapping, tagging, writing, talking, touring, visiting, cupcake-eating. Me? I’m just there on the edges, needles in hand, clicking and watching.

    Why? I’m not sure. With networks like ravelry.com with its quarter million members, I remain surprisingly distant and aloof. I don’t completely understand my own ambivalence either — I, like you, want to be more connected, though I don’t reach out as much as I would need to be get active.

    *shrug* I’ll chalk it up to being independent and desynchronized from other people’s time schedules (I am very slow relative to others).

    You and I have different goals though: I never want to make it big — I like the freedom that futility brings. I only want to self-express and possibly connect to a small group of like-minds/kindred souls. I’m currently looking to more traditional jobs to bring in the cheese and yarn.

    Personally, I liked Final Fashion best when you were a student just focusing on making, drawing and talking. Your tone felt the most playful and personable then. While your website is very professional and polished now, I miss seeing the flip side, the messy and the personal.

  2. Danielle,
    you hit the nail in the coffin!
    There are certain things that don’t require a “coalition” if you enjoy fashion,why not be independent.Its like having the opportunity to go solo,but yet,you choose to go to a group? see the difference?
    Every blogger has hopes of turning blogging to an annual income of 150,000, I can assure you will not see this type of dough in a BLOG CULT!

  3. Nadia – “I never want to make it big — I like the freedom that futility brings.”

    One thing that I have recognized, even in myself, that as things grow, they tend to solidify and grow more rigid. Though I make a lot of effort socially to constantly meet new people and to be open to new things, my attitude towards my blog is more focused and less “futile” than before, and you’re right, some of the looseness is gone. While you and some of my readers may miss it, I don’t. I think for a “professional and polished” blog I feel that I reveal a lot of myself, and I think in my real life too, I am less messy than before. I’m learning.

    There is a bit of a cultish aspect to fashion blogging in general. I guess what is weird about artificial networks is how the cult is being run by opportunistic individuals, with borders and rules, instead of being a great decentralized, amorphous, uncontrolled, unlimited thing.

  4. This is such a fantastic post. I’m so glad you brought this subject up. I also have a hard time being part of a group/network/coalition in general. It’s difficult to form close relationships with so many members in one network.

    I, for one, appreciate quality over quantity. I’m not a blogger who will link to 50+ other fashion bloggers, whom I rarely read their posts. I will post a comment when I think I will enjoy throwing in my 2 cents. Independent Fashion Bloggers is a nice site, but I don’t actively take part of the community, rather I enjoy the occasional good post Jennine has on blogging.

    Few people comment on my posts, which is fine, actually it makes for comments to be even more special because you know that the few who do read and take the time to comment on your blog makes it all the better to continue.

    I don’t think creating a network is inherently bad, it could be fun if done correctly. Like I wouldn’t mind meeting up with fellow fashion bloggers once a month to just chat about our experiences as fashion bloggers or get other ppl’s opinions on where we think this is going. But that has yet to happen 🙂

  5. Excellent post. True blog readership takes a long time to grow organically, and often these blog networks prey upon our desire for instant traffic. Unfortunately, that traffic is often uninterested and unfocused, bringing little actual value to our blog.

    I’m of the opinion that a lot of the “blogging things to do” like join networks, share links, and comment are done impersonally, and for the wrong reasons. Content should be shared when it adds value, links should be shared after a relationship has already formed. Networks should evolve organically as a group of connected bloggers work together on a topic.

    When I originally started blogging, some of the first fashion blogs I found (to read) were through the b5media network. I commented heavily on these blogs, often providing useful and helpful insights/information. Not once did I receive a comment back from them, or a response on their own blog. I also didn’t see comments from anyone except other members of the network.

    Talking with a member of the b5media network a few months later, I found out that members were discouraged from commenting on or linking to blogs outside the network (for traffic reasons, etc.) This, retroactively, explained the cold shoulder I received from them (even in direct email contact).

    This type of behavior, which I suspect exists at other blog networks (ones that even have contracts!), is of course contrary to the ideals upon which blogging originated; openness, sharing, and helping others.

    I love blogging because I love to learn and I love to teach (not just about fashion), and thus I have remained an independent blogger (though I too am a member of IFB, even though I think even it is too much, in requiring banners/badges and linkbacks to be a member).

    I agree that often it’s harder as an independent, but that it’s worth the effort, the wait, and the perception that others might be getting off to a faster start.

    Thanks for the post, you’ve started an important discussion anew.

  6. Wonderful, thoughtful post. I’m sort of new to fashion blogging, but not to writing, so I enjoy the prospect of connecting with people in my own way, whether through the community of messageboards or twitter. But like you, I want to remain independent, retain my own identity and remember that my point of view counts, no matter my tiny readership.

  7. You’re quite right. I’m not exactly a pack animal and joining a pack hasn’t exactly changed that.

    I do however write for a couple of blogs other than my own — Mooney on Theatre and Gonzo Squad. I also used to write for BlogTO. I only have a few simple conditions — I don’t want to be fucked with, won’t work with assholes and the blogging must be fun just for what it is. I also like some free tickets to stuff.

    Which is weird — because most of those I could probably get on my own but I just don’t bother.

    Never join any group where you give up any control to be a member and never be afraid to give up any group. And I’ve given up a few for reasons ranging from the petty to the sublime.

    Having said that, working with others can be worthwhile and working with a decent editor will benefit any writer. But remember — a good editor will clarify your meaning and never alter it.

    As for these so-called blog networks, like Sanytly, they’re next to useless. Perhaps worse than useless. I would not recommend that anyone ever join them. That I did should not concern you.

    I have my own esoteric reasons. As usual.

    But these networks do not drive traffic, they will not make you a better writer and they will close more doors than they will ever open. Their end game is to make you a shill, increase the power of the people who run them and fatten everyone’s bank account except yours. It is that basic.

    If you want to be an unpaid and easily replaceable part of a publicity machine, then join. If you have a somewhat loftier idea of blogging, writing and what you’re about, then avoid them.

    And look, not every blog is going to generate traffic and most will never make a cent, see a freebie or last longer than a year. Joining a network will not change that. It’s fine.

    Blog because you love blogging or don’t bother. Life is too short and precious to waste chasing silly dreams of fame, fortune and making money without working.

    Just do as you please and get paid for the rest. In money.

  8. Ryan, excellent response. I too have nothing against writing for a particular blog (some of the most successful blogs out there, like the Huffington Post, are run by huge groups of collaborators). That, as well as guest posting on other blogs, is a completely different thing (actually useful).

    Glad to see I’m not completely alone on this concept either. These are the “networks” that are important in blogging, the organic ones forming around a common ideal.

    Keep going everyone.

  9. Dahlia – “I wouldn’t mind meeting up with fellow fashion bloggers once a month to just chat about our experiences as fashion bloggers or get other ppl’s opinions on where we think this is going.”

    That has happened here – the TFBB series of brunches I did. I killed it off because it was getting too big and taking too much organization to do – the looseness was gone. Now I hold them irregularly, and ironically, I have to be very careful how I organize them to keep them informal and small.

    Barry Wright III – “This type of behavior, which I suspect exists at other blog networks (ones that even have contracts!), is of course contrary to the ideals upon which blogging originated; openness, sharing, and helping others.”

    The tendency to erect walls, have insiders and outsiders, and impose rules on bloggers really takes all the fun out of blogging. The successful groups (like IFB) understand that we can’t blog in a vacuum, that fashion blogs can run free on the great wide web.

    Ryan Oakley – “Blog because you love blogging or don’t bother. Life is too short and precious to waste chasing silly dreams of fame, fortune and making money without working.”

    I think you’ve hit the mark here – if the initiatives behind creating a “network” has to do with the ambitions and egos of the organizers (and honestly, sometimes its awfully blatent), its bad news for the members. Somehow I think if a network can work, it needs to be decentralized, as you say, connected by “affinity” and not a leader.

    As you all may know, I deal with the ideas of groups/leadership/networks with the brunches, and your comments are giving me a lot of food for thought. Thanks so much!

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