What’s your step two?

Another post about ace advice blogs.

Say you’ve got a new ask message in your inbox.  Say it contains a fairly basic question, something that’s easy to answer or explain, about something that’s not to hard to pick up on your own if you’ve been around the ace community for a while.  You start drafting a response and write up the technical answer to the question itself.  That’s step one.  To all the people running ace advice blogs, I wish I could ask: What’s your step two?

In Arf (of Demigray.org)’s massive piece on advice blog culture, she wrote that one of the functions of advice blogs is that they can serve as gateways and community hubs:

Advice blogs are most often patronized by people new to the community who are just learning the ropes. People who are at least somewhat knowledgeable may find following an advice blog to be a repetitive, overly basic experience. Thus, advice blogs are typically a gateway to the asexual community, helping followers connect with others like them.

Advice blogs may do this by serving as a repository of experiences. I have received several messages in which anons said that following my blog and reading about the experiences of other anons helped them clarify their own experiences and feel less alone. Every so often, someone will even want to submit their own story of how they came to discover their identity. This story might get reblogged or commented on by other readers.

Advice blogs help make connections. Sometimes, followers comment on my posts to say that they share the same experience as an anon, or they reblog to elaborate on their own story. My ask posts are frequently reblogged, indicating that the ask and/or my answer is helpful to that person in some way—maybe it helps them clarify something or reassures them that they’re not alone in their experience.

Advice blogs can also help plug readers in to greater asexual community discourse. An example is the cupioromantic debate on Asexual Advice. Whatever opinion they ended up having, readers were taken beyond asking “what does cupioromantic mean” and on to “how is cupioromanticism affected by amatonormativity?” Some anons even submitted their own opinion as asks, allowing them to be heard even if they didn’t have a blog. Providing a platform for discussions like these is a great way to ease new aces or casual activists into broader discussions and 200-level topics in the asexual community.

(bolding added)

All of that sounds like pretty beneficial, desirable stuff to me.  It also aligns with what I’ve suggested about how — for some people, at least — discovering stories can be a crucial part of identity formation and adopting a new label.  Sometimes seeing the abstract definition or getting the technical answer, true as it may be, isn’t enough.

Which brings us back to the question: after you’ve supplied the technical answer, what’s your step two?  Are you linking any stories?  Directing people to any resources or perspectives outside your own?  Guiding readers to anywhere besides your own blog?  If advice blogs are most often patronized by people new to the community who are just learning the ropes, people who haven’t discovered much beyond 101 info, what are you doing to bring them into a broader sense of the community and to connect them to other parts of it?

I have no doubts it can be done.  Queenie should be everyone’s role model for this, see Exhibit A: avoiding Platonic declarations about abstract truth, providing multiple narratives (as Sennkestra recommends) as different possibilities to consider, linking to an outside piece on one of the experiences/identities like the one asked about, etc.

So while providing a platform for anonymous visitors to air their thoughts and share their stories is all well and good (and something that should certainly continue), and while I have nothing against blogs providing a doorstep for leaving untraceable messages, it’s occurred to me that if an advice blog hosts any and all discussion and storytelling on its own url and never leads newcomers beyond itself, that’s not a gateway. That’s a wall.

Which is to say, people will bounce off it without going any further.  This is especially true when the majority of input from visitor and followers doesn’t come with usernames attached.  The anon option on tumblr has its uses, but it’s not great for community building.  It’s a step one.  It’s a start.  But it doesn’t make connections.  It’s hard to engage someone further on a subject when you don’t know how to get in contact with someone beyond using the same blog as a middle man, submitting a message that begins “to the anon who wrote…”

Advice blogs can play host to debates, certainly.  But if it just becomes a thousand anons writing letters to the editor and taking swipes at each other, as I’ve seen happen from time to time, that’s not what I’d call “plugging readers in to greater community discourse.”  It might bring a 201 topic into a 101 space, but it doesn’t necessarily expose new aces to “broader discussions,” which I take to mean discussions with broader reach and many participants beyond a single advice blog, unless the mods of that single advice blog actually take the extra steps to direct attention to those other participants.

Which is always something I’d like to see more of.

It’s easier than ever to keep track of what everyone is saying now, too, thanks to Siggy’s ace feed package, which basically gives you a tumblr dash for ace sites that aren’t tumblr.

I want every ace advice blog to reach the potential that Arf describes.  But I’m not sure what, if anything, they’re doing to get there.

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15 responses to “What’s your step two?

  • Siggy

    I don’t think Queenie’s model is very realistic for the big advice blogs. They have very high volume! If advice bloggers spend more time and thought on each answer, something else needs to give way. IMHO they should toss out a lot of questions, just as you would for letters to the editor. (For all I know, some already do this.)

    • Coyote

      I’m pretty sure some (like asexualadvice) already do that, yes, but they could probably do it more. I could understand why they’d be hesitant to leave people hanging, though.

      Of course, I view the entire arrangement as kind of troublesome to begin with, but I know people are attached to them.

      If quick/shallow answers are the most we can ask for, that’s one thing, but if that’s the case then I’m going to be even more critical of the claim that advice blogs can/should be considered gateways and stepping stones into the wider community.

      Perhaps more linkspams/more thorough FAQs would help save time?

    • Arf

      Yes, Asexual Advice and I do toss out a lot of questions, but we are still inundated. Even though I have a policy of not answering questions that are in the FAQ (and I think AA does this too), I still get a lot of repetitive questions, so I don’t think it would be helpful to do a “Dear Abby” or Dan Savage style thing. Advice columns are a different format.

      Queenie has said somewhere (I believe) that her linkspams can take up to two hours to compile, so it’s not at all a realistic model for advice blogs, especially when we get very repetitive questions on a weekly basis. Half the time I just refer people to Demisexuality.org or Asexuality Archive.

      • Siggy

        Wait, how does the repetitiveness make it less feasible? Doesn’t that mean you can throw out even more of the questions?

        • Arf

          People get sad when their questions regarding their personal situations go unanswered. Also, because hundreds of questions are answered every month, it’s good to have some repetition as topics will get buried.

          • Siggy

            But to me, that tells me that the advice bloggers still aren’t throwing out enough of the questions. That’s putting the feelings of individual askers above the feelings of all the readers. And that’s just bad for everyone, because presumably the askers are also readers.

            (From a game theory perspective, it looks like a massive coordination problem, only there’s a dictator who just refuses to enforce cooperation.)

  • Arf

    Since I get so many extremely repetitive questions, I don’t think it’s necessary or feasible to give a detailed, nuanced Queenie-style linkspam for every ask. I’ve got a links page, I include links to some of my posts, and I post links and reblog other resources when applicable. The gateway to broader community discourse is there if people want it, but I’m not going to shove it in their face with every ask. I would imagine that most advice blogs have resources/links pages. Not including links in every single ask doesn’t make an advice blog a “wall.” Most advice blogs do put effort into providing other resources for their readers; you don’t have to stuff an entry-level ask with a bunch of links for the blog to be a good resource.

  • queenieofaces

    Like others have said, I don’t think I’m a feasible model, given the amount of time I put into answering asks and also just…the sheer amount of bibliography I have access to. The reason I can answer asks with as much nuance and linkage as I do is because I read a lot and have a very good memory, and I don’t get the impression that ace advice bloggers have anywhere near that much time/inclination to pour into reading everything everyone has ever written about [super niche topic].

    THAT SAID, I do think that putting together linkspams for commonly asked questions, while it might be a bit of a time sink up front, will wind up saving time in the long run. Namely, if instead of answering “Can you be aromantic and have a relationship?” with the same paragraph of text ten times you can say, “Yes, see this linkspam,” you’ll be A. offering the asker significantly more information than you could by just giving them your perspective, B. saving time, and C. linking them into the larger ace blogosphere. But, again, to assemble that sort of linkspam you’d have to read a lot or use something someone else has already constructed, and I think a lot of ace advice blogs are loath to use other people’s work (thus the group of them that don’t link/only link to themselves) and/or don’t have the time or inclination to assemble a resource like that.

    • Coyote

      “I think a lot of ace advice blogs are loath to use other people’s work (thus the group of them that don’t link/only link to themselves)”

      Yes, about that…. what’s up with that?

  • Linkspam: June 12th, 2015 | The Asexual Agenda

    […] Coyote has some thoughts on how to improve ace advice blogs. […]

  • demiandproud

    I think it does help to make a post more balanced. Thanks for the advice!

  • Re: Asexual Advice’s Official Response — Kiowa | The Ace Theist

    […] You can write that off as an exception, I guess, but I think you should revisit Arf’s essay I linked above, especially the part about being a gateway… not a wall. […]

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