A BlogOff is a conversation between blogs, over time. A BlogOff compounds the benefits of blogging in several ways... so much so that it might be considered an important part of the still-mythical Web 3.0. The BlogOffs page lists a number of ongoing BlogOffs dealing with various aspects of sustainable place-making and architecture. Here's how a BlogOff works:
I was introduced to the idea of a BlogOff by Cindy Frewen Wuellner, who at the time was blogging with others at LetsBlogOff.com. Participants there blog once every two weeks (admittedly about lower-level ideas in most cases, but it's the process that's important.) They then comment and tweet their responses to each other's work. What I'm describing below is a robust enhancement of that idea... I'm about to try this new BlogOff method for the first time with some New Urbanist colleagues; we'll be talking about neighborhood retail.
BlogOffing is a team sport... you need at least one other blogger to participate. But the more the better, up to probably 20 or so, at which point it becomes unlikely that you'll find time to read everyone else's work. The basic idea is simple: you pick a topic and start posting. At the beginning, each blogger is laying out their base position and assumptions. Subsequent posts respond to their predecessors, and the whole thing becomes a big conversation. That conversation can run indefinitely, until you've thoroughly mined the material.
It's very important that each blogger link freely to the posts they're replying to. For example, while addressing another blogger, you might link to several of their previous posts as you lay out your responses. And if there are several bloggers involved, it becomes a very link-rich environment. With normal blogging, you're the primary promoter of your own posts, and it's unlikely you'll promote any one post more than just a few times, otherwise your followers will soon be saying "give it a rest, already"... or more likely, they'll simply unfollow you. A Blogoff amplifies post promotion in several ways:
• Others are talking about your posts, not just you, and the credibility of your post goes way up as a result because it doesn't come off as self-promotion.
• The links are fresh because, as the conversation goes along, other bloggers are linking to your posts from the most recent parts of the conversation.
• Because the other bloggers have different audiences from you, links to your blogs are directly reaching many people you do not know, and could not reach with your direct post promotion.
The combined effect is that there will be far more links to your posts that keep coming in for weeks or months, and that reach a far larger audience than you could ever reach on your own. Your readership should therefore go up... possibly way up.
Body of Work
A single blog post should be brief, which limits the ability to develop an idea. But a swarm of BlogOff posts on an issue by several bloggers extending for weeks or months can be a substantial body of work that many might find useful. If so, then you might consider putting up a site that catalogs the posts all in one place, where people can more easily see the entire framework of the conversation. Such a site might reasonably be expected to be cited by academics or the press, depending of course on the quality of the discussion.
BlogOff participants are encouraged to discuss the BlogOff posts regularly with their Twitter followers. If they participate in discussion listservs, they may discuss the posts there as well. I do a fair amount of public speaking, and tell my audience about BlogOffs when it's appropriate.
Conversations carry more passion and pique more outside interest if there is a controversy of some sort. So don't shy away from material over which there is significant debate.
The idea of a thoughtful and continuing discourse goes back centuries, being carried on first by "men of letters" who corresponded (sometimes for years) on the important issues of the day. More recently, discussion listservs have served a similar function. The problem with each of these venues is that the material is generally inaccessible to the outside world until someone goes to great effort. Originally, that would involve tracing down all of the letters of a discourse from the two or more participants and publishing them in a book, which often happened after the deaths of the participants.
Listservs can be even more closed, with gatekeepers who control who can participate or even see the discussion. The reason cited is to protect participants so they can speak more freely without fear of outside repercussions, given that some are public figures. Listserv members on some lists are therefore prohibited from discussing the discourse with outsiders, and broadly accepted listserv etiquette holds that it's very bad manners to copy and paste discussions elsewhere unless you have gotten prior permission from everyone involved in a particular thread.
BlogOffs reverse this entirely. They make outside access very easy, and amplify the message to get the ideas out to a very broad audience. Listservs have their important uses; I believe BlogOffs will as well.
Urbanism BlogOffs Guestbook