Thursday, September 07, 2006

Distinctive Blogging Voices

Several months ago, Dorothy W. wrote:

If the voice in an essay is interesting, it almost doesn't matter what the subject is. I read them for the personality, the sense of the author that lies behind the words, and I think that's what I enjoy about blogs too. I want a sense of a personality coming through.

I agreed then, and I was forcefully reminded of her point recently when I realized that I could recognize the voices of many of my favourite bloggers even when I encountered them without their names attached.

There are a couple of blogs that I visit several times a day, not because I greedily anticipate more than one post, but because their authors have a genius not just for penning interesting posts but for provoking interesting comments. Commenters respond to the post and, as comments accumulate, respond to one another’s comments, and a lively conversation develops. I keep checking back to see if more people have weighed in on the topic under discussion, and what they’ve said about it, and whether the author of the post has resurfaced in the comments section to respond.

It’s in these comments sections that I found I could recognize bloggers’ voices out of context. Well, not entirely out of context. Communities of litbloggers develop around shared interests and it’s not at all surprising to repeatedly encounter one another visiting the same blogs. But when you visit a blogger at home, you know whose post you’re reading. Whereas in the comments section of someone else’s blog, you often read several sentences before you scroll down far enough to see the signature.

Not long ago, I was reading a comment and thinking to myself, This must be BlogLily. I’d recognize that voice anywhere. When I got to the signature, sure enough it was. Since then it’s become a bit of a game with me—like trying to identify the song that’s playing on the radio from the first few bars. I’ve found that within a sentence or two, I can usually recognize Dorothy W., Litlove, BikeProf, Ella, Stefanie, Danielle, or Victoria, as the author of a comment. And, given the opportunity, I’m quite sure that I could similarly identify the voices of other favourite bloggers.

There are a couple of listservs to which I have belonged for several years. In that context, as I get to know people that I’ve never met in person, I develop a visual image of them. I’ve realized that I don’t conjure up visual images of bloggers the same way; rather, I imagine what their voices sound like. Identifying the authors of comments has something to do with content—familiarity with their literary tastes and preoccupations through regular reading of their own blogs. But it also has much to do with tone; I feel as if I can recognize the sound of their voices.

I’d love to think that this phenomenon demonstrates my fabulous powers of deduction but of course it’s not that at all. What it demonstrates is the distinctive, compelling quality of these bloggers’ voices.

10 comments:

Sylvia said...

Have you tried .coComment? It keeps track of all those conversations for you. Best thing since feed readers.

LK said...

Ah, Kate, you always seem to hit on topics that tumble around in my brain but never manage to make it to the computer screen. As a matter of fact, a lot of the litbloggers I read do that. They do have voices that speak distinctly -- and to me, they always have something to say.

(And you can chime in with your own voice to the litblog choir!)

Stefanie said...

I hadn't thought about recognizing voices like that, but you are right, I can recognize several people by their voice before I get confirmation of who they are. I always think of comments as being off the cuff so it is interesting as you note that voice carries over even into these little snippets!

bloglily said...

Is it the way I spill tea on the keyboard when I get excited that gives me away? I do know what you mean about the voice of the commenter. I like following threads for that very reason -- it's fun to listen in on people having an intelligent, fast moving conversation and even more fun when you can tell who they are from their tone of voice and vocabulary. (I'm with LK, I can always tell it's you from your clear, elegant, rational voice.)

Ella said...

It's my foul language, isn't it?

Seriously, though, I was thinking this too when we were discussing the latest Slaves book at Metaxu Cafe. You hardly need to look at signatures if you've been reading along for the past year. Distinctive voices indeed!

Dorothy W. said...

I think it has something to do with your fabulous powers of deduction! :)

That's very interesting that you identify listserv people with an image and bloggers by their voices -- especially since blogs can be a least at bit more visual than listservs. Any idea why that is?

Kate S. said...

I just realized that you can't play the identify-the-commenter game on my blog since blogger puts the commenter's name right up front. It must have been a typepad or a wordpress or a haloscan comment box that provoked my moment of epiphany...

Dorothy, you ask a very interesting question. I noted the distinction between the way I think about my listserv and blog friends and acquaintances but I hadn't taken the time to analyze it. Both communicate via text and you're quite right that, to the extent that they're different, blogging is, or can be, more visual. I think the reason I visualize the listserv participants and "hear" the bloggers is that, although the focus there is books too, a lot of personal information is exchanged on my main listserv. I have a pretty solid idea about the details of the lives many of the women on the list (it's nearly all women), so when I think of them, I can picture them going about their days, in their homes or workplaces, and interacting with their families. This kind of detail lends itself to a visual image. Whereas my litblog acquaintances are more likely to stick closely to the topic at hand with only the odd personal detail creeping in. So it's the voices in conversation that I hear without a visual image to accompany them.

Danielle said...

You are right when it comes to everyone having their own particular "voices"! Even reading the comments here--yes--that is so Ella or now that sounds like Dorothy! I have also come to recognize people's little photos/images that are with the comments, too! Sylvia's is a Klimt, Stefanie has the book drawing, and LK has the cute cat. I will have to see if I can identify them in the future without looking at names...I also like going back and reading as the conversation grows...

litlove said...

I know exactly what you mean, Kate about recognising voices. I have to confess that I build up little images of bloggers that are mostly impressions of their reading space. For some reason yours in my mind is the image of an embroidered shawl draped over the back of a neat and comfortable armchair. It just sort of fits.

BikeProf said...

This is a very interesting idea. I have been thinking lately that my blog voice has finally found its footing (to mangle my metaphors), and it seems to be a more authentic voice (ironic, considering it's pseudonymous) than my academic writing voice.