Inhospitable Writing

Much web writing is “inhospitable to strangers”: it uses text to build a conversational in-group, making it clear to outsiders that they are not a part of the conversation. Here’s an example of inhospitable writing:

Guns and Speech Commodity Activism, A Blog Post

Picking up on Josh’s “quick think” on notions of an activism of symbols, a couple of things come to mind (imagine that, right? Me on a tangent!). First of all, as Jane mentioned, all things are not equal: sometimes words really do hurt. More importantly, the gun divide in our country makes action impossible, This leads to something similar to the Commodity Activism that I’ve mentioned here before. When you can’t take action on an issue, you crave ways to signal concern. Why wouldn’t you?

How’d that make you feel reading that? Did you feel invited in? Or did you feel left out?

Who is “Josh”? Who’s “Jane”?

Why is the phrase “quick think” linked and quoted? Is that an inside joke I don’t know about? Who is this “me” and why is it funny they are on a tangent? Is this “things are not equal” post important? What’s not equal? Am I supposed to have read these previous posts first?

If you blog, you probably think that your posts don’t read like this. And they probably don’t to your friends. But to strangers they feel like this. And to students the papers and posts you assign may feel like this as well.

Posts like this build a community, and use links and references to other conversations to strengthen that community. They build friendships, and friendships are important. They feel good to people in the community. But it comes at a price to outsiders.

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These techniques come over from Usenet and BBS culture. See Before Posting to NetNews

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