Wednesday, August 08, 2007

A Dilemma of a Different Sort

I first noticed it last March, during Women's History month. Some of my readers who subscribed to my blog had their email subscriptions bounced by their ISPs. The first time it happened I only lost a couple of subscribers, and while I'm always disappointed to lose readers I didn't worry a lot about it. The second time the same thing happened I lost even more subscribers. That's when I became concerned.

When I looked back on the two blog posts I'd written that triggered those events I realized immediately what was going on. Can you guess? Without mentioning those two blog posts by name (and risk getting this post bounced too) let me just say that they were articles I'd written about the history of various items of women's clothing. The ISPs had bounced some of my reader's subscriptions to my blog because I'd used some trigger words in those posts. Which words were triggers? I can't say for sure but I can make a few good guesses. Did those folks who lost their email subscription to my blog still continue to read it? I have no idea.

Like most of my fellow genea-bloggers, I'm concerned about my readership. I've worked hard for quite a while now to build it up and I certainly don't want to shoot myself in the foot by writing content that will lose it for me. On the other hand, I've got what I think are some interesting genealogy articles in mind that I'd like to write but I'm worried about setting off ISP triggers and losing readership again. Nobody tells you the rules on this sort of thing. I don't even know for sure what words I need to avoid. Am I copping out by not writing the articles because I'm concerned about my readership numbers? Or am I foolish to write what I know may well lose me readers? This is my dilemma.

Before I go any further, let me just play this safe and say that for the purposes of this post I will refer to the three letter word that starts with s and ends with x as _e_.

I've made no secret of my background. I've previously mentioned that I majored in psychology and minored in sociology as an undergrad and went on to earn an MSW (Masters in Social Work). I worked for years as a clinical therapist and the subject of _e_ is something I'm quite comfortable discussing and writing about. I had to take classes in _e_ therapy as a student and became desensitized to even the most graphic discussions on the subject. Having said that, I realize that this blog is not the place for open discussions of _e_. It's about genealogy and family history (OK and sometimes it's about Stephanie Plum books ;-) and the other stuff doesn't belong here.

Or does it?

Where would we be today if not for _e_? Isn't it the very basis of family history? Whether we openly acknowledge it or not we wouldn't be here today if grandma and grandpa weren't doing the late night tango. It is a fact of life. And a fact of family history. Mind you, I'm not thinking about turning this blog into one about _e_ and genealogy (although that would be fun wouldn't it?). But the articles I want to write would include certain elements of a _e_ ual nature and to try to write them without mention of such would be like trying to avoid mentioning the 800 lb gorilla in the room.

I've thought about trying to use things like "_e_" for word substitutes but I don't think that would work well. It's easy enough to do when it's only the one word I'm substituting but to try to come up with enough substitutions for even a small number of might-be-trigger words would create a downright comical post. And while I'm all in favor of lighthearted banter when it comes to discussions involving _e_ I don't want to turn a serious subject into a comedy.

Doesn't this post feel awkward to read, like I'm dancing around instead of being straight foreword? It certainly feels that way as I'm writing it. Yeesh.

There are so many unknowns to consider... Does the vocabulary in "comments" get screened by ISPs so that even if I avoid using trigger words I could lose subscribers if those who write comments don't? And what about outside links... if my fellow bloggers were to mention my article and naively use the trigger words I'm trying to avoid, will that somehow reflect negatively on my blog and drop it's rankings/ratings because it becomes associated with those trigger words?

So where do I go from here? I'd really like to hear from you, my readers. If your email subscription got bounced by your ISP would you still read my blog regularly? If you're a blogger, would you avoid mentioning my articles (when you otherwise might not have) because it might trigger a loss in your own readership? How concerned are you about your readership numbers? How interested are you in reading what I might write on this subject anyway? Would you be offended by the idea and quit reading my blog if I were to discuss _e_ and family history here? Am I over thinking this?

I would appreciate your feedback on this subject. Please use discretion when making your comments and avoid what might be trigger words. And for heaven's sake don't write a blog post saying "Jasia's considering writing about genea- _e_ on her blog" and then link to this article! If you don't feel comfortable writing a comment, please at least vote in the poll I've place in the column on the right. Thank you for your thoughtful consideration and feedback.

Now tell me, what are your thoughts?


  1. Jasia - I tried to vote but got a "Cannot Process Request" error. Basically, I'd say it depends upon what you are trying to accomplish with your blog and how explicit the posts will be. If you are more concerned with what your readers will think then don't post. But if you believe that you have something worthwhile to say about the subject then you should post. If a few readers are lost because of the posts then so be it. I've only linked to a few of your posts but if I felt your proposed posts were something I would have linked to then I'd still link to them. We all like to have readers (and commenters) on our blogs but if your goal is to increase readership and write for your readers then you probably shouldn't post the articles, although it is possible you could bring in an altogether different type of reader, if you get me drift there.

  2. Jasia, I was proud to cast the first vote and prouder still to vote that "I would continue to read and support this blog even if it came with a cost to my own readership." Here's why: I consider myself hugely loyal to my friends (online and in-person) and am a very forgiving person when it comes to most things. I also value freedom of speech. As Voltaire said, "I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."

    All that being said, yes, there is a place for discretion in blogging, especially when we write for a wide audience. You're wise to consider these issues. It is tricky to balance these things, isn't it? As we delve into our family trees, we often discover the Big Three that seem to be the main skeletons in nearly everyone's genealogy, admitted or not: mental illness, prison, and immorality (whether it was a hasty marriage, an affair, or crime of a _e_ual nature). These things are hard NOT to discuss, because often they affected not only the individuals directly involved, but the extended family; and in many ways, affect us several generations later.

    I'm very interested in reading what you may have to say on this topic, and I hope you will choose to publish them, one way or another.

  3. I am more concerned about the fact that your feed only shows a portion of the post than I am about the content of your postings. I have recently unsubscribed from all blogs who choose to show only partial posts via their feed. To me, that defeats the entire purpose (convenience) of subscribing via my feed reader. I simply don't have time to run all over the web, reading blog posts. What I do instead is drop by when I have time to kill or when, as in this case, someone points to it in their post. Every time a blogger chooses to go this route it frustrates me to no end, but I understand this is one of those "to each his own" choices, and I respect it even if I don't like it.

    As for the content, I've been calling you the _e_y genealogist since forever, and I can't think of a single blogger better able to broach this topic than you.

    I hope you publish it, and I look forward to when you do.

  4. Jasia, as an adult I feel I can take a discussion on the topic in question. Genealogy is the pursuit of knowledge in relation to family. Family exists because of _e_.

    While I can understand your reluctance to loose readers, once you start to censor based on one particular mindset, you start down a slippery slope..

  5. Jasia, I'm in the "continue to
    read and support" camp.

    I recently had two instances where I had to decide how I was going to post something. One was my Aunt Dot's account of her and my Dad being less than perfect students and using words some might find offensive. So I used a few well places asterisks in place of letters.

    The second was my post on Ralph
    Ellingwood's divorce. While I knew
    that the term actually used in the court case "insufficiency" was safe, I wasn't sure if the whole post would offend or not. But my
    folks thought it was funny years ago when they read about the 15 children that came after, so I hoped others would see the humor in it as well and posted it.

    As a bookseller, I have run into
    cases of customers complaining about books we sell(mostly political books btw)and feel
    censorship is indeed a "slippery

    It's your blog. You have the right to post what you want as long as it follows the guidelines set by Blogger. Your readers have the
    right to decide if they want to read it. Hopefully most of them are mature and intelligent enough to deal with it in the context in
    which you are presenting the topic.

    I look forward to reading it!

  6. I subscribe to your feed and will continue to. You've never posted anything that I've found offensive and doubt you ever would. If you write something that I find interesting that I want to link to I will.

  7. Jasia,

    In the past few months I posted a history article about outhouses and included a variety of words necessary to my story. Well, my readership dropped dramatically for a few weeks (realize that most people visit my blog via search engines). I suspect that library/school search engines may have perceived my blog as something they needed to screen out.

    That experience led to a second article entitled... "Mentioning the Unmentionable--Naughty Words for Bloggers" that discusses whether these filter programs are providing a service, or a disservice.

    My decision was to keep writing, and including words that would possibly affect my readership, if they were integral to my story.

    Some slopes are more slippery than others.


  8. Jasia, this is another reason to promote the use of newsreaders for keeping up with blogs - and other web content. Because a newsreader is a pull technology (the user decides which feeds to subscribe to), I haven't experienced any reader app that blocked content.

    In the discussion of family relations and history, there are uncomfortable, sensitive and sometimes even ugly things involved. History cannot be re-written just because it might offend someone. And, the fact that I might find something offensive is only my problem. If I don't like it I can always skip that article - it doesn't mean I'll remove the blog from my subscription list.

    Keep doing what you've always done at Creative Gene. We're here because we find it thoughtful, provocative and entertaining.

  9. Jasia,

    I will always support you...

    I had not considered your dilemma before - and haven't noticed drops in readership of my blog due to controversial words (but maybe I haven't used any? I'm thinking about my funny census stuff...nope, I haven't published my X-rated list).

    I doubt that comments get sent via email to readers. Therefore, you're safe even if your commenters say SEX! or worse.

    There is a way around this - start another blog - like "The Sexy Genealogist" - and post what you want to post there. don't give readers an email option. Don't allow comments - you're going to get spammed a lot there!

    When you post an article on the Sexy blog, then point to it from your blog - or put it in a separate tag on Creative Gene.

  10. Jasia, I don't understand the dilemma. If someone wishes to read your excellent blog on a regular basis, they should be reading it at home rather than at work where most of these screening ISPs kick in and refuse to let them read it. Recently I was doing a z-ine and frequently subscribers who had public school addys would become angry that the issue would not go to them; sometimes the most innocent of comments would make it "bounce" --- the problem is not you. The problem are subscribers who are trying to read at the workplace ---I support the workplace's right to censor what comes in to an employee's computer during company time. Reading blogs is not a part of most folk's job description --- so I wouldn't worry about it. IT IS NOT THE RESPONSIBILITY OF THE BLOG AUTHOR TO HAND DELIVER TO A READER THE BLOG ARTICLE. Geesh. Can't folks do anything for themselves? I guess that sometimes you have to put the hay down where the donkeys can get to it themselves --- but really, the reader/subscriber has a responsibility to "find" you or to subscribe on a non-commercial account without censors.

    Terry Thornton
    Hill Country of Monroe County, Mississippi