In the beginning, there were fashion bloggers. Then came the coalitions, the affiliations, the communities, the aggregators and the networks to collect and organize them.
This post has been on my mind ever since The Grumpy Owl joined Sayntly. Grumpy, like most owls, is not exactly a pack animal, and when he joined up (albeit as an agent of chaos) I felt a comment coming on, and it has taken a while to form itself into a semi-coherent thought.
I guess the need to network is born out of the challenges of being a struggling fashion blogger. Seeking connections and invitations, being frustrated with getting lumped in with Perez Hilton and other bloggers with undesirable reputations, measuring your puny traffic against the clout of larger websites with more people behind them, and of course the ambition to turn fashion blogging from a hobby to a career.
With the best of intentions behind them, networks never seem to… work. In my experience, networks create politics, not community. Here is my story, from the beginning.
I started blogging on my old blogspot (RIP) in 2005. I received no comments or emails for the first six months, but I continued because I enjoyed trying to express myself this way. My first comments were from Julie Fredrickson at Almost Girl, another fashion blogger in Chicago. Within a couple months, Julie had launched the first fashion blog “carnival” and the effect was that as a niche, fashion blogging began to have a group identity. Around that time, the first “fashion blog network” GLAM started sending around long complicated contracts trying to recruit fashion bloggers. Shortly after that Julie started her own collective community called (in retrospect, very aptly) Coutorture.
I have always been hesitant of joining up with any blogging group or organization. I like being independent. I joined Coutorture out of loyalty to my first fashion blogging friend. Though I was supportive, from the beginning I never understood why fashion bloggers needed a community organizer. Up until that point the power of Google and the informal network of emails, comments and links seemed to naturally create their own community, so why try to “herd cats”?
Though Julie is my friend, I do not always agree with her. When we were blogging as ourselves, that was fun – it made for interesting debates and lively comment threads. In our roles as a member and a leader of an organization, it was more problematic. When she took positions I disagreed with, as the representative of a network I was a member of, I felt, well, misrepresented. So I was not a very active member of Coutorture and always felt some misgivings about belonging to it. The result has been an awkward distance between me and my first fashion blog friend. Julie has since sold Coutorture, moved on to bigger and better things, and given up the social side of fashion blogging.
After Coutorture, the only blog network I have joined is Independent Fashion Bloggers, which I like a lot (terrific articles and a helpful, genuine community that actively fights the tendency to get cliquish) but still prefer to keep myself at arms length from it.
A lot of fashion blog networks have arrived on the scene. As Grumpy puts it, there have been some “periodic kerfluffles”, the latest of which is the ridiculous Sayntly/Style Coalition spat. The thing is, when I think of blogger networks, I think of all the power grabs, cliques, rivalries and exploitation I have observed over the past few years. While not without exception, I have seen networks exacerbate the worst of fashion blogging, and worse, turn some very talented bloggers off of the medium.
The benefits of blogging independently, in my opinion, far outweigh the benefits of blogging as a member of most types of networks. Its easier to choose who you associate (or disassociate with), and you have more control over your reputation. If you choose to have advertising, you don’t have to give up a percentage of it to your representative. You have the opportunity to form direct relationships with publicists instead of being subject to second-hand accreditation (or blacklisting). As you build your pagerank, your content and hard work will direct traffic to your site and not an aggregator’s site.
Fashion blogging naturally creates its own informal community. It is open to anyone, anywhere, and it is full of different characters and new ideas, changing all the time. In my opinion, disorganization gives the best kind of fashion blogging room to grow.
Have a different point of view? Or your own story? I’d love to read about it in the comments.