Know your audience: Christopher
Michael Kinsley has a beef with the tenor of personal websites:
There is something about the Web that brings out the ego monster in everybody. It's not just the well-established tendency to be nasty. When you write for the Web, you open yourself up to breathtakingly vicious vitriol. People wish things on your mother, simply for bearing you, that you wouldn't wish on Hitler.
But even in their quieter modes, denizens of the Web seem to lug around huge egos and deeply questionable assumptions about how interesting they and their lives might be to others.
This is strange. Anonymity, for better or for worse, is supposed to be one of the signature qualities of the Web. As that dog in the New Yorker cartoon says, "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog." The Internet is a place where you can interact with other people and have complete control over how much they know about you. Or supposedly that is the case, and virtually everybody on the Internet is committed to achieving that goal.
He then goes on to note that while we speak of the supposed anonymity the web enables, many (most?) personal websites are anything but anonymous. In fact, the authors in many cases are almost begging to be exposed down to levels of detail often undesired by all but readers with the most prurient interests.
This is definitely a phenomenon, but I think it's ultimately explicable. The Internet enables a profound cognitive disconnect in many people - an abandonment of their public standards of conduct. While I might stop to ask myself whether you would be interested in hearing about my views on X before unloading those views to you in person, I do not necessarily do so when writing about X on my website. Why not? It is the concept of audience. When I speak with you in person, you are my audience and I am considerate of your sensitivities, interests, etc. When I write for my websites, I am still considerate of the concept of audience, but targeted differently. In my case, I have a personal site wherein the audience is primarily myself and anyone who would care to get inside my mind to some degree. I also have a couple more targeted websites, the WealthMotor and Reasonable Nuts, with different audiences. In fact, I've recently begun (restarted, more appropriately) the effort to segregate these to some degree based on the notions of audience and purpose.
I would argue that most people tend to set up a single site and don't give much consideration to audience, which by default tends toward self-interest.
Then there's a psychological element at play - that many of us have lingering issues from childhood or early adulthood - wherein our voice has not been exercised in a free manner that has been rewarded. So, coupled to the ease, low cost, and power of the Internet, some go seemingly overboard, exposing elements of persona that are questionable by some. Enter MySpace, YouTube, and the like.
These are new technologies and many are simply experimenting. Many have been slapped silly by such experimenting - take Dooce for example. She posted subject matter to her nascent blog that got her canned in her place of employ. I for one have attempted to learn from her example.
But common sense is a quality sorely lacking in our relativistic society, motivated by the exaltation of the Individual over more traditional concepts of Family, Legacy, and Social Continuity. Were I to sum my views on the subject, I'd counter the oft seen bumper sticker "Celebrate Diversity" with one I'd like to see: "Celebrate Universality".
I foresee a settling of sorts down the road a bit. As these new technologies mature and as many more get slapped silly through their experimenting, concepts such as audience and purpose may return to the fore. Maybe too common sense will enjoy a resurgence. It won't be a minute too soon.