The power of an audience

I know Brett Slatkin from my work on PubSubHubbub back in the day. Brett wrote a great post about why he has his own website. I think it’s an interesting discussion to have in a world where increasingly more content lives on third-party properties like Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus. Brett lists his reasons as being:

1. Having a home

When I want you to know something, I’m going to talk about it here. This is where you’ll be able to find me over time and space. This is my home. People in the neighborhood used to just drop by to see folks and catch up; this site serves the same purpose for me. It’s something we can depend on so we can always be in contact.

2. Expressing myself

This blog is a creative outlet for me. I designed how the pages look and choose the content in each post. If the site is ugly or hard to read it’s my fault, but I’m proud of it anyways. I like that readers get a feeling from my site that’s unique to me. I like that my content and how it’s conveyed are a single package that I’ve created myself.

3. Internet citizenship

We call it the “web” because our sites all interconnect with links. Hyperlinking is what gives the Internet its richness. Following links has helped me learn so much. So I want to give back. I want to cite others and be cited. I want to contribute to the web’s complexity. My own site lets me do that.

Each of his points resonate with me. But for me, there’s one reason that trumps them all: the power of an audience.

I remember showing Twitter to a friend in the early days. Like many people, he told me that he just didn’t get it. Why would anyone care what he was eating for lunch? Later in our conversation my friend mentioned that he was looking for a ticket to a sold-out event that evening. Being one to never pass up the opportunity to show off, I pulled out my phone and promised I’d have a ticket for him in 5 minutes. My Twitter followers came through for me and my friend got a first-hand demonstration of the power of having an audience. He signed up for Twitter that same night.

The fact that Marissa Mayer, Mark Cuban and thousands of other people follow me on Twitter is really cool. So are the friends I have on Facebook. And the people who are subscribed to this blog. Having an audience is an incredibly valuable asset no matter where you build it. It blows my mind that almost half a million people have visited this site. I love the internet. It’s a way for ordinary people like me to have a voice in the world. I don’t take that for granted for a second. As always, thanks for listening and reading along. It means a lot.

  • Good reason! Thanks for sharing.

  • I agree that having an audience is really cool. But I think it's worth mentioning that the power of an audience, like all power, has the ability to corrupt. The audience can become the ends instead of the means, and soon we're doing things just to brag about them. The feeling underlying your friend's objection that no one should care what he is eating for lunch is humility. With your life properly in perspective, he is right: no one should. There was a commencement speech that went viral a couple months ago that ended with an admonishment towards selflessness. It encouraged students to "climb [the mountain] so you can see the world, not so the world can see you." I think this is good advice.

    Some folks actively resist building an audience because they know the temptation towards pride that comes along with them. I can respect their decision. Many (in fact I would guess most) people join Twitter not to build an audience, but to connect with their already existing friends. In my opinion, this is the real power of social networks–strengthening already existing relationships–because there are hard limits on how much someone will sacrifice for someone they follow on Twitter but do not know personally. I wrote about this here:

    Thanks for the insight into your decision to have a blog. Enjoyed it.

    • joshfraz

      Thanks for adding some great perspective, Justin. You always have great things to contribute to expand my thinking. I dug up that commencement speech you mentioned ( Great quote!

      I didn't set out to build an audience. I started blogging because I wanted to share what I was learning with other people and give back to the community. I started working on open source for the same altruistic reasons. Focusing on building an audience would probably be a bad way to get one. There are few things more annoying that someone yelling "hey, look at me". It's valuable to have an audience, but the way you get there is by giving not taking.