A Critical Look at LDS Blog Portals – Part 1 : “Never Show Your Face Anywhere in the Bloggernacle Ever Again”

Last week, after some unfortunately contentious conversations related to my previous blog post, I was unexpectedly delisted from the largest LDS blog portal there is.

The delisting happened after Steve Evans, who is the founder of one of the most visited LDS Blogs, By Common Consent, responded to my critical comment with “J. Max, if you were at all sincere about withdrawing from the Bloggernacle (and indeed I long hoped you were!), you would never have posted your site as part of the largest Bloggernacle aggregator there is. Now is the time for you to prove your sincerity and honesty, by never showing your face anywhere in the Bloggernacle ever again. Don’t let the door hit you on the way out.”

Officially, Steve Evans has no administrative power over LDSBlogs.org. However, within an hour or two, my blog was delisted. It happened without warning and without explanation. My blog and blog posts simply vanished as if they had never been included.

So how did this happen?

According to one source, the issue of whether my blog should be delisted was not discussed by the group of bloggers who are supposedly in charge of the portal. It wasn’t even presented for discussion. He found out that it had been removed from me. Apparently blogs are often added and removed without consulting the founders of the portal. As far as I can gather, additions and removals are made nearly unilaterally by two or three individuals with very little oversight.

There is some confusion about what “The Bloggernacle” is. Does it refer to all LDS Blogs? Or does it refer to a specific group of inter-linking, multually supportive LDS Blogs represented at least functionally by LDSBlogs.org?

While I think that many people want to apply the term to all LDS Blogs, functionally, as in Steve Evan’s comment, it is restricted to those blogs included in the LDSBlogs.org portal, and perhaps the blogs listed at LDSElect.org.

Why would an LDS Blogger who, like me, finds much of the content at LDSBlogs.org to be questionable and outside of the mainstream of Mormon views want to be listed and included in the portal? It is because LDSBlogs.org has a virtual stranglehold on LDS blog promotion.

If an LDS blog wants to increase traffic and readership they have to get included in a blog aggregator.

But none of the existing blog aggregators are a very comfortable place for more conservative, orthodox LDS bloggers who have qualms about giving tacit support to the content promoted by the portals by being included. However, the desire to not promote by association is counterbalanced by the need to attract readership.

So for all practical purposes, LDSBlogs.org has a great deal of power over which LDS Blog conversations get discovered and promoted, and which are ignored. And power entails accountability.

Currently, six of the nine solo-bloggers that originally founded LDSBlogs.org have become permanent contributing bloggers at the By Common Consent blog.

In Part 2 I will review some of the history of LDS Blog portals.

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20 Responses to A Critical Look at LDS Blog Portals – Part 1 : “Never Show Your Face Anywhere in the Bloggernacle Ever Again”

  1. I’m also opposed to the “Bloggernacle” term as though it refers to all LDS blogs. For me the Bloggernacle refers to a small in-group of users. I don’t consider my blog to be a part of it, even though I am listed on “Bloggernacle” aggregators. I will say that I like some of the content on the Bloggernacle, and some of what I do clearly overlaps, but I’m not part of that crowd, nor do I care to be.

    Max, it seems the time is ripe for someone to develop a more egalitarian blog aggregator of LDS blogs. As well as a more responsive one (I’m still not listed at LDSelect, I don’t know if I’ll ever be).

    I think what needs to happen is for there to be a blog aggregator site that would be frequented by more “average” Mormons, as opposed to Bloggernacle junkies. I think this mean it would need to have a different format because “average” Mormons aren’t interested in reading blog posts about Mormons every day.

  2. I certainly hope that the Bloggernacle means all LDS Blogs.

  3. I’ve long felt that no one individual should be able to claim that he/she represents the whole “Bloggernacle” which I simply define as LDS Bloggers. If you are LDS and a blogger, then in my opinion you are a de facto member of the Bloggernacle.

    But again, I’m defining the Bloggernacle as a very generalized, broad category. For those who feel the ‘Nacle represents a core group of bloggers, I’d understand objections to what I’m saying above.

  4. No consensus was the biggest reason I resigned from the founding group of blogs at the Mormon Archipelago.

    I had Our Thoughts removed 2 years ago from the Mormon Archipelago precisely because I was getting tired of people making a stink about not being listed there.

    Quite frankly, the MA provides a proportionately small share of our traffic. 75% of our traffic, for example, come from Google alone.

    If you want traffic, then make sure you regularly constructively comment on other LDS blogs.

  5. Interesting to me that liberal “educated” people are now taking the traditionally conservative approach of censorship. It is usually the approach of an intellectual coward. We all know that if your position is truly worth taking, you should be able to at least hear, if not counter, opposing viewpoints without throwing a fit, fleeing in terror, or banishing them so they don’t scare you.

    In fact, censorship has traditionally been an author’s best friend, as people flock to see “what’s the big idea?!”

    I agree that Google is a strong tool. I hope that it is stronger than any aggregate, especially since Elder Ballard, in the most recent Ensign’s cover article, advocated using technology to proclaim our beliefs. He specifically mentioned blogging. People will get a much clearer view of Mormon beliefs if they use the variety of google rather than the narrowness of any one “juried” portal as the source of their exploration.

  6. Hey J. Max. At LDSBlogs.org we get complaints all the time about content (too conservative! too liberal!). We have been on friendly terms for a some time (a couple years since we had dinner, I think). But if there is a blog that actively promotes the downfall of the Bloggernacle, which you did, is there any real surprise that we didn’t want to continue listing your sight?

    As to the virtual strangle hold on blog promotion, I think that is inaccurate. We just happened to be the first to think of aggregation of Mormon blogs as promotion and we do it in a way that is very, very, convenient. You already mentioned that there are other options.

    As to the BCC connection, I would just submit that BCC frequently adds new contributors and it hopes to find people that write excellent content. It has nothing to do with whether they are involved with LDSBlogs.org.

  7. J. Stapley,

    Define Bloggernacle. If Bloggernacle simply means LDS blogs, as most Bloggernacle regulars seem to take it to mean (not me), then it is clear that Max is not promoting its downfall. So, is your definition of Bloggernacle a more narrow one?

    Second, is there an official policy regarding whether a blog’s listing is removed on the basis of promoting the downfall of the “Bloggernacle” (however you define it)? Or is it just blogs that really rub you the wrong way? I certainly disagree with a lot of what Max says, but I think that things look a little McCarthy-ish, with Max’s blog being removed. The Bloggernacle appears to try to have an openness to a diversity of views—why wouldn’t this include diverse views, including critical ones, on the Bloggernacle!?

    Also, Max definitely has a point on certain blogs getting preferential treatment in terms of what island they go in. If you’re in the in-group crowd, you’re high on the page—if you’re not, you’re low, regardless of how good your blog is. I’d really like to hear you dispute this.

    You can certainly do what you want with it, though—it’s your thing. I’m certainly thankful for being listed, and I hope I don’t have to fear being removed based on something negative I might say about the “Bloggernacle.” I think that some of us are hoping for a gateway that is less in-group-ish and more fair in terms of impartial judgment of how blogs should be situated.

  8. Dennis, those are fair questions. I’d be interested in what criterion you might use to situate things.

    As to J. Max’s hostility to the “bloggernacle,” all you need to do is check out his previous post and comments; with his neologisms, his contempt is clear. This isn’t censorship. His blog is still here. Anyone can read it. We just don’t feel like promoting that kind of content. Would you link to a blog from your website that said you were inherently unfaithful and viewed you with contempt?

    Check out my comment #4 on part 2 of J. Max’s analysis for an answer to your other questions. There is no question that people that participate more regularly on other blogs are more well know, and if their content is excellent, they typically get moved up faster. No surprise there. What is excellent is inherently subjective, but a lot of the old timers have been doing this for years, and tend to have fairly accurate assessments, I think.

  9. Dennis,

    The Mormon Archipelago originated from a group of 7 solo (or small group) blogs that decided to band together for promotional purposes. While they all may turn a critical eye toward the church in a strictly scholarly sense, they were all run by faithful members of the church who support leadership and who believe that the goals of the “bloggernacle” should be faith-promoting. There have been several little wars fought regarding what is and isn’t faith-promoting (including this one, apparently), but generally those in the MA have sought to err on the side of faith-promotion.

    The Bloggernacle, per se, is a collection of blogs that are fairly like-minded in this sense. In other words, they are interested in promoting the church and its interests, without ignoring or overlooking hard issues. They do not seek to denigrate the institutional church nor do they seek to actively change it in inappropriate ways. To a great degree, the goals of the bloggernacle coincide with the goals of FARMS, FAIR, and other scholarly or socially apologetic institutions. To a great degree, this is why J. Max’s appelation “Murmurnacle” feels very, very wrong to us. Of course, everyone is allowed their own interpretation of events, but J. Max’s interpretation of what motivates the MA and the “bloggernacle” doesn’t ring true to me as a long-time “insider”.

    Issues of listing and de-listing are commonly left up to the three individuals who do the most to keep the ldsblogs.org site running. In special cases, decisions are put to a vote. In some cases, like J. Max’s and Kim Sievers’s, people have requested de-listing (both of those events happened in the past; this isn’t a reference to the current teacup-tempest). In all cases that I know of, such requests have been granted.

    Listing usually takes place when someone contacts one of our administrators to see if we would list them. Generally, our admins will go to the site and review it for tone and content. David Sundwall invented the division between LDS blogs and Mormon blogs, wherein LDS blogs feature primarily Church related content and Mormon blogs are written by Mormons, but do not feature content directly related to Mormonism regularly. We try to feature LDS blogs and not Mormon blogs (there are some exceptions, primarily in the case of pop-culture Mormon blogs like Eric Snider and Kulturblog; I suggested Ken Jennings’s blog once, but was eventually shot down). Also, we tend to not feature “journal” blogs, family blogs, and other such websites. There are not rules chiseled in stone and there have been exceptions, but we do our best to provide the best service possible and the blogs that best meet our standards.

    At the moment, the ldsblogs aggregator has both a descriptive and a prescriptive role in the maintenance of the “bloggernacle” as a subset of lds blogs. It does not have a monopoly on that role, of course. The vast majority of Mormons who blog have probably never heard of us, because they have family blogs and so forth and are not interested in the sorts of blogs that we are most comfortable promoting.

    In the end, the success or the failure on the ldsblogs project and the Mormon Archipelago project behind it is going to be based on how well we judge our audience. If we provide them with easy access to the blogs that provide the discussions that matter most to them, we will continue to be the leader in the lds blog aggregation sector. People use our service because they trust our judgment.

    There is a slight parallel here with the current brou-ha-ha in talk radio regarding Rush Limbaugh’s recent pay raise. If more people use our service, it is because more people like our service. It isn’t because we are members of a vast conspiracy designed to take down the church or a certain way of believing in it.

  10. Thanks to everyone who has chimed in, both in support and in disagreement.

    I don’t have much time to add to the conversation at the moment, I’m just taking a few minutes between my daughter’s birthday party and the Big Bad Voodoo Daddy Concert I am attending tonight with my wife, but I will continue to approve comments from my phone as the arise.

    J. Stapley and John C.,

    Yes, I have met you both in person, I see John C fairly regularly (we exchanged pleasantries at the Library earlier today in fact), and have been on friendly terms for some time. In fact, I believe I have met a majority of the Archipelago participants in real life. Perhaps this is partially why my criticism bothers you so much.

    Your comments seem to indicate that you agree that functionally the “bloggernacle” refers to your intellectual blog clique and those with whom you deign to associate.

    You seem convinced that the intellectualism on public display in your bloggernacle is somehow the same as apologetic groups that are largely accepted as mainstream. But, while I suppose I could be mistaken, I feel strongly that I represent a significant number of mainstream latter-day saints when I say that your bloggernacle is definitely not mainstream. The mood and the content are obviously closer to Dialogue (with whom BCC has a formal relationship) and Sunstone magazines, neither of which has any claim to be mainstream.

    There is little doubt that your “bloggernacle” is basically the Sunstone of the internet generation. Whether that is a good thing or a bad thing probably depends on how you feel about Sunstone, but regardless it is certainly on the fringe and not mainstream.

    I have no doubt that you all see your bloggernacle efforts in a positive light. I have no doubt that for most of you, your motivation to support the church is real and sincere. I have no illusions that you guys are part of some kind of conspiracy to bring down the church. On the other hand, my analogy from years ago still seems accurate: think intellectual Turkish Delight.

    People are drawn to conversation for various reasons. Perhaps you are right that people are drawn to the bloggernacle discussions you promote because they matter to them and trust your judgment. But people are also drawn to an accident to gape at the train-wreck as well. They are also drawn to the funhouse at an amusement park, but it would be folly to judge your health and set dietary goals based on the distorted image you see in the funhouse mirror.

    I hope you guys will not mistake my severe criticism of your project as personal. I feel a little like Frederick in the Pirates of Penzance: Individually I love you and admire your talents, but I feel obligated to oppose your collective project to the utmost.

  11. J. Max, obviously we disagree, but for sure I don’t have any hard feelings.

  12. I’m glad you feel that way now J. Stapley. [ominously]I just hope you still feel that way once my series has completed…[/ominously]

  13. J. Max, I’m glad you admit that your perceptions of how mainstream Mormons would think of much existing Mormon blogging could be wrong. Certainly mine could be, as well, but my discussions over the years with hundreds of rank-and-file Mormons who have stumbled onto BCC have suggested that your perceptions are off track. I’ve only had a tiny handful of people complain about the tone or content of the site. Rather, faithful Mormons from across whatever theological spectrum you care to posit have largely expressed enthusiasm for a project of publicly exploring the social, political, and intellectual possibilities of faithful Mormonism.

    Many caricatures of faithful Mormonism surely exist. Outsiders and ex-Mormons are happy to stereotype our people as narrow and fragile, as unwilling to accept any diversity—even diversity among those fully committed to our community and our theology. I find an unfortunate echo of these negative stereotypes in your generalizations about how mainstream Mormons would react to the largest faithful blogs around today.

  14. J. Max, perhaps you should clarify the “collective project” you are opposing. I assume it’s not LDS blogging, since you are an LDS blogger. I assume it’s not MA, which merely lists posts (with no commentary) from a wide variety of LDS blogs and which does not list “DAMU blogs” as that term is generally used and understood. I gather that the project you oppose is the Sunstone-Dialogue-BCC collaboration you perceive and describe in your comment. That’s worth clarifying.

    JNS, maybe the reason you haven’t heard many dissenting opinions about “the tone and content of the site” at BCC is that perms there can be pretty nasty to people who disagree. Don’t be so quick to give yourselves a collective pat on the back. And the implicit claim that you occupy some sort of higher moral ground in the discussion because you think BCC is supposedly more open to diversity or because you think BCC is “exploring the social, political, and intellectual possibilities of faithful Mormonism” just rings hollow. Angelic choirs don’t sing every time a BCC perm hits the post button.

  15. Mark IV

    Never fear, Dave. J. Max means you, too, since your name is associated with Dialogue.

    J. Max, some of your criticism of the bloggernacle, however we define it, is valid. There is shallow thinking, whining, and sloppy arguing from faulty premises. Unfortunately for you, your last three posts on this site are prime examples of all of those things. So, in that sense at least, you can consider yourself a card-carrying member of the bloggernacle.

    Since you moderate and delete comments, I don’t see that you have any standing at all to complain about being silenced. You denounced the bloggernacle in general, and said that BCC in particular was engaging in Satan’s work, then slammed the door on your way out. What do you honestly expect? In my opinion, the MA made an honest man of you, finally. What’s not to like about that?

  16. Dave, I’m not talking about online commenters. But I also don’t really have a personal history of being “nasty” to people who disagree with me, do I? I certainly don’t intend to. I have no idea why you think that I’m regarding BCC as occupying some kind of higher moral ground. In comparison with what? We’re all in this together.

    But I do see some hostility in your comments that I can’t understand. Indeed, I don’t know what I’ve done that has offended you. I’d love to make amends.

  17. Adam Greenwood

    J. Max Wilson was delisted because he criticizes the Bloggernacle? Contemptible.

    I’m ashamed.

  18. I believe the notion that an aggregator is someone’s website to be horribly off-putting. There are simply some websites whose existences are greater than the sum of their parts… and, frankly, aggregators are the very definition of such sites. An aggregator exists because of the myriad sites it references — and the remarkable amount and (sometimes) quality of the content of they generate. To treat an aggregator as a personal website is to treat its audience and the sites it aggregates with contempt.

    This is why I find J Stapley’s language surrounding this affair distasteful. LDSelect, MA, and LDSBlogs are no longer personal sites. They have outgrown that appellation in some measure due to their success — but I would submit that their genesis as aggregators disqualified them from the get-go. Of course, that doesn’t mean that they can’t set and enforce criteria for inclusion — they most certainly can, and must, really, if they want to differentiate themselves. But the inner workings of such enforcement should be as transparent as possible, and should strictly follow the guidelines set-forth.

    Without such transparency and rule of law, the aggregators are squandering the good faith placed in them.

  19. Eavesdropper

    A little bird told me that Steve Evans wasn’t part of the delisting decision and isn’t thrilled with it.

    • A clarification: the Mormon Archipelago and LDSBlogs are one and the same. The aggregator name and it’s completely unrelated URL always throw me. My apologies.

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