Monday, October 23, 2006


The Information Life Cycle of The Fobcave and the Long Tail of Gay Mormon Bloggers

(A paper written for LIS 500 at the University of Washington)

On July 26, 2005, I wrote the following words: “Yes, if everyone I knew were jumping off a cliff, I would follow. So now that I've been reading my friends' and my wife's blogs for a few weeks, I'm jumping on the badnwagon.” In the past fifteen months my blog, The Fobcave, has not gotten much more eloquent than that initial awkward entry, but I have at least learned to spell “bandwagon.” If the task at hand were to discuss the content of a work, I would choose something more worthwhile than my blog, but as it happens the various information phenomena surrounding The Fobcave are fascinating—or at least I think so, and I suspect you might agree.

As indicated above, I joined the blogging revolution largely due to peer pressure: everyone was doing it, and surely just once wouldn’t hurt. Like smoking, though, blogging proved addictive, and has since blown up into a larger part of my life than I anticipated. A weblog, as you may know, is created rather simply; in my case, I set up a free account with Blogger, adjusted a few preferences and settings, then wrote an entry. Blogger provides the web space, the URL, RSS feeds, and even templates. I need simply type in a textbox, click “Publish,” and voila! I am now a published author, my work disseminated to millions of potential readers via the magic of the internet.

The keyword being “potential.” At first, my only readers were a small group of family and friends who already had blogs. Slowly, more family members, friends, and friends of friends got caught up in the world of blogging and my readership grew. Two months into the life of my blog, though, my readers still consisted mostly of people I knew personally or who were connected to me through at most two degrees of separation. The internet makes widespread distribution of information possible in a technical sense, but the fact that people in Romania can read my blog doesn’t mean they are going to. First they need to know of its existence, and then they need to have a reason to read it. Both are fairly large obstacles, made larger perhaps by the very fact that widespread electronic distribution is so easy to come by these days. In a world with a million blogs, what makes any one stand out?

The readership of The Fobcave began to grow beyond the realm of friends and friends of friends with the advent of my first print publication, a pair of personal essays in an academic journal called Dialogue: A Journal of Mormon Thought. This print publication did two things, I believe: first, it lent me credibility as a “legitimate” author, because I had now been published “for real”; and second, it established that I could fulfill a unique information need.

The first factor raises an important question about authorship in the Information Age. If we transition from a book publisher, copy-based economic model to the web publisher, digital-based economic model that Kevin Kelly suggests in “Scan This Book!” then who will determine credibility and legitimacy? For several centuries, we have relied on publishers to decide what is worthy of publication, on editors to give their stamp of approval, on bookbinders to make it all official. Now that some random kid who calls himself Master Fob can publish his work just as easily as David Sedaris can, what external signals distinguish the two? Surely there is an obvious difference in quality between a good writer and a poor one, but the average reader’s perception of that difference is influenced heavily by the official appearance of a bound book in a professional-looking cover, as opposed to a bunch of words thrown onto an amateur website. In the current transitional stage between print and digital media, print publication carries a weight of authority. (Granted, Random House carries more weight than an esoteric journal with as limited a scope as Dialogue has, but I still think it made some difference.) It will be interesting to see if authority-granting entities will rise to replace publishing houses, or if the rise of digital media will lead to the elimination of mainstream media, leaving only “Long Tail” niche markets.

The second effect the Dialogue essays had on my blog, in fact, is directly related to the phenomenon Chris Anderson refers to in “The Long Tail.” On September 14, 2005, in a post entitled “Out,” I announced that the latest issue of Dialogue had come out, and that it included my essays “Getting Out” and “Staying In,” in which I effectively came out as a gay man committed to a monogamous heterosexual marriage. I linked to the essays when Dialogue put them up online, was quick to point out when BYU’s library added a record for the essays to their catalog, and used the occasion to blog about my position as a gay married Mormon, part of a religion that forbids homosexual relationships and a culture that frowns on discussion of sexuality. At the time, a few other bloggers who identified themselves as gay Mormons existed, but we were few and far between. For the most part, we had not yet discovered each other. Now, let me be clear: my publication in Dialogue did not send readers flocking to my blog in the hundreds. I’m not even sure they came flocking in the tens. There wasn’t any direct link from Dialogue’s website to The Fobcave, so for people to find it they had to either be curious enough to do a bit of searching on the titles of the essays (my real name, as it happens, doesn’t appear on my blog even though my identity is no secret), or they had to hear about the blog through someone else, either in person or online. Nevertheless, I saw a subtle difference; slowly, people were coming to read The Fobcave not because they felt obligated as my friends and family, but because they had heard I had something unique to say. As it turns out, there are quite a few gay Mormons out there—heterosexually married, celibate, or in homosexual relationships—but we are separated not only by miles but by the silence of a conservative religious culture. In a perfect example of the Long Tail, The Fobcave found an audience because it offered a view on a unique human experience that a substantial group of people share, and managed to reach all these people with the wide distribution ability of the internet.

During January and February of 2006, a handful of gay Mormon bloggers appeared, not because of me but because of parallel but independent discovery, as blogging became more and more ubiquitous and more people found that an anonymous blog provided the perfect outlet for discussing things they normally would not discuss in public and in some cases not even with their closest loved ones. It did not take long for these bloggers hailing from similar situations to find each other and to link to each other in the sidebars of their blogs. I was slow to realize this was happening, and only discovered the phenomenon when other bloggers commented on my blog or when Site Meter showed that the blogs of people I didn’t know were linking to mine. In effect, each gay Mormon blogger was creating his or her own collection of like-minded blogs. I, of course, had my own collection of links on my sidebar, comprised of my family and friends who blogged, categorized by blood relation, writing group relation, or other, and alphabetized by blogging pseudonym. I added gay Mormon bloggers to my “collection” as I got to know them or as they added me to their collections, but I hesitated to add links to my sidebar based only on the subject matter of the blogs, as I have an ongoing internal debate as to whether I intend The Fobcave to be a literary work, a subject-specific source of information, or a My Space-like social tool. Only in the last couple months have I created a “gay Mormon” subcategory of links on my sidebar, and still my collection is not nearly as comprehensive as many of my colleagues’ are.

In the world of the internet, perhaps the authority-creating power of the publishing house has been supplanted by the power of the hyperlink—at least Google’s page ranking system seems to be built around this philosophy. The well-placed hyperlink has certainly taken on the publisher’s role as marketer, as I found in August 2006 when The Salt Lake Tribune ran an article on married gay Mormon bloggers, highlighting The Fobcave alongside two other blogs. Within a day of the Tribune article hitting the online edition of the paper, the number of hits on my blog jumped from about 50 a day to 300 a day, with a good half of that number tracing back to the hyperlink in the article and several others to hyperlinks on blogs and discussion forums talking about the Tribune article (I assume the remainder of the extra hits were typed in manually from the print version of the paper). One of Utah’s two best-selling newspapers reached the Long Tail in a way that word-of-mouth and a scholarly journal did not. The 300-hits-a-day phenomenon, of course, did not last. Within a couple weeks it dropped back down to about 100 a day, but has stayed close to that number since then. It appears, actually, that the majority of information seekers looking specifically for information about being gay, married, and Mormon have congregated around one of the other bloggers hyperlinked in the Tribune article, as his blog focuses exclusively on religion and sexuality while mine tends to be about various random aspects of my life of which religion and sexuality are only two. I am not surprised to find that this friend’s blog appears on the fourth page of Google search results for the terms gay mormon married, while mine does not appear in the first twenty (though the pdf of “Getting Out” shows up on page ten and the Tribune article is the first result). It will be interesting to see what effect, if any, crossing over to another medium has on Fobcave traffic when my wife and I are interviewed on a Salt Lake TV news program next week.

The Fobcave continues to go through the cycle of creation and dissemination as I write and publish posts; gathering as these posts are collected in RSS readers, bookmarks, and hyperlinks; organization as links to the blog are categorized elsewhere and posts are separated by month, day, and time of posting; and seeking and retrieval as new readers find the blog through links or through search engines such as Google Blog Search. It is only natural that this cycle contributes to the creation of new information. Of about 40 gay Mormon bloggers linked from -L- The Ardent Mormon’s blog, more than a quarter started their blogs in the two months since August 2006, when the Salt Lake Tribune article on gay Mormon bloggers ran. As more people with common information needs discover each other through the Long Tail of the internet, more people with niche information to offer will step up to fill that need.


Th. said...


Wow. Trifecta!

Excellent anniversary post.

Self-promoting piece of academic work.

Well-written piece of fobofilia.


Tolkien Boy said...

It's interesting that the only bloggers that seem important to you are...well, gay.



Mama said...

I read your work in *Dialogue* - very well done! Then I tracked you down to this blog - b/c I wanted to learn more about your wife and her feelings in all of this. (I've since found her blog - sorry about the crayon incident. ARGH!)

As interesting as your story is to me, her's is more fascinating IMO. Someone who was so selfless and loved you so much, knowing she'd never be enough physically - and that she was signing up for that reminder for eternity. Abso-flocking-lutely fascinating.

My self-esteem is too tenuous, I guess. I couldn't marry someone knowing they'd never be completely satisfied with me. It would devastate me. Girls just don't think to themselves, "When I grow up - I'll marry a gay man."

And then - after she makes this enormous decision to marry a gay man.....she supports you while you become very public about it. My pride would definitely thwart that. I fear I'd have a hard time supporting what was best for my spouse in that scenario. I'm sadly just not that cool...

I have a great deal of respect for your wife. That is one selfless woman. While I'm sure you're a fantastic husband and father, she certainly took a giant emotional and psychological risk. It puts my own struggles in perspective when I think about her's.

Anyway - your 300th post was largely about how folks had found you. I thought I'd give a "why someone found you" answer. For me it's a fascination with your wife - and with anyone who would knowingly sign up for eternity for this.

If it were HFPE night, I'd want to sit by your wife and chat while we make leper bandages or can beets! lol....

Best wishes to you both and to your family! :)

G'pa Bob said...

That your blog is not exclusivly about sexuality makes it better. No person's life is only about sex.

Your whole message is important to the thousands of young people who are deciding about sexuality and many other things.

My very best wishes to you and yours.

B.G. Christensen said...

Th. and Bob--Thank you.

TB--Wait. Are you saying there are bloggers who aren't gay?

Mamamormon--Thanks for sharing that. I agree 100% with your estimation of my wife. Everyone should read her blog.

Anonymous said...

Wait--Are you saying I have to be gay to blog? This is a bit embarrassing. Almost as embarrassing as the anniversary we stayed at the gay b&b.

I suppose the right thing to do would be to come out to you now with my heterosexuality. I hope you won't mind. The guys at the b&b were very gracious about it.

I also wish to add my extreme adoration of foxyj here.

Th. said...



And re: FoxyJ, of course she is a borderline goddess. Everyone knows that.

COOLGUY said...

I can and do testify to all of you that FoxyJ is the bomb!!

I've known her since she entered this world and opened her eyes and looked into mine; I realized at that moment that she is a very special person.

Melyngoch said...

I'm pretty much in love with FoxyJ. Does that make me close enough to gay to count?

Anonymous said...

What's so bad about 4 links, I wanna know?

Very cool post.

And despite my frequent suggestions that my wife blog (or contribute to mine), she's not interested. I guess I get her all to myself. Neener.

svoid said...

Wow, a very well written paper/post. I enjoyed reading it. Kudos!

Anonymous said...

Congratulations on post 300! I hope that I can still be a blogger-friend even if I am not gay... but I have kissed a gay mormon or two... or three.