Vox: Crowd Control Without the Firehose

Most of the reviews of Vox so far have focused on the social networking and privacy features… Which makes sense, because that’s the Big Story Six Apart is telling about Vox.

Vox has the ability to set specific privacy features on a post by post basis. A blog post on Vox can be set for the world, friends and family, friends, family, or for you only. For a lot of bloggers, this is actually kind of a big deal… with all the stories in the news about bloggers being fired from jobs because of posts online, or failing to get a job after a google search revealed a compromising MySpace page, I can see where it would be a relief to be able to record your thoughts and share them with a select group.

For me, it’s not such a big deal… my income stream comes from being pretty much exactly who I am. In most cases I feel that if I’m likely to offend someone by being the guy I am, then I probably shouldn’t work for them. I’m big on the idea that a candid public persona is a huge time-saver for everyone. When I do want privacy, I just use email or the phone (and yeah, I know, email isn’t as private as you’d think, but I figure anyone who can tap mine is entitled to laugh at my more off-color remarks). The feature that I do dream of when it comes to privacy, is a way to go back and edit or delete comments I make on other blogs when I’ve been awake too long and say something I later regret… it doesn’t happen often, but it has happened.

Anyway, here are a few quotes that explain the value of the privacy feature better than I can. The first is from a post titled Behind the Curtain, Out of the Cupboard on Mena Trott’s Vox blog.

My roots are in personal blogging.

My first blog, dollarshort.org was all about my personal life: my childhood, my family, my daily interactions, etc… I loved blogging on dollarshort because I could tell stories. I wrote about my parents inventing a fake brother for me. I made up silly infographics. I wrote about my first boyfriend and my nightmare summer camp experience. I even podcasted in 2001! I could track my life and interact with people in a living room of sorts. And I found it increasingly difficult to write about my personal life with the same freedom and intimacy. I wrote all these difficulties in my my banjo post from July, 2004. It was then that I realized that having a public blog and a public persona and keeping the intimacy that made personal blogging fun was an incredibly difficult balancing act.

So yeah, I can see where if you were an integral part of the public face of a blogging company, you might really want some privacy features!

Matthew Haughey has another take on why this useful on his post Vox Love:

Vox came out and I’ve been playing with it for a couple months and enjoying it immensely. It’s still pretty streamlined and straightforward but it’s got the UI that never gets in my way (unlike LiveJournal’s UI). The friends and family blogging is the key feature and I’ve read a lot from people that don’t understand what all the hoopla is about.

It’s kind of like TiVo in that you have to try it out first, live with it a month or two before you realize it’s the greatest thing ever. Or think of it as an iceberg — it seems simple and not very useful at first but my god is that one little feature hiding a great deal of utility. I’m blogging at Vox now and a couple dozen people I see in real life and hang out with several times a year are also on it and on my friends list. If I want to ask them something or share an intensely personal tidbit, I can post it there for them and I don’t have to IM or call anyone and I don’t have to tell the same story 15 times as I see them throughout the year. And I don’t have to read about how I’m the biggest dumbass on earth on another blog as a result of the post. Don’t get me wrong — I have skin as thick as leather but after seven years of this, it gets old when someone that doesn’t understand you or your tone misinterprets something you’ve said. Blogging to friends means never having to explain the joke.

Andre Torrez opens his review with the perfect example of where privacy features come in handy: “Here’s where I’d mention how long I’ve been writing online, but it’s irrelevant, and also I don’t want you tracking down the story about when I accidentally…” [click the link above to see what he did]. Towards the end of the review he makes another really good point:

Vox is a return to that early time I don’t think most people had a chance to experience. The commercialization of blogs has, I think, skewed people’s perception of what they can be. To many, if you’re not doing 50,000 unique visitors a day you should just throw in the towel, you’re a failure. If your funny story about shopping at the Apple store can’t be Digg’d or Boingboing’d then what good is it?

Someone once gave me some good advice on how to write a blog post, they said, “Write it like you’re writing an email to your friend.” That became hard to do when it turned out lots of non-friends were intercepting our correspondence. Vox gives me the chance to write to my friends (and family!) again and I can’t wait for you all to join me.

One of the major criticism’s of Vox has been that it isn’t well-suited for commercial or professional blogging. Well, of course, that’s the point actually… Vox is intended largely as a platform for the non-technical audience who would like to just get up and running without having to learn a lot of code or do a lot of set-up. I think the market for that is much larger than people assume when the only RSS subscriptions they have are for big name bloggers.

I don’t really read many personal blogs, and I know that most of the people who read mine are friends I made on the internet, not the friends I had before I started blogging. But if my daughter had a blog, I’d read it… and not because I’m worried about watching over her shoulder but because it would be a great to stay in touch when we’re apart. And it would be nice actually, to be able to turn some of my pre-internet friends onto blogging and share news that way. Just think how cool it would be if Vox replaced mass email, forwarded jokes and family newsletters! I’d be a lot more likely to look at a blog post than open an email from someone who still hasn’t learned to use BCC headers!

Would I recommend Vox for a commercial or promotional blog? Probably not, in most cases. Would I recommend it to pro bloggers who’d like to remember the fun, low pressure joys of writing whatever’s on their mind without feeling that it may come back to bite them later? Heck yeah. In fact, I could see Vox being very effective therapy for blogger’s block… It could well be a valuable tool for getting the creative juices flowing on those days when you’re just not in the mood or mindframe to write a post that everyone can see

I’ve learned an awful lot about writing by doing it on my blogs… the feedback is helpful whether it’s in the form of comments or links from other blogs that liked what I had to say. But sometimes you might want to try out a different voice or style or make some departure from what you’re doing now that might throw your readers for a bit of a loop if you posted it for mass consumption. I guess Vox could also make a decent sketch pad for trying out new things as well.

Okay, now I’ve sold myself. That’s funny, because the one thing I didn’t appreciate about Vox was the privacy features (I don’t mean I hated them, I just didn’t get it). Now I get it. Cool.