Let’s face it. Naturism is a fairly esoteric interest in our culture. Because of the deeply ingrained taboos against nudity in the culture, it has been pretty difficult for people interested in social (or even private) nonsexual nudity to find information about it and to discover social contacts and form friendships with like-minded others.
The cultural obstacles to forming a true nationwide (or even worldwide) community of naturists have hindered the spread of naturist ideals, values, and philosophy among those who are open-minded enough (whether they are even aware of it or not) to learn about and enjoy social nudity.
In the early days of naturism, naturist magazines and books were just about the only means of community building. More recently, personal computers and online computer systems have taken up this role, via “computer-based message systems” (CBMS).
Now we are entering a new phase of this process, with specialized and function-rich tools like blogs to make communication even easier. It’s possible that blogging by naturists (and potential naturists) will finally enable the development of a real community. But naturists as a whole seem to have been rather late in discovering the possibilities of blogging.
At the same time, there has been a proliferation of earlier types of CBMS used by naturists, especially mailing lists and (to a lesser extent) message boards. It can be very hard to find mailing lists or message boards with people you like and with discussions of naturist topics you are especially interested in. In the early days, there were just a few systems like rec.nude and the message boards on Compuserve, Delphi, and Prodigy. But now there are hundreds of active groups, and the online naturist community is quite fragmented. People have no good way of learning about interesting information that appears in places they aren’t even aware of. Blogging can help solve this problem, since the most interesting information and discussions tend to be propagated from one blog to another.
So I propose to do something about this fragmentation problem by writing a little series of articles here that provide readers with everything they might want to know about naturist blogging but were too intimidated by the technology to ask.
Naturists have been online (and NIFOC) for quite a while — some of the earliest bulletin boards and message systems for naturists were on services like Delphi, Prodigy, and Compuserve around 1990. Even before that there were PC-based bulletin board systems, email mailing lists, and (of course) rec.nude on Usenet.
These are all types of computer-based messaging systems, which have been around since the 1970s. I won’t even try to relate the ancient history, but I do go back quite a way with CBMS myself — I started using email and “computer conferencing” in 1977.
Now we have the Internet, and within that environment many contemporary types of CBMS, such as:
- mailing lists
- message boards
- chat rooms (text and video)
- instant messaging
- social networking tools (such as Friendster and Linkedin)
- web sites associated with each other in a “Webring”
- “wikis” (like Wikipedia)
Each of these has its advantages and disadvantages. Perhaps it’s possible to understand blogs better if we think of them as a sort of “universal object” in the category of CBMS. That is, most of the things you can do with one of the other systems can be done with a blog.
Consider the basic components of a message board, for example:
- topics and threads
To begin with, you have “users” — just people who want to use the computer as a tool to communicate with each other. Some systems are open, and allow anyone to join the group. Systems that are very open even allow anyone who comes along to participate, while others require a formal registration process. Closed systems require prospective users to be added by an administrator who has special authority to permit or deny access. Users may be grouped along with others in subsets of the whole user community, as “special interest groups”, “committees”, and so forth. And these groupings can be overlapping or hierarchical, like the “divisions”, “departments”, and “sections” of a business. Membership in groups can be either voluntary or assigned by group managers.
The next feature any CBMS must have is, of course, “messages” — the information that the users exchange among themselves. Messages can consist only of text, or they can include almost any other type of data — pictures, sound, video, spreadsheets, databases, etc.
Messages, in turn, can be organized into groupings much like users. Such groupings are often referred to as “sections”, “topics”, or “threads”. These organizing principles are important enough to be regarded as the third major feature of a CBMS. There can be an arbitrary number of levels of hierarchy, but let’s stick with three just for simplicity. At the top level, a section is established by a system administrator, and usually represents a fundamental grouping of possible topics. In naturism, there might be sections of a CBMS devoted to things like “clubs”, “beaches”, “family naturism”, etc. Next, within each section there will be a variety of topics. These may be established by a section manager, but they may also be created by users to collect related discussions together. At the lowest level are threads, which develop spontaneously as each message entered by someone is followed by replies from others — often producing a deeply nested tree of responses.
We could examine how each type of CBMS mentioned previously implements all or most of these common features, but that would be getting into too much detail here. The basic point we want to make is that blogs allow for all of these features, and bring along special capabilities of their own.
Each and every blog can be regarded as a CBMS unto itself, or you can think of them as just the top level sections of one entity, the “blogosphere”. A blog can be entirely a personal thing, which is simply a diary belonging to whoever created it. But even then, most blogs allow for comments from blog readers, and if there are extensive comments, they either explicitly or implicitly develop spontaneously into threads.
Some blogs (referred to as “group blogs”) are jointly owned by several individuals who have special privileges to admit new users, create topics, and make managerial decisions. But both individual and group blogs are often subdivided into a number of predefined sections and/or topic areas. It’s generally possible to assign messages to more than one topic area, when appropriate. Sometimes topics can be created by any user, with techniques such as “tags”.
So blogs can effectively have all of the features of typical message boards, but they have unique capabilities of their own as well. In particular, there are several techniques for allowing linking and interconnection between independent blogs anywhere in the blogosphere.
This can be done in several ways. The simplest way is just by using the standard Web links between pages. In most blogs, there is a separate URL for each message in the system (but usually not for user comments), and this URL doesn’t change even when messages scroll off the main page. So it is trivially easy for a message on one blog to refer to messages on any number of separate other blogs. And just as important, there are tools for discovering external messages that link to a given message. Such linkages are formed spontaneously, or they may be facilitated with tools like “trackbacks”.
Another way that blogs can be accessed by whoever might be interested in their contents is through the process of “syndication”. We won’t attempt to explain it right now. It’s enough to say that this is a way for people to be informed automatically when new messages are posted at any blog they “subscribe” to, without having to periodically visit all blogs they are interested in.
Future messages in this series will deal with the following topics:
- Finding naturist blogs
- Syndication — RSS, atom, feed readers
- Technorati tags – taxonomies
- Your own naturist blog
- Social networking tools
- Social bookmarking
Please feel free to comment here and in future messages if you have questions or want more information on anything discussed in this series.
Originally posted September 26, 2005