The death of (my) blogging

A trolling title, because “the death of x” has become an overused trope. And of course N.E.R.D.

My blog isn’t dead but it is less frequently updated – going from around twice-weekly to fortnightly to now around bi-monthly. I’m not alone, with many of the blogs I bookmark or subscribe to having become far less active. If I’d retained the same energy in blogging as I had several years ago I’d refresh my blogroll. But…

Is Clay Shirky’s utopian vision of cognitive surplus channelled not into consumption but in creation less likely to come true? It depends on definitions – creation is easier than ever. We can automate actions or post photos from our phone. Why expend more effort, when there is much media to be consumed. It is almost perverse not to want to consume media, given the surfeit of options available. I didn’t blog at all in August, because I felt my personal time was better spent catching up with box sets, reading epic fantasy novels, listening to re-formed bands,  playing computer games and getting caught up in the craze of sporting events, among many other media choices. My interests are unique to me, but I found more than enough things to occupy my attention.

Some of the reasons for my blogging less frequently are particular to me – such as an internal-facing job restricting the amount of interesting work-related things I can talk about. But there also seems to be broader trends that has reduced the prominence of blogging:

  • Alternatives: Online participation is getting simpler and quicker – why construct a detailed blog when you can quickly update via Twitter, Instagram or Pinterest
  • Aggregators: RSS never really took off (though I still use Google Reader) and Twitter links can get swallowed by the stream. In short, it is difficult for individual blogs to surface – instead it is far easier to write a column on a widely read website, whether it be Buzzfeed, Huffington Post or a more niche site.
  • Tighter corporate policies: Corporations are now savvier to social media. They will have policies, and encourage employees to channel their energies into official destinations rather than personal ones. I don’t think it is coincidental that most of the blogs I read that remain vibrant are those written by either consultants or business owners.
  • No more novelty: A blog is initially filled with things people have been waiting to say for ages. Eventually, we run out of things to say. And once the novelty wears off, we try less hard to think of something to say.
  • The hive mind: We gravitate towards people who have similar interests or opinions to ourselves. In blogging, that means certain topics can become a flavour of the month, and it can become difficult to add to existing noise regarding a certain topic. I referenced Cognitive Surplus earlier. I’ve never read it. Nor have I read Predictably Irrational, Groundswell, How We Decide, Thinking Fast & Slow etc. I’ve never needed to – I’ve absorbed all of the key points multiple times over from blogs on the subjects.

Blogging won’t die, and this blog won’t die. As this post proves, occasionally there is the need to write something more considered or more verbose than a tweet. But the gaps between these needs arising are becoming longer.

A few years ago I purchased a URL and some storage, with the intention of self-hosting a personal website. I never got around to transferring this blog. Sadly, it appears like I never will…

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/helico/1568566210

Promoting quality over quantity

“Findability” (Sidepoint: I’m fascinated by neologisms – my current favourite is “winningest”) regularly crops up in research I conduct, particularly for video services. To put it briefly, it’s crucial.

It appears to me that over the past few months, my blog has become less “findable” – at least on one measure.

This blog hasn’t been as active over the past few months (this will improve from October, when my Diploma and much-needed holiday will be out-of-the-way). As a result of my reduced frequency in posting (and, to be fair, I’ve also spent less time thinking about my posts), I’ve slipped down the AdAge Power 150 rankings a fair bit.

This isn’t a post filled with whining navel-gazing and self-reflection. Please bear with me.

It’s inevitable that a less active blog will drop down the rankings – recency and velocity/momentum are important determinants when considering popularity.

But it did get me thinking about how popularity works.

It is correct that something with high numbers ranks highly (though, arguably, the most popular things tend to be the lowest common denominator consensus choices, rather than things that inspire devotion).

But numbers can be misleading. All readers, viewers or followers are not equal. Anil Dash has made this point very well in terms of Twitter followers.

Reasons for popularity can include

  1. Something is genuinely good – despite my cynicism, the good will out, at least on occasion. I’ve recently started reading (and enjoying) Inspector Insight, while Inception and Arcade Fire provide two cultural examples (note the subjectivity), though Arcade Fire’s willingness to experiment with interactivity helps their PR
  2. Frequency – it’s not a coincidence that the top blogs on the AdAge ranking are updated daily. Volume is a major determinant of popularity – indeed many of the other factors on this list can be considered functions of volume. I believe reduced volume is the reason for my drop in the rankings
  3. Differing motivations behind “link love” – volume of links are a signifier of popularity, but the reasons for linking differ. It could be a genuine desire to share, a reciprocal back-scratching activity, or a ploy to garner the attention of someone. My link updates (which will return later this week) have been guilty of all three, though nowadays it is almost exclusively the former
  4. Intensive distribution/self-promotion – of course, it could be one person linking to themselves across a variety of platforms. Ray Poynter recently started a debate on LinkedIn regarding the multiple linking to blog posts on both that group and several others (there was one particularly egregious offender). The cost of doing this (and the cost of annoying regular visitors) is negligible compared to the benefits. The spam principle.
  5. Gaming visibility – SEO has become something of a dark art, with multiple sources offering tips on improving the volume of traffic. Attracting “Junk” visitors can either be intentional or unintentional. For instance, the total number of visits I get on my blog is heavily affected by tweaks to Google’s algorithm, since by far the most popular post on this blog is my review of a Thinkbox event. Not because of the content, but because of the (presumably copyrighted) picture of the brain that the post contains. “Brain” and derivatives thereof far outstrip other search terms (such as my name)
  6. Gaming views – some tech blogs have taken it upon themselves to auto-refresh, thus grossly distorting the page view count. Similarly, other blogs will spread an article over several pages to inflate numbers
  7. First-mover advantage – Google may not have been the first search engine, and Facebook may not have been the first social network, but it generally helps to get in there early. Robert Scoble has partly cultivated his micro-celebrity around being an early adopter of new services, though he gets supplanted once the macro-celebrities arrive. Frontiersmen and women are able to build up their networks early, and this leads to…
  8. Self-perpetuation – there are power laws where people gravitate towards larger numbers. This Rapleaf study shows the distortion in distribution of Twitter followers – this trend would have been exacerbated by the introduction of “suggested users”. Again, this self-perpetuation can be intentional or unintentional. Initiatives such as SXSW 2011 Panel Picker and Fast Company Influence Project become number chases, where the only goal is to get as many votes as possible, irrespective of their provenance or context. Whereas, a market researcher new to Twitter might gravitate towards Tom H.C. Anderson – there must be a reason he has over 50,000 followers. And while there would have been a good reason for Tom to gain popularity initially, this has been surpassed by the self-perpetuating power law.

These last two factors are particularly concerning. They are completely divorced from the quality of the content, and create barriers.

  • An artificial glass ceiling that makes it hard for others to break through. It is a pyramid structure – something Ben Kay has talked about in relation to advertising agencies.
  • An echo chamber since the community effectively becomes closed off. In an attention economy, time is scarce and popular sources become stickier. I’ve written previously about the perils of balkanisation and echo chambers.

Is there a remedy to this? Can something be done to ensure that the good does break through?

Probably not, since rankings are completely subjective. They depend on relevance and context – two factors that are unique to each individual.

But potential solutions could include

  1. Incorporating popularity per piece of content – rather than overall volume of links or viewers, it could be done on a content by content basis. For instance, Avinash Kaushik only blogs once a fortnight, but his post are of a very high standard and thus I’m sure he has a very high number of links per post
  2. Relying on a curator’s subjectivity – the AdAge Power 150 does include the subjective Todd Points but I have no idea who Todd is, nor what his tastes are. Recommendations are far better when they come from someone trusted
  3. Algorithms – though recommendations can also come from an algorithm. Last.fm looks at taste compatibility between users, while Amazon is able to suggest items based on the patterns of other shoppers. Of course, this requires a centralised body with huge swathes of data to be effective
  4. Self-administered ratings – WordPress has a new feature enabling you to “like” posts, while other blogs allow you to rate on a five point scale – linking these to profiles could provide a framework to produce basic recommendations. The former might be slightly more effective due to the polarisation of opinion when rating online, but it is a challenge to incorporate. It requires a change in behaviour and mindset to be more active in providing feedback. For instance, I’ve never rated a blog and my Google Reader trends say “over the last 30 days you read 3,028 items, clicked 449 items, starred 0 items, shared 0 items, and emailed 0 items”. Perhaps I should start doing so, but again this method is open to gaming.
  5. Awards – I dislike award ceremonies, particularly ones that require payment to enter, since they seem to be more about making money than rewarding success (hence the fight over the Press Gazette awards, but not the magazine itself). Nevertheless, they provide an objective signifier of achievement – witness the recent episode of Mad Men, where Don and Roger talk about how a Clio award would be good for the company profile.

There won’t be a perfect solution, but there must be tools that can enhance the “findability” of relevant information online. Greater diversity in what we read and consider can only enhance the discourse, even if it will require some complex mental calculations regarding what to consume and what not to. Because the attention economy is virtually a zero-sum game – we’ve almost reached our limits and so new consumption sources will replace, rather than complement, existing ones.

sk

NB: Yes, I have committed many of the cardinal sins in artificially inflating popularity within this post. Well spotted.

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/joost-ijmuiden/4485190116

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Understanding your STP strategy

This isn’t supposed to be a post aping Copyblogger or Hipster Runoff, but it is something that occurred to me while reading up for an assignment. It is something we all have – consciously or unconsciously – in a professional sense.

What is your STP strategy?

In other words, who are you trying to impress and how are you doing it?

This could be in the job market – segmenting the available opportunities (e.g. by industry or function), targeting a preference and positioning skills and personal attributes for maximum (perceived) compatibility.

Or it could be with blogging.

This is a blog that covers professional interests more than personal, so it should follow that there is an STP strategy underlying it.

And to an extent there is. I’d just never thought about it before.

Segmentation is broadly based around one of the following characteristics:

  • Demographic
  • Geographic
  • Psychographic
  • Behavioural

Geographic can be immediately ruled out (pseudo psychological arguments about cognitive landscapes notwithstanding). And despite the occasional self-indulgent navel gazing posting such as this one, I tend not to focus upon particular behaviours – either in the traditional industrial segmentation purchasing sense or in general actions.

There are several blogs I enjoy reading that are based around a particular demographic (normally a particular industry) but I don’t think this is one of them. I may work in research but, frankly, I find a lot of the processes involved in it pretty tedious and I don’t have the inclination to write about them. And I don’t know enough about any other industry  write on it. In an informed way, anyway.

Similarly, the people who commission me/my company to do a project rarely care about the underlying mechanics either. Instead, they care about the outputs – data, conclusions and provocations – and their context.

As do I.

And I think it is in this psychographic element that this blog attempts to hone in on. Ideas – both my own and those of others.

The blogs I read are those that contain thoughts that interest me – they can have a direct bearing on me or be largely irrelevant. This reflects on what I write about. It was the various blogs I read that initially inspired me to have more than a half-hearted effort at blogging, and their influence on me continues.

Just because I target ideas doesn’t mean I achieve them. But I know at least one person learns something from my typing. Me.

Writing helps me connect vaguely disparate thoughts into something approaching coherent. Sometimes, these thoughts are quickly discarded and forgotten about. But occasionally, they spur me on to go and do something tangible.

The positioning of this blog is like most of the other blogs I read – it is my natural voice. It might be verbose and inconsistent, but it is authentic. I’m more of a sponge than an alchemist and so I probably fall between several stools rather than occupying a distinct proposition like some of these:

In fact, those four positions could almost form a matrix, where I’d be somewhere near the centre. It may not be as exciting as being on the edges, but it means I can soak things up from all directions.

This blog doesn’t have a particular point other than questioning whether, in professional circles, you’ve considered how you are positioning yourself.

In a slightly selfish way, the main audience for this blog is me. Or at least people like me. This rather opaque strategy means that topics and readers may fluctuate, and I may never be categorised as a specific “type” of blog.

But that is fine with me. Whether researchers, musicians, chemistry students or social media specialists, I’m read things from a disparate group of folk and I hope my blog offers a suitable reflection of this. Whether this is the first time you have read a post or mine or whether you’ve visited several times, thanks for popping by and thanks for inspiring me.

sk

Image credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/jaumedurgell/740880616/

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Links – 26th October 2008

A selected list of links below. The recent paucity of posts, along with this going out on a Sunday, should indicate that my recent schedule hasn’t been too forgiving.

Blog-related

Jeremiah Owyang on the 7 tenets of the connected analyst. There is a balance between utility, leadership and a commercial outlook

NBC has begun releasing its TAMIs – total audience measurement index across all platforms. It will be interesting to compare how different genres perform across the different media. Cross-media reach is the holy grail – this isn’t that as it takes no account of audience duplication, but it is a step in the right direction (TV Week)

10 reasons why newspapers won’t reinvent the news in the 21st century. Quite a pessimistic outlook. (Xark)

What great marketers do well – well worth reading (Wikibranding)

Thoughts on the semantic web and the future of advertising from the Web 3.0 Expo (Read Write Web)

Hugh MacLeod interviews Mark Earls – both extremely interesting and intelligent thought-leaders

10 Internet stats for sceptics – the This is Herd blog has been on fire in the last week. This is an extremely useful post that I will be referencing again and again.

Nicholas Carr on Google and the Centripetal web – a very interesting notion. Google is moving from purely facilitating search, to providing unique content through its “First Click Free” method of moving around subscription firewalls.

Doc Searls’ elegant response to the borderline troll post on Wired where the author opined that Facebook, Flickr and Twitter had killed blogging. I don’t blog for fame and money. I blog to ruminate, to share and to learn. And will continue to do so.

Random

Paul Graham writes a typically brilliant essay on… writing an essay

Vice has an interesting profile on a former large-scale heroin dealer

http://librivox.org/ is the place to go for user-created audio books of out-of-copyright works

17 interesting facts about doctors and patients (E-med Expert)

NY Mag has a great feature on Nate Silver – the statistical genius behind the brilliant Five Thirty Eight website

I can’t really single any particular post out for praise this week- they are all well worth reading and re-reading

sk

Links – 27th August 2008

Another shorter list. Rather than my getting more clinical in pruning bookmarks, I believe the main reason is that the Internet gets a bit quieter in August (and I’m posting this earlier in the week).

Blog-related:

Seth Godin upsets direct marketers – by suggesting that if we click ads on sites we like, we can up-end the status quo and marketers are forced to improve conversion rates. I disagree with it – if I’m clicking through with no intent to purchase, then a snazzy landing page or a special offer isn’t going to change my mind. But an interesting thought nevertheless

Age Concern are looking to reclassify the silver surfer with research findings from Equi=media – I agree that 55+ is an impossibly broad target, but then does the same thing not also apply to 16-34s, ABC1s or housewives? However, I do concede that they are an overlooked market, and the study does contain some useful statistics

Nike have admitted asking the Chinese government for details on a blogger who posted what Nike insists are false claims regarding Liu Xiang pulling out of the Olympics – I’m not sure where I stand on this. If it were written in print, Nike would no doubt sue. But anonymity is currently a right of bloggers, and privacy should not be co-opted after the event.

Can the British make money from blogging? The discussion started on Techcrunch UK, and then the BBC picked it up. An interesting debate, at least until the name-calling began

The ten most shameless product placement plugs in cinema (Cracked)

What Facebook’s engagement activity means to brands – as always, an informative summary from Jeremiah Owyang. Personally, I’m not liking the fact that I’m getting brand gifts from people who I’d previously marked as spammers. I assumed that had blocked them from sending me invites and gifts. Unless the price is right, I guess.

Will crowd-funded journalism take off? (NY Times) I think not – there will be too much conflict between editorial independence and proprietor opinion/interference, no matter where the delineations occur

The BBC iPlayer is going to offer series-stacking (press release) – great from a consumer perspective, but it will be interesting to see whether Ofcom has anything to say about it

Websites:

Pixlr looks like a very good in-browser Photoshopesque image editor

Youtube sunshine – profane comments are replaced with a touch of sunshine

The Orwell Diaries – updated in real-time, 70 years after the original entry

Ubiquity – a new, intelligent, add-on in Firefox that interprets an instruction and takes the appropriate action. A bit like Google Calendar. So, if I typed “Twitter I’m playing with Ubiquity”, the programme would upload that Tweet to the system. Looks incredible.

Recom.me – a Twitter tool that sends you music recommendations based on the artist you Tweet to it

Random:

Photos that changed the world – awesome collection of history-defining images (EDIT: Link fixed)

How your printer pretends it is out of ink – and how to get it working again (Slate)

A Freakonomics look at Usain Bolt and other sports records, and how they relate to a normal distribution curve. The title says it all – Usain Bolt isn’t normal

A fantastic graphic showing athletics world records over time (NY Times) – you can see that there was also a brief period in the 1960s where the average speed of the 200m record was quicker than that of the 100m record

An interactive map of history’s great journeys (Good Magazine)

This week my double recommendations go to What Facebook’s engagement activity means to brands, Pixlr, Photos that changed the world, Ubiquity and A fantastic graphic showing athletics world records over time

sk

Links – 4th August 2008

Part 2 of my link update. These are edited highlights of my delicious (look mum, no dots!) bookmarks, which can be accessed via the link on the right hand side of this blog. If you ever look through those, you will realise why I don’t automate every bookmark to appear here.

And also, I like to add my own thoughts and comments from time to time. I’m not purely a messenger. There may be due cause to shoot me.

Er, anyway, moving on. Today’s links are on the topic of

Business and the Internet

Coca Cola “renting” bloggers (Trendsspotting) – Personally, I don’t see any problem with this so long as their is full disclosure. If readers find it unsavoury, it is their prerogative to go elsewhere

Seth Godin’s three laws of great graphs – I can’t say I agree with him. I would ban pie charts rather than bar charts, and motion is only useful when going from A to B. Animations are normally horrible – that infamous TED presentation being the honorary exception

Excellent analysis on why some analytical applications fail (Juice Analytics) – it is all about making the right assumptions with initial user behaviour

Noah Brier wonders if Metcalfe’s Law has a plateau – it is a good point regarding social networks. Universality is a great benefit, but it can also become frustrating. Particularly if you don’t like crossover in the various strands of your life.

The gentrification of Geek News (Anarchogeek) – this relates to the above link, with Noah’s quote of Paul Saffo very pertinent: “The value of a social network is defined not only by who’s on it, but by who’s excluded.”

The Copyblogger guide to being interesting – on the same note, those that missed the original link should check out Russell Davies’ “How to be interesting”

Taking learnings from the failure of a start-up (Information Arbitrage)

Stephen King’s new story is being published through graphic videos in weekly installments

Very funny review of viral marketing (Ships Biscuit)

Thoughts on interaction design (Welie) – an interesting, thoughtful essay on usability and design

Fantastic series of links and resources on giving excellent presentations (Conversation Agent) – this is a bookmark I will be consistently referring back to

Paul Graham lists start-ups he would like to fund

10 things you should know about the Internet (Neatorama)

Examples of corporate social media in action (Mashable)

Ten Web 2.0 ideas that failed (Fast Company). On a theme, we also have 25 failed Internet start-ups (Business Pundit)

Businessweek article on Personal MBAs – I’m intrigued

Charlie Brooker on SEO (Guardian)

Google now indexes 1trillion webpages (Google Blog)

Management begets process (Keynet Consultancy)


It is extremely hard to narrow it down, but if I had to pick my top 5 (I can’t narrow it down to 3), they would be Excellent analysis on why some analytical applications fail, Taking learnings from the failure of a start-up, Very funny review of viral marketing, Thoughts on interaction design and Fantastic series of links and resources on giving excellent presentations

Stay tuned for the remainder in the series. They may deviate from the core subjects of this blog, but they are well worth a look if you have a spare few minutes

Tuesday: Useful and Interesting

Wednesday: Miscellaneous

(And on Sunday there was Marketing and Media)

sk

Links automatically opening in new windows

Whenever I link to other pages or sites, I’ve specified that the link should open in a new tab or window. Ever since the advent of tabbed browsing, this is the way I have surfed the Internet and so it made sense to me.

However, my opinion has changed after reading the posts and comments over at Problogger, Useit and David Airey. The choice should be with the user.

This is a policy I completely agree with. The web is democratic and people should browse as they wish. This is one of the reasons why I allow the full text of my posts to appear in RSS feeds. If RSS users want to click through to my site they can, but it is their choice.

I will continue to specify that direct links to files should open in new windows, but from hereon in the majority of links will open in this tab. If you wish to open the link in a new window or tab you can

  • Click the link with the middle mouse button (the scroll wheel)
  • Hold control when you left-click on the link
  • Right click on the link and choose the option to open it in a new tab or window

(I realise that these are PC instructions, but this is what I have and know. Plus, I figure that if you have a Mac you probably know how to navigate already – SIDENOTE: Is it fallacious to assume Mac users are more web savvy?)

This policy should become more apparent in my next, overdue series of links update – which should be up over the next couple of days.

I’d be interested to hear other bloggers thoughts on this – how do you create your links? As I always control-click it had never occurred to me that I might be in the minority. How do you prefer to navigate?

sk

Photo credit: http://www.flickr.com/photos/pinkmoose/