Blog features and tools (survey results)

Let’s look a little beyond the content of a blog and on to the tools and features that blog sites such as wordpress and blogger offer.  Blogs often include rss feeds, calendars, category links, search engines, and various options to follow the blog.  Especially in the case of wordpress these additional features are what make them money.  By signing up to wordpress.org the blogger can access a whole range of extra features while the free-blogger can only access a few basic ones.  At the end of the day it all depends on what you want to do with your blog. 

In the survey asked for Blogging for Historians last year (see here for posts about this) a question was asked about which features were seen to be the most useful.  A list of basic blog features were given:

  1. Twitter feeds
  2. Categories
  3. Calendar
  4. Past Posts lists
  5. RSS feeds
  6. Tag clouds
  7. Blog stats
  8. Search engine
  9. Recent comments list
  10. Follow blog option
  11. Other

Each participant was allowed to choose as many options as they liked so that it would be possible to see the relative popularity of each feature.  The most popular (with over 60 votes each) were categories and twitter feeds.  Past post lists and ‘follow blog’ options were not far behind.  Categories are obviously useful for distinguishing between content types and topic.  A blog looking at, say marriage customs across the ages, might be most useful if each post is attached to a category of periodization or wedding custom (perhaps a category for each religion or aspects of marriage such as engagement, the ceremony, reception, married life).  The ‘past post list’ is another aspect to this need for discoverability, as are twitter feeds.  Even past post lists falls under this category.  Therefore the most popular blogging tools are those that make it easier to find posts and contents of interest.

Other related items such as tag clouds, search engines, and RSS feeds were much lower down in participant’s interest.  Perhaps this suggests that the original use of RSS is being overtaken by other methods for finding and retrieving content (such as a reliance on Twitter), whilst tag clouds tend to be attractive means to display popular topics, but not necessarily so useful for searching blogs.  I think there is more research that can be done into these features.  For example how useful is a tag cloud?  Do people actually like them or not?

The least popular features were calendars and blog stats.  This is perhaps not that surprising.  Calendars don’t tend to offer much use for blogs focused on discussing History, and blog stats are a curiosity rather than having an essential use for viewers of a blog.  At best they might signify the relative popularity of a blog and, as the podcasted interviews have shown, provide a constant means for procrastination by blog owners.  They of course, also do provide useful statistics for institutions and individuals which can be used to show popularity and usefulness of the resource.

The ‘Other’ category offered participants the opportunity to suggest other useful features.  These are listed below:

Blogrolls Picture galleries Comments Follow by email
Archives section Facebook connection Images (within posts) Links to other sites

One comment noted a potential weakness of most blogs, in that they present posts in chronological order meaning that you need to scroll down to get to the first post (or interesting posts along the way).  This comment suggested that other formats work better, although unfortunately does not explain further what other formats could be used.  From the other items ticked by participants it would seem that discoverability is essential, and that useful features tend to be one’s which enable discovery of a blog post from external locations (Twitter, Facebook etc) and those on the blog itself which enable easy indexing of the posts.  Thus, one solution to finding interesting posts at a glance might well be some form of traditional index or something else entirely.  Another participant did indeed suggest an ‘archives section’.

The first of these respondents did note that they were interested in blogs as a possible means for working up first drafts and work-in-progress, suggesting a use of the blog as a public-facing workspace for research, but also wondered if they would become something new entirely in terms of the format it produces or ‘spawns’.

Another participant noted that they wanted to know who it was that was writing.  They wanted some indication of their background and interests.  This is not something that is mentioned very often.  Indeed, the survey didn’t ask about authorship directly.  However, this participant is definitely right.  Whenever I check a blog I usually try and find out at least some basic information about the author (i.e. is he/she associated with a university?  Are they an academic, postgraduate, or other interested party?  Where are they coming from when writing their blog post and what is the reason behind it?).

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What makes a good blog? (survey results)

surveyIn the survey that was initially carried out for Blogging for Historians (see the blog post here) several questions focused on good practice.  Participants were asked what they think works well in a blog-format in terms of content and, also, what works less well.  The results were interesting. 

Let’s start with the kinds of content the participants felt worked well in a blog-format.  Many of the responses noted the need for posts to be short (possibly around the 300-500 word level), dealing with a straightforward subject (i.e. one question asked and answered or a review of something, or ‘problem’ topics).  The need for images was noted quite often as well, suggesting a desire for some visual interest to act as a further stimulus.

Here are a few of the other suggestions:

“Things that provoke discussion within the academic community – there has to be a question driving the blog post”

“A mix of formal posts and more off-the-cuff think pieces”

“Blogs are a great opportunity to discuss research-in-progress and teaching, respond to current affairs, and engage with subjects (such as popular culture) that aren’t usually discussed in more academic contexts. They also allow for greater use of images and videos.”

“Sharing odd tidbits of historical fact – people, artefacts, small stories – that aren’t enough for a piece of scholarship but are curious.”

“Working papers (like a written conference paper).  Editorials”

“Short pieces of a few paragraphs (though maybe linking to longer articles”

“News content, reflections in short sentence, and image-centered article work well in a blog-format”

“A short case with some analysis, methodological problems, messy bits”

“It needs to be presented in an accessible style of writing, since one only allows oneself limited amount of time to browse and read blogs and therefore don’t have the time to unravel a dense text – there are enough of those in the regular course of one’s day”

“I like the personal aspects of blogs – i.e. how I research what I research”

When asked what kinds of content work less well in the blog-format the principal response was ‘long essays or narratives’.  Blogs need to be kept short and succinct.  They also need to be kept relatively simple.  Heavy discourse was frowned upon as not right for this format.  There were also some suggestions that the use of footnotes and other scholarly apparatus just gets in the way for blogging, these should be left for journals and books.  The flip of the coin, was an expression that ‘too personal’ is a bad thing.  It is suggested in the survey answers that scholarly discussion needs to be dosed in an informal narrative.   Blogs are not the place for the presentation of full scale research, but snippets, provided in a more relaxed writing style than would normally be the case.

Of course amongst all of these answers were some stating that anything can potentially work under the right circumstances and that much has to be left to personal taste.  This is of course true, but the participants do strongly seem to argue for short, succinct, and informal posts, with pictures, but not too personal.

Blogging for Historians Survey Results

(Wikipedia)
(Wikipedia)

Between November 2012 and February 2013 the Blogging for Historians project asked for your views about blogging practises in the humanities.  The results of this survey will form part of the eventual tool kit and it is hoped that it, too, can provide some useful data for future research into blogs and social media.

The survey was advertised on the Blogging for Historians blog, SMKE website and several other blogs.  It was also delivered via Twitter and Facebook and on several mailing lists.  The survey recruited 121 participants most of whom owned a blog of their own (84%), suggesting that the survey failed to reach or interest people who only visit blogs, or perhaps, highlighting that an increasing number both write and consume blog posts meaning that they are active on both ends of the scale.  When asked for occupation 34.6% of participants said that they were academics and 23.1% postgraduate.  A further 15.4% described themselves as early career researchers.  Only 2 participants came from the archives and library sector, and a further 24% said that they didn’t fit into any of these categories.  The survey results therefore represent academic historians and humanities scholars rather than archives and libraries, which unfortunately limits the scope of the results.

Several questions related to the potential ownership of blogs allowing us to gain a more in-depth understanding of the participant’s interests and activities.  As the table below shows most participants own or participate in one blog only, although it is far from uncommon for two blogs to be owned.  Only one person had more than four blogs (eight to be precise).

Blogs owned

Blogs     Participants        Personal              Institutional        Mixed

1                     43                                   39                           4                              4

2                     14                                   11                           0                              3

3                     4                                      3                              0                              1

4                     5                                      3                              0                              2

More             1                                      0                              0                              1

A question was also asked seeking to find out how many of the participants blogged personally, on behalf of their institution, or as a mix of the two.  Perhaps unsurprisingly most participant’s blogged as individuals.  However, only four claimed to only blog as part of their institution, which either suggests that the keenest bloggers (and thus the one’s more likely to answer the survey) are those doing it for their own purposes.  That said, a relatively small number claimed to blog both personally and as part of an institution which may suggest that a number of those asked to contribute to institutional blogs are also doing it themselves as well.  The fact that four participants stated that they only own one blog but post a mix of posts for an institution and personally, perhaps suggests something about the perceived nature of blog posts; that both personal posts can lay next to one’s that reflect a professional nature.

An overwhelming 92.2% said that they write blog posts as an individual, rather than in collaboration with colleagues, probably representing the solo nature of research in the humanities more than anything else.  What was more interesting from these results was the fact that participants who worked collaboratively on posts almost equally divided between those working within their own institution (6.3%) and those working across institutions (7.8%).  Seven participants added comments which generally noted the context for blogging as a mixture of solo and collaborative activity, but highlighting the interconnectivity of the two forms.  It would seem (admittedly from only a small number of responses) that it is not always easy to distinguish a collaborative enterprise, from personal research, suggesting the interconnection of research as personal and in relation to others.  Much of this seemed to stem from blogs that are personal but written within a professional capacity that represents the department, institution, or collaborative project.  It would, perhaps, be interesting to follow up this question with more about the relationship of the personal and the collaborative in academia, and the role that blogs might play in this interconnection.

Survey investigating History Blog practices

A crucial part of the research for the Blogging for Historians project will derive from the survey.  This is now ready and it would be brilliant if you could take a moment of your time to fill it in.  The survey is very short and should take less than five minutes to complete.  It is broken down into three sections:

  1. Using blogs
  2. Creating and managing blogs
  3. Personal details

It is the first two sections that will provide the majority of interest and will hopefully rise some interesting thoughts, ideas and questions.  Essentially the survey asks why do we create blogs?  What do we hope to gain from them?  How do we access blog posts as a reader?  What do we gain by reading blogs?  From this survey I hope to be able to begin to understand the processes and many reasons why blogs have become such a successful forum for writing, reading, and discussion over the last few years, and what impact or importance this might already and in the future have for the History discipline.

survey

 

I would be very grateful if you could fill in this survey.  It doesn’t matter if you own a blog or just visit them (or even if you don’t visit them – I would be interested in that too).  The survey is interested principally in History-related blogs, but this does not necessarily mean academic or professional.  There are a variety of History-related blogs out there, some better and more interesting than others.

Access to the survey can be found from this link:

http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/MHVXQ2W

It should take no longer than five minutes to complete and personal details will be kept confidential.  Statistics from the results of the survey alongside my thoughts and analysis will appear on this blog early in 2013.

 

 

 

 

What would you like to know? Initial survey questions about blogging

An essential element of this project is to gain results from a survey looking into academic, librarian, and archival blogging practices and to find out, more widely, why people blog and what people expect to gain from reading blogs.  I am currently working on these survey questions, sketching out the type of questions I would like to ask.  Here are my initial thoughts:

The survey will be broken down into three sections totaling about 20 questions in all.  I’m expecting the survey to take no more than 5 minutes for people to complete.  It does presume that the participant uses or has used blogs related to the History discipline.

Sections are:

1)      Visiting Blogs

2)      Owning Blogs

3)      Personal Details

 

 

Part 1: Visiting blogs

  1. How often do you visit History related blogs each week?
  2. How do you access blogs? (web browser, e-reader etc.)
  3. What reasons do you visit History blogs?
  4. Which blogs do you visit regularly?
  5. What do you hope to gain from visiting these blogs?
  6. What kinds of content do you think works well for blogs?
  7. What do you think works less well?
  8. Which additional features do you think makes for a good blog?  (Twitter feeds, categories, etc.)

 

Part 2: Owning blogs

  1. Do you own any blogs?
  2. How many?
  3. What are the blogs called and could you give us their url’s (this question is optional)
  4. Why did you start your blog?
  5. For what reasons do you post blog posts?  What do you get out of it?
  6. Do you have any recommendations for best practice?

 

Part 3: Personal Details

  1. Which occupation best fits you?
  2. Which age group do you belong?
  3. Any other comments you would like to share?

 

Do you have any suggestions for improving these questions?  Or is there anything that I have missed out?  I would love to hear from you in the comments section below.  The survey will be posted early next month (November).