We’re long due another paper review so we’ll start the week with “Exploring the Role of the Reader in the Activity of Blogging” by Baumer, Sueyoshi, Tomlinson (University of California, Irvine).
The authors looked at blog reader practices and how these were affected by identity presentation and perception. They also observed how involved the users felt with a blog. They believe that the reader is not a “passive recipient of content”, but that s/he engages with the content and interprets it.
Their data showed that users defined blog reading as “chilling out”, “wasting time”, “brain candy”, or “doing nothing”. People read blogs through habit, and tend as one participant put it “check blogs like emails” on a daily basis. This would fit with my blog reading habits. I rarely read them to waste time, I read them to gain insight into something or to be made of aware of something new. Keeping on top of this news is crucial to both my activities (SEO & computing).
They found that although a huge area of computing deals with information overload, the majority of respondents didn’t feel overloaded. I think this is down to how many blogs you read and how you organise your reading time. I use a reader, like many people. This allows me to glide through the blog news swiftly and easily and I go though over 60 daily.
I would say that I also mentally classify my blogs into “Always good”, “Clarifies information from other sources”, “Sometimes useful”, “Hardly even good but it’s supposed to be”, “Updated all the time but not of great quality”, “Rarely updated but wonderful when it is”, and “I’m thinking of ditching this one”. This means that I get through them a lot faster as well. There is a lot of data duplication in the blogosphere, someone will break news, and 100′s of other blogs will “break” the same news. I get nothing from reading all 100 so I pick one blog that consistently gives accurate and intelligent information to me with links to relevant resources.
So, the key to information overload for me is to extract the quality sources. Exactly the principle that search engines work with.
The respondents in the study didn’t feel any temporal constraints and would be happy to visit a blog they hadn’t read in a while and read posts regardless of how old they were. Again I would argue that this is not true of all blog readers. When reading BBC news headlines, it’s not going to be very useful to have ones that are 4 weeks old, unless I’m doing research. In this case I probably came through to the blog via a search engine. If it’s in my feed, I want up to date on the minute news, I don’t want to read the archives. If it’s a brand new blog that I’m discovering, then yes, I’ll probably read some of the archived posts.
A really interesting question that came out of this research is whether a blog is defined by it’s content or by reader interaction. Is something still a blog if you can’t comment or vote? Is it about writer-reader interaction? For me personally, a blog is about that interaction. If it’s not there then you have a regularly updated website.
Another very good question is “how readers perceive the self that bloggers present”. They state that blogs are generally considered a one-to-many medium but that readers often feel it’s a one-to-one communication. The readers found that opinion or narrative posts twere considered the most authentic. Readers also felt that an author’s offline and online identities were closely coupled.
I’d agree with this, I do realise that my online personality also ties in with my offline one. In the “real world” people ask me questions about something I posted, and online I’m asked about my offline life. Being a real person is crucial to blog success, this allows people to trust you and enter into communication with you. If the author is “Tim’s red boot company”, I’ll probably not bother reading it anymore, what’s the point, I don’t know who I’m here to read an interact with. What I wrote here is important because it’s clearly important for me to be able to contact the author in some way.
Some of their respondents said they liked blogger bashing, and some said they didn’t see the point in it. All bloggers have at some point or other encountered “trolls” or otherwise called “idiots” that comment something unkind, plain mean and mostly pointless. Another respondent said she felt commenting was polite, and another that he liked to take to time to formulate a good response. I comment when I want to say “thank you”, or ask a question. If I disagree, I just navigate away from the blog. The respondents said that when they commented on “big” blogs they didn’t expect a response but were pleased when they got one. Same here.
The respondents all had expectations of bloggers though. They expected frequent updates, a nice design, good navigation, prompt responses to comments and that the posts be “appropriate”. I’m not sure that means “on the expected subject of the blog” or “with no rude words”.
I did like to read that readers felt connected juts by reading. This is only possible imho if the post or blog even has personality and is transparent and genuine. Corporate trying to get blogs up and running sometimes encounter problems when their readers just don’t come back. Check Scobleizer’s checklist if you’re thinking of doing this.
Why should you care?
As a blogger you need to consider how people feel about you and your blog. Are you looking after them properly? Are you interacting and are you delivering timely and quality content? What kind of perception do your readers have of you? Do you come across bullish, kind, pedantic, happy…How does that affect your readership?
You might want to read about my experiment with “Science for seo” on blogspot, where it was launched and where it grew happily, until the recent move. This experiment showed that it was possible to go against (almost) all the rules of blog SEO and to still do well. The only rule I didn’t break: “Deliver good content”.