Monday, 28 January 2008

Blogging - whats it all about??

Interesting to see a new records management blog appearing, with the launch of the new Records Management Society (RMS) blog. Seeing this, combined with recent experience from my own blog has prompted some thoughts about what blogs are for, what they do best and what perhaps they are less good at.

Take my previous post on this blog, for example, within which I attempted to summarise a very interesting and lively debate which had been occurring for several days on the records management JISCmail list, and to encourage the debate to continue. As one of the main protagonists of the debate I began to feel as though the email list was not the best forum for continuing the discussion, not least because we risked imposing a good number of messages on the entire membership of the list on what was a fairly niche subject. Transferring the debate to a blog seemed the obvious answer: the debate could continue, the comments would be displayed in a structured sequential order and only those interested would be affected.

The result? The debate was killed stone dead; not a single comment was received and this was after I even posted the first comment to keep the ball rolling and advertised its presence on the blog via the same list on which it had previously featured. Now of course it could just be that the discussion had come to a natural conclusion and interest had faded away, but this appears not to be the case. Firstly, a number of further emails were exchanged via the JISCmail list which kept the discussion very much alive for a few days afterwards, and secondly according to Google Analytics the blog posting in question received a fair number of hits (65) – its just that none of these led to further contributions.

I find this interesting, not because of this particular example but because of what it may imply regarding both the role of blogs in general and also user preferences when it comes to vehicles for debate.

It appears that despite a general despair about the quantity of emails sent and received it still seems the default mode of e-communication and perhaps will do so for far longer than we had envisaged. For whatever reason maybe reports of its demise have been greatly exaggerated and despite a plethora of seemingly more sophisticated and interactive technologies its place is assured for some time to come. Perhaps its one of those rare examples of a piece of technology that hits a particular nerve and becomes so ingrained in the human psyche that people will continue to use it even when numerous and ‘better’ alternatives exist (the wrist watch being another example)

This also prompted me to consider why it is that I maintain this blog. Yes, user comments are a very welcome and important part of it, likewise the whole notion of encouraging and promoting debate within the profession. But if I am honest the reason for starting it and for continuing to maintain it is as an outlet for my own thoughts and views. I don’t claim them to be any more accurate or important than anyone else’s - I just wanted the means to be able to record them and to share them with whoever may find them of interest in a quicker and more responsive way than publishing journal articles or conference papers. If readers are sufficiently interested or otherwise stirred to comment on what I have said so much the better, but I shall continue to write whether the comments come in a flood, trickle or drought. Looking at the comment-to-posting ratio of other blogs I read I suspect that other bloggers feel much the same.

There is nothing particularly startling about the above, after all it reflects the origins of the blog as a Web-log. I suppose I could create and maintain my own full website and use that for the same purposes of online publishing but a blog enables me to leverage all the advantages but without the hassle and cost of hosting, designing & maintaining a full website; this leaves me free to just focus on writing what I want to say. It is, however, interesting that even organisations which already have existing sophisticated and informative vehicles for online dissemination via their websites still see the merit of maintaining a separate blog. It will be interesting to see over time which the average user prefers and whether it is actually the website rather than the email which is most affected by the rise of the blog…


Matthew Zawadzki said...


interesting comments, and useful to muse on why people actually blog and use certain types of communication over others - what benefits they get out of it, or are perceived to get out of it.
There's a real drive within our department(an IT department) to get people using SMS chat software, yet when polled at a recent staff meeting only 17% said that they used it regularly, with 24% occasionally and 59% never. And of those that did use it only 13% found it very useful and 17% quite useful. This seems to bemuse management here, and there is still a drive to get people to use it regardless of whether people actually want to or need to use it do their jobs. Whatever the reasons may be for non use it probably just reflects that whatever tools are available will only be used if people perceive that they are of value - the "what's in it for me?" question. And that's a question which records managers are well used to trying to answer, with varying degrees of success.

Red Kite said...

It's not easy to get an online community going is it?

I mean, you've never really acknowledged the existence of any other blogs.

Why not have a blogroll that your readers can link into? There's been one on mine for over a year.

Check it out

Steve Bailey said...

You mean aside from the blog that I linked to at the top of this very piece? ;-)

On a more serious note I'm more than happy to encourage and support my fellow records managemnt bloggers (after all we're a pretty small band) but I'm slightly sceptical about what difference this will actually make to establishing an 'online community'.

I suspect that due to some of the factors I have alluded to in this posting it will still be a case of 'you can lead a horse to water, but you can't make it drink...' which returns me to my fundamental point that blogs seem to work bettter as (informal) dissemination vehicles than 'online communities'

Anonymous said...

Hi, it is always possible to set up a website and publish "finished" articles, but I like the relationship that you can have with a community if you run a blog. The blog owner is not necessarily setting themselves up as "the expert" because a mechanism exists for the readers to validate what has been said or (more likely) correct errors or provide alternative opinions. From this process there is the delicious possibility that some sort of truth might actually emerge.

I’m keen on blogs and forums because I only visit them when it is convenient and then only need read relevant entries. But I know many people prefer to have information pushed at them via email lists. I’m on a lot of email lists myself but whenever I subscribe to a new one I know there’s always the danger of information overload and Friday afternoon syndrome. Certainly email is not always the most suitable vehicle for communication but tempting people to complement their email lists with a blog or forum takes time and it’s certain you’ll never attract everybody.


James Lappin said...

Hi Steve, I think the problem with blog comments is that they are hidden at the bottom of the post. If there is a number of comments already then any comment I make appears at the bottom of the comment string and has even less visibility.

Ssome bloggers have tried to raise the visibility of comments by having a sidebar which displays recent comments. Euan Semple does this on his blog

One of the great strengths of your blog is the number of comments that you receive. On the principle of 'if you've got it flaunt it' it might be worth you trying this (if Blogger supports it, Euan uses Typepad).

Steve Bailey said...

Hi James,

You may well be right, unfortuantely it doesn't look as though Blogger does support the kind of sidebar that you mention (at least not so far as I can see - I'd be interested to hear from anyone who knows how!)

Personally I'm really interested in these apparently minor but actually quite significant quirks in user behaviour (for example why people are happy to tag, but hate adding metadata). I have long thought that workplace psychology is a woefully under-represented element of designing RM systems and processes...