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Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Alternative Views of Blog Content

A great comment from Ken Allan on my post Free:

My family listen to NZ Radio a lot. Current affairs progs are now all available, free, as podcasts (bits) on their site. When someone misses a broadcast they wanted to hear, their dismay is ameliorated with, "I can always access the podcast".

Of course, this event rarely actually happens. So not only has bits reduced the value of some things, it also shelves the possibility of their use.

I'd already realised this was happening last century when people would stock up on videoed TV programs that they would never have the time to watch because they were watching the broadcasts - a time debt that was not able to be paid.

The same (actually) applies to reading blogs. As Sue Waters pointed out to me about indexing blogs, "people don't use blogs that way".

I completely agree with Ken that content seems to stream by and if you miss the stream, it somewhat gets lost later as there's the continuous flood.  I believe that things will eventually circle back to it, especially if it is important. 

But it concerns me that Ken may be giving up on our mutual quest to figure out alternative views of blog content.  This is something I discussed in my post - Index Page where I describe the core challenge as:

How do we create resources on our blogs that will help a new reader or a search visitor understand what's on a blog and orient themselves?

Sue Waters responded previously:

Most of the time they are a lot of work for minimal return so you really do need to consider whether the time spent is good R.O.I.

Think about it. How often do you go to another person's blog to find specific information? Guaranteed either never or seldom. And the main people who you would return to are those that you know provide informative posts.

Reality of a blogger is we are only as good as our last post :) .

With good use of search, categories and tags on posts combined with making each post count is probably time better spent than creating index pages (however they can be useful for the blogger themselves).

In terms of the ROI of spending time making other views, I have a slight advantage in that I can get automated views of my blog via eLearning Learning and have it do interesting things.  My goal is still to figure out what the views are of a blog that can help make it more accessible.  Get that into eLearning Learning.  And then make that available to other bloggers.  Thus, the ROI becomes high because the Investment is small (zero).

In looking back at Sue's comments, I actually go quite a bit to blogs as sources of specific information.  That's a big part of the value of eLearning Learning. 

I do think that use of categories/tags is part of the answer, but I'm hopeless when it comes to that.  And I'm not willing to go back and tag older posts.

I'm hoping there's still some interest and thoughts on what should emerge as alternative views of blog content.

Some specific questions:

1. Would it be helpful to have a tag cloud view instead of the long list view of a blog content as shown in my sidebar that is auto-generated by eLearning Learning?

2. Are there a set of views that are combinations of recent, best of, organized by keywords, essentially the information we have via eLearning Learning that would be compelling to first timers, or for going back through a topic, etc.?


V Yonkers said...

I find useful information on blogs in a much more networked way. I have a list of 10-12 blogs that I follow on iGoogle. I change these blogs about every 6 months, the same way I cull my clothes closet. If I haven't visited the site in the last 3 months, I drop it. If I've found a blog I do like in the last three months I add that.

Most of these blogs offer something different. If I am looking for something about writing, I go to one blog. Business teaching, another. Elearning at the college level, a different one. A foreign perspective, yet another. Ken Allen and Karyn Romeis have a very eclectic blog that mirrors my own interests in a variety of subjects. If I am looking for something in particular, I will go to the blog that might have that information. I save to delicious blog posts as I read them. I might ask a question in the comments section if the blog does not have an answer. For example, last year you had a blog post on standards for LMS. I did not understand the terminology, so I asked for clarification. Not only you, but many of your readers were able to enlighten me. However, I knew I could find the answer about LMS's on your blog.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora e Tony!

No I'm not giving up. Never give up! But some of us need more time than others to reflect on ways forward.

We live in a complex age and many attempt to treat it as though it were complicated. They look for ways to simplify it when there is no simple solution - radical 20th century tactics won't work either.

I think it's because we have been so used to dealing with things complicated that we still believe we can solve complexity the same way.

Well, that's just not going to happen.

So embrace complexity! Take pleasure in things like the flight a flock of birds, the swarms of the butterflies, the movement of shoals of fish and the capriciousness of the weather.

But don't try to predict their behaviour or find simple solutions to them. Just take time to reflect and enjoy.

Catchya later

Anonymous said...

Hi, Tony -

I visit different blogs on a daily basis. Like V Yonkers, my list is between 10 and 15. I also find that each blog has a similar navigation (e.g., Best of, Recent, Months, etc.). My biggest frustration is not being able to go back to a post I really enjoyed/found useful. With that said here are my answers to your questions...
1. I think the auto-generated sidebar is a good use of eLearning Learing. I don't think a tag cloud view is necessary.
2. Views I'd like to see on your blog as well as many others are Recent posts, Keywords, Topics (e.g., software, eLearning concepts, etc.), and best of.

I hope this helps!

Tony Karrer said...

This discussion is quite helpful (except Ken - who I need to solve all my complexity problems right now dammit).

Virginia and Anon(?) - interesting your pattern. I often forget how I consume so differently. Curious if the two of you subscribe to the Best of eLearning Learning. Seems like with your patterns, may or may not make sense.

Anon(?) - your suggestion for a Best of sidebar makes a lot of sense. We can actually do that, although probably makes more sense to have a few options on it.

Any specific suggestions on what you would want on a best of sidebar widget?

Gary Wise said...

Hey Tony!

The volume of blog activity seems to be mushrooming in my world, and my guess is I'm not alone. But it's not just blogs, it's smaller and smaller and more frequent nuggets of information I seek...and that get thrust upon me through more innovative pop-ups and covert links to SPAM. I've resigned myself to being lucky enough to see the sliver of relevance that is above my waterline of viewing time.

For me, tagging is the best option. Although, how many blogsters tag consistently? Keywords help too I suppose. The "best of" approach I think may be subjective to what criteria decides what is "best". Any of these approaches would help.

If I'm on a mission, I'm going to search on tags and keywords in Delicious. If I'm off-task and trolling for learning, the "best of" listings get my attention. Not sure if that is a pattern, but its how I deal with a waterline that's rapidly rising...


Tony Karrer said...

Got an email that said - "There is considerable value in many blog posts, on many topics. I've used several as thought starters and on through design and development cycles. The trick is to file or tag them to find them when you need them. There's the value - knowing where they are and being able to retrieve them quickly. If I can't find them in short order I just go ahead, based on what I recall. That works, more or less, but takes more time and may be less focused than if I found the post(s) I wanted. Time is king, efficiency is the princess of get'er done, and the key to the kingdom is searchability that results in correct hits."

That's actually quite interesting. Again, the use case and pattern is a bit different. It puts the onus on the reader to tag things. It makes me wonder if there's not a way to help with this a bit. After all, quite often I don't tag things.

It also suggests why things like top list pages are often saved.

Amanda Smith said...

I rarely follow specific bloggers on a regular basis, though I do have a list of bloggers that write on topics of interest (such as Tony!) that I look in on periodically for serendipitous knowledge finds.

I primarily use blogs as a source of ideas, information, etc. that I find through web searches. Perhaps I'm searching on the ROI of Twitter in the enterprise and find some interesting blog posts. The blogger might have described my thoughts in a better way. Or maybe they posted links to a good article, statistics, or other resource. Thus their blog content becomes part of a universal cloud of knowledge that I can pull when and what I need.

Jude said...

Although I use blogger, I prefer WordPress (I have blogs on both sites). WordPress forces you to categorize your blog posts (otherwise everything ends up as "uncategorized"). This automatically makes your sidebar more useful because you can display your main categories. WordPress didn't use tagging until relatively recently, and I find I still forget to tag my blogger posts. If I love a post or a photograph or any web content, I add it to my delicious page. I currently subscribe to 386 blogs. When I fail to add a site to delicious, it helps that I'm a good Google searcher. I wanted to share a post from a psychology blog with a student. I just searched for Cognitive Daily bilingualism and it was the first choice.

Tony Karrer said...

Gary - thanks for the thoughts. There's something interesting in there around tagging of items. There might be something more I should be doing with delicious to take advantage of an audience that uses that tool and tags items.

Amanda - that's interesting. Do you look only then at individual posts by bloggers?

Jude - your comments echo a bit of what Gary is saying. And again, I think that delicious itself might be a really good way for this to help to categorize or otherwise surface stuff.

But before all that, part of it is whether people really want any of this when they come to a blog. It seems like they would, but not if they are in pure search mode. In search mode, more likely they will only want something like related/best articles.

Michael Hanley said...

Nice topic Tony - and perhaps especially relevant at a time where attention spans only seem to stretch to 140 characters. I used to (attempt) to index my blog, but without a sophisticated DB at the back-end to collate my tags, I found it impossible to maintain the list: I much prefer to spend my time creating my posts than adminning them.

In this sense, my ROI is better invested authoring than managing.

The solution that works for me is to extensively categorize and meta-tag everything. Then I use a cool plugin called Lijit Search to do the heavy lifting. As well as being a powerful search tool, it provides a word cloud of popular search terms / posts, so people who visit my blog get an idea of the range of topics covered, as well as what's popular.

My own experience as a blog reader leads me to consider that is is a more effective approach than trying to maintain info in an ever-growing list. Having said that, I think that you do a great job of providing useful lists on eLearning Learning.

However, I don't treat eLL as a blog as such, more like a SharePoint-style resource directory, so I guess it's horses for courses, as the saying goes.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora e Michael!

The 'ever-growing list'. It sounds as if the task gets more arduous as time goes on, like climbing an ever-steepening mountain.

It doesn't.

The job of manually updating an index is far less arduous than many other admin tasks associated with blogging that every good blogger should do. Further, it is no more difficult when the list is hundreds of posts long than it is when the index is set up to begin with.

But I will give you this - planning and setting up an index takes time initially. The better planned, the easier to maintain I guess.

Catchya later

Tony Karrer said...

@Michael - You sound just like me when I originally thought of eLearning Learning - "I much prefer to spend my time creating my posts than adminning them."

I'm not seeing Lijit on your site. I tried it out before, but found that the terms it used were not quite as nice as the terms I could choose on eLearning Learning. I also found that it emphasized terms that really were not all that relevant. But maybe I should check it again.

I wonder if we should look to something like Lijit for eLearning Learning?

I agree with you that eLL is not really a blog. It's definitely an aggregator, filter, etc. Something different than a blog.

Tony Karrer said...

@Ken you've sparked several thoughts.

1. Your best post lists right now in your sidebar are from postrank and from GA. eLL comes up with best posts of:

* Working With Online Learning Communities
* Elearning - A Primer
* Champion Elearning Myths
* Complexity Science and Social Media Learning
* The Elearning Apprentice

I'd be curious your reaction to the various lists of "Best Posts".

2) We can likely generate a portion of your index page automatically. Particularly, we can show the "Best" list for any keyword or even any arbitrary search string.

Thus, we could quite easily generate a page that has a series of keywords that show the Best 5 below that and a link to More.

Likely you wouldn't like that as much as people who were not willing to spend the time. I personally, would really like it.

I'm thinking it's basically a meld of the ideas coming in here.

It combines a little of my First Time User's Guide / profile information along with the best stuff organized.

Would bloggers want this? Would they link to it and use it?

Would end users find value?

Right now I'm thinking the best of widget is the highest value items, but maybe I'm wrong.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora e Tony!

I enjoy the 'Best Lists' as they give me access to see what people are reading and also access to other articles that I didn't read and that maybe I should. I've no objections to being advised to read things. I get a lot of advice from people who know I read a lot and I end up reading a lot more. That's fine.

I would never object to any method of directing visitors to my blog so that they can find stuff they want to read. I would not regard those mechanisms as competition to what I do in providing an index - that would be daft. There is no competition. First time visitors are first time visitors though. They come from anywhere. The index is available on every post, as is your Guide to Visitors. If a visitor finds something in the index that's not listed elsewhere, the index is providing a service.

I have two lists of best posts in the side-bar for the simple reason that, at the moment I'm experimenting and simply making observations on their correlations. A few other bloggers, who suggested I use GoogleA and PRank may well be interested in these results too.

But if someone comes up with an idea for a new or better way for them to access posts (and the comment requests are up on my blog) I'm always willing to read it. Always willing to read suggestions. :-)

Catchya later

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora e Tony!

With reflection - where is there the widget on eLL that does what you've shown here? There is one that I can use? (OK, I'm maybe a bit slow - but I get there :-) Point me to it. I'd be very interested - seriously.


Tony Karrer said...

Hi Ken,

There's no widget right now. But we are considering adding that as a widget. But also trying to figure out if that would appeal to bloggers.

Seems like it appeals to you at least. :)

I'll let you know when we have something like that.