Thursday, April 28, 2005

Who are bloggers? The Blogosphere Series - Part Two

This is the Blogosphere Series, Part Two, a look into bloggers.

Who are bloggers?
What are their Interests?
Why do they blog?
What makes them different from non-bloggers?
What encourages them to keep blogging?
Are they willing to spend their money to blog?

In Part Three of this series, I'll try to answer: "How do I get bloggers to blog about me?"

1) Who are these blogger-people?

CNN Reports that the majority of blog-readers are internet users between the age of 18-29, however they did not poll people under the age of 18, so this data is less accurate than it could be. It does show a trend for young people to be the most common readers of blogs, but also highlights that if a user of any age category uses the internet, then there is more than an 28% chance that they have read a blog sometime before.



A survey of bloggers and readers of blogs that carry BlogAd advertising showed that among other findings, 70% of bloggers are over 30 years old, 43% had family incomes greater than $90000 USD, 75% are men, 50% said blogs are their most useful source of information, 4.8% listen to podcasts weekly, 28% use RSS to read blogs, and 20% of readers are also bloggers.

2) What are bloggers blogging about?

On Dec 9, 2004, Media Culpa stated that, “I have checked a sample of 50 important RSS feeds of traditional media in the Nordic countries in the Bloglines system and it is clear that IT and news are what interests most subscribers, 84 per cent of all subscriptions are for IT and general news. Business, sports, culture and entertainment have far less subscribers. This is of course an effect of both supply and demand.”



The O'Reilly Radar picked up this Confusability blog that lists the Top 100 folders that Bloglines users use to categorize their blogs of interest. Not surprisingly, the Top 5 were: Blogs, News, Tech, Technology, and People. Followed by Politics, Friends, and Comics. Java was 17th, Business 22nd, Sports 24th, and Knitting beat out Marketing by taking the 37th and 42nd spots respectively.

3) Why do bloggers... blog?

Defining exactly why people blog is not an easy task. Perhaps it is better to start by analyzing why people read blogs first, and then look at why people write them after.



In this blogads survey from March 2005, the timing and content of blogs (faster news, news I can’t find elsewhere) was important to readers, but perhaps more important was the source from which the news was delivered (Better perspective than a reporter, more honest, and with transparent biases). This supports the ideas of Jeremy Wright and Darren Barefoot that describe ‘objectivity’ as the currency of journalism, and ‘authenticity’ as the currency of bloggers. Perhaps the fact that 43.8% of blog readers are interested in “transparent biases” shows the decline of true objectivity in the journalist trade. This could either be because people are beginning to distrust the current level of objectivity in news-providers, or because people value opinions that support their own, and like to hear such information.

This begins to open the door into the bloggers mind, showing a glimpse of why they blog. The idea that their opinion is valuable and desired by other humans makes blogging an attractive social outlet. That they can also gain a reputation among a community of peers, build a business, interact more closely with their customers, and stay connected with their family and friends increases the attractiveness. A Feb 18th, 2005 survey of blogware users stated the reasons why people blog are:

40% - To let the world know what I think!
30% - To stay connected with family and friends.
15% - To build a better relationships with my customers.
10% - To share ideas and projects with coworkers/employees.
5% - To store and share photos online.

Though this survey had a low number of respondents (32), it had some other interesting findings, including the fact that 34% of the respondents had been blogging for more than 2 years (while 25% began within the last 3 months), and that these users would prefer to see blogware blogs listed by topic, category, author, and location of author rather than one of these individually. People who read blogs want them to be organized, and relevant to their interest. This is another reason why aggregators will be more popular.

This comes back to the number of people who are interested in blogs for the speed with which they can find information, and the fact that they can’t find that info elsewhere. An extension of this will be “semantic” tools that explain the web, based not on the hyperlinks throughout it, but by the information contained within the pages on those links. The condition implied on these semantic tools, is that they will need to be fast, simple, and allow users to pull desired information and information sources (eg via RSS).

Simply, users need fast access to important information that is easily searchable and organized. Participators need to feel like they are making a difference, to know that others are listening to them, and to gain respect or a reputation among their communities.

4) How are bloggers different from muggles?

Hepnar.org lists 15 traits believed to be common among all bloggers, but I’ve shortened his list and made comments:


3. Other people listen to what they have to say (on the net).

This inspires bloggers to build online presence

6. They read other people's blogs for inspiration.


7. They generally have a basic knowledge of CSS and/or HTML..
As blogging hits the mainstream, this is likely to become less important

8. They learn about other members of the blogosphere by reading that person's
blog.
They initially learn about other members via the comments that person makes on a blog, or as a recommendation from a blogger they respect.

10. A presence on the Internet is fulfilling for them.
Bloggers are spending time on the computer instead of in the pub or with their family. This online presence helps them to feel respected, intelligent, appreciated, and stimulated by their interactions with other people there.

11. They are generally a bit geeky.
12. Have a basic knowledge of computer skills.
13. Are proud members of the blogosphere and are passionate about blogging.

They may be geeky, but they are not ashamed of it (online at least)

15. Stand by their opinions and respect other members of the blogosphere and people in general.



People have learned that if they make stupid comments, or begin “flame wars” on blogs, then their comments will be removed. Once the thrill of irritating someone is removed, they cease the practice.

He goes on to say “I'll continue to look for similarities between members of the blogosphere, not only because I think it's interesting, but because it's like Social Studies (I have a point, I promise...). It's like learning more about your culture. It's fun!” His quote shows how #13 is applicable.

However as blogs progress into the mainstream, the trends of bloggers is likely to change. Some predictions include:

  • The mainstreamers will not blog obsessively, all day, every day. Blogs will be a tool and a facet of their lives, not their lives. I think most mainstream blogs will average annually ~2 posts/week.
  • They want convenience. The better the tools/software services, the more convenient it will be for them to blog and the more they will blog.
  • They are looking for the classic “whole product” and do not want to fuss w/difficult to use/unintegrated technologies.
  • There is no joy in perl scripting for them. Blogs will become, as Jason observed, the new business card/CV and also the new refrigerator door. People will update the world on their careers in the professional section of their blogs. They will update their friends in the personal areas.
  • Pictures/galleries and filesharing posts will become at least as important text-oriented posting.
  • As they post more and more of their lives online, they will start to demand ways to safeguard and secure all the work they have done.
  • Next-gen blogrings/community/affinity groups will become more important and will create their own mini-blogospheres, complete w/powerlaw distributions
  • Folksonomies will become a concept everyone can understand and will surprise everyone w/how they evolve.

The last two predictions seem the most interesting for the future. People are already listing “respected bloggers” on the sidebars of their own blogs. Because no one expects to be the next Scoble, people will form into their own groups, comprised of opinion leaders, thought-followers, nay-sayers, and passive readers, for topics that interest them most.

This blog has become incredibly long, so I'll save the last few questions for the next post in the series.
1) What encourages them to keep blogging?
2) Are they willing to spend their money to blog?
3) How can I get bloggers to blog about me/ my company/ my service?

Wednesday, April 27, 2005

The Blogosphere - Part One: Industry Facts

This is by far, not an extensive report on the state of the blogosphere, rather it is an amalgamation of some of the research available online.

However, though it focuses entirely on individuals who blog, I believe that a great majority of bloggers would also be interested in the creation of a social networking / folksonomy crossover and therefore, perhaps this preliminary research will indeed prove valuable in the future.

Firstly, I think it’s important to begin with a description of the blogosphere, as it currently exists.

Technorati is now tracking over 8.3 million blogs[1], and the number of blogs it is tracking doubles every 5 months. It is not clear if this effectively describes the number and rate of growth of blogs, or Technorati’s effectiveness at tracking them. However, it is expected that Technorati will be tracking 15 million blogs by August, and 30 million by January 2006 if the trend continues[2] (but there isn’t much evidence to show why it would).

There are a number of blog providers in the industry, most notably Blogger (which was acquired by Google in 2003, and has gone from 169 thousand users in 2001 to 8 million blogspot.com blogs[3], though the number of active users on the service is unknown), MSN Spaces (4.5 mln bloggers have set up an online presence at MSN Spaces, according to Microsoft and reported by MarketWatch. Only 170,000 of them (or fewer than 4%) are updated daily) and LiveJournal.com (which has a reported 5.6 million accounts[4]; 2.4 million of which are active). But there are many more providers out there including: Typepad (for hosting blogs), Moveable Type (software installed on your own site to host your own blog, also used on Typepad), Tripod (a blog provider, with easy access to photos, polls, etc, charges $9.95 per month, and has advertising), etc.

According to Heinz Tschabitscher, a writer for about.com, the “top 10” aggregators are:
1) Newz Crawler
2) FeedDemon
3) SharpReader
4) Bloglines
5) NewsGator Online Services
6) intraVnews
7) News Gator
8) Awasu Personal Edition
9) Blog Navigator
10) Mozilla Thunderbird

It's interesting to see that Omea Reader wasn't included on this list, perhaps the word isn't out yet. (note: the author works for JetBrains, and uses Omea Pro all day, everyday)

Here's another list of the most popular aggregators.

Some of the industry trends are:
1) Consolidation – large providers get larger, while smaller providers struggle to grow. Though LiveJournal’s software powers a number of sites, of the 13 looked at by my source only 4 experienced growth in active users. (were they the big 4?) (are the early entrants the current leaders?) (if you have this info on your site, please make yourself known and i'll include credit)

2) Though there are a lot of fish, most end up leaving the river. Though blogging itself is gaining popularity, the vast majority of users are still abandoning their blogs or defecting to other services (eg, between Aug 2004 and Jan 05, Live Journal had over 2 million new people try their service, but only gained 170 thousand active users.) What helps ensure that users stay?

3) Aggregators are gaining popularity because they make it easier for users to look at a lot of information that interests them, in a shorter time. How many people are using aggregators now?

4) Big information providers are beginning to use RSS content. Wall Street Journal has added RSS feeds, and New York Times has 27 feeds, which drive a million page views per month. As RSS becomes a trusted method for receiving news of interest, more and more big information providers will join the field.

This is the first installment of information on the blogosphere. The next one will be focused on bloggers, and blog readers:
Who are they?
What are their Interests?
Why do they blog?
What makes them different from non-bloggers?
What encourages them to keep blogging?
Are they willing to spend their money to blog?

References:
[1] http://www.technorati.com/
[2] http://www.sifry.com/alerts/archives/000298.html
[3] Found via a Google search on the .blogspot.com domain
[4] http://www.livejournal.com/stats.bml

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Robert Scoble: What RSS Aggregator do you use?

After hearing Robert Scoble speaking about XML content Syndication on IT Conversations, I decided to try to contact him directly, just to see how well his filtering of blogs works.

Apparently, if I write: something about Longhorn, and click my heels three times, The Scoble will appear and grant me the answer to one question, so here it is:

What RSS Aggregator do you use Scoble?

Now, I just have to get this blog up on Technorati, so I'll add a couple Technorati Tags here:
Scoble Longhorn XML Omea Reader JetBrains (yes, those are shameless plugs for our reader/organizer.. but note that the product link is not included... tactful? nah.... )

Monday, April 11, 2005

World Perception of Information

When we change our view of the world, our world itself changes as a result.

I noticed this today as I was writing a report on the blogosphere and the people who compose it. While adding words like “blogosphere”, “folksonomy”, “blog”, “blogging” and “blogger” to my MS Word dictionary it started to sink in. I’ve always thought of myself as a bit of a mid adopter when it comes to technology. Though I’m a bit ashamed to admit it, I just recently bought my first laptop (the Compaq nx6110, in a case with HP branding all over it), and am still an avid user of IE, even though my colleague Rob Harwood is trying his best to lure me into Firefox with promises of “tabbed browsing”, “better page searching technology”, “virus protection”, and a slew of other features, which sound very appetizing, but somehow I just can’t break the old habit. My new excuse is that the scrolling section on my touchpad doesn’t seem to work in Firefox. I guess this just goes to confirm that once you’re product has crossed the chasm, features aren’t everything anymore. However, mobile technology and blogging have been capturing my attention as of late, and therefore the ideas that I associate together, are beginning to change my view of the world.

This struck me when at a dinner party earlier in the week the topic of blogging came up. My friend Scott mentioned that he just didn’t get it. “Why should anyone waste their time reading from a bunch of people who just want to hear themselves ramble about their opinions?” He was speaking about the trend of diary blogging, but his opinion disturbed me. Though I was ready with a barrage of rhetoric about why people waste their time listening to politicians when they fully know that less than half of what they say has any real substance to it, and was probably composed by a script writer after reading the latest opinion poll, I held back, and simply replied, “because it’s real.”

I found myself recounting some of the language of Jeremy Wright and Darren Barefoot, in their True Voice audio conversation with Stowe Boyd, about professional bloggers. In it, they mention some of the differences between journalists and bloggers and one of their points was about “the roots and ethics of journalism”. In the mid 20th century, a lot of journalists were getting paid to write, by the people doing the advertising. Every paper was basically turning into a tabloid, and newspapers started to realize that their readership was going down, because people didn’t believe what they were saying. So, journalists banded together and realized that it was their objectivity to issues that was their real livelihood, and being paid to talk about an issue, was a sure way to prematurely end your career. So reporters and journalists stopped writing their opinions, and started “reporting facts objectively”. One thing Jeremy and Darren didn’t mention is that editorial columns have always been a popular part of magazines and newspapers, and these editorial columns have often been the most thought provoking, and indeed the most talked about part of the publication. They are also the most heavily opinion-based section of the paper. Jeremy and Darren pick this topic up again in their interview, and say that it is the ability of bloggers to be authentic that makes them popular. And while journalists trade on their objectivity to an issue, the real value to bloggers and blog readers, is the opinions of the author. This was my answer for Scott, that the real, unabashed opinion, of a real person, is why people “waste” their time reading blogs.

Six months ago, the conversation could have ended with Scott's rhetorical comment, but since my perception of the information available to me has been changing, I have therefore become a source of information for others, and therefore a cog in the information exchange. Who knows, the world of information itself may be forced to change because of a cog like me. It will be interesting to see where information sources head next. Will the wiki gain popularity? Or sites such as del.icio.us? What information is the most valuable to us, and will there be a time when we would be willing to pay for it? What is worth paying for? I’m predicting that these answers will be revealed by the end of 2005, and a small handful of companies will emerge to lead the change. Will it be yours?