Thu 18 Oct 13:58
Three years on
Warwick Blogs has been running for a little bit more than three years now; we had a pilot period between about May and September 2004, then we went live in October 2004, offering a blog to every student and staff member who wanted one. That means that Warwick Blogs has now run for three consecutive academic years, so it seems as though this might be an interesting time to look at some statistics for those three years. Here they are:-
Essentially, usage is declining. Can we hazard any guesses as to why? I can think of three reasons, though I'm sure there may be others:-
- In the first year, we marketed the existence of blogs very heavily, with posters, fridge magnets, beer mats and anything else we could think of. We went to some time and trouble to get these promotional materials dstributed widely; into academic departments, University House and the residences. We had an enormous banner made and put it up in University House so that students who were queuing to register might see it and remember it. Then in the second year, we did a little bit of the same sort of stuff - but nothing like as much. And in the third year we did no marketing at all (and we haven't done anything in this, the fourth year, either).
- This is just a theory, but I think there was a moment when we were first getting started when blogging was, relatively speaking, a new, shiny, interesting thing, (and our own system was itself new and shiny), and I wonder if we benefited from that timing. But nothing can stay new forever, and there are now many more alternatives to having a Warwick Blog; you can have a blog in any number of good and interesting systems, like Vox or Typepad. Or you can Twitter instead of blogging. Or...
- ... you could have a Facebook account, and I suspect that this swamps number 1 or 2. For social networking within the academic community, Facebook is all-conquering, and we observe a startling number of students who have a Facebook account before they arrive or get one soon after they start. And if you already have a Facebook account then it's not immediately obvious that you need another place to write about what you're doing, or another place to share your photos (hence the precipitous drop in the number of photos uploaded; they've all gone into Facebook instead).
43 comments by 5 or more people[Skip to the latest comment]
If we just take into account the first two weeks of term (in an effort to quantify this year’s usage in relation):
I will never understand why statistics baffle me so.
18 Oct 2007, 14:06
The created blogs thing makes sense as in 2004 you were appealing to all years from scratch. Every subsequent year it was new students only. Of course, I’m sure you’ve already thought of that.
18 Oct 2007, 15:29
I think the marketing thing must have something to do with it. I started my blog in my second year, which was 2004/05, purely because it shoved in my face everywhere I looked and I thought “I might as well do one of them”. I also think the explosion in popularity of Facebook has had a big effect, but I suspect that’s mainly on people who had blogs to start with and then decided to spend most time on Facebook instead. If you suddenly started advertising heavily now, perhaps you might find a lot of new users DO sign up. Since Facebook opened up to the masses, it’s no longer something new and exclusive like it was when it became really popular in 2005-ish; therefore, people who’ve come to uni will have had it for the past few years already and might like the idea of trying something which IS new to them.
Personally I love Warwick Blogs and I’d love it to return to the height of popularity it saw in the 2004-06 period where raging debates were at their fiercest and people felt the need to come back, read and write. I much prefer the system on here to other sites such as Blogspot – it looks so much neater and I personally find it a lot more versatile. Hence the fact that I carry on using it having left over 18 months ago despite offerings elsewhere on the internet that don’t cost anything.
18 Oct 2007, 16:23
It does seem like people have a lot more alternatives to using WB, but you have to consider all those unique features that make WB great! One of the good things about WB is the great software. You can do anything you want to do and really easily, which Facebook or Blogspot can’t really provide. Neither do they have great layout and designs of WB. A couple of the more verbose bloggers here are WGA members, which means we actually have to pay to get access to this after we’ve graduated.
I’m still thinking whether I should keep paying my membership. Which means there’s definitely something good about WB (so good it makes me pay)! Which brings me to my next point. There’s a sense of community here but only among the ones who blog instead of sleeping. It’s a community service, so maybe it’ll be more popular if there were ‘groups’ like in facebook or something else. You should probably find out if people are 100% aware o the WB before assuming that marketing is the core issue.
18 Oct 2007, 17:25
I have noticed a lot less traffic on my “favorite” blogs. They’re staff blogs for various people around the place. I know some of them are on Facebook, but I’ve not added them as friends (assuming they’d even want me:-) so I don’t know if that’s where the traffic is going instead, or if the blog novelty is simply wearing off. I’ve kept up my blog, but to be honest in many ways it would be more convenient to put it all on Facebook. I haven’t taken that step yet, but it is tempting.
18 Oct 2007, 17:36
To be honest I thought the bulk of last year’s intake were, with all due respect, rather lame. With Facebook as powerful as it is, people just aren’t as interested in the “effort” it takes to blog.
Let’s see if we can inspire this year’s lot a bit more.
18 Oct 2007, 20:46
I miss the excitement of blogging. In my year in classics dept there were at least 10 semi-regular bloggers, But there are – as yet- not so many new ones. Sadly. I think a new marketing campaign would do the job. I think I’ve written previously that very few people are still at Warwick who were there when blogs were launched and therefore saw the massive advertising all over campus. Is there a potential for a viral type campaign, small bits of paper in pigeon holes and on tables in the grid and other campus areas along the: Think it/dream it/review it, blog it -type.
18 Oct 2007, 22:43
Is it possible to block those people who keep blogging about how they learn English? It reads like a kindergarten diary and Warwick is a respectable institution after all!
18 Oct 2007, 23:16
1. There isn’t a link to the blogs from the Insite home page any more, so staff are less likely to visit them.
2. Some of the entries and comments are made by people who think they’ve seen everything but in fact know very little about life outside The Bubble. I for one don’t feel particularly inclined to add to a discussion when previous comments have annoyed and irritated me.
3. The best use of blogs is for people to share their experiences with people who live in a completely different environment, eg the very successful blogs written by ordinary people living in Baghdad. People who live, work or study at a University are less likely to have anything new to write for other people at the same University.
4. What is the difference between a blog and a forum? Surely in a blog, there should be one main entry and a few comments on the main entry. When the discussion wanders off on a complete tangent, it ceases to be a blog entry IMHO. By having the “People are Discussing…” list, promotes a culture where there are a few “popular” bloggers (and you all know who you are), and a “scene” which new bloggers are going to find difficult to get into. New bloggers can most easily get on the P.A.D. list by writing an entry of complete bollocks, and then replying to any resulting comments in less than 10 seconds with similar (or even more outrageous) nonsense.
5. Many students have other (I’m trying not to write “better”) things to do with their time. Things come to mind such as doing their coursework, getting drunk, having sex, trying to contact their landlord about the shower, etc.
19 Oct 2007, 09:20
Like Steve (comment #5), I’ve speculated idly about moving over to Facebook. But apart from sheer idleness, there are three things which put me off:-
19 Oct 2007, 09:45
My blog and Facebook profile are for different audiences currently. I like the closed nature of Facebook. My profile is accessible to friends only. I put stuff there that I wouldn’t put on my blog because it isn’t for public consumption. This works for me because my Facebook friends policy isn’t the “add everyone I can think of, even if I hardly know them” that people with 300 friends seem to use. My friends are genuine friends and I have a massive 16 of them! I’d need more granular access control to use Facebook only, I think.
I agree that the visibility of Warwick Blogs is a good thing. I’m sure most people aren’t interested in the stuff on my blog, but occasionally somebody from some far-flung part of the world, or even from Warwick, benefits from something I post, or contributes helpfully to a discussion, and that wouldn’t happen on Facebook. Does Google even crawl Facebook? I don’t remember ever seeing a Facebook page turn up in search results. Losing those contributions from unexpected places would be a shame. And conversely I’ve found stuff on WB that I would never have found if it had been on Facebook and I needed to be somebody’s friend first.
I agree about the UI, too, but I do use Facebook daily so I guess it hasn’t put me off.
19 Oct 2007, 10:07
As a matter of interest, Steve, didn’t you and your SAP colleagues once use a blog as a sort of log-book of activities? Do you still do that? If not, why did you stop?
19 Oct 2007, 10:09
Yes, we do still use it and find it valuable. There’s a lot of stuff in there now and it does demonstrate that we are really mis-using blogs a little. Finding stuff posted a year or more ago is not very easy. I always thought I’d want a wiki-like system to use in conjunction with the blog, to provide a mechanism for pulling together information from the blog into a more permanent record. I still think that. Sitebuilder isn’t really it. I’ve faked it by writing some “summary blogs” linking to individual blog entries, and then putting a link to that summary in the sidebar, but that doesn’t scale well!
But yes, our team blog is very useful and if we didn’t have WB for it I’d find something else.
19 Oct 2007, 10:20
Roger – I heavily disagree with your point #3. At first I assumed you were a first year who wasn’t around when WB was at its most popular but your blog says you’re staff, so I can only assume you didn’t visit much back then. I absolutely disagree with your assertion that:
I seem to remember some of the most debated entries, in which the most people got involved, were about the Union or the University. Unfortunately some of these were on blogs which have now, so it is impossible to link to them. But particularly in times of controversial events, such as a lot of what went on during Kat Stark’s presidency for example, a lot was written about it and a large amount of interest was taken (indeed, the sheer amount of nonsense eminating from Union North around that period meant there was always something new and ‘exciting’ about which to blog!) By way of example, after I wrote an entry berating the lecturers’ strike and the Union’s position on it in 2006 (post-Kat, obviously) and a large debate ensued, I received an e-mail from RaW asking if I’d join a debate on one of their programmes. If that kind of issue – i.e. stuff affecting people within the “bubble” – can provoke such a response, then it would imply that blogs are a great tool for sharing their views on local issues, not just those from a completely different environment.
A blog is more likely to attract interest and a response if it talks about issues to which people can relate. I personally used to find entries concerning the University/Union very interesting because I found the views were something to which I could compare mine. I’m sure people living in Baghdad have some very interesting experiences to share, but why is that a better use of blogs than writing about issues on a more local level? I used to rant and rave about all sorts at the university on mine and entries regularly appeared in the ‘Hot Topics’ list; now I’ve removed all them and concentrate my blog on my flight training, even though I’m aware the audience is wider (thanks to Google and word-of-mouth) it doesn’t attract the same level of reaction. For me, and I suspect for others, gaining a reaction and entering a debate was part of the motivation for blogging.
Just because you’re a student, it doesn’t mean you can’t see what’s going on in the world, either inside or outside of the ‘bubble’.
19 Oct 2007, 10:25
Apologies for the typo in my previous comment, blame my over-sensitive laptop touchpad and the fact I’m lying in bed on one side while typing. The second sentence after the quote should read “Unfortunately some of these were on blogs which have now been deleted...” – hopefully that makes more sense!
Also just to add… one thing I like about WB is that it fits your whole page, regardless of the size of your monitor or screen resolution. Is anyone else getting pissed off with the number of web sites out there which occupy a strip down the centre of your page and leave masses of space either side? Facebook and Blogspot are two big culprits, and BBC News isn’t much better.
19 Oct 2007, 10:31
Re Lu (Comment 8) – there must be something coming from the academic office, the front page is almost entirely “Learning English” entries.
It’s Roger’s #4 that I’m inclined to disagree with the most, rather than his #3. I know that a lot of my readership comes from inside the university – probably about 80% – and so the only way I’m going to get people reading my blog is if they have reason to. Beside the fact that my random commenting sprees give my own blog a little bit of advertising, it also makes the newer users feel welcome in that its acknowledgement that their entries have been read, with the longer-term incentive of keeping them here. It is relatively easy to get into hot topics if you want to spam; certain regulars will know that I’m not averse to “stating a forceful opinion on substandard comments”. Yes there is a blogs “scene”, if you like, but it’s far from exclusive – indeed if it was exclusive it would die out sooner rather than later, as those who were in it drift away.
Jim Miles is probably the best example of a second/third generation blogger who worked his way into recognition with quality entries; there have been one or two already from this intake that I’ve been quite impressed with.
19 Oct 2007, 12:07
The thing with WB is that to get ‘name’ recognition you have to be good at either writing or stirring controversy or both. It’s a lot more meritocratic than some arenas for opinion (say a lot of fora). Also some of the better blogs have readership from outside the university which definitely comes as a result ofhaving something interesting to say about something interesting to read about.
Also many of the best writers can also write about non-university subjects. The loss of the creative/comedy side of WB is what I miss most.
19 Oct 2007, 13:03
LB “To be honest I thought the bulk of last year’s intake were, with all due respect, rather lame.”
This comment disappoints me. But I have no doubt in saying that of the 06 starters, my blog is by far the best. I am actually calling out any competing blogs for a blog off. So there.
19 Oct 2007, 13:16
Luke: I agree, Jim Miles is in the highest echelon of WB’s hall of fame. With the exception of Sam’s blog, Jim’s was always my favourite to visit when I had time to kill. He is sorely missed.
19 Oct 2007, 16:15
I miss Vicky G’s blogging. :(
19 Oct 2007, 16:23
Oh dear, this has descended into “I miss so and so” blogging. Well I miss the blogging of messers Lawrence, Boulby and Howes, however this can be very prettily linked into comment 9. These guys were all big shots of the WB world for a year but once they had left the uni it seemed more relevant for them to blog independently (they write occasionally on their house website). For a lot of us old crowd it is very difficult to blog anywhere near as frequently as before. And I think that had been good for WB as it has allowed the system to evolve.*There are a lot fewer regular bloggers who will create rambling conversations in comments. I remember once in the first year of blogs writing an entry simply because messenger was down and I wanted someone to chat to. And if I remember correctly, one of the reasons for the (then controversial) scrapping of hot topics was the fact that it was always the same authors hitting the top of the board, with the same kinds of entries and followed by the same disjointed conversations. And this put some people off writing because they were not part of the crowd. Now those people who are liable to get involved with such things (and I confess that the number includes me) are much fewer in number and I think the system becomes more well rounded in response.
If you want to go back to attracting a huge student social scene on here I suggest making the site less academically accessible and banning graduates, but i think it would be a backwards step. Sometimes bigger isn’t better.
19 Oct 2007, 18:38
I’ve certainly stopped reading the “all recent entries” page anywhere near so often, because it is always full of academic-related entries. Don’t get me wrong – it is a good thing that those entries exist. But they do get in the way of social blogging because you just can’t browse.
Maybe we need some way of filtering them out? Recognise that social and academic blogging are distinct things and help the ‘social only” bloggers? Just a thought…
19 Oct 2007, 18:57
Isn’t Facebook a collection of a million cliques sprouting a billion inanities?
Should a university be aiming for something more stimulating?
20 Oct 2007, 12:36
To some extent as a WGA member, the reasons that I blog have changed. Back when I was a student my blog was originally a somewhat depressing tale of angst, worry and freak outs. I spoke openly about just about everything in my life. I also worked for the Student Union and Arts Centre while running a society and this gave me adequate technical stuff to talk about too. Intersperse that with being able to see a huge core of friends daily meant there was always something to talk about.
Since I joined the world of work my free time decreased and I found I wanted to keep up with close friends more directly as the contact points were less frequent and therefore talking became more important. I also hold a job where much of what I do for commercial or national interest reasons cannot be revealed which makes suitable material somewhat harder to come by.
I find I read Warwick Blogs less now that I did because a great deal of the current entries hold less appeal than the older ones. The blogs mentioned by Helen of Messrs Boulby and Lawrence were fantastic reads that had humour and insight. You felt you knew the person behind the blog through the entry. Now the entries are less personal, more technically correct writing and less emotive writing. I don’t think blogs is going to die, but I do think that Facebook has taken a great deal of the headway (though I question why). Better marketing on campus and also through the academic community to perhaps provide a linked set of blogs using the same software across the Russell Group would provide the larger community feel of Facebook with the quality of WB.
21 Oct 2007, 13:21
Lots of interesting comments and thoughts here. A couple of responses:-
22 Oct 2007, 11:32
I like the “exclude” suggestion. One reason I (used to) read the “all recent entries” pages was to pick up entries that aren’t on my favourite blogs. I wonder if that might be extended to favourite/excluded tags. At least some of the academic-related blog entries have identifying tags that could be used to exclude them, and maybe we could encourage people to do this more systematically. Ignoring a whole blog could possibly make you miss out on entries you’d like to see, too. I can see uses for a list of tags I particularly want to keep track of, too…
22 Oct 2007, 11:41
When you add a blog to your favourites, you can choose to only exclude entries tagged with a certain tag – which can make some particular diverse blogs a little easier to read :)
22 Oct 2007, 11:47
I was actually wanting to exclude a particular tag regardless of the blog the entry was on. That way I could ignore entries tagged with, for example “Ie1B1-3-1”, and not have to do it for each individual blog that such entries appear on. It would be just too much work to do that for every such blog. It would make my “non-favourites” list quite long and hard to manage, too.
22 Oct 2007, 11:52
I can understand blogs being used for learning. Students could engage in a written discussion of aspects of their course. But I’ve never understood what role blogs could have with “personal development”. Surely that’s all about an individual assessing what skills and attributes he/she does or does not possess and then using that assessment to decide which step to take either educationally or career-wise? Logging the assessments, career moves and courses helps with that, but where does the interaction with other people come in?
22 Oct 2007, 19:29
I reckon a lot of interesting people left at the end of my first year. Warwick Blogs never really recovered from that, I feel. It became what a friend of mine called a “love-in”, where the most talked about topics were “I got a 1st”, with 25-odd people queuing up to say “great news! well done, I knew you could do it”, or “I feel sad because I can’t drive/lost a pound coin/don’t like the weather/broke a nail” or “I have a cold/running nose, raa!”, with 25-odd people queuing up to say “don’t worry things will get better, I’m there if you need to talk about it”.
The number of posts that had anything to say decreased sharply.
03 Nov 2007, 18:27
Vincent is spot on.
04 Nov 2007, 21:52
Perhaps when Blogs first started, contributors had things to express that they had been thinking about for years but had never articulated (at least outside their immediate circle of acquaintances).
Once they had got over that, they didn’t have much more to say.
05 Nov 2007, 14:58
When have any of us ever got tired of being opinionated? :)
I think the advertising is definitely part of it. I haven’t seen any ‘Blog! Go on! Blog!’ ads in aaages.
Also Facebook has become many people’s primary internet-related timewaster.
Maybe we should all get really controversial. Just for the fun of it.
05 Nov 2007, 20:47
Who got blog no 5000?
07 Nov 2007, 18:08
I’ve been towing the controversy line for years. It hasn’t worked. I’m switching to nursery rhymes and being friendly now.
22 Nov 2007, 13:31
It won’t last.
22 Nov 2007, 21:13
There’s a third way. Neither trivial nor abusive, but interesting.
23 Nov 2007, 16:29
I’ve been interesting for years, too.
23 Nov 2007, 17:27
That’s a matter of opinion.
24 Nov 2007, 17:17
25 Nov 2007, 15:34
”...you could have a Facebook account, and I suspect that this swamps number 1 or 2. For social networking within the academic community, Facebook is all-conquering, and we observe a startling number of students who have a Facebook account before they arrive or get one soon after they start. And if you already have a Facebook account then it’s not immediately obvious that you need another place to write about what you’re doing, or another place to share your photos (hence the precipitous drop in the number of photos uploaded; they’ve all gone into Facebook instead).”
I think respondents may well be right when discussing the intake of new students who already have a Facebook / social networking account prior to University. From the Sixth formers that I teach all but one AS student had at least one social networking account many had 2 and a few had three or four. At a marketing evening on Thursday almost all the pre GCSE students had at least one social networking account. This is a huge social and cultural change and It almost certainly will have the effect of reducing some of the blogging at WB. Clearly social networking is the New Media story of the last couple of years ever since Rupert Murdoch bought MySpace.
Hopefully this will means that quality of contributions goes up and the other thing is that WB should start to develop a ‘long tail’, in other words more academic contributions put up some time ago will still attract traffic. Some of my early contributions have been attracting visitors. The contributions were accompanying a Weimar and Nazi Cinema course which I’m not running at present nevertheless the work is clearly providing an educational function to the wider world, as an institution the University is doing its work and the brand of Warwick is being marketed. Warwick blogs is thus a glocalised system providing both micro-services for students and engaging with the wider world. something that Universities have usually always been doing anyway.
For those who wish to find out more about Facebook check out this Guardian article. It doesn’t make pretty reading! http://www.guardian.co.uk/technology/2008/jan/14/facebook
With friends like these … Tom Hodgkinson on the politics of the people behind Facebook | Technology | The Guardian. See also my blog entry http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/michaelwalford/entry/red_facebook_over/
(Red) Facebook over Beacon Advertising Technology, 29/12/07, Kinoeye.
It may well be that WB is now going through a period of consolidation. I think it is a fantastic system and as I improve my techniques and articles build up gradually I’m finding I’m getting a getting a good national audience. Currently moving towards a rate of 3,000 per month aimed at students / academic market primarily. Many visitors are returners and many stay on for over half an hour which has to be good when the average visit is measured in a few seconds.
19 Jan 2008, 11:12
“There’s a lot of stuff in there now and it does demonstrate that we are really mis-using blogs a little. Finding stuff posted a year or more ago is not very easy. I always thought I’d want a wiki-like system to use in conjunction with the blog, to provide a mechanism for pulling together information from the blog into a more permanent record. I still think that. Sitebuilder isn’t really it. I’ve faked it by writing some “summary blogs” linking to individual blog entries, and then putting a link to that summary in the sidebar, but that doesn’t scale well!”
This is an interesting comment because I’m trying to use my Blog for a number of differently level courses which can sometimes overlap and interlink. I now have so many entries that navigation is becoming more awkward. Over the Xmas period I decided on the solution of creating “hub pages” which provide links to other internal “hubs” or specific postings. I am now trying to ensure that these posting can navigate back to the hub. As every page is now a ‘home page’ in terms of the way visitors arrive at your site often by accident some sort of internal referencing and indexing system is useful as well as the tags in the sidebar. For those who are trying to develop more course based approaches in their blogging this might be something you wish to try.
Here are some examples I’m developing. Currently I’m teaching stuff on Contemporary British Cinema I’m also developing a monster entry a Chronology of European Cinema which is itself envisaged as a hub page and a long term project: http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/michaelwalford/tag/chronology_of_european_cinema/
All 1 entries tagged Chronology Of European Cinema, Kinoeye. (This page is conveniently now at the top of a global Google search on the title) . If you go down to the area of contemporary British cinema I have put in a link at year 2000 under Britain to another page http://blogs.warwick.ac.uk/michaelwalford/entry/directors_for_contemporary/
Directors for Contemporary British Cinema, 16/06/07, Kinoeye. This will lead you to a range of British directors. Some have external links whilst I’m gradually developing other pages on the specific directors. As this is new I don’t yet know how well this is working, but increasingly the issue is that one must pay attention to Web optimisation and also making the site ‘stickier’ for those people who are interested in some of the things you are blogging about. This might be a generic solution to steering target audience towards specific areas which could well appeal to quite different people.
Another possible advantage of hub pages is that this should over time push up the search engine rankings and contribute to your whole blog gaining increased traffic.
If you are seeking wider audiences it is a good idea to sign out and visit WB as a non member to test out the ease of navigation. I often find faults in mine – usually when demonstrating it to a class :-(.
Another way I’m trying to increase traffic of a more academic nature is to apply to Intute (the JISC funded academic database system) for recognition on their film and media area. There is an application in progress.
19 Jan 2008, 11:46
We have tried to made this as easy as possible, but due to the transient nature of blogs it’s hard to please everyone. The “Blog archive” sidebar widget that has now replaced the list of 5 most recent entries now shows entry as a chronlogical tree, which should improve reading in this way somewhat.
The intention has always been to make content easy to find via search, but the number of searches on blogs is dwarfed somewhat by the number of searches in Sitebuilder – yet the amount of content is fairly similar.
19 Jan 2008, 14:11
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