Getting back into blog reading

One early upshot of my temporary Twitter hiatus was to realise how much I was missing picking up on other people’s blog posts. Twitter had become my single notification channel for new posts from people I know as well as discovering new ones.

Having said that I’ve been aware that I have been reading blogs less and relying on the Twitter stream more and I miss spending longer reading what other people are thinking.

So, yesterday I resolved to get back into reading blogs on a regular basis.

Up until about 3 years ago I had a routine based around Google Reader which helped me to subscribe and follow various RSS fields. Most mornings  I would spend 20-30 mins scanning my feeds and picking out the ones that looked more promising. Mostly it was just consuming but occasionally I’d build a blog post of my own around what I’d read.

Google Reader is no more but there is a handy equivalent aptly called Old Reader, basically a clone of the latter.

The changing blogging landscape

I’d imported my feeds into Old Reader ages ago before I got out of the blog reading habit so my first job was to go through and unsubscribe from blogs that were no longer relevant to me (lots of specialist ones about eportfolios for example) or were obviously inactive.

What surprised me was how many blogs that had once been very active hadn’t been posted to in years. Some had even let their domain subscriptions expire. This in itself shouldn’t be that surprising. I’m doing a very different job to what I was doing at Netskills (when I’d last been in the blog-reading habit) and that will be true of most people.

But you could also read it as a result of the way that our use of the social web has changed over the last few years, away from longer form writing to updates on more closed platforms.

People still blog but there seems to be less of culture around the practice, or rather that I’ve let myself lose track of it. Maybe there’s something about the rise of “thread” posting on Twitter indicates that there’s still an appetite for articulating more extended thinking. I have a problem with “threads” as an alternative to blogging but that’ll have to wait for another post.

Maybe it’s just because I’m getting older but I find that I want to take my time over things more these days and engage more deeply. Rekindling my interest in blogs might be a way of doing that. I’ll try it out for a bit and see if I get back into the habit.

So, help me out here. Which blogs do you read on a regular basis? Who’s writing good stuff about TEL?

Please RT. 😉

 

 

Why do we share what we share online?

tl;dr

People choose to share certain things via social media mostly because they confirm something about their view of the world. Even if the story or image is “shocking” on one level it’s more likely it’s being shared because it fits with an existing narrative rather than disrupting one. Understanding our own narratives and those of the people around us is an important part of developing digital identities and digital wellbeing.

“Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it” Jonathan Swift

Attention in social media

This week we found out via the BBC about a 10 year old boy in Lancashire who had been questioned by police and social workers because he wrote in a school activity that he lived in a “terrorist house” rather than a “terraced house”.

As you can imagine, this become widely read and retweeted via sites like the BBC, the Guardian and social media.

I can’t link to the Guardian’s original article, though. It’s been removed pending an investigation. Lancashire police have complained about misrepresentation as the Guardian and the BBC reported later.

At the very least, and as you’d expect, the story looks to be more nuanced than the initial headline and accompanying interest on social media.

It’s a pattern that happens a lot; a story grabs attention and sparks strong emotions then a little while later either a different truth or a more complex picture emerges which gets a lot less coverage.

I’m interested in why this happens and what it says about why we pay attention to certain things online. A while ago the New York Times did a piece on this that tried to describe what’s going on and why it happens. It concludes, in relation to an unfounded rumour that a woman had had a 3rd breast implanted:

“That hoax may seem silly, but it’s instructive about the problem with rumors — they’re often much more interesting than the truth.”

That’s fine as far as it goes but it doesn’t really explain why we find something interesting in the first place. We’re swamped with information on the web so what is it that draws our gaze and incites us to action, even if it’s only to click “share”, “retweet” or sign a petition?

I think it comes down to the narratives that we make for ourselves about the world.

Comfort and disruption

We use stories as a way of making sense of what’s going on around us. Without these structures we’d be dealing with vast amounts of data so we need to filter it and stories give us a framework for doing this.

Here’s a fictitious example to illustrate what I mean.

Imagine every morning my daughter heads off to school at around 8:00. I always say “hope you have good day”, she smiles, gives me a wee kiss and I wave her off from the doorstep.

I think this confirms for me a few things about how the world works. It means my daughter is happy to go to school and that we have a good relationship. I’ve built up a narrative around it and there’s comfort in its repetition.

Now, let’s say this morning was different. This morning, I was ready at 8:00 to say goodbye to her but she was late. She was disorganised, had to be reminded about her bag and when I said “hope you have a good day” she said nothing, leaving the house quiet and sullen without looking at me or saying anything.

How does that fit my narrative? The pattern has been broken and it feels uncomfortable. I need to find an explanation why things happened differently. It might be a momentary blip or it could be the first sign that my narrative about our relationship and how school is working out is about to change.

So, two stories. One that matches the pattern and maintains a comforting narrative; one that breaks the pattern and disrupts the narrative. But why is this relevant to sharing behaviours?

I think the reason we give our attention to things on the web isn’t just because we find them interesting. I think it’s because these things relate in some way to our existing narratives but the question is whether this is to do with comforting narratives or disruptive ones.

Looking back at the Lancashire schoolboy example in it’s original incarnation, it’s tempting to see this as a disruptive narrative. It’s quite shocking, certainly out of the ordinary but I actually think it got so much attention because it appealed to an existing narrative that people had rather than challenging the basis of one. It’s impossible to say definitively what those narratives were because they’ll vary by individual but I’ll speculate for some it will be because it confirms a narrative of an over-bearing state, unfeeling bureaucracy or maybe their feeling about schools, police or social workers.

Seeing other people share the story confirms the narrative and gives a sense of belonging and shared understanding of the world. Sharing it deepens that engagement.

I suspect that the vast majority of news items, videos, inspirational quotes  and images are shared not because they are actually shocking in any fundamental sense but because they are, at their core, comforting.

When the more complicated picture emerges later, as it did in the “terrorist house” story, in most cases (not all) it just doesn’t carry the narrative appeal. How many times do you see people saying on Facebook “that thing I shared yesterday? Turns out it’s a lot more mundane than I first thought”?

If something we see does actually shake our narrative view of the world that brings along many more complicated emotions and psychological responses. These sort of transformative events happen much more rarely and people may even choose not to pay attention to something “true” if it erodes the certainty of a prevailing narrative. The narrative shocks makes us vulnerable and I think most people would be reluctant to share anything like that openly , at least until another narrative has formed to take the place of the old one.

Digital identity and well-being

This is probably all stating the bleeding obvious but I think it’s worth thinking about, particularly if we’re involved in helping people make sense of digital identity and their well-being online.

Questions we might want to ask are:

  • How can I understand my own identity by looking at the things I choose to share?
  • How might other people’s narrative about me by affected by the things I share and does that conflict with he first point?
  • How can we understand the narratives of people in particular communities online whether they align or clash? Are there risks in trying to draw these conclusions?
  • How does these narratives shape social or political action?
  • When and how should we challenge these underlying narratives and explore what alternatives might exist as educators.

Look at your social media timeline in Facebook, Twitter or Linked In over the course of 24 hours. Pay particular attention to the more sensational posts if there are any. What can you tell about the underlying narratives at work and how are they shaping action and relationships?

Its also quite instructive to look at the language that people in the public domain use and what it tells you about the narratives they are constructing, particularly around contentious issues. Try this story for starters…

Further reading:

Baumeister, R. F., & Newman, L. S. (1994). How Stories Make Sense of Personal Experiences: Motives that Shape Autobiographical Narratives. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 20(6), 676–690.

Bruner, J. (1986). Actual Minds, Possible Worlds. Harvard University Press, London.

Image: Facebook’s infection by Katie Sayer CC-BY-SA 2.0

 

 

#ForestMayhem – what happened next!

Well, there are a LOT of people I need to thank!

If you want the full back story then you can find it here but the summary is this: to make up for the fact that I failed to upload the 500 word story, Forest Mayhem,  that my 10 year old daughter spent hours lovingly creating, I posted it on my blog. I also put out a plea on social media for people to read it, pass it on and maybe comment on what they liked about her writing.

The results were fantastic, thanks to the generosity of people in my immediate network and beyond. She’s absolutely thrilled that so many people so has never heard of cared enough to read and share her story. She spent ages carefully reading the comments some of you left her.

The numbers

I’m not fully up to speed with Google Analytics but, taken with a pinch of salt, these are some of the important numbers about how many people viewed the page. It was posted about 10pm on the 26th Feb.

Screengrab of the metrics for the blog page
Screengrab of the metrics for the blog page

188 pageviews makes this the most viewed page on my blog. My daughter is understandably delighted and I now have a target to beat.

The average time on page of 6 mins 37 seconds is also really good!

Drilling down she can also see that Google has recorded the cities that people viewing the pages were sitting in. They include many close to home but also as far away as Melbourne, Hanoi, Bordeaux and Hemel Hempstead.

The comments

The numbers were great but it’s the comments that people have left for her that are particularly special. You can see them all here.

She spent a long time reading them and we had some great conversations about the structure of stories, classical myths and ways of grabbing and holding a reader’s attention.

Part of my job involves talking to people about their own storytelling so I was particularly interested to hear what it was that people responded to most. For a masterclass in classical storytelling read Dave Kernohan’s response.

My daughter added her own comment to the blog by way of thanks.

Thank you for the nice comments and soon I will write another.
I really enjoyed reading all your comments . At first it felt a bit weird to know my story was on the internet but now its okay. I learned that even though it was good I can still make it better.

What we learned

  • People are kind.
  • The knowledge that people have read and appreciated her story is a powerful motivator for my daughter. She’s already planning sequels!
  • Both my kids now want their own blogs! Easy-peasy as I’m running a WordPress multisite so new websites are just a few clicks away.
  • I should have thought about making it easy for people to comment before posting. The first version of the post went out on Medium as I wanted it to have a separate life from my blog (geeky, niche, not well-read) but Medium requires contributors to have an account. So, onto this blog it went. Much easier for everyone.
  • Putting the story online, assuming that the story wouldn’t have won the 500 Words competition, meant that many more people read her story than would otherwise have done. She’s also had a lot of valuable, formative feedback.
  • This was a one-off! There were so many tweets and pageviews because people felt that my daughter shouldn’t lose out because of my mistake. If she does start her own blog to post her future writing then she’ll have to work hard to build her own audience. This is no bad thing.

Thank you everyone who took the time to RT, read, share or comment on the story.

 

 

 

Twitter Analytics arrives, but just because you can measure something…

Originally published on Netskills Voices

Twitter has recently rolled out a new Analytics tool to the majority of its users so you can now see a little bit more about what happens in the life of one of your tweets. Is this going to be useful information for you?

Twitter Analytics screengrab

Gauging the impact of your use of Twitter has, for most people, been a bit of a hit and miss affair. What do you measure? Total number of tweets, replies, RTs or favourites? These have always been quite crude measures.

Until now, the more sophisticated tools have required either detailed technical knowledge or have come with a significant cost attached. Twitter’s Analytics service seems to fill a gap between what’s easily available for free on their main site and the more commercial tools.

Getting started

This couldn’t be simpler, really. Go to http://analytics.twitter.com and sign into your Twitter account if you haven’t already done so.

If it all looks a bit empty when you get there, it’s because it only activates when you first visit the site. No retrospective data is available. Tweet away and you’ll find the data starts to appear.

What does it tell you?

For each tweet (only manual RT’s show up) you can see how many impressions you made and what level of engagement each tweet had. An impression means simply that a tweet has been delivered to someone’s Twitter timeline. It doesn’t mean they have actually seen it.

The engagement measure is a bit more interesting. This means that a Twitter user has done something with your tweet. Drilling down by clicking on this figure shows you that this can include things like:

  • Replies
  • Retweets
  • Favourites
  • Link clicks (if there is one in the tweet)
  • Hashtag clicks
  • Embedded media clicks…
  • …and a few others

Twitter Analytics screengrab

The most potentially useful piece of data you can get from the tool is the engagement rate, a simple measure of the number of engagements divided by the number of impressions. This means you can say things like “well only 50 people saw that tweet but I know that 63% of them clicked the link to our website” which is much more data than you’ve been able to get this easily before.

There’s a handy bar chart showing variable activity over the last 24 hours. The whole thing is fairly intuitive and well presented.

If you want to do more interesting data analysis you can export the data as a CSV file.

You can also get a profile of your followers showing gender, location and “interests”. There is little indication how these interests are worked out. Education is high on the list for my followers as you’d expect. Apparently 29% of my followers like “comedy”.

It’s also restricted to your own tweets, replies and promoted tweets. If you want to track a conference hashtag then there’s not much for you here.

Quantity or quality?

[SPOILER: Quantity]

If you’ve used something like Google Analytics you’ll notice that there’s a wealth of data that just isn’t available here. For example, there’s no indication of how or where people are engaging with your individual tweets. It might be interesting to see the geographical reach of a single tweet or perhaps what devices people are viewing it on.

One of the things we emphasise on our blogging workshop is that this quantitative data isn’t the be all and end all of social media.

It tells you nothing about the quality of your interactions with people or organisations. You could be the most outrageous troll sporting a fantastic engagement rate but leaving discussions, reputations or emotions in tatters in your wake.

Additionally, number of impressions or engagement rates may not even be important information for you. As an individual, I don’t use Twitter to have loads of followers, RT’s etc. I use it to have and follow conversations, the value of which isn’t determined by my engagement rate.

Is the data valuable?

Why is Twitter making this available now? That’s unclear but it could be argued that if people can see what happens with a tweet it’s more likely to encourage increased use with all the benefits in data and monetisation that you’d expect Twitter to want.

But does the user get enough benefit to balance that out? Although there are now more numbers to look at, the data is still pretty crude and requires proper interpretation (or leaps of imagination!) to derive much meaning from it.

The tool certainly gives you more information than has been available through Twitter in the past. The additional data might be useful if you are trying to set targets for an organisation’s Twitter account or need ammunition to convince others that use of Twitter is worthwhile.

So, have a look if you’re responsible for managing your team’s Twitter account, are in charge of the marketing for an event or are an individual curious to get a better picture of what happens after your click the Tweet button. There might be some useful insights in there.

But don’t be seduced by the lure of lots of numbers if they’re not actually that important to you! Just because you can measure something doesn’t mean that it’s actually worth measuring.

Many thanks to @catherinelliott, @hopkinsdavid, @bhanwar, @ntaylorHEA, @philswinhoe and @carlvincent for being sports and boosting my engagement rate so I had some numbers to look at. 🙂