Thursday

We want you - and your audience

I casually opened my mail box today, waiting for “no comments” to this blog, as usual. Instead, I found a nice message from Kim:
“Hello Daiane,
My name is Kim Montgomery. I recently came across your blog and I love how witty and intelligent your entries are! Your blog totally targets the lifestyles of young Torontonian women... great research and authorship!
The reason I'm writing is, I work for Matchstick Marketing, a hip market-research/ promotions company that spreads "word-of-mouth" marketing for our various clients. The campaign I'm currently working on is looking for women who write popular blogs that discuss topics like lifestyle, fashion, health & beauty and savvy current events, with the hopes that they'd be willing to participate in a short study about feminine beauty & hygiene products.
The survey wouldn't take too much of your time. I'd love to get the chance to connect with you and get your valuable feedback!
Please feel free to email me at kim@matchstick.ca and you can let me know if you're interested in participating in the study and how best to get in contact with you!
Thanks in advance,
Kim”
Oh, oh... Where should I start?
First, I’m quite sure the entries they inserted in the search that pointed to my blog were: Toronto, women, and “sex and the city”. Of course, someone who mentions this movie in a blog can only be discussing “topics like lifestyle, fashion, health & beauty and savvy current events”.
Well, this blog doesn’t “totally target(s) the lifestyles of young Torontonian women”. And if popularity was the spamming criteria, I may not have more than two readers – this is definitely not a “popular” blog.
Anyway, what if I decide to contact Kim and participate in Matchstick’s study? I would probably be more qualified to criticize their survey instrument than to willingly provide my opinion on feminine beauty and hygiene products.
We still don’t know much about online word-of-mouth, but there are great studies going on that will help us understand better how bloggers deal with their audiences and how companies can use them as mediators or initiators of marketing messages. In the meantime, I would say it’s worthy to employ some time doing quality research (i.e. actually reading blogs) before sending recruiting messages all over the blogosphere.
But maybe I’m wrong... Maybe this fishing tactic optimizes results? Or, oh... maybe Kim actually read my blog and sincerely thinks my posts are witty and intelligent?

Saturday

Geocaching culture

I’m not a gadgets person. I don’t have an IPod (though I have an “IPauvre” - or “IPobre” to the Portuguese speakers). I don’t have an Iphone, not even a Blackberry. Actually, I don’t access email from my mobile, I don’t even Twitter from it. No PDA, no Kindle, no TiVo, no Blu-ray, no Mac. I think all these things are amazing, beautiful, useful, and super cool. But, beyond the fact that I could not pay for them, I just don’t feel like owning them.

Despite this attitude of mine, I now have a GPS... It’s not the latest-coolest device, but it’s a good one: a Garmin eTrex Legend HC. I got it because a GPS device is an indispensable resource to do Geocaching, which is something I’ve been researching online for a while. Now it’s time to go to the field, literally.
I will post here some excerpts from the article I wrote on Geocaching using online data only. And as my activities of observation and participation in the geocaching community develop, I’ll compare and extend my findings to better understand how online and offline data may complement each other. This is also an attempt to contribute a little bit to alleviate some of the issues faced by researchers that use netnography as a method. For instance, how important it is to go beyond the “unobtrusive and painless” online data collection and interact face-to-face with the members of a community? How relevant it is to track community members’ activities on other online spots beyond the board/group/website being studied?
Besides this methodological aspect, some characteristics of geocaching suggest that it is a unique context in which to study consumer culture:

  • First, the use of multiple technologies (GPS devices, internet, PDAs, digital cameras) combined with outdoor activity, nature and travel may attract and bring together individuals with diverse backgrounds, profiles, interests and motivations. Besides, these two essential components of the game, technology and nature, require geocachers to articulate their incursions into these two apparently opposite environments.
  • Second, the main rule of geocaching (“take something, leave something, and sign the book”) adds complexity to the social and communal aspects of the game because it promotes the exchange of objects among players and gives them the opportunity to obtain recognition and prestige (e.g. the first to sign the book of a very challenging cache is celebrated among geocachers). Could play be one central link that brings a community together?
  • Finally, because the game was created and developed by consumers without encouragement from active market agents, the importance of interaction and cooperation among participants to keep the game active is enhanced.


My initial thoughts linked geocaching to the communal aspects of play. Thanks to the insightful comments of professors Belk and Kozinets, who read the first version of the paper, I’m also looking at references on amateurism, consumers as producers, and the re-enchantment of everyday life.
Geocaching is a fascinating activity and this research project has been one of my top priorities for this summer. You will certainly read more about it in future posts here. In the meantime, here’s a nice video about geocaching by Tessa Banks Jeff Orlowski from the Dept. of Communication of Stanford University.

Wednesday

Summer readings



I’ve been visiting bookstores, trying to take a look on what they’re displaying as the must-read books for this summer. And I notice that something that was already big enough to have an exclusive shelf now has gained the main display, in the center of the store: the “chick-lit”.
Chick-literature is a term used to denote genre fiction written for women and marketed to young, single, working women in their twenties and thirties. Wikipedia tells us that “the genre's creation was spurred on, if not exactly created, by Sure Towsend’s Adrian Mole diaries which inspired Adele Lang's Confessions of a Sociopathic Social Climber: The Katya Livingston Chronicles in the mid-1990s.” The genre got much more attention and fans after Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones’ Diary became a movie, in 2001.
A good chick-lit title inevitably contains at least one of the following words: shoes, dresses, friend, sister, boyfriend, bride, girl, or a female name that refers to the main character in the book. The covers must be colourful (or cute), and there’s always a touch of pink somewhere.
I’ve read the “Devil wears Prada” two years ago just to realize that I liked the movie better. I started to read Marian Keyes’ “Watermelon” but gave up after reading two or three of the book’s dozens of chapters. So I’m ill-equipped to criticize the genre, and I don’t even want to do it. I’m just intrigued. Marian Keyes alone sold more than 10 million copies of her books (all chick-lit). There are books and blogs dedicate to the genre, and even Naomi Wolf criticizes it (oops: the link will take you to an Oprah show: “Stupid Girls”).
So who are the readers? What are they looking for in these books (distraction-enlightenment-help-something else)? How is this genre impacting on a generation of women?

All I know for now is that these books are not in my summer reading list... Have you read any chick-lit? Do you feel like reading it?

Royalty-free picture from "The Image Bank"

Monday

Could you be a good blogger? Final part

Here they are: the final questions to determine whether one can become a successful blogger or not:

15. Do you enjoy reading? - Being good at writing is very helpful - but so is the ability to read what others are writing. If I were to video tape myself over a day of blogging I suspect I’d find that I spend more time reading each day than writing. For every post I write I would read at least three.

16. Are you an organized person? - While I’m sure many bloggers are completely chaotic and unorganized - there comes a point in most serious blogger’s lives when they have to get at least a little organized. With incoming emails, following lots of feeds, writing perhaps on multiple topics/blogs and moderating comments all going on at once (plus more) it’s pretty easy for time to slip away without getting much done.

17. Are you a Social person? - There are many styles of blogging but when it comes down to it most bloggers have some sort of a desire to connect with readers. Some bloggers keep readers at an arms length (they might switch off comments and rarely respond to emails) but it’s probably an advantage to actually engage your readers in someway. If you don’t like people then this might be challenging. Another related question might be ‘are you an approachable person?’

18. Do you enjoy ‘virtual relationships?’ - Some of the most social people I know are terrible when it comes to online interactions. They just don’t ‘get’ it and are much better face to face than via email, instant messaging or in a forum or comments thread. Being comfortable with speaking to and working with people you’ve never met before is an advantage if you’re a blogger. Connected to this - it’s also important to be what I call ‘virtually intuitive’. One of the dangers of relating to people online is that all can not be as it seems. Developing the ability to work out whether others are who they say they are and of good character is probably a skill to develop.

19. Are you a creative person? - Once again this is not a ‘must’ - just an advantage. The web is a cluttered place and being able to develop content and community that stands out from the rest and that surprises readers is a big plus.

20. Do you have Stick-ability? - While some blogs are overnight successes, most are not. In fact many (most) blogs are never as successful as their owners would like. A long term approach is one of the basic pieces of advice that I’d give most bloggers.

21. Are you Consistent? - One of the common reasons that I see bloggers getting into trouble with their readers or other bloggers is that they change the way they approach their blogging midstream. Bloggers that are constantly changing the topic of their blogs, or who increase their expectations on readers suddenly, or who change the ‘voice’ that their blog is written in can end up losing the respect of their readers. While no one likes a boring blog - people do like to know what to expect to some extent.

22. Are you honest and transparent? - If you answer no to this one then you can expect to eventually be found out. While in real life it can be reasonably easy to keep secrets or be two faced - the blogosphere has a culture of people keeping an eye upon each other and digging where you don’t want them to dig. While you’ll want to develop boundaries around what you do and don’t blog about, you will need to be willing to disclose conflicts of interest and be willing to be held accountable for the things that you say.

23. Are you willing to work hard? - The level that you need to work on a blog will be dependant upon your goals and objectives for it - but if you have goals of being the next big thing then you’ll be guaranteed of a lot of hard work. Of course this is the case with any thing in life and not just blogs.

This is the set of questions that helped me increasing my score. I got 77 (10-8-9-9-9-7-8-7-10). Calculate yours! However, there's actually no prize for the one who scores better - except for the glory of knowing you can be a great and successful blogger in this gigantic and amazing blogosphere.

Thursday

Successfull blogger potential - Part II

Another seven questions from Rowse's list. If you missed the first questions, you can scroll down for them or find them here. Calculate your score and check if you can be a successful blogger!

"8. Do you have time? - Linked to the need for regular updates is the fact that this takes time. Do you have enough time in your schedule to write daily? Not only that do you have time to moderate comments, respond to reader questions, read other bloggers posts, network with other bloggers etc?

9. Are you thick skinned? - If you start a blog, the chances are that it will be found and that others will write about you or some aspect of what you’re doing. This is great when the comments of others are positive and in agreement with you - but it’s not much fun when you’re critiqued (sometimes fairly and sometimes not). Do you have the ability to take criticism well?

10. Are you willing to be in the public spotlight? - Blogging is a public act. Every day you put yourself into the gaze of others. People will analyze your words and lifestyle. Some will want to know more about you and some might even recognize you in public (it’s happened to me a few times). While few bloggers (if any) are ‘celebrities’ - putting yourself ‘out there’ every day is a strange thing to live with and can have it’s consequences. Keep in mind that once you write something online it is very difficult to get it removed. You might be able to delete your blog but archives services (and other bloggers) pick up a lot of what you write and so you could be living in the public splotlight for a lot longer than you’re a blogger.

11. Do you have any technical ability? - If this were a requirement of blogging I’d have never gotten far, but it is an advantage to have the ability to learn and work on a technical level. You’ll be working on a computer with web based software and at times you’ll need to ‘tweak’ your blog. Knowing how to do it yourself can be very handy. If you’re not this type of person, you might want to make friends with someone who is.

12. Do you take yourself too Seriously? - One of the characteristic I think bloggers should have is a sense of humor - particularly when it comes to looking at themselves. While there are plenty of examples of bloggers who do take themselves too seriously, most successful bloggers seem to have the ability to laugh at themselves also.

13. Do you have a blend of humility and Ego? - Coupled with a sense of humor should be humility. While bigheadedness abounds in the blogosphere it’s often the humble blogger who ends up on top. Having said this having a healthy ego and view of your own worth as a person is also a good characteristic to have as there is an element of ’self promotion’ that comes into blogging at times. Getting this balance right is not always easy - but it’s worth working on.

14. Are you willing to learn? - I like to look at blogging as a journey where everyone knows something but nobody knows everything. This is the case on any topic you want to blog about and the best bloggers are willing to share what they know but seek out and promote what others know also. In this way everyone learns - even the ‘experts’. "

My score for Part II is embarassing: 6-everyone knows a PhD student lacks free time (at least free-of-guilt free time); 5 - Is crying a good way to cope with criticism?; 6 - I don't want to be famous, but I don't mind getting credited for everything I say or do; 3 - HTML, anyone?; 4 - I really prefer laughing at the PhD comics than at myself; 7 - working on that; and 10 - if there's something I want to do, is to learn!
Total score: 41

I will post the last questions tomorrow (of course you may have already read all of them from the source).

Wednesday

What it takes to be a good blogger

I was reviewing the research diary I wrote to the “Logics of Social Research” course I took last year with Professor Gareth Morgan when I found a list of questions one should ask herself before deciding to create a blog. I got it from ProBlogger, a blog (of course, but there’s also a book) owned and written by Darren Rowse, a full-time blogger. He dedicates the blog to “to helping other bloggers learn the skills of blogging, share their own experiences and promote the blogging medium.”
I analyzed the list for my Philosophy of science exercise hoping it could help me uncovering some of the many reasons why people create and maintain blogs. I must say I still don’t have the answer to this question – I’m constructing it slowly, in pieces (or posts), and the more blogs I read, the more it seems to me that each blogger adds a new and particular reason to my collections of bloggers’ motivations.
I’ve been telling my PhD. colleagues and friends (hey, are you still there?) that I started to blog. Many of them have reacted enthusiastically and some are also thinking about blogging. So, for you and for myself (because I still have to learn everything about this), here are the first 7 of Rowse’s 23 questions that summarize what it takes for someone to be a successful blogger:
1. Do you enjoy writing? - Blogs are predominantly a written medium. If you do not enjoy writing then the chances are you might not enjoy blogging.
2. What’s your Message? - While there are many applications for blogging, underlying most (if not all) of them is the aim of communicating some sort of message. Do you need/want to communicate something? Do you have a message? Starting a blog just because you want one might be fun, but it might also be a waste of time.
3. Are you a good communicator? - I don’t believe that only good communicators should have blogs - (they can be a tool for people learning communication skills to improve) but it can be an advantage to have some basic communication skills.
4. Are you better at writing or speaking? - Most communicators have a preference (or at least have better skills in one form or another). If speaking is more your thing you might want to consider Podcasting or even a Video based web site.
5. Do you want to be the central voice on your website? - While blogs are good at building community - they generally feature one person (or a smaller group of people) as the central voices in a conversation. Other people have to respond to the voice of others. If you’re after something where anyone can start a conversation then a Forum might be a better medium.
6. Are you a self starter? - Starting a blog takes a little initiative. While blog software these days makes it simple to start them, they don’t run themselves and take a motivated person to both getting them off the ground.
7. Are you disciplined? - Similarly blogs require regular attention over time. While daily posting is not essential, it’s probably a good level to aim for. Will you be able to motivate yourself to write something new every day?

Calculate your score! Let’s say you can score from 0 to 10 on each question. Adding your points for all the 7 questions will result in your Successful Blogger Potential Part I.

I will start: 7 (love to write, though struggling with doing this in a second language) – 4 (still unclear message) – 6 (I do have basic communication skills!) – 9 (definitely prefer writing than podcasting or appearing in video) – 7 (I’m fine with monologues, though they can feel lonely sometimes) – 7 (With a little push from a professor) – 6 (I can be disciplined, in the Brazilian way, you know).
Daiane’s total score on Successful Blogger Potential Part I = 46

PS: I will post the other questions this week, on a daily basis.
PS 2: Although my blogging endeavours are not aimed to achieving a six-figure income, I will definitely keep reading ProBlogger.

Tuesday

Babies 2.0

I don’t remember how, but last week I found an interesting website: Babyspot. It’s like a Facebook, an online social space to network, but for babies. James Rivera, co-founder and COO of Babyspot, presents it as “a free and secure site that allows users-specifically parents-to create profiles that give them the ability to post news, pictures, and videos of their children for fellow parents and family members to see.”
My first thought about this was something like: WOW, it’s never too early to get into the web... But then I breathed and realized I was acting as a digital immigrant (which I am, indeed), not realizing that instead of being an artificial product offered to over excited new-parents, this is merely a well thought use of the communication resources currently available to us. It is something as natural as it was, twenty years ago, sending a long hand-written letter and a single printed picture of your baby to a relative living in a distant city.
However, I cannot avoid feeling amazed by the possibilities... Let’s think forward: 20 years from now, these online babies will be adults. And they will have detailed memories of their early lives. They will have not only some pictures and videos, but daily updates about their early achievements and also comments from their parents, their parents’ friends, relatives, and even from strangers. They will have an artificial memory – everything that our limited human brain is not able to retrieve from the past will be stored somewhere – easily accessible.
Here comes the digital immigrant again: I think there’s a reason why we don’t remember our early childhood in detail. What will happen when we grow up informed by these early memories? How different people we’ll be?
It seems I’m not the only one who’s thinking about it. Take a look at the pictures I took this Sunday from a store’s window in Stratford: