Thursday, April 03, 2008

Refreshing the idea gene pool

Any group can become insular and cliquey without outside ideas and influences.

I have seen it in all sorts of parts of my life, particularly in small businesses growing rapidly. At first the "entrepreneurs" just get on with the many tasks in hand, ploughing their own furrow. Eventually there is a social bond between the founders that keeps the business really successful, ... but it also difficult for newcomers to join the inner circle.

It isn't planned that way, but those who have been involved from the start have a shared history, language and experience (and in-jokes) that newcomers don't 'get', and so feel/are excluded.

With all the 'cooperation' activity going on, is it possible that wine blogging is heading the same way at the moment?

I really don't think so, but it is easy to fall into the trap of talking too much to each other and not to the average wine consumer/reader out there. It is certainly a charge levelled at us by some in the traditional Press, so we must address this in some way.

One problem is that it is in the nature of wine bloggers in particular to be cooperative, after all we are not competing for business, we are actually, really and willingly working together to "float all boats". Our readers can easily subscribe to a number of blogs as they only need to read one article per visit and then move away to the others, following links or some other RSS feeds.

We must remember that bloggers are as much consumers of information as producers. Most importantly, we don't need to keep readers trapped and clicking all around the place like certain sites.

Wine/Web 2.0 is supposed to be about interaction, two-way communication and conversations between publishers and readers, but, to coin a phrase, not all readers are created equal.

Bloggers read and link to each other a lot. It means we are very familiar with the personalities on these other blogs and also with the software, the etiquette and the writer's need for interaction, so it is actually bloggers that are the most frequent commenters on other blogs.

Once you add in social networking on facebook, Open Wine Consortium, Twitter, etc. we end up spending a great deal of time talking to each other. We even have shared activities such as Wine Blog Awards, Wine Blogging Wednesday and, dare I say it, Wine Conferences (and even wine blogging lampoons)

In themselves these are not bad things as there are lots of benefits to us cooperating and sharing best practice, technical and moral support and also growing the awareness of blogging. But wine bloggers need to ensure that the key audience, the blog reading consumer looking for information on what wines to buy, why and where, does not feel excluded.

Ryan at Catavino (see, I did it again!) recently pointed out that even well educated, well informed readers are uneasy and uncomfortable joining the conversation. We need to ask ourselves why?!

This blog is a major offender, but then my subject is to blog about things like blogging in wine after all rather than provide information on specific wines. I'd guess that the vast majority of my regular readers are bloggers themselves. I'd be glad to be proven wrong - if so, leave me a comment and let me know what brings you here.

So I have a suggestion and a request:

Bloggers, we must do more to incorporate comments into our posts. Many blog templates (including this one) relegate comments to secondary pages making a conversation very hard. Can anyone suggest a better way to do this?*

Readers; leave a comment! Anything will do. Any extra information you can provide is likely to be very gratefully received, but even a simple "thanks" or "that's not right" will do. Not only that, but suggestions and questions are the germs of ideas for future posts and discussions. If these are on things that matter to you the site will be even more interesting and valuable, and the gene pool of ideas will be that much more varied and healthy.

* I will be making changes to this blog very soon to try and put some of this into practice myself.


Patrick said...

I am often amazed by how many people visit my blog and how very few comments I get. I have consciously made an effort now to never leave a blog or article without saying something to further the conversation. It is nice when a friend from the social networking cellars drops a line. However, I feel like I have made a real difference when a consumer who is new to our discussions feels like their contributions might be welcome. Great piece; a call for us to take notice.

Robert McIntosh said...

Thanks Patrick - you are absolutely right. As a blogger, it is great to get any comments, and those from other bloggers often lead to new links and other great content (f they leave their URL - you should have put it in here!), but there is something even more rewarding about getting a comment from someone new that you have actually inspired to join the conversation.

Dr. Debs said...

A terrific post, and one that highlights the pros and cons of this tight community of wine bloggers.

One thing that I find works to get comments from readers--and I count bloggers among readers, it's true--is simply to invite them to comment. When I extend an invitation for comments, I get more feedback from non-blogging readers.

Also, encourage emails. Some people just feel more comfortable in private. Sometimes the comments I get on email from readers are so good that I ask their permission to post it anonymously for them, or they even inspire me to write up posts (that happened recently).

Robert McIntosh said...

thanks Dr. Debs. I appreciate the feedback.

I actually get a reasonable number of comments, but that is because my readers are largely bloggers or in the business, so my view is skewed.

I don't get too many emails, but that is a great thought as most people are prepared to send comments direct then you can ask to publish it.

Maybe we ought to encourage that more - and deal with the spam somehow!

ryan said...

Spanish Wine, Portuguese Wine - Attention RSS Subscribers to Catavino Here was an interesting expiriment I did a while back before we had a lot of readers. I wonder what would happen now if I did it. Back then we had under a hundred, today over 500 rss subscribers...

S Andrews said...

Sometimes its hard to leave a comment, as peoiple just don't want to say "great stuff" or "I agree with you" etc. just keep up the good work, its always good to hear what people have to say in the great old owrld of wine!

Anna said...

Robert, I think your post is VERY smart and intelligent and I believe you have raised a problematic and frustrating issue to the surface. Being very fresh in this whole social network and blogging biz i find it difficult to actually get in there and understanding all the bits and pieces..I think it's great you are initiating a discussion about this and i hope you get a lot of feedback and crazy ideas about how this can change!

Jeff said...

Isn't this true across the neterweb though? I once saw some graph, somewhere, (credible sounding I know) that showed participation levels in blogs, social media and the like. The graph was segmented by age and basically confirmed what we all lament, the large majority of people reading are not participating.

To that I say, we can't all be creators, can we?

gopaz said...

Great post! It has been my experience when talking to non-bloggers about leaving a comment is that they often feel that they must say something intelligent, and that a comment such as "way to go!" sounds droll and trivial. There is also something very daunting about having your name and a comment associated to an article indefinitely. Remember, it never goes away. So you are permanently exposed, vulnerable for someone to counter attack one day. For many, this is a very scary proposition. I don't know if this is something we can directly change, but I do think that we can offer more open ended questions and gracious responses.

Robert McIntosh said...

I'd LOVE someone to say "way to go", anonymous or not.

I always try and respond to comments (I don't get too many at the moment anyway, so try to keep it personal)

still looking for a solution

Remy Charest said...

A friend of mine recently had 25,000 visitors (!!) to a post on his Web 2.0-related blog that was picked up on Number of comments: 55. Clearly, past a certain point, unless there is a true debate going on, people feel that all has been said, and that they can't add anything particularly useful or significant.

Also, the type of post is important. I doubt that people would comment on a wine review, unless they feel very strongly about the wine in question. Most people probably read them to get a sense of a wine they're interested in. They count on our expertise, whatever that may be, and go on their merry way to the store.

The most comments I've had on my blog is 4 or 5, I think, on a post about the dreadful "Cellared in Canada" wines, a category that can contain up to 70% foreign content and that is sold alongside real Canadian wine (VQA, which must be 100% locally-grown), without any clear distinction on the shelves. Clearly, this is an issue that many will feel strongly about: knowing what you're drinking, and keeping standards up, etc.

Alastair Bathgate said...

Interesting, thoughtful and well written post.
I say, if you want comments, simply write something controversial.
If, like me, your blog is more of a personal diary that people can share if they want to, then relax. Sure, it's rewarding if someone leaves a comment (good or bad) but it's equally fine if people want to browse your blog without participating. Most of us do this for fun, not money and there is no reason why people should participate in the debate.

Robert McIntosh said...

Alastair - Of course you are right, there is no requirement to interact, and there is a difference between self-publishing and creating an interactive discussion on a topic, but blogs are set up to enable two-way communications, unlike traditional media, and ought to capitalise on these differences to create something truly original and different. No-one has to comment, but I hope they would be inspired enough to say something, at least occasionally.

Remy, I agree. There are some very popular blogs out there that get a lot of comments and as such the actual 'conversation' is very limited. I have found a potential solution which I will be experimenting with elsewhere, and if it works, I shall maybe put it on here too. I shall post about this once I have tried it in earnest.

thanks all for reading, but especially for commenting

Colin said...

I have a practical difficulty that stops me from commenting frequently. I do most of my blog reading via Google reader at lunchtime sitting at my desk, eating my lunch. I currently work in the kind of organisation that puts limits on the web sites people can access so, although I can see the entry on Google reader, I'm not able to go to the actual blog to leave a comment. At the end of the day at home, the comment that had seemed so spontaneous at lunchtime has passed so I tend not to go back to the blogs I have read already. I wonder how many other readers have the same problem?

BTW the fact I'm posting this a full 2 weeks after everyone else kind of sums up my problem. I saw the article 2 weeks ago - it's just taken me this long to comment whereas if I'd been able to comment the moment I saw it I would have.

Robert McIntosh said...

Thanks Colin. I don't mind when the comments arrive. In fact, the nature of a blog is that any article is always available and therefore could re-ignite a discussion at any time if people start searching and linking to it again.

I understand the issue of blocked firewalls. It rather stunts the conversation, but we get through it.