Thursday, December 15, 2011

Old fogies, blogging & current events

In today's post, I simply want to pick up a few things that have interested me.

First, on a purely personal note, I have agreed to write an economics column for each issue of Australian Business Solutions magazine. I hesitated to add another load, then decided that it was probably a good thing. I have found with my Armidale Express column that it actually helps my other writing.

They asked me because I did an earlier longer piece for them at the height of the Global Financial Crisis taking a counter view to the common reporting at the time. I must say that it was actually a nerve-wracking experience, for there was a six week lag between writing and publication. In a fast moving world, that's a long time, especially where you are quoting stats. As it happened I was right, but I still remember the nerves.

Turning to other matters, my old friend and blogging colleague Paul Barratt (@phbarratt, blog here) had a very useful piece, Government tendering: the importance of being earnest, on The ABC's The Drum. I say useful, because it's a good summary of issues. I promised Paul that I would pull together the material I have written on key performance indicators because he, like me, has come to the conclusion that their influence has become quite pernicious. I will do so.

A tweet from Media Hunter (@mediahunter, blog here), led me to Brian Solis's The State of the Blogosphere 2011. It's an interesting post for all of us interested in blogging. However, it also made me think of another point.

The common feature of bloggers such as myself, Paul, Winton Bates and Neil Whitfield is what I have come to think of as the rise of the old fogies. We are not all old of course, there are many others who are much younger, but the distinctive feature is that blogging provides a platform through which we can make our experience available to others.

Now I have been watching this trend, and there is a feature to it that I haven't seen discussed all that much. To use a phrase coined by Don Chipp, the founder of the Australian Democrats, we keep the bastards honest.

Of course, we don't agree on all things; our views vary greatly. But what we do do is subject things to analysis. We also cross-promote. Many of us can still actually write, and do so outside the bounds imposed by power point and 140 characters.

The audience reach is actually quite remarkable and is growing all the time. I was trying to explain this to someone the other day and struggling a bit. I would put it this way.

The audience reach for any post is small. Further, the formal stats reflect search engine traffic most of whom appear in the stats as time 00:00. Put most of the search engine traffic aside. It is the cumulative effects that count.

Start with me, someone whose reach is relatively small:

  • There were 520 page views on this blog yesterday, probably something just a bit under 800 across all my blogs. The number of regular readers is quite small. 
  • I have my newspaper column published on Wednesday that reaches, not all readers read it all the time, several thousand people.
  • Then I have facebook and twitter. I haven't attempted actively to build twitter, I primarily put links to posts there, so I only have 107 followers.
  • And any other writing I do.

As I said, not big. But consider a few examples as to reach:

If Paul Barratt retweets a post of mine, it goes to 1,566 followers. If MP Richard Torbay (@RichardTorbayMP, website here) retweets, it goes to 484 followers. If Denis Wright (@deniswright, blog here) retweets, it goes to 572 followers.

These are not large numbers. However, it doesn't end there. For fairly obvious reasons, Richard is followed by the Northern Tablelands media, some of whom already follow me. So if Richard retweets a post, it goes direct into the local media pot. Now this illustrates a broader point: it's not just the absolute size of audience, but the actual slice of the audience reached.

Of course, its not just the audience reach for any of my posts that is small, but also the impact. I know this from my newspaper column, for example. I know many people follow, but few read every column, fewer still remember what they read. With exceptions where the column has struck a particular chord with a particular individual, they have impressions only. But this is where the old fogies really come in.

In writing, we generally write below the horizon, although all regular bloggers are becoming increasingly drawn into the main stream media. While all of us do address current events and particular hobby horses, it's also true that we have the luxury of adopting independent positions, of sometimes taking time to investigate. An individual post or view may not have impact, but is is clear that there is impact over time.

While the main stream media swirls around like a flock of chooks feeding on the latest event, something that I described in this week's Express column, the old fogies dig away, clearing the ground. Their bite, and it is a bite, comes later.


In a comment, Neil pointed to the difference between the daily visits to this blog that I reported and the sitemeter numbers.

The attached chart shows the daily page views on this blog according to the Google stats. These numbers are far higher than the sitemeter numbers, twice as high, for reasons that I don't understand.

For the purposes of this post, the numbers don't matter all that much, for I am trying to explore the patterns of cumulative influence. I just think that these are significant. I also think that it provides an incentive for thoughtful bloggers and not just we old fogies to keep blogging.

Neil commented:

Me: I have steered away lately from solving the world's problems, or even the country's. I am happy now just to have a bit of a conversation space, or somewhere to share a bit of what I see or read.

Now I think that this comment, in a way, understates Neil's impact. The Ninglun influence is far more subtle.

The posts that he has written over time may not solve the world or country's problems. That's not how it works. What he has done is to influence particular individuals including me. I respond, and then that affects others. The numbers affected may be very small, but influences accumulate.

During the last years of the Howard Government I followed cases like the Hicks case. Writings in the blogosphere were far more analytical than much of the general reporting because they reflected the confusions of people trying to think issue through. They contributed to a change in thought. 

If one person affects another person's views, then that person affects a third, you have a chain effect. The point about blogging is that, in combination, it has impacts on perceptions across time and space.

Where the blogger has a genuine claim to expertise, then the impacts are accentuated, for others accept that blogger's views.     


Anonymous said...

I don't think you've really "arrived" until you are the subject of spamming. Just my 2-penneth.


Neil said...

Wondering about your page views. Your sitemeter says 293 page views from 176 visits yesterday; ALL my blogs except English/ESL had 483 page views from 301 visits on the same day by the same measure. And that I think isn't too bad. If ever I get 500+ views on ONE blog in one day I am quite over the moon! Yesterday on My Final Decade was according to WordPress 158. The average this year has been 139. That's page reads or views as WP doesn't measure visitors as such.

What I have noted about your blog is that people seem to read it in depth. That's very good.

Me: I have steered away lately from solving the world's problems, or even the country's. I am happy now just to have a bit of a conversation space, or somewhere to share a bit of what I see or read.

And I am quite content being an old fogey. :)

Jim Belshaw said...

Too true, kvd. Spam comments deleted.

Neil, I was using the Google numbers. There are divergences between them and the sitemeter numbers that I don't understand. I hadn't realised the size of the discrepancy until you pointed it out.

Visits bounce all over the place. I will put the Google graph up.

I do get some people who dig in. I agree that's very good.

I think that what I was trying to explore in this post was the nature of influence. So even though you are no longer trying to solve the world's problems, you still have an influence.

Each of our respective impacts is small, but it is the cumulative impact that I am interested in. I think that it's important in ways that are not understood in part because of the focus on big ticket items.

Anonymous said...

'Old fogeys' has connotations - derisive ones - that I would never apply to either yourself or Neil. Irascible - possibly yes, but with good and considered reasons always well stated.

I think you are correct about the ripples in the pond spreading outwards; recognition from one professional to another, each reinforcing the effect, and affecting their followers. But you stole my pecking sparrows; and turned them into 'flocking chooks' without a hint of attribution.

You must realise Jim that over a crackly phone line mine is much the safer.


Jim Belshaw said...

You made me grin again, kvd. More later.