12 March 2010

On the origins of blog topics

This week, Georgina Henry, celebrates the four year anniversary of The Guardian's Comment is Free where readers respond to Guardian opinion pieces and authors (sometimes) engage with comments in a group blog. Henry describes the Cif community as its 'lifeblood' and describes how 'Cif editors look to our community for inspiration. We ask them what they want to discuss, debate and argue about; to recommend writers...to suggest comment elsewhere which we should link to.' This is a step towards the kind of journalism Jeff Jarvis seeks.

Cif isn't perfect (see Bob Geldof's rant in response to Rageh Omaar's measured comments on the recent World Service/Ethiopian aid controversy - but, in that case, what would you expect). But consider the contrast with an experiment run by IBM where, having discovered that most company bloggers trail off into silence after a relatively short period of time, they developed "Blog Muse" which suggested reader-generated blog topics that might stimulate their bloggers to write. Its impact? Pretty limited in its power to generate more blog posts. But there were some interesting findings: topics with more reader suggestions tended to be more attractive to bloggers than those with fewer, and to receive more reader comments.

I wonder how much they've unpicked that. Setting aside the simple possibility that these topics are more central to employees' concerns it reminded me of the Cabinet Office's recent publication, Mindspace, on influencing behaviour through public policy, where the 'e' in the Mindspace acronym is for 'ego'. According to the behavioural economists behind Mindspace, policy interventions intended to influence behaviour should appeal to the egos of the people who are targets of the intervention. So you can see why, in a corporate environment, a blogger might want to respond to topics with a high number of reader suggestions, and readers to comment on them. The high level of commenting then provides an incentive to continue following popular topics ('incentive' is the 'i' in Mindspace) so a system of group-driven thinking develops. Perhaps not the outcome IBM intended.

["Blog Muse" link via John Naughton]

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