You are reading an archived post from the first version of my blog. I've started fresh, and the new design and content is now at boxofchocolates.ca

Understanding How Users See Your Blog

October 11, 2004

Many years ago in my previous career as a teacher, I was introduced to concept mapping and card sorting. These were techniques that I could use to help me get a better understanding of how my students constructed knowledge and were able to make meaning about the things I was teaching them and how they related to things they had learned in the past.

In the classroom, I used to prepare card sorts that included different types of matter in various states (solid, liquid, gas), or various living things in preparation of basic biological taxonomies. I would also include some other more mysterious items like “fire” or “virus” to see where students would categorize them. Similarly, I used concepts maps to see how students viewed the relationships between concepts to help unearth their current understandings and possible misconceptions.

I found that when using these methods, it wasn’t the end categories of the card sort, or the final concept map that was most important. Similar to using card sorting in Information Architecture work, a significant benefit came through listening to individuals and groups grapple with/discuss where things should fit and why. As a teacher this helped me uncover areas that I obviously hadn’t covered adequately in my class activities, enabling me to adress them in future lessons.

When I began the transition to becoming a web professional, I was immediately taken with the field of IA. I believe this was at least partly because of these overlapping techniques and the interaction that each path requires with people and their mental models of how things fit together.

Card Sorts and the Progression of a Blog

I’m very interested in how readers see my blog — how do they categorize it? Where does it fit into their “big picture”? Mostly, I see it as part of understanding my readers better – the more I learn about them and how they see things, the more I can strike the right balance for my blog. I know I could always just write a post asking some questions (basically a user/reader interview of some sort), but I wanted something a little more spontaneous — something akin to being a fly on the wall.

What I’m finding particularly fascinating as this blog grows is those that subscribe through the online service provided by Bloglines. Most feedreaders support the creation of feed categories – the difference with Bloglines is that those categories are available through the public profiles of Bloglines users. As I view the “public profiles” of the subscribers to my feeds I try to see which where I “fit” within their folders. Some subscribers leave their list of feeds unsorted, while most seem to have their feeds categorized into folders. I look in folders for “Web Standards”, “Web Design/Development”, and the general category “Blogs” and find my site listed. Sometimes, though, I am surprised to find them in a folder named “Firefox”.

Progression and Moving Forward

It was not my intention to make Firefox the focus of my blog. Given that two of my last 4 posts have been on Firefox, I can see how anyone could easily put this blog there as it makes perfect sense. I probably should have A Good About Page – currently I have only one “about” paragraph, and I’m not sure it does enough. Learn a few things about how people see your blog, and it can prompt changes… (Yes, I have a list, and yes, I’m making some changes here…)

Perceptions of a blog are formed the first time you start reading it. Your categorization of that blog (if you categorize it at all) is based on the posts you read. Read one post, and you only have one card to sort. Read more and you have more to sort through and more information upon which to base your categorization. I don’t want to extend the analogy of Bloglines to a card sort too far, as I’m sure it breaks down – and I don’t get the advantage of actually interacting with subscribers.

When you have limited opportunity to collect data, any data is better than no data at all. I’m really finding it interesting to see where others think I fit and I’ll keep watching to see how (if at all) that categorization might change over time.

7 Responses

Comment by Christian Watson — Oct 11 2004 @ 7:37 pm

I also use Bloglines but never thought of looking at the profiles of the subscribers to my own blog.

Unfortunately, I don’t have enough to make any meaningful judgement, but I did find one who has me in his “Irregular Reads” folder :-(

Fortunately, I’m in good company so I don’t feel quite so bad.

Comment by Andy Budd — Oct 12 2004 @ 9:31 am

Interestingly I was expecting to see my own blog in CSS/Web Standards or Web Development categories, or possibly even Photography. However most of them seem to be in the general Blogs category or a Design category.

I guess that’s probably down to the fact that while I’ve been doing loads of CSS and Development work, I’ve not actually been posting up much stuff about it recently. My blog started out as a web development and web standards blog but now has a much more general focus, largely due to time constraints I may add.

Comment by kartooner — Oct 13 2004 @ 10:09 am

With that in mind, do you think I’ve categorized your site correctly? That said, how would you label or categorize your site?

You mentioned that recently you’ve written a few articles dealing exclusively with Firefox, and it’s justified if someone were to consider that your site is Firefox-related content wise. However, the reason why I categorized this site as ‘Web Design’ is because I feel you’ve contributed a lot of information towards information architecture and web development, moreso than a few Firefox articles.

Yet, there are sites like mine for instance that deal with a mish mash of various topics, and that’s where it becomes difficult on how to label it accordingly. From those that have linked to me I’ve noticed they’ll use whatever label they feel best describes my content; be it Graphic Designer, Web Designer, Geek, Gamer, etc.

If I were to label my own site I would simply put it in Miscellaneous considering that I deal with a variety of subject manner that isn’t necessarily exclusive to one topic.

Comment by Derek Featherstone — Oct 13 2004 @ 11:55 pm

@Christian: re: Irregular reads — I’d have thought pretty much all blogs might fit in that category. Aren’t we all irregular? ;)

@Andy: interesting commentary about your blog — I started reading it some time ago, and I’ve found that over time the focus is a little different, and maybe even more “personal” than before. Its not good or bad, just that I’ve noticed a change (like you said, you’ve been busy!). I’m wondering if that is something that happens as part of the natural progression of a blog? The dialogue becomes more personal over time?

@kartooner:

With that in mind, do you think I’ve categorized your site correctly?

I can’t say you’ve categorized my site correctly or incorrectly — really its how it fits into your view that matters, and that is actually what interests me the most, and the reason I’d even look at Bloglines public profiles.

That said, how would you label or categorize your site?

Ahhh… there’s that question I’ve been avoiding ;)

I’ve actually been having a tough time defining what this place is all about — hence no About Page. I’ve actually been thinking about it quite a bit, and I’m still not sure I have an answer. Partly because I’m not sure, and partly because I’ve tried to make this site a bit of everything (which, theoretically, gives me good spread and lack of focus at the same time).

So, I’m not really sure… like I’ve said since I started writing here “you never know what you’re going to get…”

Comment by dotjay — Nov 25 2004 @ 3:50 am

Re: blog personality, I’d agree that, from what I’ve seen, blogs do tend to become more personal over time. I think blogs start out with a reason for being and progress to becoming something that people just do as part of an online community. The reason for being isn’t lost, it’s just expanded to be about more than just that.

An advantage of this as I see it, is that blogs become more friendly and inviting. Some may find that it begins to lose focus though. Another advantage is that the more personal posts may give rise to some interesting cross-discussion that you didn’t expect.

My own blog is fairly new, so I can’t ocmment about it’s categorisation or how it’s grown, but it’s started out as somewhere where I can air views of my own. I really don’t know how I’d categorise it, which might be a problem.

Comment by bobby — Jul 29 2005 @ 3:20 pm

I definitely find that most blogs lose focus over time. Most blogs start with a feeling I’d say, and then turn into a rambling mess. I had one once and that’s how it went :(

Comment by rck — Apr 29 2006 @ 7:03 am

People love categories. Look for example at all that tagging. It just makes filing stuff a lot easier…