Converging on Greensboro
I'm in Greensboro, N.C., this weekend for ConvergeSouth 2006 - the annual blogfest in what is one of the blogging hotspots of the country. They've graciously invited me to be a discussion leader based on the work we've done with Hartsville Today.
I'm excited to hear what John Robinson, editor of the News & Record, and others have to say about creating a sharing culture in the newsroom, and what Lex Alexander can tell us about getting participation.
Interstingly enough, Jakob Nielsen just this past week came out with an AlertBox reminding us that 90 percent of people are lurkers, 9 percent are occasional posters, and 1 percent are active participants. This isn't anything revolutionary -- we've seen it in Hartsvillle, and almost anyone who's run a community site sees the same thing.
Nielsen's piece is useful, however, to remind us that this phenomenon goes back before blogs to Usenet groups. CompuServe bulletin boards and even internal discussion lists within companies. And even deeper, its roots are in the Pareto Principle, extended to the observation that 20 percent of the people will do 80 percent of the work.
We tend to frame these discussions as that of democratic viability -- if democracy becomes more viable with greater discourse, why, we fret, don't more people participate? But some researchers have suggested we need to reframe the parameters. In this Internet age, they say, perhaps the mere act of seeking information is worthy of being classified as democratic participation.
Is that a cop-out? Or, as I probably will pose tomorrow: Then why should we fret?
Speaking of Hartsville Today, it has really picked up some steam lately. We're up to a dozen, maybe two, regular posters and maybe as many more who respond or post from time to time. But one thing I have noticed is that more people, even if they have an alias, seem to be using ID photos. I think that's an interesting thing to note, and it tells me the community is taking on the site as its own. (Keeping in mind that these numbers have not been stripped of spiders and search engine robots, HVTD usage stats look like this -- May 5,898 visits, June (when we had two stringrs operating) 7,355, July 6,349, August 5,927 (not surprising in summer), September 8,382. For this month, we already are at 5,078 and not quite halfway through. (An election season may help that.)
We are doing a second content analysis now to follow up on the five-month one we did when the service first started. We had almost 300 posts or responses in September -- as many as we had the first five months.
We also hope to be in the field before the end of the month with a survey. It won't be perfect for a number of reasons -- limited resources among them -- but it will begin to give us our first good look at how the community sees Hartsville Today and perhaps some attitude measures toward the whole cit-j idea.