Competing For Attention

I know that it borders on sacrilege but I don't really read David Warlick that much these days. But when cleaning out some of my Bloglines feeds today, I did take notice of this post where David wrote about the importance of attention in the blogging world. He has this to say:

To get things done, we need other people, and to get them interested, we need their attention. One thing that’s concerned me is that as we talk about limitless bandwidth, limitless channels on the TV, limitless this and that in the world of information, what is not limitless is attention. There are only so many people and so many hours in the day. And each of us are only willing to give up so much of our day’s attention to others’ ideas.

That got me thinking that as the blogosphere grows, that the opportunity for new bloggers to gain a foothold, and to attract enough readership to create a network of expertise is actually more difficult than when I started this blog experiment back in August 2005. David describes how it panned out for him:

...that I started blogging in a time when there was an abundance of attention out there, looking for something to pay attention to, and they would latch on to almost anything. As more people started becoming interested in blogs, and there were only a handful of educator bloggers out there, they came to Will Richardson, Terry Freedman, David Jakes, and some even came to read my blog. It was like physics — attention gathering around Will’s voice built up mass, and the more mass gathering around a particular voice the greater the gravitational pull — and the more attention that was attracted to it.

All of a sudden, a comment I read earlier in the day on an edna forum made sense - in paraphrase as I haven't asked permission to quote directly, the poster was lamenting that new things online always had a burst of energy initially but then struggled to continue. He cited that blogs are prone to an early death if there isn't any feedback.

The attention from others needed to foster a blog is an important ingredient. I personally believe that comments are the lifeblood of my blog but not everyone else agrees. But attention comes in many forms - comments are just one method of measuring who's reading. I think I was fortunate in the timing of my entry into the edublogosphere after the wake of the well known names David cites but before the bigger growth over 2006 that has also spawned many well read and often quoted education focussed bloggers. So there is potentially a big difference between my experience and what the teacher who starts a blog tomorrow can expect in terms of gathering audience, conversation and importantly, momentum.

I read a lot of bloggers who don't read me. There are bloggers who read me who I don't have in my Bloglines. There are readers who probably don't blog! And it's true that every time I find a new blog or become aware of another educator blogging, my first inclination is to add their feed. But I struggle to get through all of the blogs I'm currently tracking (hence my problem reading David Warlick) and will only keep the Must Reads folder up to date. So in the best interests of managing my attention, if I want to add a new blog I will  look through and see if there are any current feeds that can be culled.

Bang.

Just like that, one blogger has one less chunk of attention coming their way. I know it happens to me because I see the Bloglines subscription numbers wavering up and down when I check to see if my latest post has been RSSed through successfully. (I know I've forgotten about blogs or assumed the person has stopped blogging due to a dodgy RSS pickup in Bloglines.)  As more educators look for that attentive audience, the reader has a choice - do I keep the feeds that I've read regularly and consciously avoid adding new voices to the mix or do I make space for them and be a bit ruthless about who gets to stay in my Personal Learning Network?

How does a beginner get noticed amongst the more seasoned campaigners (those who've stuck at it for a year or more!) when their initial postings will be a bit tentative, a bit exploratory or a bit self absorbed. I've seen a couple of blogs set up here in Adelaide by teachers that are only two or three posts in length since their birth at my workshop at last year's CEGSA conference. Why? Maybe the authors expected a bevy of comments and found that no-one was really reading. Attention doesn't just come automatically. I hate to use the phrase "competing for attention" because I don't think that the collaborative environment that Web 2 tools enable fits that, but bloggers starting out now have the unenviable task of task of "convincing readers" that their ideas and musings are worthy of that attention. Maybe the solution as David sees it is in social networking sites like ning or maybe new bloggers need to start looking for their attention sources closer to home. Either way, it's probably not surprising that many education blogs die on the vine. But maybe, if the author re-prioritises and looks at how the blogging process can still be useful without the initial audience, the blog can be maintained long enough to gather its deserved slice of attention.

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9 thoughts on “Competing For Attention

  1. Vicki Davis

    I think the conversation is so hard to understand and get a hold on that it unsettles all of us. We like to be able to predict and control and yet with this we cannot. It is the strangest things that happen that change our lives and our classrooms.

    However the greatest benefit is not in getting “attention” but rather in become better teachers and educators. It is great when I have a lesson with my students and am able to bring the cutting edge to my classroom because I read such blogs as yours.

    I find that if I focus on helping others, helping myself learn, and helping my students be better, I find great satisfaction. If I let myself be distracted by numbers or stats or whatever it can be very disconcerting. For those who “do” conferences perhaps it is important to look at the rankings and get the attention because that drives their opportunity. For me, it is really a distraction. I do find myself reading differently now and because I post my bloglines on my blog I am very careful about deleting because some people take it very personally.

    I do think that there is a fundamental change in how we are all reading blogs. Many of us, myself included go to watchlists on technorati more often than our RSS reader now.

    Thank you for continuing to write and reflect.

    Reply
  2. Terry Freedman

    Well, I have some sympathy with these views, but actually I think what “makes” any reasing experience is a set of 3 things: the writer, the reader, and the relationship between the two. I don’t see the point in blogging if nobody is going to read it, you might as well just keep a private diary.

    Reply
  3. Graham Wegner

    Four different responses – and if I count Stephen Downes’ mention in OLDaily, that’s five, all with common elements but slightly different takes. Vicki, like Stephen, you recommend reading topic based RSS feeds but in a comment back to Stephen that his website refused to post, I think there is still significant value in reading people regardless if they see themselves as a blog celebrity. The last part of my comment …”The only point I’d like to add is that by reading people as opposed to topics, I am exposed to topics that I would not have discovered on my own. Educators like Alex Hayes, Leigh Blackall, Bill Kerr and Artichoke (just name a few close to home) constantly broach topics that I would not necessarily be aware of and that would not always turn up on any topic based Technorati RSS search feed that I might construct. Maybe a mix of the two is the way to go?”

    Reply
  4. kwhobbes

    Graham, Very interesting set of responses. When I started blogging, I wanted people to read and comment so that I knew that what I was doing was having an impact. I will admit, I like to see the “comment moderation” panel with a number because I like the interaction. Now, I am a better teacher/administrator because of what I have read. I still use Google Reader and have over 200 feeds that I add to constantly. I scan the different feeds for things that catch my eye and read. I’ve become better at leaving comments because it is something I would like to have happen on my blog. I don’t see myself as a blog celebrity. I’m just a teacher/administrator trying to make a differnce and hoping what I have to say helps someone. In the end, I agree with you Graham, what’s the sense of writing if you’re not sure it’s being read.

    Reply
  5. james matthew

    This was an interesting read for sure. I know first hand that tension between writing something and wanting or having an audience for it. I would say I think I agree with you that ‘comments are the lifeblood’ of blogging.
    When I get one that isn’t spam, it spurs me on; it builds on the conversation…I think that is where my own thoughts are taken further.
    It does seem, though, that attention has been sliced or portioned up already.
    As you know, another challenge I feel is that of limiting post topics to keep readerly interest without killing my own appetite for blogging.
    It is a tough balance to strike, as I don’t want to alienate any edu-bloggers or readers from my blog, but I don’t want to alienate myself from my own net real estate as well…
    Interesting stuff…
    which all leads me to say, thanks for keepin me on the ole’ blogroll, and thanks for the encouragement…
    by the way, I am thinking koodos are in order to you for the influx of hits on my blog from ‘blackboard’ ?

    Reply
  6. Quentin D'Souza

    One of the factors that helps create audience as “Terry” points out is the relationship. But I think “time” factors into that equation. as it helps to build stronger connections to other people across the world. I have never met you Graham, but I feel comfortable enough to ask you questions because I feel I know you a little bit through your writing, although I don’t comment as much as I could. I still feel that we have some history.

    As Stephan points out topics should be very importnant, but people build “trust” relationships with the bloggers that they read, and that takes time. Those new to the blogosphere need to wait out the lulls and ride the highs.

    Reply
  7. Rachel Boyd

    Well I am a perfect example – responding to this post only now…. I can because I have the time due to school holidays!… only now can I write you a short essay on my views 🙂

    I totally agree that comments are “the lifeblood” of a blog, but I know that taking the first step to making a comment is a big thing for some people. Recently I was at a meeting of local ICT Lead Teachers and two approached me thanking me for a post I had made on a small programme to make the macbook run cooler. When I asked them how come they didn’t leave a comment… they said they felt too shy because they didn’t know me personally (this meeting was the first time they had met me in person). Perhaps it takes a mindshift… we can know people virtually yet never meet them in person!

    Luckily with my class blog (http://room9nelsoncentral.blogspot.com/) there are other ways of letting the kids know that people ARE actually reading their stuff – like a clustr map and a hit counter. It definitely shows the differences in generations when the kids in my class say… but they read our blog so it’s only polite to make a response… just like in a real conversation.. I talk… then you talk!

    I subscribe to well over a hundred blogs (I use Blogarithm and track also changes in some web & wiki pages too) I am not currently willing to count how many I subscribe to however, for fear of being a total geek! 🙂 Each day when I get my “blogmail” it only has the post title and the first few sentences. From this I decide if I want to visit the site and read any further. I like it this way because it means I actually get other things done in my life… otherwise if I had the entire articles there I may get engrossed… and well you know how time flies!

    At the end of the day, I don’t blog to get noticed, I blog to record my experiences in attempting to make a difference and maybe on the journey it will help someone.

    Cheers! Rachel

    Reply

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