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And now Blogging Archaeology Week 3.

A final downside to the short form is the appearance of dialog. Noting this virtual round table and other blogs (like MS) as exceptions, most archaeological blogs that I read have very little in the way of dialog through comments. Often on this blog, I feel like I am talking to myself, which in a way is catharsis, but if an archaeology blogger writes and no one reacts, are we really changing opinions or moving the field forward?” I would add to this, how do you attract readership? Without too much in the way of SEO chatter, who is your audience and how to you interact with this audience? What do you want out of interactivity by means of blogging about archaeology?

I’m not sure if I’m the right person to answer this for archaeologists. For a while I set up a separate site and barred Google from it, so I could blog thoughts without large numbers of people visiting. I’m not hostile to readers, but the readers I want are the one who come here anyway, not simply a large number count. It’s partly down to why you blog.

At the same time I can say this worked depressingly well in terms of viewers. I also changed the name of the site to “The Britney Spears Site of, like, Really Old Stuff” and changed the theme to a Britney theme (it was 2005). But I don’t know if it changed anything.

I think I can come up with three reasons why comments might not happen.

  1. Subject Matter.
    If your blog repeats the news, then I won’t comment. It’ll be something that I’ve already seen before or else will see repeated several times over. What about the opposite? Add original commentary and that will encourage comments yes? I’m not sure it will. There’s plenty of people writing good original posts. I won’t always comment though because these will be interesting articles outside my immediate field. What I need to do is read round the subject before I can add anything more than “Nice one”. That takes time. It’s something you don’t get on some science blogs, because a lot of science is the same round the world, but archaeology is very localised.

    I think for most archaeobloggers one way to more comments is to dumb down massively, or go over the top and aim for a purely academic audience. In the latter case I think you’d still need the social connections to pull comments in. To get comments you will need people reading who feel happy talking about the subject of your posts. Which takes us to…

  2. Audience Size.
    Of your audience only a small fraction will participate by commenting. This is generally known as the 90-9-1 rule. For blogs Neilsen, writing in 2006, said that the ratios were skewed further to 95-5-0.1. These numbers describe how people interact with your site. The first number are passive consumers. The second are occasional contributors. The final number is the heavy contributors. Using these figures if you have 1000 people reading your posts you can expect around five or six comments, with one from a regular reader. Most archaeoblogs aren’t getting that kind of readership. There are ways to lower the bar to commenting, but even so it’s not likely many blogs will get the readership levels to get regular comments. Because of their size though, they’ll be much more visible and you’ll have a skewed idea of how successful you blog is or isn’t.

  3. People don’t comment on blogs.
    This is from AJ Cann, who does have comments on his blogs. He also runs MicrobiologyBytes. Compare the number of comments on the blog with the number of comments on Facebook. On the blog there are acres of No comments, while the Facebook page picks up comments and likes.* This is part of a shift in where we comment on blogs. For the last post within a quarter of an hour I saw this tweet from the lightning fast Åsa M Larsson. Commenting has moved from blogs to Twitter and Facebook. Often the comment is purely associative, as a like or retweet. Comments on blogs aren’t dead, but usage has changed. It isn’t 2006 anymore.

So what do you do? One is to pull the community to you. Ning built their business on this and every so often I’ll get someone telling me I should sign up to their Ning site. I’ll do it for work, but not if I don’t have to. The opposite way is the answer. If you want to use a blog as outreach and community engagement then you go where the community is. There are plenty of good reasons to be Facebookphobic, but that’s where the audience is. If I had an outreach blog then I would have to have a Facebook page for the blog, and AoB Blog does. If you ‘like’ it for a few days you’ll see there’s a constant drip drip of botanical goodness into your Facebook stream. The reason AoB Blog does this is that we wanted to put the blog where the audience was, and in a place where they’re already commenting on stuff.

That’s not enough for most archaeobloggers. A small audience on your blog is still going to be a small audience on Facebook. I think what Facebook could offer bloggers is easy networking to increase the potential audience. A collective could set up a Facebook page and choose a few admins. The next thing you add is RSS Graffiti. This takes an RSS feed and adds a post to a Facebook page wall for each RSS entry. It’s what we’re using for the Annals of Botany page. The clever thing is that RSS Graffiti can poll multiple RSS feeds. So multiple bloggers could auto-post to the same page with RSS Graffiti. For anyone who’s posting less once a day, the ticking over of posts from other bloggers helps keep the site active so that when your post appears it’s in front of the collective audience of all participating blogs and not just your own. The Facebook widget also acts as a way to advertise your posts other blogs in the collective (wordpress.com users might need a specific RSS feed). And because it’s Facebook you still keep you blog on your own site with your own design, etc. Blogger users aren’t compelled to move to WordPress and vice-versa.

It sounds simple but there is a problem. Some blogs you like some you don’t, so who do you include and who do you exclude? Can you exclude people in an inclusive way that doesn’t erect a big “Sod off” sign to readers? That’s a headache that I wouldn’t want, but it does emphasise that the answers to social media problems are social.

*Though the inverse is true for Civil War Memory blog and Facebook page, so it’s not a hard and fast rule.