January 21, 2007

You don't need a website, you need a blog

Don Ledingham publishes an email tonight from one of our Exc-el readers in Portugal who had trouble finding a resource that had been posted on the old Exc-el website. This one-dimensional site served its purpose at the beginning of the Exc-el project but would have been straining had it to cope with the burgeoning community that's taken up blogs, Flickr, wikis and podcasts in the past four months or so. The old site is something I have been advising to be replaced and I wanted to share a few reasons why.

Oldexcel Making simplicity out of complexity
When the old Exc-el site was at its peak it was grumbling under the strain of around 20 authors, with 14 initial levels of entry and another dozen or so levels thereafter, before you got into your content. That meant a minimum of around three or four clicks before you got to what you wanted, and those clicks were infuriatingly slow on a fast connection, unusable in schools.

With the new eduBuzz site we are working at reducing that to two clicks with our two button, two-level hierarchy, and a more complex (for us) way of making the East Lothian blogosphere easier (for you) to understand. Initially we were going to use Pageflakes for this, but this will be introduced later in the year once some refinements and user tests have taken place.

Newedubuzz Making a truly bottom-up project
The old Exc-el site was built on technology that revolved around a webmaster granting permissions for people to publish, building in their links manually to the homepage so that people could find things, publishing things for those people who had a wad of material that came from a Word file on their desktop. The result might be that fewer people chose to share. Now that a 'free-for-all' Word Press Multi User server, which we own, is there waiting to dole out blogs we have seen the number of blogs soar from around 20 to nearly 300, all within the space of around three months.

Getting East Lothian some Googlejuice
Static HTML type sites, with no orange RSS button in the menubar, just attract less attention on the web than blogs, Flickr pages or wikis. It's not because these three technologies are more hyped than the humble web page, it's because blogs, wikis, Flickr pages et al have more Googlejuice. They appear higher up search rankings on nearly every topic. There are a couple of reasons for this.

  1. Every time a post is written the whole website registers with Google that it has been updated. Google gives preference to websites which are updated often.
  2. Every time you write a post you also create a new page in the site, therefore giving more for Google to search and match up between posts. All of your posts become intertwined with each other, giving more relevance to people searching for information. Blogs connect your information for you and your readers.
  3. Every time someone links to one of your posts, your Googlejuice is enhanced. Blogs have a tendency to attract more links than static sites, simply because they, or rather their authors, tend to engage in conversations which attracts linking back and forth. Static sites do get links, but they aren't as sticky for people because the personal connection is less to the fore than in a blog.
  4. The feed coming off your blog is replicated many times across the web, as RSS aggregators and link blogs pick up on your keywords, excerpts or even entire posts. This increases coverage of your work, and increases your ranking in Google, as these aggregators link back.

The number of hits doesn't matter
This last point is also one reason why traditional organisations don't like blogs or anything with an RSS feed, since it can remove visitors from your site - they needn't click through to read the story. It's really important that organisations get over this, and take the attention (and it's equally important that aggregation services around the web encourage their users to visit the blogs themselves, with either excerpts or juicy editorial to drag people in).

Jeff Jarvis was writing an must-read just last week at how the number of hits a site receives nowadays means very little indeed. For example, I get anything between 500 and 1000 visitors a day to this blog. Most of them won't come back, having Googled and found the information they were looking for. Many will choose to add me to their aggregation for a wee while, and then knock me off (oddly enough, this seems to happen at the weekend, when people are cleaning up). But the most important readers for me are those who choose to add me to their aggregation long term. There's about 1000 of them in addition to those passers-by, who get each post as and when it is written. They're also the ones who enter into conversations and who I never (rarely ;-) say 'no' to when they ask for some help. This readership, whose 'hits' or 'visits' don't register as a great stat are more important to the profile of this blog and the enjoyment I get from the conversations than the impressive-or-not hits I might get.

So, my advice on some of the great material sitting in website silos around the country is to wikify or blog everything, enter into conversation, make stuff that was once a Word document into some engaging, chunked prose which you spin out throughout the course of the year. Tag it, categorise it, find other people talking about the same thing and converse with them. It's not just that information sitting on websites is becoming more difficult to find as the blogosphere takes search results over. It's that wikifying or blogging your material will make it more useful to us all as we can become part of it.

"Our material is so good that people will know where to find it - blogging it will just make it seem less important or coherent" - no-one's said that to me personally yet, but if you are thinking of it, I refer you to Dr Hugh.

Comments

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Ewan, could we refer to blogs as Web pages?

I think 'web pages' are still the things of old, and the words don't imply

a) that you can leave comments
b) that an author can publish through an interface in one or two clicks
c) that there is an RSS feed so that people can subscribe
d) that the page is intended to be updated on a regular (daily, weekly) basis.

Also, if you're reading a blog within an RSS reader it's difficult to say it's a webpage, since it's only a representation of the page.

Until we get to the moment in time where most or all pages have these characteristics it's probably easiest to keep the distinction.

Interesting, all this. I'd never got around to so much as reading a blog until I happened upon Exc-el. Equally, I'd never got around to creating a website (or even a business card) for my business, although the internet is now my first port of call for information and I haven't been in the Scottish Science Library for ages. But I'm now thinking seriously about a work blog - it's so easy and, as you say, you can start a conversation. Watch this space...

Ewan,
It is interesting that you bring this issue up. As I stated in my blog entry "Finally Friday" this is just the idea that I am looking into for Santa Cruz County Middle School Administrators. Not a "web site" but a place where we can share information, engage in conversation and challenge conventionality. And where others outside our realm can visit and discuss our issues. They were very excited about this prospect as it gives us a place to talk without having to meet. One principal asked, "is that like a discussion board". Not knowing the difference I responded "I am not sure". So is there a difference? I know that a blog is very different than a "web site" but I don't know much about discussion boards.

This was a question I had in a job interview two years ago - I got the job so my answer must have been OK ;-) However, it's worth another blog post since a few people have been asking about that distinction. It'll come up next, i hope.

Thanks for the comment you left on my blog. I am actually giving a presentation at Communicate 07 about how we have been inspired by Comm.06 and what I've been doing with all this new and interesting technology. I believe you are going to be elsewhere.
Adam

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is a teacher, speaker and investor, regarded as one of Europe’s foremost experts in digital media for public services.

His company, NoTosh Limited, invests in tech startups and film on behalf of public and private investors, works with those companies to build their creative businesses, and takes the lessons learnt from the way these people work back into schools and universities across the world.

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