Writing for An Audience

When you write a blog post or an article for some online site, how aware are you of your intended audience? It seems to be the sort of question that would lead to a great discussion on the weekly #blogchats on Twitter, the sort of question that various readers of this blog who are struggling with their own blogs grapple with, and was recently explored a little bit in Are Page Views Meaningless? and Journalists Won’t Report on News Unless it Drives Pageviews.

Many people have many different reasons to write. There is the profit factor and the desire to be heard. The audiences vary considerably as well, depending on whether you are writing for friends and family, for a business, or as part of a news organization. Beneath all of this are the questions of how many readers do you have and how engaged are they.

For individuals writing for family and friends this becomes a fairly simple issue. Do your friends know about your blog? Do they find it interesting and come back? For political bloggers, there is a different question. Are you preaching to the choir? Most political blogs I read end up writing in such a way that people who already agree will read and agree and people who don’t agree will simply skip over it. This may be useful in strengthening the bonds amongst people of similar political viewpoints, which may result in additional action by these people, but does little to expand the dialog and find new friends, ideas, or coalitions.

Yet the biggest issue is for those who are seeking to monetize their writing, either through their blogs or by getting their articles read more frequently on the news sites they write for. The article about journalists being driven by page views quotes Sam Whitmore saying

if you want to write a story on an interesting but obscure topic, you had better feed the beast by writing a second story about the iPad or Facebook or something else that delivers page views and good SEO.

The article about page views questions whether writing for page views really makes sense. The author focuses on the effect tabbed browsing has on people’s reading habits. With billions of advertise impressions sold each month, more impressions coming, and more impressions selling at remnant prices or not being sold at all, trying to get a few more impressions may just be a losing strategy.

As advertisers become more savvy in targeting advertising, it is important to attract demographics that will be interested in your content and to get people to link to your content. Ads targeting attractive demographics sell for much higher prices than remnant ad prices. The best way to do this is not to simply write about whatever the hot topic du jour is. In doing so, you are following the pack, and you are more likely to get lost in the pack. Instead, write about your interests, your passions. Step out where there isn’t a pack. If you write something good and compelling, you’ll get followers and lead a new pack. This will make your ads much more valuable than ads of random people in the large packs.

Whether you are writing for profit or to be heard, you are more likely to be successful writing something special, something unique that will capture people’s interest than writing with the pack.

Pack journalism is nothing new. It was around before the Internet, and will probably be here for years to come. I do not believe that the Internet will result in journalism becoming more pack following. Yes, some people may follow Sam Whitmore’s advice, and managed to continue scraping by as journalists. Others will follow their dreams and passions and write interesting copy that improve their lives and the lives of others. Every writer needs to choose how they approach their intended audience.

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Measuring Blog Traffic

I recently read an email on a mailing list asking about "different ways of measuring blog readership/audience for a broad range of specific blogs". There are lots of different ways of measuring blog readership and audience, depending on what you want to measure and what sort of access you can get to the statistics.

There are various sites that gather data about websites, and the first few that were mentioned on the mailing lists were Quantcast, Compete and Google's Adplanner. They have different means of gather data and as a result different levels of accuracy.

Quantcast uses a pixel to gather data for participating sites and makes estimates for everyone else. For large sites and for participating smaller sites, I've always really liked Quantcasts reports. If you take a look at the Quantcast report for Orient Lodge you can find a lot out about my readership. They also provide very up to date data.

Compete uses panels to gather data and do not seem to be quite as reliable as Quantcast. They use tracking code to gather audience profile information. However, they are pretty expensive to get to the interesting data. Here is the Compete site analytics for Orient Lodge.

I haven't played with Google Adplanner much, but they tap into data gather from Google Ads. If you authorize it, they supplement the data with Google Analytics data. They provide information about other sites that people visit. Here is the Google AdPlanner data for Orient Lodge. I hope to explore the affinity calculations in a later blog post.

What was not mentioned in the list was Alexa. They've always seemed a bit random and while some people claim they are getting better, many people don't trust their data.

If you can get more direct access to a sites traffic data, either through Google Analytics or server statistics, you can get much more interesting information. What percentage of the traffic bounces, or visits one page and leaves without visiting other pages? For those that do stick around, how long do they stick around? Where are the readers coming from? What are they using for browsers? How did they find the site? Direct links? From where? Keyword searches? What keywords?

This leads to the next question about what you are trying to measure anyway. I've often suggested that for my site, I'm not concerned with bounces. I want people to find what they are looking for on the first page they visit. If I were running an online store, I would be more concerned about bounces. I hope that people spend time reading and thinking about what I write, so for people that don't bounce, I hope to have a high time on site.

Related to this, people on the mailing list suggested that other metrics, such as the amount of engagement is what really matters. How often do people comment, link to the site, retweet messages about an article, save a page in a shared bookmarking service?

RSS feed subscriptions were also mentioned as well as Feedburner and their email option. Personally, I haven't used my RSS reader accounts in ages, although I'm still subscribed to hundreds of blogs. Messages on Facebook and Twitter get a much higher priority for me.

So, why are we concerned about these metrics anyway? The biggest issue is probably advertising. Much of the focus has been on getting an increase in page views or impressions, so you can sell more impressions. This has raised a concern about journalists trying to write article that will get the most impressions. However, not all impressions are created equal. Writing more esoteric articles may result in fewer impressions that reach a much more desirable advertising demographic. Journalists writing simply to get the most impressions may end up doing themselves a disservice as more and more advertising inventory goes unbought or sold at remnant prices while high quality impressions from specific audiences become more valuable.

There are a lot of different tools for measuring readership, and the best answer to which is best is that it depends on what you're trying to measure, why you're trying to measure and what sort of access to data you can get.

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#IWNY - A #QRCODE Moment in Time Square

In the never ending contest to be digitally hip, we have come to expect announcements out of San Francisco and sometimes Boston or Austin. This is where the innovators and early adopters reside. Yet it is foolish to overlook New York. New York might not be the hotbed of innovation that San Francisco is. Instead, it is a city that excels in promotion and commercialization of the great ideas that come out of San Francisco and beyond.

Thursday morning provided another great example of this. New York City Media launched The City at Your Fingertips. At 11:15, the large Reuters Screen in Time Square began showing a series of QR Codes.


“Quick Response” or QR Codes are nothing new. They are two dimensional barcodes introduced in Japan in 1994. They have been used to share data, send text messages and access websites. One of my favorite examples of the wise use of a QR code is taxi stands in Japan where a passenger can scan a QR code with her cellphone which will automatically send a text message to the dispatcher requesting a pickup. They provide great opportunities for people to create hyperlinks in the real world. Just put a QR Code up at your business to make it easier for customers to follow your company on Twitter or like your business on Facebook.

Unfortunately, we’ve had a little bit of a chicken and egg problem with QR codes. Not many people have downloaded QR Code Readers for their cellphones; there just aren’t enough QR codes to scan. Companies have been reluctant to start using QR codes because there just aren’t enough people with QR Code Readers on their smartphones.

New York City Media, by placing QR Codes in a prominent place in Times Square has the potential to jumpstart the adoption of QR Codes. It is the sort of thing that New York always does well, helping ideas cross the chasm from the innovators to the early majority.


Various city officials were on hand for the QR Moment in Time Square. Commissioner of The New York City Mayor's Office of Film, Theatre and Broadcasting Katherine Oliver, who announced the moment at the Internet Week New York, #IWNY, kick off press conference was there as was Commissioner of the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications Carole Post. The QR Moment at Time Square illustrated how New York’s focus on film, theatre and broadcasting is leading the way into the digital world. It also provided a new way for people to find out about important information about what is happening in the city.

I scanned the QR codes with my Nokia N900 and it worked very nicely. As I looked around, I saw a couple New York City Police Officers holding up their smartphones to also scan the QR codes. Will the QR Code Moment in Time Square be what it takes to get wider adoption of QR Codes in the United States? We will have to wait and see. Whether or not it does, it clearly illustrates the leadership that New York City is seeking to establish as being the city that can take great ideas and make them successful in the broader world.



@jack_benoff @LizatHP @joemull @DenisHurley @TheRecruiterGuy @geekychic @ckieff @Rasiej @rushkoff @carbonOutreach @jaymesgrace

It used to be that people would judge the success of a conference based on how many good contacts they made, in terms of qualified leads, business cards gathered, or other metrics. My office is littered with business cards from various conferences, people whom I’ve forgotten why they are interesting and am unlikely to ever contact again. Twitter changes things. Instead of exchanging cards, you can follow someone on Twitter. You get frequent reminders of who they are, and hopefully, why you found them interesting. With that, I let me highlight some of the interesting people that I am following in regards to Internet Week New York.

Monday at Internet Week, there was a tweet about Augmented Reality from @jack_benoff. After a few twitter messages back and forth and a little searching, I found his booth and had a great talk about his company. It was a good example of using Twitter to drive traffic to your booth.

Later in the day, I had a good chat with @LizatHP. She was, of course, at the HP Media Center and I met her face to face before I met her on Twitter. We have since retweeted various messages and she is doing a good job of getting information about HP out on Twitter.

At the Future of Location Based Marketing @joemull or @DenisHurley did a pitch for Mobile Meteor. They suggested checking a website that didn’t work properly with my Nokia N900. To make things worse the non Mobile version of the site played obnoxious music and I wrote a #fail message about it on Twitter. @DenisHurley and I exchanged messages over Twitter and soon they had modified their code to recognize the N900. It is a great example of proactive customer service using Twitter that helps build up goodwill for the company.

@TheRecruiterGuy sent out some interesting Tweets during Internet Week, and I’ve started following him, even though, to the best of my knowledge, I did not meet him face to face. In his case, the message was simple, send good content with a hash tag, you are likely to get new followers.

@geekychic extensively tweeted the Digiday:Target conference, which I also tried to do, as did @ckieff. This was as Twitter started having Fail Whales, so I suspect none of us tweeted as much as we would like. I’ve met @ckieff at other events. He’s a bright guy, well worth the follow and it was great to get to know @geekychic at Digiday, both on Twitter and during cocktails afterwards.

@Rasiej @rushkoff were two good speakers at #thepromise that are also well worth following. Also, during the long lunch line, I had a great discussion with @carbonOutreach. We ended up connecting the old fashioned way of exchanging business cards, but I later followed her with the information from her card.

Finally, I need to shout out to @jaymesgrace. I’ve know @jaymesgrace from New Haven social media activities and it was great to connect at Internet Week as well.

I still have a deck of business cards that will probably get lost or trashed before I know it, but at least I’ve found some interesting people to stay in touch with via Twitter. I hope others have as much luck with Internet Week.

#IWNY – If You Can't Afford Acid, Watch TV

“If you can't afford acid, watch TV”. It was a mantra of some of my college buddies, but back in college, I couldn't afford acid, and had already developed a dislike of television. We had gotten our first television when I was in elementary school. It was a small black and white TV with two mechanical dials, one for VHF and the other for UHF. The VHF dial gave the choice of twelve channels, from 2 to 13. I never figured out what happened to channel 1. UHF added around 70 more channel options. However, where I lived, we only had three VHF stations.

Acid, I was told, was like sitting down to watch a nine hour show, which you were the star of and which you couldn't turn off or change the channel. It was liked being trapped inside a your own bizarre movie. For years, I had been trapped inside my own little world. I was socially inept and had a speech impediment. Sure, I was mobile and verbal, but I had problems establishing friendships.

Yet for those trapped in a more socially responsible world, acid was an opportunity to look at things from a very different angle. Perhaps that is some of what makes Hunter S. Thompson so interesting. His acid crazed mind looked at Los Vegas, political campaigns, and so many other aspects of American culture from a drastically different viewpoint. This viewpoint resonated with many, thanks to his masterful wordsmanship.

I've been reading Fear and Loathing in Los Vegas on the trains to and from New York during Internet Week this year. Even without the acid, it seems to be helping me look at all of this from a much different viewpoint. It would be too easy to either fall into Internet Fanboydom on the one hand, or some sort of cynicism about the same forces that brought so much crap to the airwaves of my childhood now bringing it to the Internet.

Yet there is an interesting middle ground. The Internet can be a tool that enables people to authentically and creatively connect with other people. Yes, I realize I scored several buzzword bingo points with that sentence, but there is some truth to it.

The first hint of this interesting middle ground was my discussion with the guy from the Not Impossible Foundation who was showing the Eyewriter. This is a cheap do-it-yourself project where you can take parts of a standard pair of sunglasses, a webcam and a few other components and create a pair of glasses that track a persons eye movements. For a person who has lost all ability to move, and perhaps even speak, this is an incredibly enabling project. By moving ones eyes, a person can control a computer and connect with the people around the world. I talked about how this could be used in virtual worlds, like Second Life, and about the acessibilty projects friends of mine who are mobility challenged have done there.

Another toy that caught my eye was the makerbot project. This is essentially a three dimensional printer. If I recall properly, for about a thousand dollars, you can build a printer that will 'print' three dimensional objects. There are a group of people sharing things they have created.

Moving back closer to the field of television, there were a couple people pushing their Augmented Reality wares. Zugara had a couple great demos up. They have built their Augmented Reality code into Flash. The Flash code connects with the webcam and you can have games or shopping experiences on any Flash enabled computer with a webcam. Unfortunately, it seems to use Flash 10, and my Nokia N900 phone only supports Flash 9, so I haven't been able to test it on my phone. Total Immersion was another augmented reality player at Internet Week which apparently had a great Iron Man augmented reality game. Unfortunately, there wasn't anyone at the booth when I sstopped by, so I haven't had a chance to check it out.

The other vendor that particularly caught my eye there was Innovid. They provide interactive preroll for people creating advertisements for online videos. Their authoring language is very 'flash like' and it seems like an inspired video artist could do something very interesting by adding Zugara's Augmented Reality to Innovid's interactive preroll. This could be used for more than just the crass commercialism of online advertising, it could be part of a toolkit for a highly interactive video art form.

This weekend, many of my old college buddies will be gathering for a college reunion. They might trot out their old mantra about acid and television. On the other hand, if they've been following Internet Week, they just might come up with ideas even more creative.

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