Interactive and Ethical Blogging - Advice From The Experts

Make your blog more interactive! but do it ethically..


Two great sessions at the 2008 NC Science Blogging Conference offered up great insights on these two aspects of the blogger's craft. Janet Stemwedel ran the session on ethics and Dave Munger did the one on interactivity. That truly was an opportunity to learn from the experts. So just what did they have to say? You may want to read Janet's report, in which she calls for readers to help build the science blogging ethics wiki. Dave has posted "helpful stuff from my presentation..."

Their posts are very helpful but I thought I'd give you my impressions anyway.

My notes from Dave's presentation are scribbled on the back of a Scientist supplement on schizophrenia, so don't blame Dave for any oddities in what follows.

Dave suggested that the following are of crucial importance:

  • Stay on topic
  • Post frequently
  • Use short sentences
  • Have links...but not too many
  • Make your posts image and video rich
  • Be personal, but not too personal

Be regular, says Dave. Pick a schedule of posting and stick to it. It's more important to post regularly than to be perfect. And consider having a weekly feature that readers will come to expect (e.g. Janet Stemwedel's Friday Sprog Blogging). Well, this is some advice I could really take to heart...except it's so difficult for me to maintain a regular schedule of any sort, what with the migraines and all. Though I have vowed to try and be more regular in my posting. I should take more advantage of scheduled posting. That would be easier to do if I stopped worrying so much about being perfect and just let myself post more stuff (not that I achieve perfection...I just agonize endlessly over it.)

Dave also recommends sticking all kinds of good stuff into your blog - not just pictures and videos, but polls and surveys. Make them relevant to your readers, says Dave, stay on topic, and remember that polls aren't market research. They don't work for everything and you might want to consider surveys for more involved stuff. On the post of Dave's I referred to above, he gives some suggestions for polling and survey sites that might work for you. He also recommends using figures from papers or recreating part of them or a table. Fair use! he says.

Interestingly, to me, Dave does not recommend asking your readers to comment, and he also suggests that you refrain from responding to comments immediately, give your readers a chance to do so. Let the readers talk to each other, don't jump in all the time. This is more good advice for me to consider.

In the arena of self-promotion, Dave recommends "sucking up" to other bloggers: comment on their blogs, link to them, email other bloggers. But don't beg them to link to you. Especially if your blog gets 12 hits a day and the blogger you want to link to you is PZ Myers.

If you are considering adding polls or surveys to your blog, I would advise spending some time reading Cognitive Daily to see how Dave and Greta use them. They really are experts on this aspect of blog interactivity.

Dave also says that making your own videos is easier than you think, which may be true, but I suspect that making your own GOOD videos is not a piece of cake. Still, it's interesting to think about.

If you're still with me, let's talk about blog ethics a little. Janet talked about ethics as a matter of responsibility. Do we have a responsibility to science? with regard to what we can say on blog? There's a great summary of the main issues raised at Janet's presentation at the new wiki on science blogging ethics. The topics that intrigued me most were these:

  • Are we less skeptical of the views we agree with?
  • What responsibilities do we have to our readers?
  • What information do you need to post about yourself? - a description of what the blog is about, where you come from, what your policies are.
  • How do you deal with establishing your authority to speak on a given topic, if you are a pseudonymous blogger and can't post identifying information about yourself?

The discussion prompted me to think that it wouldn't be a bad idea to review what information I have posted about my blog and policies - does it need refined, expanded, how can I improve it? And I think I need to keep in the front of my mind the need to be just as skeptical of what I agree with as what I don't.

What other kinds of responsibilities might I have to my readers, besides offering them information about who I am, and attempting to be as broadly skeptical and unbiased as I can, while still advocating for the issues I think need to be aired? My comments policy to date has been pretty much anything goes; I think I've deleted a total of two or three comments since I started blogging, and those were really beyond the pale sorts of things - racist jokes, for example. I'd ask you what you think about that, but Dave Munger told me not to. :)

Visit the wiki to read more about a draft blogger's code of ethics, and for links to other posts discussing these issues. It's quite a conversation Janet has started for us all!

If you write about the ethics of blogging, be sure to let Janet know so she can add your post to the list!

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I can really relate to the tip about positing regularly. If I don't have a posting schedule, I put it off and it snowballs until suddenly I haven't posted in a week or more! Now, I have a set time every afternoon for blogging. Of course, I make time for "breaking stories", but in general, sticking to a schedule has helped me be a better blogger.

"Dave also recommends sticking all kinds of good stuff into your blog - not just pictures and videos, but polls and surveys."

I think this is reader-specific. Personally, I visit blogs to read original writing by bloggers, not to view pictures, videos, polls, surveys, or link vomitus. Of course, others differ.

Regularity helps in the sense that it is easier to build an audience if you keep your output consistent, rather than posting 20 times one week and not at all the next. Personally, I'm not sure that it's not worth stressing overmuch beyond that (and my readers seem quite forgiving of my habit of wandering off on fieldwork for weeks at a time).

Besides, the effort that you put in to your posts shows - they're always worth reading, and more, importantly, they always make me think.

"Dave also recommends sticking all kinds of good stuff into your blog - not just pictures and videos, but polls and surveys."

I think this is reader-specific. Personally, I visit blogs to read original writing by bloggers, not to view pictures, videos, polls, surveys, or link vomitus. Of course, others differ.

Posted by: PhysioProf | January 24, 2008 9:25 PM

I like the part about:
sticking all kinds of good stuff into your blog

Physio Prof makes a good point. I happen to like pictures and short video, a minute or 2. I think Dave's point emphasized variety, which of course is the spice of life! LOL!
Perhaps the bloggers could try new things and also ask specifically what their audience likes best or would like them to try. I write what I think is most interesting to the readers on my blog, but it never hurts to get the reader's feedback.
Thanks and have a great weekend!
Dave Briggs :~)