Blogging surveys tend to ask the wrong questions

The latest numbers about blogging terms reaching the mainstream masses have little interest to me based on the questions that have been asked. Asking people on the street if they can define RSS or podcasting is like asking about a PSTN or 802.11g wireless networks. It makes much more sense to focus on current uses of the technology to determine the pervasiveness of new ideas.

I’ll use my mom as an example because she is afraid of her computer crashing if she changes anything, even plugging in a new keyboard. Some of the news she cares about the most is thousands of miles away and not well covered by TV, radio, or print publications in California.

My mom would love to have daily updates on a few things: the latest news from Ireland, the latest news from in and around my brother’s military base in Iraq, and updates from my sisters’ schools. If she happens to be home at the right time on a Monday night she can catch 22 minutes of news geared towards Irish-Americans interested in what’s going on “back home.” My parents visit a blog to find the latest news from my brother’s base in Iraq, but they have no clue they are reading what some people call a blog. She visits school websites to find the latest general news.

If my mom opened up her web browser and found all her favorite news sources in one place, time-shifted and waiting for her on her schedule, she would probably be using RSS, podcasting, or some other fancy word but wouldn’t be able to tell you what is powering the experience.

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6 comments

Commentary on "Blogging surveys tend to ask the wrong questions":

  1. Greg Linden on wrote:

    In terms of the news, the problem is that she cannot do all the work — the customization and configuration — required to use an RSS reader to get the information she needs?

    So, what do you think would work for her? Something that learned what she needed and surfaced the information automatically? Or something else?

    I do find it useful to look at what “grandma” wants and would be willing to use. We geeks are willing to tolerate a lot more pain from our software than is normal.

  2. Niall Kennedy on wrote:

    New sources of information for my mom tend to come from friends and relatives and not computerized recommendations.

    If she could see a view of the aggregated activity of some of these more trusted sources she might be willing to explore new content.

    I believe it’s a similar answer for the TV and radio she tunes into. If she was able to see a view into topics from her favorite talk radio host or easily follow-up on what was discussed on the Irish TV show, she probably would.

  3. Greg Linden on wrote:

    That’s interesting!

    So, some kind of a social networking thing, perhaps along the lines of Yahoo My Web 2.0, but where she didn’t have to put any effort in setting up the network?

    And, it sounds like she’d like the recommendations from friends and relatives to be supplemented with recommendations from experts?

  4. James G. on wrote:

    I was just writing/thinking about this earlier today, as always, great points.

  5. Simon McDermott on wrote:

    Hi Niall,

    Of course the underlying technology shouldn’t be of importance to most users. My own mother came across blogging the first time when she searched for Gucci handbags and the best result was blog on the subject. To my mother it was just a web site with content from someone who loved the bags. There is still some way before she sets up a blog but who knows if companies like Moleskine or other brands with writing credentials set them up, easy to use etc? Also a recent TNS/Siemens study says that by 2020 everyone will have their own online presence, we’ll have to wait and see (14 years in fact :)

    By the way, I am Irish living abroad (in Belgium), I don’t know if your mother goes back often but it has changed so much in the last 15 years, incredible!!!

    Simon

  6. Ed Terpening on wrote:

    I wholeheartedly agree that most of these studies ask the wrong questions, or at least in a way that doesn’t relate to the typical consumer. I subscribe to the notion that technologies like RSS are really just plumbing, and will find itself instantiated in more and more every day apps, without the consumer knowing about.

    Great discussion here!