Saturday, July 31, 2004

Q-tip

It looks like there’s a bit of confusion as to the ‘q’ measurement in my little blogging theory. Let me draw attention to Caveat One from the text:

“1 - The quality of the links, the choice of topics to write about and the general tone of the blog is outside the scope of my little measurements. Don’t try to subsume any of these factors into the ‘q’ measurement.”

I think it actually needs a bit of clarification. In hindsight, I chose the wrong word to describe the thing I was measuring. ‘Quality’ is a very high level abstract term that is used to describe the degree to which a product/service achieves it’s goals. That’s not what ‘q’ was about at all.

What ‘q’ measures is how important the writing in the blog (it’s style, it’s complexity, it’s richness of form and it’s length) is to the reader. It’s a measurement on a continuum from 0% (reader doesn’t care one iota, the writing can be full of typos and grammatical errors) to 100% (reader cares about nothing but the style of the writing).

So, say I asked my readers: “Out of 100%, what % satisfaction do you get from the way I write things (q) and what % from how often I post on this blog (t)?”

Imagine I received the following data back:

1 – q = 70, t = 30
2 – q = 95, t = 5
3 – q = 80, t = 20
4 – q = 75, t = 25

I can work out that my average q is 80 and my average t is 20. So when I’m writing a post that’s taken me 3 days already and I wonder at whether I should put it up as is now or if I can leave it for one more day, I have some framework within which I can make that judgement call. 80% of the satisfaction my readers get is from the fact that I have polished the writing to a certain extent, 20% is from the fact that they get the writing asap. Now, stretch it out to my 16th day writing the same post, and I might look at the fact that no matter how well I polish it, I’ve blown the ‘t’ factor severely by delaying posting, so there will only be – at most - 80% satisfaction for that post. Time to just stick it up there and start working on the next one.

The other thing I’m assuming is that the q/t measurements (Well, assumptions, actually, unless you actually go out and ask your readers.) are taken from the point of view of the kind of reader you want in the first place. Why? Well, because blogs do actually need readers and it’s only really worth caring about those readers you want to keep.

A blog can have many purposes. Hopefully, the primary purpose is to satisfy a need of the blogger who owns it. It’s important that a blog stays ‘true’ to what it was set out to do – whether it be delivering the latest gossip quickly, dissemminating good poetry, discussing the fin length of Siamese Fighting Fish or arguing a political point. Whatever it’s reson d’etre, it has an ideal target audience – people who know what the hell it’s author is on about or those who are interested in finding out. Some blogs (political come to mind) might also want to attract people with opposing political views to read, comment and contribute to the general discussion. This just tells me that it’s important to attract and RETAIN your ideal audience. You retain an audience by giving it what it wants and delivering it in the way it wants the material delivered. Q and t are just attempts at guessing how my audience wants my writing delivered.

You may say that that’s superfluous to the main reason that people will read a blog or not – which is the blog’s contents. I agree that it’s a side issue, contents will always be what will set the tone and character of the blog. But just how many blogs are there about any one topic? Quite a few. I surmise that readers find a handful on a topic they’re interested about and then whittle them down. I’m betting that that whittling has to do with those secondary factors – the way things are written (q) and how quickly things are delivered (t).

What I don’t want to do is state that high ‘q’, low ‘t’ blogs are somehow better than high ‘t’, low ‘q’ blogs – they aren’t. This is going to be one of those rare times that you’ll hear me say it’s not better or worse, just different.

A low ‘q’ blog isn’t bad, it just is what it is – a low ‘q’ blog. It just means that the people coming to the blog look to something else to satisfy their need – I thought the other major factor could be Timeliness (t). Who knows? There may a whole raft of other things as well, from the diversity of the blogroll to the colour scheme of the blog. Each would play a part, or contribute some percentage to the satisfaction the reader obtains from visiting.

This really boils down to fitness for purpose. Just as you wouldn’t use a Ferrari to plow a field, Instapundit wouldn’t be most efficient at doing what he does by writing 2 pages of florid prose next to each link. That’s not what his readers look for (methinks) and it would hamper his ability (time-wise) to find so many interesting things to link to in a day. I’d guess he has a very low ‘q’ blog, but would by no means state that his blog is any worse for it.

In the end, what I DO know is that high satisfaction = high return rate. High return rate = loyal audience. Loyal audience (of the right target group) = good blog. I want to have a good blog, so I want to satisfy my audience.

If I were to draw analogies, then I would do so to making love, scratching a cat or cooking for someone. The key isn’t just to perform the task, it’s to make your subject purr from the delivery.

M

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