A new project at Experiment.com is looking at why people read science blogs. But what do we know about why people read blogs at all?
Convenient Information Seeking: Bloggers help curate information in an increasingly complex and varied online media world. By following my favorite bloggers, I’m able to quickly catch up on news and issues of the day in a subject area that interests me (like science, or perhaps more specifically astronomy or physics or medical news).
Anti-Traditional Media Sentiment: Kaye found that blog readers often use blogs as an alternative source of information to traditional media sources such as newspapers and TV. This could be to either “fact check” traditional media sources or because they don’t trust traditional media sources. We can measure these motivations to use science blogs by asking people how often they use blogs to “check accuracy of other media,” “find information not in traditional media,” or “compare traditional media accounts.”
Expression/Affiliation: How often do you read blogs to find information for your OWN blog, or to help guide the collection of your thoughts on an issue you’ve been hearing about in the news? How often do you read blogs to feel involved in an online community, often a very specific community, and to engage with members of that community if only through the occasional blog comment or Twitter interaction? You might want to connect with a community of other graduate students struggling just as you are through their PhDs. These various reasons for using blogs fall under a broad “expression/affiliation” motivation category.
Guidance/Opinion Seeking: Most bloggers aren’t tied to a particular news organization or outlet (although some are) and thus have more freedom to express their opinions. And they often do so. Some bloggers focus their writing on giving advice to others — advice on how to survive graduate school, for example. Sometimes I just want to know what a particular blogger thinks about an issue or news event, because I trust him/her or because I think he/she is interesting or “like me.” So instead of reading “objective” news from journalists I don’t know, I read blogs, where people I’m familiar with lay it all out for me.
Blog Ambiance: This blogger just tells damn good stories! I like passing my time here…
Personal Fulfillment: Blogs may simply be a form of entertainment, amusement or passing the time. Scholars have found that seeking entertainment and information are often major blogging motivations, particularly “the desire for entertainment, information, and efficiency,” (Park, B., SooKyoung A., and HaeJung K., 2010,Blogging: mediating impacts of flow on motivational behavior). I’m sure we all read a handful of blogs because, well, the authors are funny and they always post entertaining yet educational videos! (Or just entertaining…)
Political Debate: This broad motivational factor for using blogs pertains specifically to political blogs. It probably looks a lot like opinion-seeking, but on political issues.
Variety of Opinion: Kaye found that some readers go to the blogosphere for the sheer variety of opinions it offers. If I’m disappointed with the polarized nature of national media outlets today, or by the fact that all the major news outlets seem to be discussing the exact same things, I may appreciate the diversity of opinions in the blogs that I follow.
Specific Inquiry: Finally, people go to blogs to find specialized and specific information that they are looking for. If I love all things insect-related, I’ll follow Bug Gwen’s colorful, gross, weird and amazing Charismatic Minifauna Wired blog. Because honestly, I’d be hard pressed to find the same depth and breadth of (entertaining) information and news on insects in any other medium (for example on TV or in my local newspaper).
Kaye used a “Uses and Gratifications” framework for studying why people engage with blogs. Uses and gratifications theory assumes that people actively seek out media, that their media use is goal-directed, that media exposure fulfills a variety of human needs and that people seek out media that will gratify their particular needs.
One of the questions we are trying to answer with the “Oh My Science Blog!” survey project is, which of these motivations to access blogs apply to science blogs? Are science blog readers looking to be personally fulfilled and entertained by the blog content they engage with? Or are they predominantly seeking the opinions of the bloggers whose blogs they follow? It would do science bloggers good to know what needs their readers are looking to gratify when they engage with science blogs.
“Little blog research includes readers, and none focuses on reading practices and strategies… If we are to design tools to facilitate readers in their activity of reading blogs, we should first come to a greater understanding of the current practices surrounding blog reading.” — Baumer & Fisher, 2008, Smarter blogroll: An exploration of social topic extraction for manageable blogrolls.
If you find this research interesting, share and support our project here: https://experiment.com/mysciblogreaders
Originally published as a lab note at https://experiment.com/mysciblogreaders