Discoverability in an Emerging Space

With the Blogs at Penn State project fully opened as a controlled pilot (can you be fully open in a pilot?) I am finding it difficult to discover blogs across our new PSU Blogosphere. When I do come across new PSU Blogs I instantly add them to Google Reader and have been enjoying getting to know people on campus via their blogs very much.

The Blogs at Penn State is a centrally managed environment that allows users to create and publish blogs into their personal webspace. At PSU we give people 500 MB of default webspace that they can easily expand by asking politely … this webspace can be used for anything they want — as long as they adhere to some basic policies. The nice thing about this is that people’s bogs seem like they really do belong to them and that they are part of an already established technological cultural understanding — whatever the hell that is.

The big issue for lots of people is finding these blogs. Yesterday the stats told me we have about 700 active blogs out there in the PSU Blog Cloud … finding them is tough. Sure, we can create a directory that lists every blog, but I’m not sure that is the right thing to do. I have talked to more than one person who doesn’t want their blog listed in a directory — sure they know it is open, but the effort it takes to discover it makes them feel better. My colleague, Brad Kozlek, recently created a self-service Blog Directory where individuals can choose to list their blogs. This seems to work, but as we go from pilot to production what really is the best thing to do.

I have seen other schools where they do pull out the latest posts, comments, and links to display on a Blogs at the University home-page — that scares the hell out of me. Remember, these spaces are tied to personal webspace for a reason … they are personal. Not everyone is down with that kind of exposure. So for now, the self-service model is what lives on … it just feels silly asking people to visit another site to “register” their blog. There has to be a better way.

6 thoughts on “Discoverability in an Emerging Space

  1. 700 active blogs, congrats on that as a success! Yet, at that number, finding a single solution that fits for all will be the curse type of living in interesting times.

    As you have alluded– does every/most/some blog writers *want* to be discovered? Why or why not? My gut says that these are not blogs seeking to move up an “A” list to expand readership. Then again, there are solid reasons why they ought to be, e.g. so people can perhaps use some tools aggregate blogs that interest them, or are related (say people working on projects together).

    Is there some way to collect a preference when a blog account is generated (check box to include in a searchable directory)? One might see a search (on title, author, description of blog??) that could return results as links / RSS/ OPML.

    Or to another realm- are the blogs indexed or not in Google? That leads you down a search route.

    Or resort to a large scale effort, with human filtering, of periodically scanning the blogs in say Google Reader, and marking selected stories as “Shared” which is then easily republished out to sites using the Google snippet code. Maybe this could even be done as a student project so students are selecting other students posts worth sharing.

    But wow, 700 blogs in a pilot, way to go Lions!

  2. an obliquely related question:

    do we know the distribution of storage usage among our 45K (at UP…) personal ‘webspace’ users?? i’ll guess that its not normally distributed among users — probably a log distribution with lots of low-storage users and a few ‘hogs’.

    i was really thinking about reading between 700 and 45K blogs on a regular basis… not sure how that would all fit in my reader(s)..

  3. Guy/Cole

    Question: Is this limited (as Guy implies) to UP only? If not, then what is the total number that could be potentially using the Penn State Blog system?

    Cole, you mention the “Blog Cloud”–is there a way to automate the creation of that cloud, visually, as part of the greater Blog Effort?

    I know there are search engines out there that enable “cloud-like” searches. For instance, Kartoo, and Ujiko do those sorts of things. If Penn State were to make, at the “entry point” to the blogs, such a search engine openly available, then anyone could search the blogs for those topics, thoughts, ideas, or people, that interest them.

    Just a thought.

  4. It does make sense to integrate the ability to add a blog to the directory right into the blog creation process and blog settings. One thing I did find interesting is that Some PSUers are adding blogs to the directory that are not part of our blog service. Makes sense to me.

    I could see a visual representation of blogs as having a lot of potential. There is also the typical user-submitted content site model of listing content that is new/popular/featured/etc.

    When you add a blog to the directory, you can describe the blog with tags. This allows your blog to be discovered based on relationships to other blogs.

  5. Congratulations on 700! And I share this pleasure: “When I do come across new PSU Blogs I instantly add them to Google Reader and have been enjoying getting to know people on campus via their blogs very much.”

    Question to add: have you looked into Technorati searching, or tags?

  6. Pingback: Cole Camplese: Learning & Innovation » Overwhelmed with Content?

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