Sunday, February 14, 2010

Survey results

Thanks to the 88 of you who took the time to complete the short survey which was posted a couple of weeks ago here, concurrent with the 1000th post.

I wanted to share the results with you today... as a prelude to a major announcement tomorrow.

The first question attempted to gather demographic data about my readership.
Of the 88 respondents, there were...
9 friends of mine
4 NOVA students of mine
6 GMU students of mine
1 undergraduate student at another Virginia school
5 undergraduate students at a non-Virginia school
1 graduate student at Virginia school
7 graduate students at a non-Virginia school
14 university faculty
6 two-year college faculty
6 high school Earth science teachers
27 professional geoscientists
28 amateurs who are interested in geology
21 residents of the greater Washington, D.C. metropolitan area
3 former residents of D.C. area
21 geobloggers
6 non-geology bloggers
60 U.S. citizens in the U.S.
1 non-U.S. citizen in the U.S.
2 U.S. citizens residing abroad
14 non-U.S. citizens, residing in their home countries
5 Libertarians
3 Republicans
13 politically-centrist folks
34 Democrats
42 Liberals
12 who don't consider themselves political at all

0 young-Earth creationists
2 old-Earth creationists
4 who describe themselves as "very religious"
6 who describe themselves as "moderately religious"
34 who describe themselves as "not religious"
14 who describe themselves as "spiritually inclined"
22 who describe themselves as "agnostic"
27 who describe themselves as "athiest"
63 avid readers
50 avid Internet surfers
13 avid television watchers
6 hermits
50 males
33 females
1 chemist (write-in response)
1 environmental activist (write-in response)
1 newly retired marine biologist/science editor (write-in response)
1 retired widower anti-Church Californian (write-in response)
1 fan of post-modern formalism
(my favorite write-in response!)
Analysis: That's about what I expected. I thank everyone for sharing this demographic data.

The second question asked people why they read NOVA Geoblog. The responses (click here to read them all, then "BACK" to return to this post) clumped together into several major themes:

Diversity of topics presented (7 responses)

DC-area affinities (9 responses)

Travel stories (12 responses)

Teaching ideas (12 responses)

Writing style (22 responses),
...described variously as clear, instructive, balanced, and enthusiastic

Topics being discussed (25 responses)

Illustrations, including photos, including annotated photos (28 responses)

Several people also mentioned these topics: the Patagonia series, virtual field trips, current events, and "fun!" One person comes here for environmental stuff. One comes for practicing their English skills.

Here are a few responses to the "why I read this blog" question that stood out to me:

"I appreciate the way you integrate all different levels of geology content quite seamlessly into your posts."

"I like the genuine enthusiasm for geology/nature and life that Callan presents. The blog is honest and upbeat."

"It's probably the geoblog from which I learn the most, in the sense of gaining new knowledge and skills, above all the skill of looking carefully and understanding what I see."

"[I] wonder how I can grow up to live the Callan Bentley lifestyle. ;-)"

I also asked people what they liked about NOVA Geoblog. Here's a little graph showing the number of responses to the proposed answers I gave as options:

But I also had a space for "other" answers, and several people availed themselves of that opportunity. Among the "other" responses were:

Geopuzzles / me posing questions for readers

Reiteration of the popularly-noted choice above: the photos, travel photos, annotated photos, and illustrations.

Timelessness. Here's a quote: "I like the fact that I can read and re-read the entire 1,000 entries. It's an education in itself, and a great resource. Case in point: last Autumn as I hiked in the Sierra Nevada I recognized boudins in a rock formation. I would never have known what they were if I hadn't learned about them from your blog. Thanks for enriching my adventures."

Analysis: The geological content is the driver for this blog. I'm blessed/cursed with 'geology-colored glasses,' and a compulsion to share my interest in geological topics. That's the main reason I write, and the main reason readers read. Additionally, people really seem to like the way I do photos, annotations and illustrations. So do I! As a visual learner, I'm pleased to have some reinforcing affirmation there. I promise to continue that trend into the future (major announcement tomorrow about what the future holds).

If I'm going to ask about pros, I should also ask about cons; so I did. Here's the graph accompanying the question "What do you dislike about NOVA Geoblog?"

Less of a response here, probably not surprisingly. In the "other" category, we had the following items of feedback. My responses are in brackets, italics, and red type.

a lot of "there's nothing I dislike about it" (16 out of 36 "other" responses) [CB: Cool. Thanks.]

"I view blogs as personal diaries and as such I don't find much to dislike about a particular blog. If I don't enjoy the presentation of information on some level I simply stop reading the blog. This isn't the case with NOVA Geoblog. I think there is a diverse range of subject matter presented here and therein lies its value. I'm not always interested in the material and I don't always agree fully with the analysis, but I probably wouldn't be a geologist if I did. For myself, the point of reading a blog is to be aware of the scope of interests of other geoscientist in the world and NOVA Geoblog achieves this aim." [CB: I welcome alternative interpretations of the rocks or geologic systems that I write about. Chime in via the comments section!]

"It could be better organized, using tags & categories to make posts on particular themes easier to find." [CB: Point taken. You're right. This will be solved with the changes I unveil tomorrow.]

"This blog is well-balanced like perfect hoppy beer." [CB: Cheers!]

"It's not really about NOVA." [CB: Not all the time, no. The title wasn't meant to convey that all the content would be NOVA-focused, just that's where I'm writing from.]

"Callan (you!) often writes with the tone of voice of a DC native, i.e., a Beltway insider. To change that you will probably have to live in other places for a few years. I suggest a mix of rural areas, small towns, small cities, and big cities in Mississippi, Wisconsin, and New York." [CB: Hilarious! I've lived in Arlington and Williamsburg, Virginia; Martinsville, Indiana; the San Bernardino Mountains of California; a remote village in Mongolia (Ereentsav Sum, Dornod Aimag); the San Juan Islands of Washington; Homer, Alaska; and now in urban Washington, D.C. I've also spent the equivalent of several months apiece living in the high Sierra of California, and in Bozeman, Montana. I'm quite literally inside the Beltway these days, and doubtless I write with that perspective -- but I'm not lacking in experience of living elsewhere. Furthermore, I've got my dream job in a geologically-interesting place, surrounded by people I love. Unless something fundamental were to change, I'm not moving anywhere anytime soon.]

One person complained about the survey: that some of my questions were flippant, or that they could not imagine how they could be relevant. Specifically, they took issue with some of the demographic questions in Question #1 about U.S. citizenship and the "hermaphrodite" option. In response, I would say: I was just curious, that's all. Sorry that my asking offended you. As for "hermaphrodite," I was just trying to keep the mood light. My bad.

"Not really a complaint specific to this blog, but sometimes comments/questions posted in the comments section are left without response, which is somewhat puzzling in light of the professed desire for more comments. Lack of response to legitimate questions or remarks aimed at generating further discussion of an interesting topic (of course flames/trolls and spam are not to be encouraged) tends to discourage further commenting, and makes the reader think that the blogger is indifferent, or perhaps only interested in receiving praise--which raises a good question: what do bloggers want or expect to receive in their comments sections?" [CB: This is an excellent point. I am fully to blame for leaving legitimate questions hanging without a response. There are two specific examples that come immediately to mind: a twice-asked question about Ordovician glaciation evidence in the mid-Atlantic region, and a question about whether the Michigan Basin could be a bolide impact crater. Both of these comments continue to sit (fermenting?) in my e-mail inbox, as I wait for a time when I can compose a full, thoughtful response, including doing additional research about the Ordovician glaciation question. As for other questions 'left hanging,' I take the full blame, and I intend to change my frequency of commenting. In fact, I've been both commenting more, and getting a lot more comments, since the 1000th post that kicked off this self-reflection and request for feedback.]

Analysis: The prime complaint is one I anticipated: that the DC-area announcements were wearing thin on non-DC-area readers. With tomorrow's announcement, I will solve that problem. The complaint that struck home most forcefully with me is the last one in the list above, about the comments. I resolve to respond to all legitimate questions on the blog, and if I don't have a ready answer, then I'll use my response to say so.

Finally, and most prosaically, I asked how often people visited the blog. Here's the graph:

There were a few "others" here, too. They specified which RSS feed they used, or said things like "a few times a week." Nothing shocking there.

Analysis: The majority of people who read this blog either make it a daily habit or automate the habit via an RSS feed. If you haven't yet learned about RSS (Really Simple Syndication) yet, allow me to advise you: You really, really should. It's Really Simple. I recommend setting up an IG page with your Google account, and importing RSS feeds there. Alternatively, pipe them into your Google Reader account. It's quite simple to set up, and the best part is your computer will do all the work for you, scouring the web for the latest, and bringing it to one single page, where you can then view it. For instance, I personally subscribe to 183 separate blogs via RSS. Some update several times a day, others once daily, others sporadically. As far as I'm concerned, I no longer have to care about how frequently they update. If there's something new, I'll see it. If not, I don't have to think about it. With the RSS, I can be confident that I'm not missing anything, and I don't have to invest any effort or time seeking out the content.

Thanks everyone for all the feedback. I sincerely appreciate it. Tomorrow I'll reveal the future of my blogging.



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