Monday, May 01, 2006

"Flash Blog" Experiment With The Boston Marathon

The blogosphere, like most things, has taken on somewhat of a hierarchical structure. The A-list bloggers get most of the mindshare while most others are relegated to the "long tail". However, are there areas of the blogoshpere where A-list bloggers might not be in control of mindshare? The answer comes down to why people read blogs. The first reason is to be engaged in a community, whether it is around business or politics. A-list bloggers will probably always dominate this sphere. The second reason people read blogs is to find information on a specific topic. I believe it is here where the "long tail" can gain mindshare. To test this, I decided to run an experiment on something called a flash blog; a short-life blog on a limited topic. My hypothesis was that a short lifespan blog that provided real-time information around a time-limited event might grab some blogosphere mindshare.

This year's Boston Marathon provided a good base for the experiment. Wouldn't someone rather read a blog from a runner actually running the course than a journalist covering the event? The morning of the race, I launched a new blog with one introductory post. I then ran the marathon as a non-qualified runner (e.g., "bandit") and wrote 8 posts from my blackberry before and during the race. The day after the race, I posted a race wrap-up entry. Here is an analysis of the blog traffic, looking at returning visitors as a percentage of total visitors:



I did not completely "control" this experiment; I told four friends and co-workers about the blog, one who subsequently blogged about it on the day of the race and another who sent an email blast the day after the race. It's impossible for me to completely separate those who found this site through search versus those who were "pushed" the site, but from what I could tell, quite a few found the site through search. Here is what I took away from my quasi-experiment:

  • The blog's lifespan was intense and short. Traffic essentially dried up after the third day, with only sporadic visitors still coming. Readers understood the nature of the flash blog and its limited focus; they didn't come back expecting more content a week after the event.
  • Readers fell into either a "real-time" or "wrap-up" category. "Real-time" readers read posts on the day of the race and were engaged, with ~69% of them returning to follow the progress. "Wrap-up" readers read all the posts after the race in one sitting with less repeat traffic.
  • Reader commitment and participation was low. I believe that readers only wanted the "play by play" and nothing else. I received only a few comments and these were from acquaintances.
  • Legitimacy was achieved by the fact that I was "on the ground". There was no other reason for people to read my posts. I provided no biographical data.

So, with any experiment, the key question is, what can flash blogs be used for? Here are a two thoughts:

  • Provide focused, short term coverage with no commitment. Most blogs are perpetual and require some commitment from the writer and reader. Implicit in their build, flash blogs are casual and quick relationships, more akin to news articles. An individual can use them to provide one-off information on something he or she feels important about. A corporation can use them in its marketing plan for very short-term product launch coverage. To some extent, companies have been doing this.
  • Use mindshare from a flash blog as an on-ramp to a perpetual blog. Taking advantage of traffic around a certain event, an individual could funnel the traffic to a perpetual blog. Readers gain because they "try out" the content before becoming a perpetual reader.

I'm sure others have tested these concepts more thoroughly and likely have ideas; I'd be interested to hear them.

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Joe McGonegal said...

hello--looking to talk to you about banditing. please email if you can. thanks.

MIchael Gulinello said...

Whats up man I just read your "flash blog". I'm running as a bandit on Monday I'm 27 with Cystic Fibrosis and have heard a lot of crap about bandits being pulled and qualified runners are bitching at me for being open to running as a bandit. I embrace the idea because not many people like my self will ever qualify or have the resources to raise a couple thousand dollars to run. I'm inspired even more to run after reading your blog and can't wait to have a beer right before heart break hill. Thanks for sharing with the web world.