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My Year on the BBC Internet Blog

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Ian McDonald Ian McDonald | 17:08 UK time, Friday, 31 August 2012

Unique browsers steadily increase from mid-tens of thousands to mid-twenties, with peaks for major launches.

Unique browsers per week on the BBC Internet Blog from July 2011 (beginning of iStats figures, shortly after I joined) to the present

Sadly, like Dave Lee and Paul Murphy before me, it's my turn to move on from the BBC Internet Blog.

After spending fourteen months helping colleagues to blog about the work they do, I wanted to share more about the blog works. So I shall outline where blog posts come from, and try to shed some light on blogger interaction, traffic, and hosting decisions.

Nick Reynolds - who oversees the blog as Public Accountability Executive - suggested I pick a favourite blog post. But I find that hard when the strength of the blog is to be able to offer different perspectives on the same service - by editorial, technical, and design teams; from brief posts introducing new sites to professionals sharing the details of how they do their job.

The life of a Blog Post

Concepts for blog posts come from three places - Nick and I (watching out for upcoming developments and suggesting the authors blog about them), the BBC Digital Communications team, and - my obvious favourite - the authors themselves.

My job here is support the author - helping them draw out the most interesting parts of their story, to add links and explanations to terms that help broaden the reach of the post, and to help the style fit with a blog, and suggesting or finding interesting and different pictures.

For example, I sat down with Patrick Sinclair to talk about the interesting ways artist information gets from the DJ to the Radio 1 website during broadcast, so that more of that "crunch" gets into the post.

Jeremy Tarling and I added a bit more explanation to his BBC Weather technical architecture blog post to make it useful to a wider range of professionals without losing the specialist detail.

My job is to ensure that all blog posts wherever they comes from are interesting and revealing and personal enough to be a good blog post.

When a blog post goes up, I help let people know about it via @BBCcoUK on Twitter and other social media, and support the blogger in answering comments.

Your Conversations with Bloggers

Some of the bloggers - such as Andy Quested - need no encouragement to talk with you. The direct conversation is the great strength and of a blog, and it's my pleasure to host your conversation with the BBC's sitebuilders.

So, of the bloggers (excluding Nick and myself), who replies to comments most?

In the year from July 2011 to June 2012, Andy Quested led comments from bloggers with his in-depth conversations with users of 3DTV - commenting 99 times. The next three members of BBC staff had blogged about major product launches - Chris Kimber (Radio, 22 comments); James Thornett (Homepage, 19 comments); and Cait O'Riordan (Sport, 14 comments).

The graph of site traffic at the top of the post shows, as well as an upward trend, how traffic peaks with major launches like those - presumably because of the chance to communicate with the staff behind them.

Hosting the Conversation

Your comments are what make the blog post, and sometimes they drive new blog posts themselves.

As I've occasionally explained to colleagues, criticism of the BBC and its services are absolutely acceptable here, but I need to keep things polite, and on-topic.

The first line of moderation is outsourced, so obviously offensive comments can be judged by moderators 24/7; but questions of whether something is off-topic and other cases that depend on context are referred to hosts such as me.

I sometimes have to judge where criticism of someone's work shades into a personal attack, and although I'm keen that this is a place where people are free to say they don't like what the BBC does, I've drawn the line at calls for staff - who are still members of the community - to be fired.

When considering how strict or relaxed to be about potentially off-topic comments, I have to bear in mind both those of you who only read and those of you who want to comment as part of a free-wheeling discussion.

The old rule of thumb was that 90% of the audience would read, 9% would share, and 1% would comment. Holly Goodier has since blogged about research that suggests light interaction is actually more common than that; but what are the numbers for the BBC Internet Blog?

This graph shows the number of unique commenters expressed as a percentage of unique browsers in several weeks in late 2011. The numbers are from different sources and not exactly comparable, so this is only an estimate:

The percentage is much less than 1% except at the end, where it rises to almost 3%

Estimated percentage of browsers who commented on the BBC Internet Blog from July through November 2011, by week number. Unique browser numbers are taken from iStats. Numbers of user accounts making comments are from DNA.

You can see that the 1% rule still holds. In fact, the proportion is closer to 0.5%, except when many of you had much to say about a new launch, such as the new BBC Homepage.

So my thinking is that there are probably a hundred of you reading the comments for every one person writing them, and so keeping the comments easy to follow is often more important than letting an interesting discussion run free.

It's a close judgement that Nick and I often discuss. The appeals process does make me explain and discuss my decisions, and I know first-hand that appeals are sometimes upheld.

There have also been times when I've said that a question is off-topic only to discover that the blogger takes a much friendlier view and has already answered it!

As I'm the blogger as well as the host this time, I'll take a more relaxed view.

Evergreen Blog Posts

I started this blog post with a diagram of the traffic during my tenure on the blog. As well as an overall upward trend, you can see that the Olympics were record-breaking for us as well as for the rest of BBC Online.

But when I started to examine stats back in 2011, the top posts were not always what I expected them to be.

Evergreen blog posts, particularly about BBC iPlayer, do very well. This is partially because they stand the test of time, and partially because of some search engine sub-optimisation.

In Q3 2011 (July through September) the third most viewed blog post was Anthony Rose's 2009 blog post about BBC iPlayer on Playstation 3 (PS3), despite a new post on the same subject that talked about a newer better PS3 BBC iPlayer. The fifth most viewed post, also by Anthony Rose, was from 2008. Why?

You can see from the graph that the 2009 post got a sudden burst of traffic when Gideon Summerfield blogged about the new version of BBC iPlayer for PS3.

The traffic to the old blog post rises with the publication of the new, and temporarily surpasses it as the first buzz falls away.

Unique browsers per week for two blog posts about BBC iPlayer on PS3, from August 2011 to January 2012, starting in the week before the newer blog post, by Gideon Summerfield, is posted.

Some of you heard about the new version of BBC iPlayer and searched for more information about it. Search engines directed people to the old, 2009, blog post - which was well known and trusted by search engines - instead of the new 2011 one.

So to let people know about the new post, I added a note to the top of the old post, directing interested surfers to Gideon Summerfield's new blog post.

But search engines still directed people to the old blog post - so once the initial buzz had died down the old blog post attracted more browsers than the new one.

But by the end of the year, with the help of the link on the old post, the search engines learned, and the new blog post eclipsed the old one.

As a result of the policy of adding links to old posts, and better SEO on new posts, outdated blog posts are now a much smaller proportion of traffic.

Major blog posts about major topics still continue to attract lots of traffic. For example, David Madden's blog post from December last year about the BBC iPlayer on iPhone and via 3G streaming continued to top the page views chart for the quarter from April through June this year. It's a good blog post about a topic of wide interest that's still relevant.

On the other hand, much as Nick and I enjoy writing round-ups, they often don't attract as much traffic. So I haven't posted them as often as I would like.

It's been a privilege to work with all of you, in making BBC Online more transparent and accountable. If you wish to follow what I do next, I'm @DrIanMcDonald on Twitter. (Annoyingly, @IanMcDonald was taken.)

As always, I look forward to reading and answering your comments.

Ian McDonald was the Content Producer, BBC Internet Blog



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