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Bloggers, Blotanists, and Superblotanists

March 25, 2010

Blotanical front page screenshotThe first day of spring was sunny, mild and gorgeous in Boston, where I was attending the annual meetings of the Eastern Sociological Society . It was the perfect day to be standing in front of an audience of sociologists talking about the virtual community of gardeners and garden bloggers known as Blotanical.

My paper explored how community is created at Blotanical, how this is helped along by the  structure of the website, and who becomes an active member. (Those who would like to see the whole paper in its full academic glory can click here.) In an earlier post (Blotanical: A Virtual Gardening Community), I discussed the creation of community at Blotanical; this post focuses on patterns of participation among new members.

Because most members come to Blotanical as a blog directory and only learn about the social networking aspects after they join, I was interested in learning which members would become active participants. I followed 116 new members who joined Blotanical between September 16 and October 22 2009, checking their participation levels one month and then again two months after they were added to the Blotanical rolls. I measured participation by using information readily available on members’ “plots”: how many times they had logged in, how many messages they had sent, how many posts they had picked, how many faves they had selected, and their total number of points.

Bloggers and Blotanists

The first thing I learned was that most garden bloggers who join Blotanical do not become active Blotanists. After one month, my 116 new Blotanical members divided roughly into thirds. One third had minimal activity after joining (at most logging in a few times). Another third had had more than minimal activity (mostly more logins), but couldn’t really be described as active. Only the final third got actively involved in Blotanical’s system of picks and faves and messages during their first month as members. I thought maybe some people just took more time to learn how to use Blotanical, but that wasn’t the case. Members generally participated less during the second month than they did during the first. More than half of my 116 new members had minimal Blotanical activity during their second month, and fewer than one in four were still active Blotanists at the end of two months.

Who is likely to become an active Blotanist? By gleaning some descriptive information from the plots and blogs of my group of new members, I discovered two characteristics that made a difference in who became an active Blotanist. The first was gender. It’s not just that most garden bloggers are women and that most Blotanical members are women; men who do join Blotanical are much less likely to become active participants than are women. Only one of every 5 men who joined during the period I studied ever became active Blotanists, but almost half the women who joined during this period did. But men who became active members were more likely to stay active, while women were more likely to reduce their participation during the second month of membership.

Becoming an active Blotanist was also influenced by a blogger’s professional relationship to horticulture. I divided members into four groups: those who were amateur gardeners, those with Master Gardener or equivalent certificates, those who worked in horticulture-related professions (for example, garden designers), and those who wrote a blog as part of the website of a horticulture-related business (for example, a nursery). Although most of my 116 new members were amateur gardeners, most of those amateurs never became active Blotanists. The group most likely to become active were the master gardeners; more than half of them were active participants throughout their first two months as Blotanical members. On the other end of the spectrum, those writing blogs for business websites were particularly unlikely to become active Blotanists.

The Superblotanists

As I did my research, I discovered one small group of new members (7 out of the 116) who became very active very quickly and kept up that high level of activity throughout the first two months of membership. I came to think of them as the “Superblotanists.” In order to be included in this group, members had to earn at least 500 points per month. But, in fact, most Superblotanists earned far more; they earned an average of more than 1300 points during the first month. And, unlike most other new members, the Superblotanists became even more active during their second month of membership, earning an average of over 2000 points. One Superblotanist earned more than 6000 points during the second month of membership!

Although their numbers are small, the Superblotanists are a very important presence at Blotanical. Because they spend so much time there, picking posts, exchanging messages with other members, welcoming newbies, leaving comments on others’ blogs, and just generally interacting with so many other members, the Superblotanists are critical to creating the strong sense of active community that so many Blotanical members value.

I’m not sure how long any one member can sustain this very high level of involvement with Blotanical. My guess is that people cycle in and out of this role as their available time and interest ebb and flow. It would be fun to go back and look at my group of 116 again now that they are no longer newbies. Are the Superblotanists still maintaining such a high level of activity? Have some who were only moderately active during their first two months become Superblotanists? Are there bloggers who were not active during their first two months who have now moved into the ranks of the Blotanists?

I am also interested in learning more about why members do or don’t become active members of the virtual community. What pushes them away from being active Blotanists? Or what pulls them in? I would be very interested in hearing from  Blotanical members who are not active Blotanists, those who are, and those whose participation levels have changed over time.

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131 Comments leave one →
  1. March 25, 2010 2:35 pm

    Jean, that was so interesting! If I could give you 2 picks for this post I would. Great post that I’m sure a lot of people will find very interesting!
    You must be sociologist. I did read that about you on your blog a long time ago. 🙂 Thanks for the post!

  2. March 25, 2010 2:42 pm

    I need more coffee today. You are a sociologist and I bet they found it very interesting!

    • Jean permalink*
      March 25, 2010 7:54 pm

      Amy, Yep, I’m a sociologist — which means that I actually get paid for thinking about stuff like this. How cool is that!

  3. March 25, 2010 2:43 pm

    Well done, Jean. Thorough and concise as always. The study of the active members at Blotanical is a fascinating thing, and you have the knowledge to get to the gist of it. We look forward to hearing from some of those newbies, and their reasons for doing whatever it is they did. You are right about there being a cycle to the blotanical activity for some of us old time members. It sometimes correlates to gardening season where we live, when we are more likely to be out gardening than inside writing about it. 🙂

    • Jean permalink*
      March 25, 2010 7:44 pm

      Frances, Thank you. I’m glad you thought it was concise; a blog post that runs to over 1000 words is definitely pushing the envelope, and I kept trying to pare away a few more words (all the time with Strunk and White whispering in my ear, “Omit needless words; omit needless words”). I think you bring up an important point about seasonal patterns in Blotanical participation. Would I have found different patterns if I had done this research in a different season? All the reason to go back and look at my sample during the gardening season (in this hemisphere). It might also be useful to take a new sample of people who join in late spring/early summer and see what happens in their first two months. I can already see that this wants to turn into a much bigger research project!

  4. March 25, 2010 2:43 pm

    How interesting Jean! I first signed up for Blotanical early in 2009 but only began coming over here in October I think. I had so much on my plate with the gardens and guests etc. to give the time to understanding how to get around the site. It was too overwhelming for me then. I did not have a clue what faves or picks were. I did come over when receiving a notice of a fave and saw the sweet Welcome notes but did not understand what I was to do. It was when the garden slowed down that I had more time to explore Blotanical and I have been hooked since. It can take a good deal of time exploring blogs … reading posts, commenting often and picking… not sure how I will manage when my gardens wake up.

    • Jean permalink*
      March 25, 2010 7:48 pm

      Carol, Thanks for sharing this history. It sounds like I would have classified you in your first two months as one of those “minimal” participants — so you provide an example of how people can become active later — and again, as in Frances’s comment, the time constraints of the garden season are critical in the timing. A lot of food for thought here.

  5. Elephant's Eye permalink
    March 25, 2010 4:00 pm

    Thank you. Since I couldn’t be there, I am off to read the full version. I had a post written and ready, about ‘Playing Blotanical’ but I’m sitting on it, until Stuart makes his changes. Maybe P B is all just too much stress, on top of a busy life. Unless you have a blogging addiction, and then it sucks you in.

    • Jean permalink*
      March 25, 2010 7:52 pm

      Diana, If you read the full paper, you’ll get much more than the people who were there — since I only was allowed 20 minutes to give them the highlights. The only thing they got which you won’t is my wardrobe choice for the occasion — a jacket by a local Maine craftswoman, made of linen with a virtual garden of hand-painted flowers growing upward from hem to shoulders! I’ll look forward to your post about Playing Blotanical.

      • elephant's eye permalink
        March 26, 2010 8:49 am

        Now you know, you have to do a blog post about The Jacket, and The Craftswoman … pretty please?

  6. March 25, 2010 4:51 pm

    I’m really looking forward to reading your paper in a moment Jean. Being still quite new, the importance of the ‘Superblotanists’ that you describe rings true to me. It was the active invitations to interact that got me off the sidelines and participating.

    • Jean permalink*
      March 25, 2010 8:08 pm

      Heidi, I’m really blown away by the number of people who have been downloading that academic paper; I didn’t expect that. I must say that the sweetest words any sociological researcher can hear is to have a participant in the social world they are studying say “That rings true to me.” Thank you for sharing your experiences.

  7. March 25, 2010 4:53 pm

    Lots of info!

    I just signed up a month or so ago… good fun.

    • Jean permalink*
      March 25, 2010 8:08 pm

      Hi DG, Welcome to Blotanical. It is good fun, isn’t it? I hope you find all this information helpful.

  8. March 25, 2010 4:58 pm

    Thanks for this interesting post! I am an active member, and I have thought about why I spend time at blotanical. My reasons are:
    1. I really want to share my garden.
    2. I enjoy seeing other’s gardens. I like getting ideas from other gardeners.
    3. When I found blotanical I was looking for a website listing garden bloggers. Here I struck pay dirt!
    4. I enjoy gardening, writing, and photography, and blogging brings them all together. And what’s the point of a blog if no one reads it, so I do what I can to build readership.

    I tend to blog late in the evening or on rainy days. It’s a nice hobby, but I do have many other things in my life. So some weeks I am more active than others.

    • Jean permalink*
      March 25, 2010 8:21 pm

      Deb, These are wonderfully thoughtful comments. Thank you! A lot of what you’ve written seems to be as much a reason for blogging as for being active at Blotanical. Is the benefit of Blotanical mostly about building readership, or is there something more going on that has to do with building relationships with other gardeners? It does seem to me that Blotanical members sometimes develop friendships with one another that go beyond just what you get from reading and commenting on one another’s blogs. Yet more food for thought! If I’m not careful, this may turn into my life’s work. 🙂

  9. March 25, 2010 6:26 pm

    You spent a lot of time researching! I found it very interesting.
    I blog because I want my area to get more recognition as a nice place to garden and live. All too often the area gets forgotten, even though it’s a historical location.
    The only way to generate traffic to a blog is to visit other blogs and comment.
    In other words, you reap what you sow.
    Some people don’t want to spend a lot of time visiting other blogs. Maybe because they work long hours outside the home, or feel their content would not be of interest to others.
    It’s also great to network with other gardeners for trading.

    • Jean permalink*
      March 25, 2010 8:49 pm

      Ceara, Thanks for your comments. The big question I have at this point is how participation in Blotanical’s system of picks, faves, messages, etc. helps you and others to accomplish what you want to accomplish by blogging. Is it the case, for example, that people are more likely to visit your blog and comment on it if, in addition to visiting and commenting on their blogs, you also exchange off-blog messages with them? Perhaps, for those who don’t have the time to leave copious comments, Blotanical’s pick system is actually a more efficient way of letting people know you’ve visited. I would think that Blotanical would help you to network with other gardeners for trading. I’m thinking about the recent example where Deborah (Green Theatre) asked if anyone knew where she could get Galanthus “in the green” and Jen (Muddy Boot Dreams) went out to her garden, dug some up, and mailed them to Deborah.

      • March 26, 2010 8:55 am

        I agree 100%. I plant on using the wonderful resources of the network to help me identify mystery plants this year. There is so much that I don’t know, but am willing to learn.

  10. March 25, 2010 6:35 pm

    Well, Jean, very interesting study indeed! I imagine you have categorized me as a Superblotanist. Just sayin’! It has been very embarrassing of late as the “top pickers” have been somewhat criticized.

    Why do I blotanize? Why did I go to the extreme? The blog world that exists is gi-normous, and I became active (quite by accident) in hopes of gaining a few readers of my blog. That’s it, pure and simple. (See your Point #4 above.) Strange, actually, as I originally wanted to blog only to document my garden, record my thoughts, and organize my obscene amount of digital photos. I am BO-tanically obsessed more so than BLO-tanically addicted. My real world is filled with loving people who have their own very non-garden related obsessions, so it has been very fun to discover that there are others out there like me. (I always thought there was.)

    Oh, and I probably would never have become so active had I not received a few messages and “faves” from seasoned Blotanists.

    • Jean permalink*
      March 25, 2010 8:58 pm

      Yes, although you were not in my sample, I would definitely categorize you as a Superblotanist! 🙂 Actually, you’re part of a whole new generation of Superblotanists who have joined in the past 2-3 months.
      I must admit that I don’t understand the criticism of top pickers; as I said in this post (and in my paper), I think this group helps us all by making Blotanical a vibrant community. I think your last point is an important one — that support of new members is also critical because it draws them into active participation.
      I also appreciate your point about looking for a community of others who share your botanical obsession; this confirms a point that I speculated about in the paper. Thanks again for taking the time to give me such thoughtful comments.

  11. miss m permalink
    March 25, 2010 6:47 pm

    Interesting stats !

    It seems what draws people in is what drove me away. Had my account deleted yesterday.

    • Jean permalink*
      March 25, 2010 9:03 pm

      miss m, I’d be very interested in knowing more about what drove you away. I may contact you via email to see if you would be willing to elaborate for me. This is an ongoing research interest for me, and I would find your thoughts very helpful. Thanks.

  12. March 25, 2010 6:59 pm

    Sorry, I meant to say “Deborah’s” Point #4.

  13. March 25, 2010 7:49 pm

    HI Jean; Interesting study I joined Blotanical to find blogs I liked and to get more readers to my blog. Basically that has worked. I also found Blotanical very difficult to use and not very friendly and i think a lot of users drop it because of that. It is very time consuming to use and when you don’t have a lot of time available you only do so much. I have made some good friends there and also found some old friends there. I have almost stopped working Blotanical because of time restrictions but may resume later.

    • Jean permalink*
      March 25, 2010 9:20 pm

      JWLW, Thanks for sharing your thoughts and experience. I suspect that time constraints are the biggest (but not the only) factor that pushes people away from Blotanical. (See Allan Becker’s and Ali’s comments below.) I think everyone is agreed that navigation at Blotanical has been a pain; sometimes trying to navigate it to collect the data for this research made me want to bang my head against the wall. It will be interesting to see how much the new server and Stuart’s programming changes help with that. Given those problems, I find it particularly interesting that there is a dedicated group of users (and I’m one of them) who are willing to work around those problems in order to get something that is important to them from Blotanical. One of the examples I used in my paper was the efforts people made to keep “blotanizing” when Blotanical had its prolonged outage last month.

  14. March 25, 2010 7:57 pm

    Holy Moly Jean, this is cool. I love statistical analysis, and I too find the entire blotanical community unique, interesting and encouraging for new and old bloggers alike. As you said, it is not what I originally thought it would be, and the social aspect seems to remind me of social groups off all kinds, with many of the inherent good and not so good qualities. I too was not a natural commenter and community joiner, but after encouragement from bloggers like yourself it became a fun thing and you begin to feel like you start knowing these people!!!!

    • Jean permalink*
      March 25, 2010 9:29 pm

      Jess, LOL, you are such a kindred spirit! We are both data nerds who love statistical analysis. (When I tell my research methods students that data analysis is the best part of research because it’s where you get to find out the answers to your questions, most of them look at me as though I’m some alien life form! Maybe I could get you to come sit in my class and be excited about data.) I think your point about Blotanical being a social group like other social groups was one of the main conclusions I came to in my paper — virtual communities are, first and foremost, social communities.
      Although I love all the readers I’ve gotten by participating in Blotanical, I think the sense of relationship with other members may be a bigger draw for me. I feel a very strong connection with a number of my “virtual” friends, even though we have never met. One study that I cited in my paper found that on-line relationships actually develop faster than face-to-face relationships because people start from the foundation of a common interest and because a lot of the social cues (age, gender, social class, shyness, etc.) that can interfere with relationships in the “real world” are much less salient on-line.

  15. March 25, 2010 8:48 pm

    “Why members do or don’t become active members of the virtual community.”

    I joined a year ago last spring and found the Blotanical site so user-unfriendly that I abandoned all attempts to participate. It was only in the autumn, when gardening activities stopped that I took the time to learn how to navigate the site.

    I was drawn to it, in autumn, primarily for the opportunity to communicate with other Blotanists.
    Now that gardening season is approaching, I will not have the same amount of time to participate.

    Besides, I can circumvent the tedious navigation of Blotanical by using Google Reader. That Google feature is Stuart Robinson’ greatest competition. He probably underestimates the damage that it does to his readership.

    “What pushes them away from being active Blotanists?”

    1] The site is painful to navigate.

    2] The point reward system is infantile and there are too many categories of popularity. This naive aspect of Blotanical is a turn off.

    3] Considering how many Blotanists that I read every day, I should have accumulated many more points. However, by choosing to read blogs outside of the Blotanical boundaries, my rewards are few and I have no way of showing appreciation to the bloggers I admire. That is frustrating.

    4] I am dismayed that the same 5 Blotanist have ranked in the top 5 for more than a year now. I don’t “get” their popularity. Clearly, I am not Blotanical’s target audience. That too is a turn off.

    5] As soon as I joined Botanical, I became aware that gender plays a significant role in the way that people communicate and blog. I appreciate more the blogs written by men because they are less personal or emotive and more fact based. However, female bloggers who are academics, garden writers, professionals, and businesspersons tend to write for both genders and I appreciate their blogs immensely. Nevertheless, since the greatest numbers of garden bloggers are women, I find myself sifting through too many blogs that cannot hold my interest.
    [ I understand that this is a “guy” thing and that expressing my opinion so openly may create controversy and perhaps draw negative publicity my way. However, you asked the question and I must be truthful.]

    “Or what pulls them in?”

    1] One must never stop learning. There is always something new to discover and to share.
    2] There are issues that interest me that only another gardener can appreciate and I find those gardeners at Blotanical.
    3] Blotanists can talk to and support each other during the winter months when not gardening is problematic.
    That is what keeps me coming back to Blotanical.

    About the Superblotanists

    I suspect that those who accumulate an inordinate number of reward points and who have catapulted themselves into popularity in a very short time period, might have another agenda.
    We are told that by messaging and faving other members, we will also be generating readership for our own sites and that we will become better known. My sense of decency does not allow me to leave that many message on that many peoples’ plots. How often and on how many people can we continually heap praise before it starts to sound dishonest? However, If Superblotanists enjoy this activity, that is a valid reason for them to be pulled in.

    • Jean permalink*
      March 25, 2010 9:48 pm

      Allan, Wow! Thank you for the very thorough comments. I became aware fairly early on that there is a particular style of garden blogging that is rewarded at Blotanical (I wrote about this in my October post), but I hadn’t thought about the way this style is gendered; so thank you for calling that very important point to my attention. (Since sociology of gender is my primary area of specialization, I’m embarrassed not to have noticed it for myself!) This may help to explain why male bloggers who join Blotanical are less likely to become active participants, but it makes an even bigger question of why the men who do become active are more likely to stay active. (By the time you get to the category of Superblotanists, the men in my sample were just as likely as women to attain this level of participation.)
      The sense you’ve expressed that the number of points being accumulated by the Superblotanists is inordinate and unseemly is an interesting one. This is a sense that has been shared by others in the discussion of the pick system. (Florida Girl referred to this in her comments above.) My own experience has been that the points were an effect rather than a cause of my high levels of participation. The only time I can remember consciously staying online and picking posts to rack up points was when I was on the cusp of the “master blotanist” category and I had a list of blogs I wanted to fave as soon as I crossed that threshold. It may be that if new members form friendship groups in which they are all earning similar numbers of points (that was true for me), that number of points just seems normal rather than inordinate.

  16. Ali permalink
    March 25, 2010 8:59 pm

    Jean, I will definitely read your paper — when it calms down a bit on campus! As for Blotannical, I’m with Allan Becker, especially points 1, 2 & 3. I read a lit of blogs, but I too use Google Reader — much easier to navigate and I can read from my iPod. I love the online gardening community, and have learned a LOT, but Blotanical is a miss for me.

    I’ll have to think some more about this and check back.

    • Jean permalink*
      March 25, 2010 9:56 pm

      Ali, Thanks for sharing your thoughts about this. I, too, use Google Reader, but then I go to Blotanical to pick posts. The difference for me may be that I am a painfully slow writer. I’m never going to be one of those people who posts every day, because it takes me longer than that to write a post! It also takes me a long time to write comments (actually, I’m now past three hours responding to these comments), so I only comment on a few blogs each day and I just “pick” the others as a way to let the author know I was there and that I appreciated what they wrote.
      It sounds like the real draw for both of us is the vibrant online gardening community, but that Blotanical helps me to connect with that community in a way that it doesn’t for you. Another factor here, related to Allan’s point about the Blotanical blogging style, is that the Blotanical community is focused much more on flowers and ornamental garden design than on growing vegetables and raising chickens. This is probably another variable I should go back and code for; I wouldn’t be surprised to find that the food-focused gardeners are less likely to find Blotanical useful for them.
      BTW, If I ever finish with these comments, I’m going to try to get over to your blog and share my experience getting Verizon to disconnect my mother’s phone service in Massachusetts; I think it will resonate!

  17. March 25, 2010 9:18 pm

    Jean – an interesting study! Until 1990, I was a computer analyst for a non-profit research organization at UNC-CH. I used to go to the ASA conferences (back in the day). I went to work at SAS after that–so did you use SAS software to analyze the data? 🙂

    As for me, I joined Blotanical in August 2008 to find blogs to read for garden inspiration.

    I put those on my blogrolls (I have three listings of blogs on my own blog). It is now easier/faster for me to see who has a new post and read blogs by clicking from my own blog. I don’t have time to navigate via Blotanical.

    I am not competitive, so I rarely do anything about the points or picks except the occasional participation to keep from getting kicked off. LOL

    I blog to have fun and keep my mind working… and I love to share. I’m not a garden designer, but I am a freelance writer.

    Great post…hmm….think I’ll pick! 🙂


    • Jean permalink*
      March 25, 2010 10:03 pm

      Cameron, I had no idea you were another data geek! I’ve actually never used SAS; I usually use SPSS for complicated quantitative analysis, but for this I just used Excel. If I continue with this project and it gets much more complicated, I’ll probably end up importing the data into SPSS.
      It seems to me that there are a lot of freelance writers at Blotanical. I’m not sure whether that’s just because blogging is a natural for freelance writers, or if Blotanical also provides a way to connect with other writers. Hmmm, yet another variable to consider. If I keep coming up with independent variables to include, I’m going to have to add more cases just so that I don’t run out of degrees of freedom! 🙂

  18. March 25, 2010 10:04 pm

    This was very interesting! I’ve been part of Blotanical since January 2009. I started off probably as what you would call a superblotanist. Since it was winter I loved finding so many gardens to look at and read about then. Now I just don’t have as much time to do as much picking. There are times the competitiveness there takes away a little of the fun for me since I’m really not a competitive person. I do think there is a bit of a “game” aspect to it. I like to read and blog just for fun and what I can learn from other bloggers (which has been a lot!).
    I read a lot of blogs that aren’t on Blotanical so I find that I go between days of visiting from my blog (like now) or other days visiting from Blotanical.

    • Jean permalink*
      March 25, 2010 10:22 pm

      Catherine, Thanks for your comments. I’m wondering if new members are more likely to be Superblotanists, and then people back off to a more manageable level. I think it will be interesting to see, too, if new members who join in the off-garden season are more likely to become active participants. The sample I studied joined in the fall, and the current crop of new Superblotanists all joined in December and January. This may help to explain one of the interesting anomalies in my research, which I didn’t write about because the numbers were so small, which was that none of the bloggers from Australia in my sample ever became active — maybe that’s just because it was spring for them and the garden season was gearing up.

  19. March 25, 2010 10:36 pm

    Hello Jean,

    This is a fascinating post! When you break down the numbers it really begins to pinpoint what type of person will become a ‘SuperBlotanist’. Maybe Stuart will check your post…your data would definitely be helpful to him.

    • Jean permalink*
      March 26, 2010 3:37 pm

      Thanks, Noelle. See Stuart’s comment below. 🙂

  20. March 25, 2010 10:45 pm

    Bravo! Great post and paper. Yea, I downloaded the paper. I love this kind of stuff, maybe because I’m the ed-tech guy at school and a gardener. I often wondered about the who, what and hows regarding activity. For a while, I thought that digital natives would be more active than digital immigrants but don’t think so now. I’m a digital immigrant and am active. I tell my students that they need to post on a regular basis. If they don’t, their blogs all too easily will fall into disuse. It took about 2 weeks to explore Blotanical. For all the stuff it offers, Blotanical is pretty easy to maneuver around in.
    The reason I initially joined Blotanical was to improve my craft. I enjoy gardening, but felt that outside of a few plants I was clueless. Traditional garden clubs wondered what to do with me. The reason I’m active is because of the gardeners I follow in Blotanical and who follow me. I want to see what’s going on.I’ve traded seeds with people all over the US, which makes me chuckle. I’m going to Buffalo in July in the hopes of meeting some of the bloggers who I now only by their posts and messages. All it takes to be accepted in our community is to look, read, pick and comment. There is no garden competition; no “one way” to plant, and help and advice is only an email away.

    Great post. jim

    • Jean permalink*
      March 26, 2010 3:40 pm

      Jim, I knew you would download the academic paper, but I didn’t expect so many others to! I think it’s really interesting that, while some find the point and fave systems at Blotanical “too competitive,” you find this virtual community refreshingly uncompetitive compared with traditional garden clubs.

  21. March 25, 2010 11:26 pm

    Very interesting post Jean.
    I too am a sociologist, turned legal medical ethicist. However, I would suggest that you look back historically at what has gone on at Blotanical! It gives a slightly different picture.
    All best, GG

    • Jean permalink*
      March 26, 2010 4:04 pm

      Charlotte, This is such a good point; my analysis is very definitely a snapshot of Blotanical at a particular point in time — of a particular group of new members who joined at a particular time of the year, with the data being interpreted via the lens of my experiences as a member for the past 6 months. Historical context would provide a deeper and more nuanced understanding.

      Early on in this project, Nell (Secrets of a Seed Scatterer) suggested to me that I should take a look at the Blotanical archives to get a sense of past controversies, etc. While I have browsed a little in the archives, it quickly became clear to me that it was more than I could chew for this particular paper. If I’m going to do an analysis of what’s in the archives, I want to think carefully about the best methodology. It seems to me that the real value of the archives is in the comments/discussion. I am thinking about three different ways of looking at the archives: (1) identifying news items in each year that got a lot of comments and identify the subjects of those posts; are there certain issues that recur as ones that get a lot of discussion? (2) list the participants in these discussions; are there some members who are involved repeatedly throughout the years? How much turnover is there in who comments on Stuart’s news posts? (3) For topics that are the subject of lots of discussion, I could do a qualitative content analysis of those discussions to identify common themes. Can you think of other ways it would be helpful to approach getting a handle on the history? (Interviews are another possibility, because I bet the history is contested.)

      Then there’s the whole issue of how to frame an analysis of Blotanical’s history. As I was thinking about it this morning, I realized that there’s something about the issues that recur in Blotanical that remind me of some of the historical analyses of 20th century feminist organizations. As I wondered what they might have in common, I remembered a more experienced Blotanist describing Blotanical to me when I first joined as “a utopia,” and I thought, “That’s it!” It would be interesting to think about the ways some of the historical tensions in Blotanical are common to utopian communities. (I must have had this whole utopian theme lurking at the edge of my consciousness when I chose the title to my paper — “Let A Million Blogs Bloom,” an allusion to the utopian thought of Chairman Mao!)

      If you want to drop me a note to nudge me in a particular direction on looking at the history, I wouldn’t mind! 🙂

  22. March 26, 2010 4:27 am

    aloha jean,

    i enjoyed reading the post and loved all the comments and agree with many of the comments and reasonings…i have another thing to share with you in private, that may be of interest and you can email me.

    • Jean permalink*
      March 26, 2010 4:05 pm

      Thanks, Noel — and thanks for sharing your thoughts about the gender dynamics in garden blogging more generally.

  23. March 26, 2010 4:49 am

    Very interesting reading. Nice to see the statistics as well.

  24. March 26, 2010 6:12 am

    Jean, this was fascinating, and I speak as one of the research subjects, lol. As you know I joined at the same time as you, garden season was just winding down, so I had a lot of free time. I had started my blog a few months earlier, and wanted to increase traffic, and find and read other garden blogs. I was like a kid in a candy store when I found Blotanical, spent a lot of time on it and quickly became a Guru. I found that by thanking everyone who had picked my posts (which for time constraints, I am going to have to stop) the points racked up very quickly.
    I prefer reading posts here, rather than on a online reader, everything is listed including new blogs, whether I have faved them or not, a reader would only lists ones that I have entered. This way I am constantly exposed to new posts, and the title or first couple of words will entice me to click on the post and start reading. I can also show my appreciation for the post by picking it, sometimes comments take a lot of time, especially with word verification, time I may not have.
    When Blotanical was done, I did manage, but missed it, it took even longer to read and find some of my favs, and there was no time to check out new bloggers. Sorry for taking up so much space, Jean, such a great post and very thought provoking.

    • Jean permalink*
      March 26, 2010 4:24 pm

      Deborah, I think our experiences have been very similar, both because we joined at the same time and because we became part of one another’s Blotanical community pretty early on and therefore influenced one another’s experiences. (You were the one who taught me to color outside the lines of the 260 character message by continuing a thought across several messages. 🙂 What a revelation that was to a rule-follower like me!)

      I’m finding that as I add more garden bloggers to my network and have more and more blogs to keep up with, it gets harder and harder to manage the time. I’ve given up trying to read around in the new blogs picks list and instead find 2 or 3 to follow each month. At my presentation, when I was talking about the amount of time it takes be an active Blotanist — reading and commenting and picking, in addition to writing your own blog — one of the audience members said, “And they have to garden, too!”

  25. March 26, 2010 7:20 am

    Fascinating as many have already said. I also think the time of year you join is a factor. I joined in the February because I needed a gardening fix. Being the winter/spring period and nothing happening in the garden I had plenty of time to become emersed in Blotanical.

    I also think there is something about people’s characters, I have a slightly obsessive character and so initially got quite wrapped up in my statistics, number of picks and getting my posts to the front page etc. Over time this has waned and I do notice that my engagement with Blotanical still increases dependent on the weather

    • Jean permalink*
      March 26, 2010 4:27 pm

      Helen, LOL, I hadn’t even thought about the OCD aspects to this. I’m remembering a funny song recorded by a singer-songwriter with obsessive compulsive disorder called “Always Counting.” No wonder you and I both have our blogs on WordPress, which advertises itself as having “more statistics to obsess over”!

  26. ourfriendben permalink
    March 26, 2010 8:54 am

    Fascinating, Jean! Thanks so much for focusing on Blotanical and sharing your findings with us. I’d love to see what happens as members “mature” in Blotanical. I try to post daily, and I love getting comments, especially from Blotanists, since those comments seem to be more pertinent and reflective than random responses. But I’ve never checked to see who’s “picking” my posts or anything like that. I joined Blotanical to find other blogs I want to read, and have found plenty, from both genders and all specialties and approaches. I think it’s an easy and wonderful way to find and enjoy other blogs, and, as you say, develop ongoing relationships with other bloggers, like-minded or not, who choose to interact with you. Whatever Blotanical’s shortcomings, I applaud Stuart for taking the endless time and effort to draw many of us together who would never otherwise have a chance to know each other or read each other’s thoughts.

    • Jean permalink*
      March 26, 2010 4:42 pm

      Thanks for your thoughts. I, too, am interested in what happens as members mature in Blotanical. It’s really nice to have the perspective here of someone who writes a very popular blog that is outside the usual Blotanical style (no photos!) and who has found a way to relate to the Blotanical community so that it works well for you. As Shyrlene says below, Blotanical is a great tool, but it’s not the only tool. And I might add, different people will have different ways of using the tool.

  27. March 26, 2010 9:05 am

    This post is fascinating, the post itself and the thoughtful comments. I joined Blotanical so that people could find me – and so I could find congenial bloggers. However, not being active is not so much a real choice for me – I just have trouble figuring out all B’s capabilities, which I keep promising myself I will sit down and study. I do think it is a wonderful resource and commend Stuart for creating it. I think it is a powerful site.

    • Jean permalink*
      March 26, 2010 5:07 pm

      And it’s also great to have the perspective of someone who is not an active Blotanist. Thanks so much for your comments.

  28. elephant's eye permalink
    March 26, 2010 9:09 am

    The criticism of top pickers – seems to be mostly ‘sour grapes’ = ‘I haven’t got time for this infantile nonsense’ I haven’t seen any valid objections. And whining about the ‘same old five’ when whining is your only contribution to change? Thanks to you, our SUPER Superblotanist!

    • Jean permalink*
      March 26, 2010 6:06 pm

      Diana, I think it’s more complicated than that. (I should note that this is the sociologist’s refrain; we’re always trying to gain a deeper understanding of things by adding layers of complexity.) I’m starting from the assumption that the weaknesses of any individual or group are the flip side of the coin from the strengths of that same individual or group; you can’t have the strengths without the weaknesses. (I’m just realizing that’s one of those tensions in utopian communities; see my response to Charlotte above.)

      I think most of us would agree that one of the great strengths of Blotanical is the strong sense of community created there; for many who are active Blotanists, that is a big draw. But strong communities tend to have strong boundaries between insiders and outsiders, and that can be a big irritant for Blotanical members who don’t somehow “fit” (whether it be because of their blogging styles or the focus of their blogs or their personal styles). Those who are part of that strong community can sometimes be a little too eager to defend Blotanical against any critiques, and those who are outsiders can sometimes find themselves feeling a bit defensive about it.

  29. March 26, 2010 9:09 am

    Jean, this has been an awesome exercise. I have downloaded your paper, and while I can’t guarantee that I will have read it by the end of the weekend, I shall digest it bite, by glorious bite.

    When you asked for my blessing on this project admittedly I was a little reticent. Would it be too negative? Or, nearly as worse – too positive? Fortunately it was neither but instead a wonderful analysis with tons of food for thought.

    Plus, reading through the comments has been very helpful too.

    • Jean permalink*
      March 26, 2010 6:09 pm

      Stuart, I can understand your trepidations; it’s why I wanted to run the idea by you before I began. After all, I know I’m a careful and thoughtful researcher, but I was a new member whom you didn’t know anything about.

      I’m finding all this discussion very, very interesting. And I’m glad you’re feeling reassured about the research, because I have a feeling I’ll be doing more of it. With all the issues and new questions being raised here, I’m beginning to think this might turn into a multi-year book project.

  30. floridagirl permalink
    March 26, 2010 9:52 am

    Oh, Jean, I try so hard to stay out of this conversation, but I just can’t!!!! So here are some more points!

    1. Ditto to Elephant’s Eye on her comments!!!

    2. It’s easy to criticize the newbies when you already have a hundred followers on your blog and a plethora of comments on every post. Most of us really do just want to be part of the community. Perhaps the inability to gather a readership is why people wane in their activity. Not everyone reciprocates! Personally, my own patience will only take me so far.

    3. Gender…I hate to characterize anyone based on gender, but….. I have two grown sons and am married to a man. Not a one of them enjoys writing. They consider it a necessary evil. My experience with 3rd-5th graders has also taught me that most boys simply don’t enjoy picking up the pen like girls do. However, there are exceptions. I very much enjoy reading some blogs written by MEN! Right off the bat, I think of The Plant Fanatic and Teza and StoneArt. There are many more on Blotanical that I enjoy reading as well. Yes, I do enjoy posts with personal anecdotes and emotional ramblings. I also enjoy good photographs that speak a thousand words without writing one. I have a dozen great plant encyclopedias at home to consult shoud I require facts. Actually, my favorite such book is “Tough Plants for Florida Gardens” written by a MAN, and I love it, because he writes in such a fun, personal style, with wit and humor that only a native Floridian could get.

    • Jean permalink*
      March 26, 2010 6:35 pm

      I can’t see any reason for people to stay out of a lively and interesting discussion when they have things to say! 🙂

      I want to focus on your point #3 and respond in the same way I responded to Diana: I think it’s more complicated than that. I think Allan is right that interaction styles and blogging styles at Blotanical are gendered. I don’t mean that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, but that there are different expectations of men and women (whether they fit those expectations or not) and the expectations for how people should behave that are most honored at Blotanical are the gendered expectations for women in U.S. culture: people should be “nice” to one another, they should be modest and self-deprecating in their presentation of self rather than claiming expertise, feelings and personal experience are valued more than facts, etc. I think that men who present themselves in a self-deprecating way, or who write about their feelings, or who focus on their own personal experiences probably are embraced by the Blotanical community more easily than are men who write from a position of confidence and expertise, are reticent about their own feelings, prefer to present factual information rather than experiences, etc. — the very way that they have been taught to present themselves since they were little boys! (BTW my focus here is on American culture because more than half of Blotanical’s members are from the U.S. and their styles and assumptions predominate.)

  31. March 26, 2010 12:35 pm

    Wow, Jean, just the sort of thing I needed for a Friday afternoon. It’s fascinating reading, and equally fascinating are the comments. I saw the sour grapes comments from one person and like Diana, I rolled my eyes. I’ve seen similar stuff from that person on Blotanical, but never did I see the person visit others or leave comments or messages for people.

    As one of those terrible, awful, bad people whose blog seems to be stuck in the top five despite my appallingly poor skills at writing and gardening and photography (sarcasm directed at sour grapes person), I do have to say it’s a little embarrassing to be in the top of the tops for long periods of time.

    But the thing of it is, it’s all meant to be fun, a means of connecting with other people with similar interests in gardening, nature, writing, photography. I’ve ‘met’ some terrific people all around the world via Blotanical, and via blogging.

    I’ve been with Blotanical since the beginning–in fact, tomorrow, I think it is, is my 3rd anniversary, which means it was Blotanical’s 3rd birthday right around now. Stuart invited a bunch of us to join. We did. Some are still there. Others have moved on, some having dropped out of blogging for whatever reason. The site has its quirks, and there are days I don’t get to drop in and read and pick and send notes. I don’t particularly follow my visitor stats but some come from Blotanical, and others from elsewhere. I don’t blog to make money, to promote a business, or anything other than the pleasure of gardening and talking to others. I work fulltime as a freelance writer and photographer, but my downtime is all about writing and reading and gardening too. Which I think is all about making the world a better place.

    Sorry, that was a long and somewhat tortuous ramble, and I’d like to read your study as well. Now I gotta go do some real work for a whle, but I just wanted to say, thank you, Jean, for such an important and illuminating discussion.

    • Jean permalink*
      March 26, 2010 6:59 pm

      Hi Jodi, I’m always happy to provide you with a little excitement to liven up your Friday afternoon — and don’t we all need a break from our real work by then! (I, you will have noticed, have cleverly turned this into my real work.)

      I don’t think Allan intended a personal attack on the most faved blogs at Blotanical (although I understand how it might have felt that way.) In the interest of fairness, I want to say that Allan visits my blog regularly and often leaves very thoughtful comments. I’m always pleased when he does because, when I first started thinking about writing a garden blog and looked for some to read, his was the first I found. (He has a pretty big readership, but it’s mostly outside the Blotanical network.) I’ve been reading it ever since because I usually find his posts helpful and informative (and so opinionated sometimes — I can’t tell you how many times I’ve left comments disagreeing with him!). When I first found my way to Blotanical, I checked to see if Allan’s blog was listed there, and it was the first one I ‘faved.’

      Yours is such a valuable perspective on Blotanical because you’ve been part of it since the beginning, have managed to stay so involved there despite all the other balls you’re juggling, and you play such an important role in creating a constructive and supportive tone. (BTW your “Adopt a blog” post and aftermath made it into my paper and presentation as an example.) If I continue with this research (and at this point, given all these interesting issues and questions, I can’t imagine not continuing), I might ask you to let me interview you to give me some of that historical perspective Charlotte has advised me to get. (But I promise that I’ll try to wait until you have finished with your book manuscript! :-)) And I may have just set a new record for number of parenthetical remarks in a single comment!! Good grief.

  32. March 26, 2010 1:51 pm

    Jean – do you feel like you have opened pandora’s box?

    As a ‘newbie’ (5 wks old this weekend)!, I owe my participation to Blotanical to you – as you know. Until you visited my blog, I didn’t even know ‘Blotanical’ existed — geez, I didn’t even know that anyone could become a ‘follower’ on a blog!

    Here’s what I’ve learned so far:
    * My ‘garden’ world was SO small before blogging
    * Gardeners are really cool people and diverse
    * It was a great discovery – to find kindred spirits
    * A ‘global’ community is mind-boggling
    * I really appreciate feedback on my blog
    * Reading other blogs has ‘amped up’ my design creativity
    * I was sorry to hear that ‘miss m’ deleted her acct
    * Blotanical is great networking tool – but not the only tool (you don’t always have to color inside the lines!)

    THANKS for opening my eyes, Coach!

    • Jean permalink*
      March 26, 2010 7:07 pm

      Shyrlene, Thanks for chiming in with your newbie perspective. And although I’m the one who introduced you to Blotanical, that was indirectly the doing of Jodi, who wrote a post urging us to find ways to mentor new garden bloggers, and to Stuart who hadn’t been able to add any new blogs to Blotanical for weeks, thus forcing me to go elsewhere to look for some to feature!

      I really love your last point about coloring outside the lines and remembering that Blotanical is a tool, and not the whole universe.

      I don’t actually feel as though I’ve opened Pandora’s box. I love a good discussion, and I feel more like I feel after a really great class discussion, when I leave the classroom just drunk on all the new ideas ricocheting around inside my brain! It feels a bit like flying.

  33. March 26, 2010 4:04 pm

    Jean, Thanks for a really good read…Your post is excellent and so are the comments! This is why so many of us blog…to hear from others and to be involved in the community conversation that often goes along with a stimulating post. My involvement with Blotanical waxes and wanes with the weather…That must make me a foul weather blotanist…When the sun shines and the ground is workable I’ll be in the garden. My first month of blogging/joining Blotanical my mother got very sick and shortly passed away. The blogging community was embracing and supportive…I will never forget the kindness and love that was shown me. I spent lots more time at Blotanical that first year….which may be what new blotanist do anyway! It’s nearly impossible for me to think about not being a part of the Blotanical community~~ the relationships, the community and meeting new bloggers are all important to me. gail

    • Jean permalink*
      March 26, 2010 7:25 pm

      Gail, I, too, have really been enjoying this conversation. I love the image of you as a foul weather Blotanist, coming inside to work on your computer when the weather is too foul to work in the garden. I am personally thinking of converting to a wireless modem so that I can blog while I’m outside sitting in the garden. (Truth be told, my gardening style is much more about sitting in the garden than about working in it. :-))

      Your story about your mother really resonates for me. I began blogging a few months after my mother got disastrously ill, right about the time it became clear that she was never going to be able to go home again. For me, the blog was a very intentional stress-release strategy. And when I wrote about my mother’s illness (My Mother’s Lily), people left the most wonderfully thoughtful and supportive comments.

  34. March 26, 2010 4:55 pm

    Jean, I must apologize to you. I have turned your site into a hornet’s nest. Sorry, you did not deserve that.

    You asked a question. It was very specific. “What pushes them away from being active Blotanists” I answered honestly. By doing so, I unleashed a few furies. Given the scientific parameters of your study, I though it would be safe to be candid. What a mistake that was. Have we reached a crossroads in our civilization that now only permits politically correct answers?

    I am taken aback by the indignation of some of the commenters. If several of them believe that I was expressing sour grapes then it is my fault for not being clearer. When I first joined Blotanical, and noticed the top five Blotanists, I recognized immediately that my blog would not be a good fit for the site. I had no illusions or aspirations on that matter. In fact, by not visiting other sites, deliberately, through the Blotanical network, [I visit them through Google Reader] or by not messaging or faving, or leaving comments, I chose to take myself out of the running, right from the start.

    I do not envy the top 5 Blotanists. I think it is great that they have found a medium through which they connect to such a wide audience. I only wish Stuart would lengthen that list to include the next five or ten most popular Blotanists, as well. That is what I really meant to say.

    That I have discovered that I am not part of the wide audience that the top five Blotanists reach is a mere observation. I am simply reporting it to the information gatherer; there should be no harm in stating such a fact. Nor should readers take offense. In a community of close to two thousand garden bloggers, there should also be no harm in echoing, without prejudice, what scientists have been saying for years: that men and women communicate differently. It is not pejorative. I am astonished at some readers’ reactions. I had expected that my responses would be perfectly acceptable in a survey.

    I am beginning to wonder if expressing an unpopular opinion here is a mirror of what has already developed in the wider American community. It seems that, fewer and fewer people are capable of tolerating the opinions or values of those that contradict their own. What has happened to our society?

    • Jean permalink*
      March 26, 2010 7:34 pm

      Allan, no apology necessary. I’ve been teaching about controversial subjects for 35 years, and I actually enjoy stirring things up and seeing where the discussion goes. This has been incredibly thought-provoking (in the literal sense) for me. I was pretty sure when I wrote this post that it would generate quite a bit of comment — although I’m guessing that you got into it more than you anticipated.

      One of the unwritten rules of interaction at Blotanical that I wrote about in my paper is that interaction should always be positive (none of the flaming that characterizes other internet sites!). It’s fine to say things that are critical, but you should always put those criticisms in a positive, constructive context. I think this expectation for how people should interact is one of the female gendered aspects of Blotanical. (I’m not criticizing this expectation; I’m a person who prefers to take my medicine with a little sugar to help it go down.) But I think you’ve probably been violating this expectation about how people should behave without even realizing that the expectation existed.

  35. March 26, 2010 4:58 pm

    Hi, Jean. That was interesting. Thanks for going through the trouble of all the research.

    I don’t know if I’ll ever be a Superblotanist–maybe for a day or two, but I doubt I could sustain that for very long. I can have a short attention span, and when the weather is good, I want to be working in my garden.

    I joined Blotanical a few years ago, because I made a garden blog, got excited about it, and figured it would help if anyone actually came over and read it. Quite honestly, I really didn’t understand it very well (I thought it was only about being listed), and eventually I got busy and stopped blogging altogether.

    Then suddenly a few months ago, I felt the urge to start blogging again. This time when I went to Blotanical (to see if I was even a member anymore), I started exploring it and poking around. This time started noticing things I’d missed the first time around.

    I enjoy seeing what other gardeners are up to. I have tried to find garden blogs through other searches, but Blotanical is so far the best way. I love that I can find sites by location worldwide.

    • Jean permalink*
      March 26, 2010 7:38 pm

      Deborah, Thanks for sharing your history with Blotanical; it really helps me to put my research results in a broader context. I agree with you that Blotanical is a wonderful resource (thank you, Stuart!), and I also find it a wonderful community. But, as you can tell from this discussion, it can also be pretty intense; people often feel strongly about Blotanical.

  36. March 26, 2010 8:05 pm

    I’m supposed to be organizing my bookshelves (hah). Or finishing an article, or preparing questions for an interview tomorrow morning. But I came back to see how the discussion was going along, and to toss in a couple more apples to the cider press.

    Yes, Allan’s comments irked me initially, because they seemed overly critical with no real basis (other than the lament which many of us, including us ol’timers, have shared, about the cumbersomeness of Blotanical’s navigation system.) But I thought about it for a while longer, and while I’m still off-put by the attitude as it was presented, (and I’m probably just crabby from lack of sleep, for which I apologize to Allan for being a crabbypants) it brought up another question for me:

    What do people expect from Blotanical? Or from blogging? The answers are as varied as our gardens. Some blog as a sort of diary of their garden and of their own learning more about plants and the environment and so on. Some include gardening as part, but not all, of their blog’s raison d’etre. Some are more commercial in having a blog, whether to promote their business, whatever it may be, or to sell something. Some seem to be blogging now mostly so they can get stuff from companies; still others have made the jump from blogging as a purely hobby type of activity to doing some serious writing. And so on, and so on. I find it’s the same with Twitter, that way.

    Let me stress, none of these ways is wrong: they’re all just different reasons for blogging. I’ve been keeping Bloomingwriter for over 4 years now, and have seen an amazing number of blogs start up in that time. I can’t profess to have read all of them, not by a long shot, but I’ve visited hundreds over the years. Some have fallen by the wayside, as real life has intervened in some manner or they’ve discovered that it takes a good deal of time and effort to make a blog, more than they can give. Some have become discouraged because they haven’t received many comments. Sometimes, geography plays a role–people want to read the experiences of others close by, perhaps–I personally like reading from all over the world (so long as they’re in English as I’m not multilingual, though good photography is the same in any language).

    I also really like to encourage others in their endeavours, whether as gardeners or as bloggers or as gardening bloggers taking a further step into writing for pay. When I started out, I was on dialup, so I was limited in what I could use for images, AND in what blogs I could read. I remember the first comment I got that WASN’T from someone I know–I was delighted that someone had stopped by and liked what they read.

    The upshot of all this musing? Usually, garden blogging isn’t that contentious, certainly not like a political or social networking type blog is. I normally read blogs to relax, to learn more about the world beyond my doors, to think about new plants, and to get to know other people in a way that’s comfortably intriguing but not invasive. Blotanical has been a good way for me to find out about other blogs, and while sometimes I feel guilty because I haven’t been able to read as many as I’d like to, the thing to remember is that we do this for the joy of it–for the joy of writing, of planting, of watching bees and skies and cheering each other on and moaning about the weather. It’s a nice respite from a lot of the world.

    Going to be quiet now, and go finish that article. I’ve really enjoyed this discussion. All of it. 🙂

  37. March 26, 2010 8:25 pm

    Hi, Jean,
    This is a fascinating study and discussion. Here’s my two cents.

    I’ve been a Blotanical member for about a year; enough time to observe its pros and cons. What I was looking for, and found to a great degree, was a community of people who shared my interest in gardening. I’ve learned a lot about gardening, and blogging, and have met wonderful, knowledgeable people, many of whom have left their feedback on this post. It’s exciting to feel connected to so many gardeners from around the world, and I’m looking forward to meeting them in person when my sister and I go to Buffalo this July.

    While I’ve been taking a bit of a break from Blotanical since January (and to a certain extent from frequent blogging), because I’m at school — at least till mid-April — my philosophy has always been “begin as you intend to go on.” That’s how I approached Blotanical.

    I have been an active picker when time allowed, though never a super-Blotanist. However, when I pick a post, I would like to think almost always, I leave a comment. To me, this is how to build relationships and ideally traffic to our own blog. Whenever I can, I try to say more than just “Great post!” (though those kinds of comments are always welcome, too!), and have often gone searching for information for people — when they ask for a plant ID, for example. I love a hunt.

    This takes time, however, and if you’re off somewhere hunting for info, or even writing comments, you’re not clicking the Pick button. This behaviour is not particularly rewarded through the Blotanical points system.

    I’m a little cynical when people “pick” without stopping by the blog to say Hi, especially when I don’t see them commenting on anyone else’s posts either. It doesn’t take significantly longer to leave a few words (even “Great post!”), which makes a human connection — not just ups a score on a score card.

    These silent pickers are probably not the group you studied, but I have noted them in the community over my year here. I think these might be the kind of super-pickers that people have objected to.

    All this being said, I don’t begrudge the Top 5 their status. They are often very active, as bloggers and as Blotanists. And, like any fan, I’m always thrilled when one of the big names in Blotanical comes to visit. Some of them are amazingly generous to us Blotanical whippersnappers!

    • Jean permalink*
      March 26, 2010 10:24 pm

      Helen, Thanks for taking time from what I know is an insane schedule to write such a thoughtful comment. Yes, I get caught up going off to reference books and on-line sources to look things up for people, too; but that kind of generosity is exactly what I value about the Blotanical community. I know that some people have experienced Blotanical as “competitive,” but my experience has been of people who seem to genuinely cheer one another’s successes without a hint of envy.

      It’s definitely true that none of the Superblotanists in my study were “silent pickers.” They were all familiar to me through mutual blog visits and through messages in Blotanical. I think this is also true of the current crop of Superblotanists; they have all left comments on my blog at one time or another, and I have tried to reciprocate.

      It occurs to me that there are probably little cohort mini-cultures within Blotanical. I mean that people who come in together tend to interact with one another a lot (probably because they go first to the “new blogs” pick page to read posts) and they end up shaping one another’s understandings of how Blotanical works. I’ve heard the idea that you should always leave a comment when you pick before, and it would be interesting to know if those who have that understanding all joined Blotanical about the same time. I think those of us in my cohort tend to leave comments more selectively, but also try to make them more substantive and then use the “pick” as the way of saying, “Hi, I was here; I liked your post.”

      Thanks again for your contribution to what has turned into a very stimulating discussion.

  38. March 26, 2010 10:45 pm

    Very interesting reading! Well, I’ve been at Blotanical for a little over a year, and I too have been amazed by the number of points some Superblotanists accumulated, and also by how popular they are. I’m sure some have some clever heuristics for getting faved a lot. Myself, I fave the blogs I like.

    Blotanical is really a mirror of the garden blogosphere: Those bloggers who spend a lot of time leaving friendly, uncritical comments on other blogs get a lot of friendly, uncritical comments back. Nothing wrong with that, mind you, but I prefer challenging questions and some real dialog.

    What I like about Blotanical is that I’ve found a lot of blogs I would have never noticed otherwise. I enjoy being able to look at posts from my favorite blogs (unless their feeds don’t work).

    Can’t wait to see what else you’ll find out!

    • Jean permalink*
      March 26, 2010 10:53 pm

      Thanks for your comments. If you were looking for some real dialog, I think you came to the right place today. I’ve been really fascinated by this discussion, and I like the fact that we broke out of the friendly, uncritical mold. (Thanks Allan and Diana!)

  39. March 26, 2010 11:34 pm

    Following the dialogue in the comments is as much fun as the blog and paper.
    Pat and I were driving to dinner. While in the car Pats reading a hard copy of your paper. Every once in a while she chuckles and then yells, “I know what N= means.” Pat is working on a Masters in non-profit administration and is taking a stats class. Her laughter was becauce it was as if she already had read your paper because I’m always telling her stories about all the gardeners I’ve met.
    I had no expectations about Blotanical when I joined. I had just given up on traditional garden clubs because I got tired of telling people that why yes, Pat is a gardener, but I am a gardener in my own right. I was looking for someplace to improve my craft that was not judgmental. I found it.
    The fact that gardeners from around the world messaged and stopped by my blog was astonishng. jim

    • Elephant's Eye permalink
      March 27, 2010 5:10 am

      Yup, I was one of the ones who asked – What’s with the dead horse??,

    • Jean permalink*
      March 27, 2010 4:09 pm

      Jim, I love the little vignette of Pat reading, chuckling, and then yelling “I know what N= means.” Tell Pat that when I teach statistics, I always begin by asking students how many of them skip the tables when they read an article with tables in it, just relying on the text to tell them what’s in the tables. Usually, almost all hands go up. Then I tell them that one of my learning goals for them is that, by the end of the course, they won’t have to skip the tables because they’ll understand how to read them. So, by that standard, Pat’s stats class has already been a success! (For the uninitiated, in statistical analysis “N=” is followed by a number, which is the number of cases on which the statistic is based.)

      I’m also interested in the fact that Pat was already so familiar with all your virtual gardener friends; it is a good example of the point made in some of the research that people blend their virtual communities and their face-to-face communities.

  40. SummerHouseArt permalink
    March 27, 2010 3:13 am

    I am finding this study of yours riveting. As a new Blotanical member I actually have to thank Karen at An Artist’s Garden for inspiring me to join. I’d been reading her blog for a while when she chose my blog as one she would be reading and encouraged others to read for the month of Feb. as her celebration of joining Blotanical. I think this was directly related to Jodi’s blog about new blogger encouragement. Shortly after that I joined. The first thing that I was surprised by was, as you mentioned in your study, all the welcome to Blotanical comments. It’s great! And it does set up a very polite way of engaging with other people. But also gives you a sense that you are becoming part of a larger community.
    I must admit though that I found the latest tempest re the garden rant blog that set off so much controversy last weekend the most interesting. I was caught for hours reading all the posts and comments related to it, some hilarious and others passionate and was finally drawn in to comment myself on one or two blogs. This really cemented my feeling that I’d joined something really worthwhile, interesting and fun.
    I love the fact that I can have at my fingertips blogs from all over the world. I’m finding it a bit addictive lately and although I’m still looking for more artist/gardeners like myself, I can see that I will have to exercise a bit of control over the time it’s taking from studio time and “real life” time. It’s going to be difficult, I’m enjoying it all too much. I’m definitely going to pick this post and must add that were it not for the “picks” category I may have missed it.

    • Jean permalink*
      March 27, 2010 4:30 pm

      Thanks for sharing your thoughts. I think Jodi must have earned an enormous amount of good karma with that post about encouraging new bloggers and all the various actions it inspired. And as a community, we’ve all benefited from this infusion of new voices.

      I missed the whole tempest about the garden rant blog — ironically because I was off at a conference talking about this research. I’m looking forward to some time this week to go read it — not only because it sounds entertaining, but also because I think it might provide some useful grist for the mill of this ongoing research project.

      You’ve touched on one of the things that I really like about “picks.” That list of most picked blog posts often leads me to read things (and sometimes to discover blogs) that I would not have seen otherwise. I try to get to the “most picked” list on the new blogs page at least once a week for the same reason.

      The question I am most interested in right now, though, is why so many of us find this addictive. For the most part, it’s not reading blogs that I find addictive; it’s the interaction with others that reading their blogs opens up for me. Even if I was addicted to reading blogs, I can do that more efficiently on Google reader (which also allows me to star and save posts that include information I want to be able to retrieve easily later); it’s not what keeps me coming back to Blotanical.

  41. March 27, 2010 4:36 am

    Hi Jean,

    Wonderful post – it could have run to 2000 words as far as I’m concerned and I’m off to download the paper now. I’ve always hated the “received wisdom” that blog posts must be short. If they’re well written and have something to say, they can rival War and Peace as far as I’m concerned.

    What fascinated me though was the number of comments. I started reading and scrolling down… and down .. and down … I don’t think I’ve ever seen so many on a blog post except for things like GBBD where people are leaving links to their own posts. Excluding your replies, I make it 42 so far – 43 with mine. Maybe one thing your stats don’t reveal is what it is about Blotanical that gets everyone so intensely riled up – and I’d suggest that includes the people who dismiss it as infantile or whatever. Reactions are either aggressively negative or defensively positive – sometimes both at once. And any time someone posts about Blotanical the post is an instant success – one of my own most popular posts was an interview with Stuart. It seems odd that people are more captured by posts about the site than about gardening itself 🙂

    I hasten to add that I include myself in all of this – I’m not criticising from above. I’ll spare you my own opinions here, but maybe there’s some scope for qualitative research as well as quantative (possibly psychological rather than sociological though – any psychologists out there looking for a topic?). It seems that Blotanical is capable of stirring up some very odd emotions, and I do sometimes sit back and wonder what’s got into all of us …

    • Jean permalink*
      March 27, 2010 4:38 pm

      Sue, LOL, by the time we’re done, this discussion may rival War and Peace!

      If you’ve had a chance to read the paper, you know that the popularity of posts about Blotanical was one of the phenomena I analyzed there. (I try not to get depressed by the fact that I’m a garden blogger whose most-read posts have nothing to do with gardening. ;-)) I read this as evidence that the sense of community is very important to people at Blotanical, that they see that virtual community as something out of the ordinary that they can’t take for granted, and therefore they take every opportunity to celebrate the existence of that community. I also wonder if the community somehow feels fragile to people and that’s why there’s such an emphasis on being “nice.” I’d be really interested in whether these ideas resonate for others or whether they seem somehow off-base. Also, if any of you have other explanations for the enormous popularity of posts about Blotanical, please do share them.

      • Elephant's Eye permalink
        March 28, 2010 6:05 am

        Why are we interested in posts About Blotanical? Because we are interested in us, no? And there always newbies, and the rest of us – saying – I didn’t know that!

    • floridagirl permalink
      March 28, 2010 1:42 pm

      Sue, it is quite true. My two highest-grossing posts ever were about the act of blogging. I will be honest. I am not ashamed…I do check my stats! It’s strange, though, because it proves that I can, on these rare occasions, garner 40 picks and thus 40 readers. But my typical posts only grab the attention of about 10 people. Hmmm…. My second most popular posts are about weeds. It makes me wonder how worthy my garden and its glorious (?) blooms are!

  42. March 27, 2010 6:59 am

    Jean, fascinating research and report! Very interesting!

  43. March 27, 2010 3:40 pm

    Jean, you’ve started one of the most interesting dialogues I’ve ever read in a comments section before. I’ll add my two cents’ worth, although at this point it might be like adding a drop to an ocean. 😉

    I knew almost nothing about blogging before beginning a blog in August, and it was done at the urging of my then fiance and my sister, to get some experience letting other people read my writing, as I love to write and do a lot of it, but could not imagine publishing. The attraction of blogging to me was that I was “writing into the void” and got to see my work “published” but without my nightmares of harsh criticism coming true.

    It took me a long time to find any readers at all, which didn’t bother me in the least. 😉 And when I did find them, it was through the artistic community, as my main blog at the time dealt with my artistic and writing interests. I sincerely appreciated those comments left for me which encouraged me to continue writing and lifted my spirits, and my first comments to others were in this same vein, as well. (I must add that in life I am known to family members as “the encourager,” so this was an easy role to adopt for commenting.)

    When I joined Blotanical in December, it was because of a random curious click from Tatyana’s blog (I think) that led me to what I envisioned as a really nice list of interesting garden blogs — and I was desperate for garden color and life in the midst of winter. I had no idea what I was getting into, or how much time I would soon devote to reading blogs from all over the world. (I will not be spending as much time when the garden is alive, frankly.) The all-over-the-world aspect kept me reading at first, because I had not consciously imagined all the various gardens in all those unique biological niches/regions, nor all of the different gardening styles and personalities that would develop in each place. It was fascinating, to say the least.

    I definitely fit nicely into the gender-slanted way of blog writing which is fairly popular at Blotanical, as my blog is a totally subjective take on my interactions with nature in my garden and elsewhere, and my encouraging and positive comment style seems to be a “match,” as well. The energy at Blotanical does seem to read as female to me, very much like how young girls play house on a playground, with no serious infighting tolerated, trying to give everyone a turn, making sure the tone stays “nice.”

    Except, that is, when it comes to the titles, rankings, points, picks, popularity listings, which all feel “male” to me. I could care less if I’m entitled Guru — but I do care a lot about rewarding my favorite blogs with recognition in the form of faves, and like you the only time I aimed to accumulate points was to be able to fave again when I’d run out of slots. However, I speed read quite well (a skill needed for my job), and so I have ended up on a few top picker lists, and felt implicitly criticized when others have complained that people are not really reading the posts if they pick a lot. The recent discussion about having to prove one’s honesty by answering a question (or other method) about the post one had just read rather stunned me, as it smacked of school and showed just how many bloggers do view the point system as competitive and authoritative, like grades, and approach it as seriously.

    I suspect that whether or not one views Blotanical as competitive may have to do with internal perspective. For me, the points are a means to an end, recognizing those blogs that are my true favorites. (And since I read so much, I don’t get nearly enough faves to hand out, in my opinion.)

    Fascinating discussion, and I may download your paper for reading later this week!

    • Jean permalink*
      March 27, 2010 5:01 pm

      Meredith, I’m glad that you decided to chime in, because I almost always find what you have to say thoughtful and interesting. I’m particularly intrigued by your observations about the gender dynamics. What you are contrasting are the types of behavioral expectations that arise internally and organically out of the interactions of the group and a system of rewards and behavioral controls imposed externally. I actually brought up the example of how to make sure people really read the posts they pick during the discussion of my paper at the conference. Two things interested me about it: One was that Stuart was constructing himself as the instrument of the group, rather than the owner, trying to find a solution to a problem identified by members of the group and then running it by the group to see what they thought. (For those who don’t know what we’re talking about, if you click on the “News” tab at Blotanical or on the top news story on the sidebar of your plot, you’ll find a very interesting discussion.) The second was that, while most people are quite willing to live with a system of rewards (picks, faves, ranks, etc.), they were not comfortable with something that somehow felt like punishment.

      You’re the second person who has made the analogy with school, and I have to admit that, as a teacher, I just find the comparison depressing; it makes me realize how different my understanding of what’s going on in school is from that of my students. When I give students grades, I don’t understand it as a competition; I’m grading them against a standard of what they need to learn or a standard of quality, and my goal is always that everyone will do so well that they will all get A grades. (I’ll admit that almost never happens because I set the standard quite high and really push people to stretch themselves — but when a class comes close to the “All A” dream, it makes me so happy!) It may matter here, though, that I teach small discussion-based classes in a liberal arts college, not auditoriums full of students in a big university.

      • March 27, 2010 8:29 pm

        So sorry to disappoint with the analogy to school grades as a sort of punishment, Jean. I think it’s wonderful that you grade the way you do — and that you are enabled to do so by the college. F. has not had the same experience here at a large university teaching core classes, being practically instructed to grade in a certain manner regardless of the students’ actual progress or participation or capabilities.

        By the time I came along, public school seemed to be nothing more than a series of hoops for us to jump through, interspersed with long periods of busywork and things so boring one was tempted to believe the populace were being trained for a lifetime of boring work watching the clock, i.e. the well-established and discussed factory model. I understand that the version now in place is being compared to the prison model, and there were certainly aspects of that when I came through — which I fought tooth and nail sometimes, but mostly learned to circumvent by stealth or cleverness. There weren’t many other outlets for cleverness, to be frank with you.

        And so grades felt very much like harnesses, a way of keeping us in line with the system, doing the busy work even if it was monotonous and stupid. It was also clearly competitive, as was emphasized by having the guidance counselor tell us our relative rankings and chances for entrance into certain colleges at the end of each year.

        (College was decidedly better. I attended a liberal arts college that was still small enough to have my major classes taught with five to eight students sitting around a table, and genuine learning taking place. Yet still there, grades for the compulsory core classes were often treated in the same manner as in high school.)

        • Jean permalink*
          March 28, 2010 1:57 pm

          Well, when I think about it more, I have to admit that you’re right. I may tell my students that the grading system in my classes is not competitive, but they are experiencing an institution and educational system where they may be hearing something very different in other courses, where grade point averages are computed out to three decimal points and rank in class is part of your transcript, where all kinds of of awards and honors are based on grades, and where getting into graduate school will depend largely on your score on a standardized test. Gee, no wonder they don’t believe me!

      • March 27, 2010 10:16 pm

        Ha, Jean! Imagine if we gave blogging posts grades of A, B, C, D, or F!!!! Talk about a hornet’s nest! The picks are a pretty good system. I was in a forum before Blotanical where people rated your photos on a five-star basis. Everyone bravely doled out fours and fives. I only gave out fives and just ignored the ones that didn’t impress me. But one day it happened. One of my photos was given a two! *O_O* I must say I was crushed. (I was the “Straight-A” girl all through school.) The rater went on to explain that he had grown that plant and it performed poorly. Unfortunately, I could never remove those two stars, so I rated the photo myself with five big ones. Wow, I am too competitive…..

  44. March 27, 2010 3:41 pm

    I’m one of those who is flummoxed by picks but who values the connections Blotanical enables between bloggers. I hardly ever leave picks, however many blogs I read, and I faved hardly any blogs until I finished one blog and started another – at which point I faved readers as a kind of ‘Thank You’. Until then, I was apprehensive that if I picked posts or faved blogs it would encourage people to do the same back as an almost automatic response. How then would I know if people placed any real value on what I am doing? Despite my reluctance to join in those aspects of Blotanical, I have experienced almost nothing except friendliness from its members. I have a small but, it seems to me, enthusiastic, readership and by not picking all over the place I feel happy people are coming to my blog because they want to and hope they know that, when I come to read their blogs, it is because I am interested in what they have to say or show. I suppose . . . I use it mostly as a directory, not a game . . . but I also feel an instant connection with Blotanical members when I arrive at their blogs, something I have to build more slowly towards when reading the blogs of non-Blotanical members. I value enormously the people I ‘meet’ through it – and the work they put into their blogs too!

    Esther Montgomery

    • Jean permalink*
      March 27, 2010 5:07 pm

      Esther, Thanks for sharing your observations, especially about the pick system. You have just highlighted for me a tension I always feel about picks. On the one hand, I want my picks to be recommendations — a way of saying to others, “Hey, I think you might like this.” On the other hand, I am aware of the importance of reciprocity in the functioning of any community, and picks are my primary means of reciprocating. I should note, by the way, that this tension would be brilliantly solved if Stuart implements your suggested solution of two options, a “pick” that means, “hi, I was here; nice to visit” (for reciprocity) and a “star” that means “Wow! This was great!” (for recommendation).

  45. March 27, 2010 6:24 pm

    Jean, Wow! This is certainly a very interestng and informative post. From here, I get to see the other (human and feeling) side of blotanists, I mean of what people think when usually it’s about our gardens.

    I have a lot to thank Blotanical for. I started blogging in Jun 2009, the same time I joined Blotanical. Here I was overjoyed to find a community of active garden bloggers. To be honest, I think Blotanical nurtured me. I improved on my writing, gardening and photography skills encouraged by the comments of blotanists here. Learning the ropes as a beginner blotanist was easy. Whenever time permits, I’d like to participate in Blotanical, especially to interact with others and encourage newbies. When I do picks, it is my habit to read the whole post and comment as well, which take up a lot of my time. I can’t just ‘fly through’ a post and just pick only. It seem so insincere.

    The only time I need to do a lot of picking was when I need to upgrade from Blotanist-Patron-Fellow-Master-Guru status in order to get more faving power. As mentioned by others earlier, this is needed as a form of recognition / encouragement to blogs we like. After Guru status is reached, no more additional no. of faves are given, so where do we go from here?

    Recently, I have work and home commitments and recently I have been asked to do freelance writing fortnightly for a daily newspaper column. I also have a daily photo blog. I really love blogging and the blotanical community. I feel so bad whenever I can’t do this more often. You can say my participation at Blotanical has decreased due to these commitments.

    • Jean permalink*
      March 28, 2010 1:52 pm

      Autumn Belle, Thanks for sharing your observations and experiences. I think you’re identifying two themes that have run through several of the comments. On the one hand, Blotanical provides a kind of mentoring to new garden bloggers that might not be available elsewhere and a sense of community that is gratifying. On the other hand, it is a big time commitment, and other time pressures often make it difficult to be as active a member as you’d like.

      I think you express something that I’ve seen often in the Blotanical community — a sense that you were mentored by others and that you can now “give back” by mentoring/encouraging others.

  46. March 27, 2010 9:19 pm

    Wow, what a post and what a comment list! I am a newbie gardener (about one year), newbie blogger (since January 2010), and a newbie blotanist (since january 2010). So, I thought I will give you a tripple-newbies’ perspective…

    I should say my passion for the gardening was mostly inspired by some florida blogs I have been reading for a while (such as Meems at, and Susan at, and also with my new purchase of a house with almost no landscape. After I have started gardening for half year, I thought it will be nice to create a blog to record my progress in my garden and organize my garden pictures. I remember after I posted my first blog, how I kept refreshing the page to see if anybody has left any comment, and my excitement when I saw the first comment!

    For that reason, if I visit any blog, I usually leave a comment, unless I am really in a hurry, or have nothing to say…

    I think it is Meems at introduced me to Blotanical. So, I did. After that I really don’t know what more to do with it. Then I started seeing all those welcome newbies message in my inbox, wow, how do they find me?! LOL.

    Anyway, for about 2 months after my joining, I really did not do much in blotanical, except faved a couple of blogs that I real like.

    Someday I saw an email in my gmail to tell me somebody has faved me, and suggested me to send them a thank you note. It took me a while to find the way to initiate a message (I thought it should work similar to send an email, not knowing I actually need to hop over to that person’s lot to add a new message).

    Then I read some blog posts talking about blotanical picking system, and I was wondering what is pick? I quickly took a look, and seems not able to figure out quickly, so I gave up. Until two weeks ago, I had a little free time, thought I will try again since I would like to gain more readership, and thought this would be a good networking tool. Finally I figured out! And then I found my various older posts have been picked by others for a while. What I did was sending all those “belated appreciation” notes to all those blotanists, and embarrassingly admitting “I did not what a pick is”!

    Anyway, since then, I quickly accumulated enough points to become patron blotanist, so I can have more fave power, and one forum that I can post!!!

    I have a fulltime job (Software programmer) which is nowhere related to writing, gardening, photographing… and English is even not my first language. I also have husband and two school age sons to take care of, so my free time is really limited. I would like to spend more time in gardening, so blogging and blotanical time is not my first priority. Although, right now I am still in honey-moon mood with the blogging… kind of improving my english writing skill as well.

    I don’t have any plan to work toward to fellow/master/guru blotanist yet. That would be a long way for me, and if it happens, it happens. I won’t make that as my target. Learning gardening and knowing gardeners from all the world is fun part of the blotanical, but I don’t want to make accumulating the points as my another “school project” 🙂

    • floridagirl permalink
      March 28, 2010 1:46 pm

      Ami, your experience mirrors mine exactly! I had several times run across Simply Susan! and Hoe and Shovel when googling Florida plants. Then I created my own blog in January. When I clicked on Blotanical innocently one day, I did join, but it was a week or two later before I started receiving e-mail notifications. Before long, I was hooked!

    • Jean permalink*
      March 28, 2010 2:07 pm

      Ami, I love your description of yourself as a “triple newbie.” I may quote that! Thanks for sharing your experience with Blotanical. Getting this more individual view helps me understand my statistical results better. The fact that you weren’t active for the first two months also makes it clear to me that I need to go back and see what has happened to my 116 after a longer period of time.

      I’m starting to notice some recurring themes now: the difficulties of figuring out how to use Blotanical (even for a software programmer who is totally at home with computers) and issues of time. I’m also glad that you reminded me that I, too, had trouble figuring out how to send someone a message other than by “comment back.” Stuart: If you’re still listening, these are things you could add to your to-do list. (We know you’re looking around for things to do with your time! :-))

      I think the last point you’ve made here is something that others have alluded to but that you’ve articulated much more clearly: the tension between Blotanical as fun and Blotanical as work (and “school project” busy work at that).

  47. March 27, 2010 9:23 pm

    Whew, that took a while to read–all those comments!–but it’s all pretty interesting stuff. I was particularly struck by your observation about gendered expectations for commenters:

    “One of the unwritten rules of interaction at Blotanical … is that interaction should always be positive (none of the flaming that characterizes other internet sites!). … I think this expectation for how people should interact is one of the female gendered aspects of Blotanical.”

    That is so true, though I’d never thought of it in those terms. Moreover, it’s true for garden blogging as a whole, not just at Blotanical.

    Here’s my two cents as a long-term Blotanist. Stuart asked me to help beta test the site, so I’ve been there since its infancy. I used it initially as a directory to help me find more garden blogs, particularly local ones. Austin has a LOT of garden bloggers–more than 40; not all on Blotanical–and we arrange monthly meet-ups, field trips, plant swaps, etc. We made the leap from virtual to real-life friendships more than 3 years ago, when several us began hosting local meet-ups, and then we hosted the first Garden Bloggers Spring Fling in 2008 and invited the garden blogosphere to Austin. How did we invite everyone? Via Blotanical, of course.

    I played the Blotanical game for a while, racking up points primarily so I could list my favorite blogs, but I stuck with commenting on blog posts (rather than Blotanical messages) to interact with others. Nowadays I check in with Blotanical 2-3 times a week to see if I have any messages but rarely make any picks. I just don’t have the time. I follow close to 200 blogs on my feed reader, and I comment on other people’s blogs frequently. Plus I blog 3-4 times a week, and for the past several months I’ve been Tweeting with other garden bloggers. As you point out, garden blogging does require actual gardening time, plus photography and writing time to make a good post. That’s not even including work and family time. There just isn’t enough time in the day to do it all.

    I know this isn’t the focus of your study, but Allan’s unhappy comment about the top-5 ranked blogs (I consider myself very fortunate to be one of them and am grateful to my readers) took me by surprise, and it occurs to me that other bloggers may feel the same way. I’ve thought about the ranking system often, and I just want to acknowledge the role that luck plays in it. To wit, there is a huge advantage to being an “old-timer” at Blotanical. I think every top-fiver has been there since the early days, with maybe Frances at Fairegarden being the newest of all of us (correct me if I’m wrong). And her diligence in replying to every one of her many blog comments and active presence on Blotanical, not to mention humorous, engaging, beautifully illustrated posts, surely account for her rocketing rise through the older Blotanists.

    My point is, being an early blogger and Blotanist gives you a built-in advantage in achieving a high ranking; you simply have more visibility since you’ve been around a long time. So part of the ranking system is simply luck in when you started blogging.

    That said, I think most readers will agree that the high-ranked bloggers are also very, very active in the garden-blogging community and perhaps also at Blotanical. In other words, it’s a combination of luck and hard work, just like success in other aspects of life. Allan is probably right that the audience of readers at Blotanical skews a certain way on the type of blogs they want to read. However, I can’t see how the five of us are all that similar, aside from being women who garden and like to write about it.

    Blotanical does seem to stir up strong feelings. That helps keep it interesting to me after all these years. While I’m not super-active there anymore, I do still check in and find value in it. And I always suggest to new bloggers that they join in order to gain readership and find that they’re part of a larger community, of which Blotanical is only a part.

    • floridagirl permalink
      March 28, 2010 1:54 pm

      Pam, I think you are right about long-term Blotanists/Bloggers having an advantage. The blog world grows larger and more mired every day. It sounds like you have established a great blogging community that has spread to real life. I’ve seen you pick my posts and leave comments, which I really appreciate, considering you really already have your faves well-established. Thanks! (I love your blog by the way!)

      I agree with you that the most popular bloggers all have different styles. And I still maintain that gender has little to do with it, other than the fact that women as a rule enjoy writing more.

    • Jean permalink*
      March 28, 2010 2:41 pm

      Pam, Thanks so much for adding your perspective — and anyone who joins this conversation at this point and reads what went before surely deserves extra credit!

      I think you’ve made a very good point about the advantage that the early Blotanical members have in the ranking system. And it’s not just visibility. As I understand the ranking system, the higher your status (i.e., “patron” or “fellow” or “master” or “guru”), the more your faves are weighted in determining ranking. And, since there is a correlation between how long people have been members and their status, the faves of the older members tend to count more. And who did they fave when they all started out together at Blotanical? I’m guessing, one another. I’m probably not the only person who has had the experience of having my rank suddenly go up even though no one new has faved my blog just because the people who faved it earlier had earned more points and moved up a status level. I understand Stuart’s logic behind this system — that experienced members are likely to make more informed and discriminating choices of favorites. But I could also make the opposite case: that those with fewer faves available to them have to be more discriminating; I’m probably not the only one who has responded to moving up a level and getting more faves available to me by adding some blogs that didn’t quite “make the cut” when I had fewer. This situation gets even more complicated when gurus max out their faves and can only add new blogs by “de-faving” some old ones (something I think people are reluctant to do; we’re supposed to be nice to one another!) and when some of those whose faves are more heavily weighted are no longer actively participating at Blotanical. Stuart would know better than I do, but I think it may be possible for a blog that hasn’t had a new post added in months to place fairly high in the rankings on the basis of faves made at an earlier point in time by people who are no longer active Blotanists but whose fave choices are still heavily weighted. I can imagine this being a formula for frustration for some who seem to be stuck further back in the pack.

  48. March 27, 2010 11:15 pm

    Well, Jean…..

    I have enjoyed this sharing of thoughts and ideas very much, and I would like to read your paper. Cannot promise I will get to do that today, but soon, I hope.

    I joined Blotanical about the time you did, the Fall of 2009. The competition for “Best of Everything” was going on, and I mostly joined so that I could vote for blogs that I enjoyed.

    I am challenged by the computer, and learning to navigate here would have been a nightmare that I would never have gotten through, had it not been for some very nice people. Everybody had to help me…and I appreciate it all!

    I did a lot of picking until I got to Guru. I will say that I do read every post I pick, and it bothers me not if some don’t believe it. I don’t pick posts that are only a picture, meant to inspire something in my psyche.

    To me, the only difference in blogs written by men as opposed to those written by women is the fact that they are written by men. I don’t care if it is a male or a female, I just am interested in what they have to say! I love reading the guy’s blogs!

    I was very lost when Blotanical went down, but a couple of things helped me get through it.

    I started taking a couple of courses at the college in January, and it is keeping me busy. I have class on Monday, Wednesday, and Thursday evenings, plus extra work 3 or 4 days a week.

    My garden is just now going into full swing, and I am pulling weeds and cutting things back as fast as I can. I am so busy in the garden, I honestly don’t have time to post in my blog the way I should, much less come here to Blotanical to pick and comment.

    I was put off by the way the recent downing of Blotanical was managed. I felt if Stuart could message a very few, he could figure a way to get the word out to all of us. I had full sympathy that Blotanical was down. I just felt that there had to be a way, other that the way it was done, to let us all know what was going on. And not twitter, either. I don’t tweet, nor do I text.

    I no longer worry why 5 blogs are perennials on the most faved, most everything list. If that is the way it is, that is the way it is.

    I do try to read the posts of my faves. If I can, I comment. I will have a break after May 14….

    I don’t know how the young folks deal with college. I didn’t have such a hard time when I went before. Maybe I didn’t have anything else to do then.

    No, that isn’t it. I had 6 kids back then…..

    Very good post, Jean.

    • Jean permalink*
      March 28, 2010 2:57 pm

      Janie, Thanks for taking the time to join this conversation. (Maybe you can read the paper after May 14!)

      I think you’ve highlighted the point that different “pickers” have different understandings from what it means to “pick” something — from, “Hi, I was here” to “I support you” to “Wow, that was really good!” — and different ideas about what they’re looking for. I bet some people never pick anything that’s just words with no photos. (Notice my use of the screenshot in lieu of a photograph to make this post look a little less wordy and more user-friendly.)

      Re: the February outage, I don’t know if you had a chance to read Stuart’s post in the Blotanical “News” about what happened. Like you, I was a bit irritated by the lack of information, and couldn’t figure out why Stuart didn’t post something on Blotanical letting us know ahead of time it was going down or send us a mass email after it did. Once I read his explanation, though, (unplanned outage caused by unanticipated need to find a new server quickly and get all the data migrated from old server to new server and with no way for Stuart to access Blotanical or its data, including email addresses while the migration was going on — oh yeah, and a wildfire near his house that knocked out electrical power), I was pretty sympathetic. I thought that, under the circumstances, putting something out on Twitter and asking any Blotanists who got it to pass it on, was a reasonable solution.

  49. March 28, 2010 7:44 am

    Fantastic post Jean, which appeals to me as both a scientist and a Blotanist 🙂

    Until recently I would be what you would call a Superblotanist, being very active in the community until mid-November last year, having joined in February 2008, not quite one of the very first, but not far off.

    Blotanical is a superb way to find other gardening bloggers very quickly and for them to find you, BUT I believe that most of what happens from being active in Blotanical would also happen simply by visiting other blogs and commenting. It’s just that it’s slower to do that by e.g. looking at other bloggers links.

    I certainly have gained from that speed and I’m sure that my Open Garden blog in 2008 would not have worked then(i.e. raised a substantial sum for charity) had I not been a member of Blotanical. Nor would I have met so many garden bloggers in person so soon, nor would Helen (patient Gardener) and I be organising a garden bloggers get together at Malvern in May this year, which has over 40 people attending, rather than the 10 we envisaged. In 2012 perhaps, but not now.

    Blotanical is unique (s far as I know) in that it’s the only online gardening community aimed at people with blogs (though of course you don’t need to have one to be a member). Most of the rest do include blogging, but it is for people to write a blog post within that community rather than having their blog feed into it. I wonder if that’s the reason why things like the Forum in Blotanical isn’t used that much, especially when compared with communities like Gardenersclick, The Garden Network and Allotments for All, all of which have extremely active fora.

    The comment about the same top 5 most picked interests me. A lot of what Pam/Digging said is right, but I also think that list perpetuates itself. Putting myself in the shoes of a newbie Blotanist, with a very limited number of faves available. How do I find the blogs which deserve my faves? I suspect a lot of them will look at that top 5 and fave them because being in the top 5 is in itself a recommendation. That’s not to say those blogs don’t deserve their position, they are all very fine blogs (as are many dozens more in Blotanical), but as Blotanical’s membership grows it becomes increasingly harder I believe for those positions to change because it gets increasingly harder for a newcomer to get noticed. Membership was around 500 when I joined, now it’s around 2,000 and constraints of Blotanical mean that useful things like the 200 most Faved list of posts has not expanded accordingly.

    During my membership there’s been a few times when Blotanical hasn’t worked well. As well as February’s cahnges, there’s been several times when feeds haven’t worked for quite significant periods of time. When that happened a number of people saw their readership fall most dramatically – probably to the kind of level they would have had if they’d not been a member. Some even changed their blog provider from Blogger to WordPress as a result, I also considered that option, but decided I wanted my blog to work for me, not Blotanical. Besides, the drop in my readership hadn’t dropped quite as dramatically as it had for others (by a third, many others saw theirs fall by 50% or more)

    I do value the Messaging system, especially for conversations and comments with members that are off-topic with what’s on their blog at that time. It is of course dependent on the people I Message being active in Blotanical too. Unlike other communities with their own internal messaging system, I don’t get an email when I receive a message. If it did send an email, I wonder if more people would actually become active in Blotanical in the early stages? I also wonder how many people sign up with Blotanical and then never take part at all – there’s quite a few of them in my faves! I wonder if those people see Blotanical as another way of advertising their blog, just like Cold Climate’s blog listing for example?

    So why has my activity in Blotanical dropped since November? I think there are a couple of reasons: I’m no longer am using my Faves in Blotanical as my reader. It’s slowness at that time finally prompted me to put all my faves into Google Reader and to read them from there. I also regularly read and comment on about 200 blogs, and I simply don’t have the time to add any more to that list, even though I’m missing out on heaps of super new blogs. It means I’m not coming into Blotanical so much to look at the new blogs on the block. I do pop in from time to time to look at the other listings, Blotanical does allow me to find interesting blog posts from blogs I don’t usually read and may not want to add to my regular reads. It’s particularly useful when something is going wrong in the internet world: more often than not a fellow Blotanist has also encountered that problem and knows the solution. Blotanical’s far more reliable than trying to find out via the internet itself!

    Unbelievably I could say a lot more than the long screed I’ve left you here, Jean. By posting this you’ve enabled me to articulate some of the questions and thoughts I’ve had about Blotanical over the past 2 years!

    And I also need to take the opportunity to thank you for the times you’ve been over at my place and commented. I have replied to you there as I always do with my commenters, but organising the bloogers meetup in May means I haven’t had the time to go out and visit as much as I’d like. That’s another reason why I’m not a supeerblotanist at the moment!

  50. March 28, 2010 7:52 am


    I need to add that when I do go into Blotanical these days, it’s unrecognisable – apart from the Top 5 most Faved. That makes me both glad and sad. Glad because it does mean lots of different blogs are being read and their worth recognised by their peers, but sad because I don’t have the time at the moment to get to know them properly.

  51. March 28, 2010 8:10 am

    And another thing!!!!!

    All the different rankings etc assume that Stuart’s programs are working perfectly. I’ve just had a quick look at the Picks for my latest post. In the list it says I have 6, but when I click on my little button to see who’s picked, there’s 12. Which one is right?

    Previously there was speculation that the most visited list wasn’t working because the same blog was constantly there even though the person didn’t post that much and certainly wasn’t figuring in the Picks lists. I know Stuart has changed the way this list works substantially, so whether that past criticism is still relevant today, I don’t know.

    But if others have spotted this kind of thing, it could be another resons why Picks is such a controversial feature and people get quite heated about it!

    Then of course, there’s the impact that frequency of posting could have on all of this. Does someone posting a couple of times a week stand a better chance of being Picked than someone who posts daily or even more frequently?????

    The list of questions goes on and I’m sure you’ve found your study has thrown up a heap of fresh questions yourself – possibly many more than the questions you originally set out to answer? 😉

    • Jean permalink*
      March 28, 2010 3:06 pm

      VP, Wow! Thanks for all the observations and comments; you can see why this research is taking on a life of its own. The questions do, indeed keep on multiplying.

      After reading your comments, I find myself wondering if Stuart’s love of complicated, fine-tuned algorithms (for establishing blog rankings, for deciding what gets featured on the picks pages, for determining “most visited”) may be as much of a problem as a strength of Blotanical. Most people don’t understand how all these systems work, and so there is a lot of suspicion of them and maybe a sense that some people aren’t being treated fairly. I hadn’t thought about that before, but I think it’s an important point.

      I also like your point that the virtual community is really a garden blogging community more than a Blotanical community, but that participation in Blotanical gives you quicker and easier access, and Blotanical’s messaging system allows people to develop stronger relationships than they might just through commenting on one another’s blogs.

      • March 28, 2010 6:37 pm

        Yes, algorithms are a weakness as well as a strength in my view. A few months ago Stuart asked for feedback on the site and what we’d like to see changed. I seem to remember lots of criticism or lack of understanding on the Picks system and Stuart being rather mystified at the response. It shows a need for Stuart to explain things more or for him to simplify things perhaps?

        I’ve seen Stuart’s proposal to change the Picks system and am quite desponent at the prospect should it go ahead. I did try to leave a long message about it, but unfortunately my computer chewed up my response, so it never got posted 😦 As well as making the Picks system even harder to fathom, it means more work for Stuart – not only to introduce it but to also maintain it too.

        I think I understand why the Picks system is there – I don’t think it’s necessarily for we bloggers to show our liking for a post – the number of picks vs the number of comments you have for this post shows that thinking that Picks is the only way to ‘rate’ a post often isn’t the case quite clearly. I also know that many of my posts will never get that many Picks because they’re not about gardening, yet they often have more comments than those that are popular in Blotanical. Perhaps some people feel it’s enough to Pick and not comment because the blogger can see who’s been in (if they bother to do so). There is also evidence that some people have difficulty commenting on some blogs whilst in Blotanical. I’ve experienced that myself and anyone commenting on a blog on the platform different to their own often has to go through extra hoops compared to commenting on a blog from the same platform as theirs. Other factors which may influence someone Picking or not?

        Anyway I digress. I’m sure part of the reason for all the many algorithms in place is because Stuart wants to try and provide as many different ways to showcase blogs, so that people have the opportunity to visit them and maybe he likes doing that kind of thing! Another gender difference perhaps. However, perhaps more of the randomised way of showing blogs and less of those generated by Picks, Faving and Visiting might help people to feel they have a fairer bite at the cherry?

        Fascinating stuff and kudos to everyone who’s weighed in with such thoughtful comments. I love it when posts generate a discussion in the comments 🙂

  52. Robin permalink
    March 28, 2010 9:09 am

    Thought I would just comment that the time of year also makes a difference. It appears that you did your study during the holiday season when the garden is mainly left alone for Thanksgiving and Christmas decorations! And people are also very, very busy. I figure the professionals of the bunch certainly would continue to keep up their blog as that is their living. I know my blog will pick up as soon as school gets wound down and I have more time to play. Can’t wait!

    • Jean permalink*
      March 28, 2010 3:13 pm

      Robin, Thanks for joining in. This is an important point, and one that I did consider while I was analyzing my data. Since some of my sample joined as early as Sept. 16 (and therefore reached the two-month mark on Nov. 16, before the holidays) and others joined as late as Oct. 22 (reaching the 1-month mark Thanksgiving week and the 2-month mark Christmas week), I checked to see whether those who joined later were less likely to become active or more likely to reduce participation in the 2nd month. Surprisingly, it didn’t make any difference. But I think this needs to be explored more carefully. I’ve definitely decided to add a new sample of 100 who join at a different time of year (May-June) and to go back and look at the activity levels of my original sample after 9 months. That should help to clarify some of the time of year issues.

  53. March 28, 2010 9:46 am

    Since the posting of your paper, which I enjoyed reading, the comment box of your blog site has taken on a life of its own. The resulting ongoing dialogue has evolved into an engaging Forum that has attracted more readers than any Forum on Blotanical itself. However, unlike Blotanical, on your Forum, rank has no role in determining who posts a topic. It seems to me that, unfettered by picks, faves, points, and rank, you have unintentionally created an alternative, user friendly, version of Blotanical. Fascinating!

  54. March 28, 2010 4:04 pm

    Hi Jean~~ Ah, the nuances of human behavior… We’re a complicated species if nothing else.

    Your skill, talent and affinity for your work are evident in this informative piece. I was sure Stuart needn’t have worried about your evaluation going in either extreme since it’s obvious your objective was to be fair without ulterior motive–the mark of professionalism. Kudos to you, friend.

    My story is similar to many: November 2008, my blog’s launch. By January with 0-1 comments per post, I Googled Garden Blog Directories. Voila. Blotanical afforded my blog much exposure but also afforded me the exposure of others attempting to garden and blog. Perfect. Initially I liked those fancy little awards on the sidebar and wanted one. Although I Picked any blog post I read, [the only way to be fair] I didn’t have time for peaking at who was Picking me or how far up the ladder I was going. One reason, if I was ascending, then someone else was dropping which meant we Blotanists were actually competing against one another. BAD IDEA. Then to add fuel to the fire: the voting. Best …… [whatever] Blog. Another situation where Blotantists are pitted against each other. I’m sure it’s all intended to be good natured and fun but I’ve never been a competitive person and the whole thing just rubbed [and still rubs] me wrong. Who’s to say one blog is “better” than another when we all have unique criteria for judging? Forgive me if I’m spewing sour grapes too but intuitively, I didn’t and don’t like it.

    It wasn’t until Blot’s breakdown a few month’s ago that I was forced to seek an alternative source for tracking my favorite blogs. Enter Google Reader. I have been extremely impressed with its navigational ease and speed. The extra time that I devoted to the picking etc. when using Blotanical, I can spend on other things without neglecting the correspondence which is and always has been the major objective.

    • Jean permalink*
      March 29, 2010 8:17 pm

      Grace, Thanks so much for the kind words and for sharing your perspective. You’ve articulated something that is implied by others’ comments — that, in this context, competition is a bad thing. I need to do more thinking about why, when competition is celebrated in so many areas of life, it seems inappropriate here. I’d love to hear your thoughts about this.

  55. March 28, 2010 5:24 pm

    Hi Jean, your post is generating lots of very interesting discussions. Thanks for stopping by my plot at Blotanical and asking me to share my perspective.

    I was one of the first members of Blotanical, and I was actually the first member to reach Guru level. At first there weren’t a huge number of blogs so you could visit each and every post. I did a fair bit of picking at the beginning, mainly to attain the next level, which brought with it more favourites. It was a bit of fun competition at the beginning but it didn’t take long before complaints from others started showing up. At one point it got a bit “nasty” to be at the top and others claimed, as they are doing now, that people were just picking, picking, picking in rage to collect points. My picture was always on the first page as it used to only show the person with the most points. Stuart did change the system, for which I was really glad, and now it shows the person that accumulates the most points in a specific time frame. At the point when the complaining started I decided I didn’t need that sort of annoyance and that wasn’t the reason I was getting so many points. I backed right away from picking. I even did a blog post about it. And that was just about 2 years ago. So that type of complaining has been going on since the beginning of Blotanical, and I’m sure it will continue to go on no matter what system is in place. I didn’t drop right down from the top as I expected I would, and I’m still ranked at number 5. I think that proves that it isn’t picking that gives all the points.

    Sometimes people now just look at the top pickers, or the top posts, or the most visited blogs and they don’t venture to the other pages where you can find blogs that are just as interesting. It must be hard for new comers to see the top of everything each time they log in and wonder how on earth they will ever reach that spot. Some new comers tend to forget that lots of us have been at Blotanical for 3 years.

    Even though I stopped picking I still visited Blotanical. But the points kept coming … from leaving messages ….from others visiting my plot .. and points from logging in. Every now and then I resort to picking, probably when it is lousy weather and I can’t get outside. And now I wonder what all the points are for. Once reaching Guru and the 100 favourites members can’t get any more. I actually don’t use my favourite list very much, but have my own little blogrolls on my blog, and the names change frequently (from blogs I’ve discovered at Blotanical). I’m not in favour of the blog awards and haven’t put my blog forward for any of the categories.

    I originally joined to promote my blog, get visitors to leave me comments, and to get to meet other bloggers. Even in the dead of winter (in Canada) you can find a blog from the other side of the world that has blooms to share and that kept the gardening spirit warm inside me especially on a stormy winter day. I love the interaction with other bloggers and it is great to keep discovering more and more bloggers from my country of Canada.

    Stuart does an amazing job at keeping the site operational. Yes, there are glitches, but a lot of that is because the site has grown so much so quickly. Others should not complain when the site runs slow, or some pages don’t show … it really isn’t his fault. With so many visitors each day it stretches the bandwidth of the site to the very maximum. Some do not realize there is a cost factor involved in having a site on a server or forever busting the bandwidth.

    Everyone has their own interpretation of what Blotanical should be like and their own reasons for joining and participating. Everyone in their own way helps make Blotanical the great place it is. I will remain a member, just not an active picking member.

    • Jean permalink*
      March 29, 2010 8:22 pm

      Thanks so much for taking me up on the invitation to share your perspective. The history of tension over picks and points is particularly interesting in light of the concerns expressed by others about the competitiveness of this system.

  56. March 28, 2010 8:23 pm


    I have been glued to my computer screen for the better part of an hour, reading not only your paper [fascinating] but the dialogue that it has inspired in the comments section. I will admit that this brought me ‘back’ to Blotanical for a visit.

    When I started weblogging, I wanted to find a platform that would suit my category – gardening. I really don’t remember how I stumbled upon Blotanical, but it seemed to be exactly what I was looking for. I joined and soon found myself surrounded with a virtual ‘family’ of fellow garden bloggers. Things were looking up!

    In honesty, one of the main objectives was to test the waters to see if anyone would read my blog. While I initially began my weblog as an alternative to a pen to paper journal, complete with 4 x 6 photos, I soon discovered via the comments and pick sections that many blogs within the Blotanical canopy were very well read indeed. I decided to join in the fun.

    It was thrilling in the beginning – new comments that in most cases translated into new ‘garden friends’, not to mention a plethora of weblogs to choose from. Picks and comments quickly brought me up through the ranks, but there was something lurking in my subconscience that I couldn’t put a finger on.

    It wasn’t until I took a closer look did I realize that what bothered me most was the fact that the interaction seemed to be based on competitiveness. Picks and Fans, Blot Awards… you name it, it was dangled before us like the proverbial carrot. And like the new bunny in the cabbage patch, I jumped right in, chomping my merry little heart out – picked, faved, and even won a Blot Award in my first year! Isn’t there a saying: ‘Go BIG or Go Home?’ Looking back I am disappointed with myself: I knew that the whole competitiveness aspect rankled me, but I participated of my own volition! I will give Stuart credit – he has created a sleek and slick community where people are drawn in like moths to the proverbial flame. For me personally, I finally stepped back and decided this wasn’t what I was looking for anymore.

    The style of my writing had changed in the past year, and perhaps more than anything else, this was the reason for my leaving. Someone [I rightly think it was you yourself] made mention of the etiquette that is associated with Blotanical. I found myself writing articles that I felt would entertain my readers….. and not MYSELF! I’ve never been a wallflower – opinionated, belligerant and slightly irreverent probably best sum up my writing style. I found myself critiquing and censoring myself so as not to offend the ‘family.’ In the end I simply decided it was easier to bow out gracefully.

    Of course there have been many positive results to my time at Blotanical – the first being the number of new and wonderful garden friends that I have made as a result, not to mention a readership that now extends well beyond Blot’s parameters. Numerous people have mentioned the platitudes of Google Reader – and for me it was the perfect solution. I’m a very selective reader by nature, and I maintain a list of weblogs that read on a consistent basis. Life is filled with new challenges and experiences, and I have simply picked up and headed off into the wild ‘green’ yonder.

    I thoroughly enjoyed this post, as have many others, regardless of their opinion, and I appreciate that you have maintained an open minded and professional presence of mind in your responses. Luckily for me, you are safely ensconsed within my Google Reader selections. I enjoyed this brief visit back!

    • March 29, 2010 7:40 am

      Good point Teza – anyone who changes their blogging style to fit an imagined audience or what fits with Blotanical popularity sets themselves onto a risky path because that audience is imagined and may not actually be there.

      The uniqueness of blogging is that it allows you to write freely and find your own voice, however belligerant or irreverent it might be. Two of my most favourite blogs of all time have been the most curmugeonly, flavoured with an amazing sense of humour.

      Stay true to your ‘voice’ and you’ll also find the audience that’s right for you. Size of that audience really doesn’t matter!

    • Jean permalink*
      March 29, 2010 8:42 pm

      Did you say the better part of an hour, Teza? You must be one awesome speed reader, my friend; I’ve spent the better part of three days glued to my computer screen reading these comments!

      Thanks for “coming back” to share your history and your reasons for deciding to move on. Your account of censoring yourself to fit in and not offend points again to the idea I expressed earlier in response to Diana that all the positives of strong community come with corresponding negative aspects.

      Like Grace, you’ve very clearly made the point that the pick, point, fave, and award structures of Blotanical introduce an inappropriate competitiveness. At first I thought that competitiveness was a negative in the garden world because the garden is supposed to be a leisure escape from the competitive world of work and the economy. But then I realized how many of our leisure activities are celebrations of competition and competitive achievement. And the garden world, too, is full of competitions. Flower shows are based on competitions for best display gardens and best plants; county fairs give ribbons for the best specimens of just about any vegetable or fruit that exists. How many of us have award-winning plants in our gardens, or have bought plants marketed as “proven winners”? So that brings me back again to the question of why competition is wrong in garden blogging. Any ideas?

      • March 30, 2010 7:08 pm


        I must clarify….. that HOUR didn’t put a dent in all of the comments, I was somewhat selective in those that I read. I expected that my comments would solicit further questions – I love someone who is interested in the nuances of human behavior!

        Competition within the garden. Speaking as a plant collector, one might easily be led to insinuate that I thrive in the competition of owning as many rare and choice plants as possible. While this statement is true to a certain extent, it relies more on the fact that for me it is a personal quest as opposed to a competition.

        Because I am constantly seeking out rare and choice perennials, I do not aspire towards the latest and greatest garden trends: ‘Proven Winners’ has yet to impress me, and the perennial ‘Plant of the Year’ often falls into the same category. I am sure that I have ‘past winners’ of one form or another [most likely Award of Garden Merit (AGM) winners] as part of my garden repertoire, but few were sought out on that merit alone. More than likely, they are plants that people are unfamiliar with.

        As such, I am also flummoxed over the ‘competitions’ within the gardening world. I could never grow a Meconopsis only to cut short its life so someone else can ‘rate’ its value based on a points system! To me its like trying to ‘keep up with the Joneses!’ Having said this, I know that it is a very lucrative and successful aspect of gardening and all the power and glory to those who enjoy it. Just not my cup of tea!

        I’m sounding like a certfied geek, aren’t I? Competitiveness and gardening are, in my opinion, eons apart. Blotanical for me is a garden weblog platform. I really wasn’t looking for anything interactive. That I did participate willingly for close to a year attests to the fact that the format works. Not sure if this helps at all.

  57. March 29, 2010 6:13 am

    Just popped back to catch up with the comments that have poured in since I first read your post and paper Jean (who could belive it was just a couple of days ago!)
    I’ve also been thinking about the topic a fair bit and there is an element of escapism about blogging and being part of Blotanical for me. I’ve only come across the edges of conflict and controversy in the blotanical community in the last couple of weeks and I suppose conflict is part of human society, so it’s only natural it should be part of this community too. Some people find it energising. I find there is enough conflict in the ‘real world’ so I will step away from it, it’s just not what I’m looking for. Instead I will seek out bloggers who interact with warmth and kindness (such an under-rated thing!).
    Although I have a strong preference to ‘play nice’ I don’t think that precludes being challenged. One of the things I like most of all about Blotanical is having been to some extent taken ‘under the wing’ of some much more experienced gardeners who, while never talking down to me, challenge me to think of new ways to approach gardening problems. What I respond to most of all is how generously they share their knowledge. What could be a more beautiful gift than that?
    Oh, and I guess I just qualify as A Superblotanist’ in my short time here (Jan 2010). But like a number of people who have commented am a bit of a magpie who likes to collect as many shiny blogs as I can squeeze into my faves allowance. I try to only pick what I feel moved to comment on, but sometimes if I’m in a real hurry I might pick to say ‘yes, I did enjoy that!’
    I will shut up in a minute – but being from regional Australia, Blotanical offers me a gardening community to belong to. That option only exists in a fairly regimented manner locally. I would expect to have similar to Jim’s experience at the local rose society, but what I really crave is a community of diversity, new ideas and gentle mentors. I get that here!

    • Jean permalink*
      March 29, 2010 8:56 pm

      Heidi, I’m glad you popped back to ad these comments because your contrast between the escape of garden blogging and the conflict in the ‘real world’ helped to clarify my thinking about the whole issue of competitiveness. I think it may come back to the question of why we garden. Is the garden supposed to be a place of escape from all that we don’t like about the 21st century world — a place where alternative values of peace and beauty and love are supposed to be embodied (the garden of eden)? And do we expect that these values of the garden will be expressed in garden blogs and lived in the garden blog community? Thanks for helping me think this through.

  58. March 29, 2010 9:19 am

    Three things:-

    1.) That the number of comments here shows how much people appreciate something quick and easy with everything we need all on the one page.

    2.) A while back, Stuart raised the possibility of offering us Pick Buttons to put on our blogs so people could pick posts without having to go through Blotanical. I think that would be very useful to those of us who prefer to use readers.

    BUT . . .

    3. If Stuart wants to make money from Blotanical, it’s clearly to his advantage to have a complicated system so we have to go to the site and wander around all over the place in order to take part – and maybe notice the adverts as we negotiate our way to where we really want to go.


    • Jean permalink*
      March 29, 2010 9:10 pm

      Lucy, Thanks so much for stopping by and joining the conversation. Thanks especially for making the point that Blotanical has a financial base. I don’t know if Stuart actually makes money on it, but he certainly can’t afford to lose money on it. A few months ago, Stuart polled Blotanical members about a variety of issues. (The current upgrades to navigation are a result of responses to that survey.) If I remember correctly, one question was about how people felt about advertising at Blotanical, another was about whether they would be willing to pay a fee to support an advertising-free Blotanical, and a third was how much of a fee people might be willing to pay. It would be interesting to know how people responded to these questions. (About 10% of members completed the survey.)

  59. March 29, 2010 4:14 pm

    I had heard about Blotanical from Stuart when it was first being built, but never joined because I already had so many other internet obligations.

    I had a period of time that I nearly quite garden blogging because I had so very little time to maintain it. when I returned to my garden blog I found that many in my old network had also disappeared. I needed to build a new network. Googling only gets you so far and some of the other databases just couldn’t help me find the garden blogs I was looking for. But then I started to see mentions of Blotanical on a few of the garden blogs that I did dig up. I decided to sign up to see if it could help me rebuild my network. Boy did it ever!!

    At first I had no idea what was going on, but was surprised that members of Blotanical knew I was there so quickly! They were there immeidately welcoming me, helping me, and making me feel at home. I set up my profile immediately – which I see many of the newbies by-pass – so that the people who were finding me would know more about me.

    I admit that the whole picking thing was a mystery. I kept seeing thanks on blogs and in messages for the picks from other Blotanists. Picks?? So I dug in an learned what it was all about. Now I find that picking is actually a far better way to read posts than doing the rounds in my “usual” network. It gets me a far greater variety of material to look at, and ideas to use. I meet more people and their gardens, too!

    I mostly pick to let people know that I was there and liked what I saw. It is especially nice when I don’t really have a comment to add.

    I don’t use the message system very often – but it has come in handy when I have a non-post related message to send to the person.

    Thank you so much Stuart!!

    • Jean permalink*
      March 29, 2010 9:22 pm

      Sylvana, Thanks so much for stopping by and sharing your experiences and point of view. I’m struck once again by the symbolic importance of the pick system in people’s experiences — a focus of positive experience for those who found new blogs and a community through the pick system and a focus of negative experience for those who consider it a form of competition that interferes with community. So interesting.

  60. March 30, 2010 12:12 am

    One more comment. Jean, I think you deserve an honourary PhD in Blotany! During that poll that Stuart did, I was one who would be happy to pay an annual fee for membership. I wonder how many others would do the same?

  61. Elephant's Eye permalink
    March 30, 2010 7:36 am

    About competing. Top 5 would be more varied, and less angst ridden for most, if Stuart made a rule, say, This Blog may only appear in the Top 5 for one week in the month. That usual disclaimer – Previous winners are excluded.

    This competition is more about running a marathon, completing the race, rather than who is first. I used to watch the Comrades Marathon on TV. From 6 in the morning when they started, till 6 in the evening when the last medal was awarded to the last one to get over the finishing line.

  62. March 30, 2010 6:32 pm

    I didnt read any of the responses, so I would be totally honest about my relationship with Blotanical. It is not user friendly – most of the time I can’t figure out how to do anything. There are minimal directions on how to work anything out.

  63. March 30, 2010 10:31 pm

    Hi Jean~~ Okay here’s my expanded two bits. Maybe more like ten bits. I won’t be offended should you decide not to publish this. I tend to drone on….

    First, I’m well aware that MY opinions, in the overall scope of things mean squat. It would be extremely presumptuous of me to think otherwise as I soap boxed myself into alienation. I don’t expect anyone to agree with my often weird take on things. And I try to make a concerted effort to respect the opinions of others. [Even if they are wrong. Kidding of course.]

    So here goes.

    You’re right. Competition is celebrated in many areas of life. However, I wonder how appropriate it is, pushing people to do BETTER, be BETTER. And not better than one’s own previous efforts, [competing with self is good but can also be destructive] but better than everybody else. How ego promoting is that? And where does “good enough” factor in?

    Is it in our best interest to have a collective consensus on what constitutes BEST in things that really don’t matter all that much, like someone’s gardening or blogging efforts?

    Take the Academy Awards for instance. For each category, a handful are nominated, one wins. And I venture to guess that there are many others that are equally or more impressive and qualified [and who labored equally or more] yet were either forgotten, ignored or shoved out of the way to make room for some hidden agenda? [Maybe none but who really knows?] Same thing with politics. If you want to be president, for example, you’d better have millions of donor dollars and know the right people. If you’re an unknown, despite your good ideas and intentions you can forget any chance of gaining mainstream backing. Unless, you first lose some of that individualism and become “one of them.”

    I think competition is one of today’s more salient forms of class distinction and often sadly ignores or even eschews the merit of individualism–the very thing it’s intended to celebrate.

    There is not a lot we can do about society at large and the games people play. However when it gets more grass roots [pun intended] with endeavors such as gardening, why put ourselves through this? None of us is exactly alike so why not just accept everyone for their own gifts? Why compete for BETTER?

    I think the platform Stuart devised on Blotanical is ingenious; a well-thought out method for welcoming people who want to fit in. It promotes, applauds and rewards members for communicating with others. Despite its merits, I take issue with Blot’s points, rank and awards. I know this sounds contradictory. I guess it’s because I don’t really have a better plan. And who knows? If a light bulb illuminates something I’m missing, I reserve the right to change my mind.

    Thank you again for this forum. Friends, Grace

  64. Jean permalink*
    March 31, 2010 7:41 pm

    I apologize for not having responded to comments over the past day or so. I have read and thought about them, but I’m trying to spend my blogging time and energy on getting comments organized and summarized. As you can imagine, it’s a big job!! I have a lot of work left to do on it, but I still hope to get the summary posted tomorrow. Thanks for being patient.

  65. April 5, 2010 2:29 am

    Blotanical is a great place for garden bloggers, but I am a kind of dormant member of it. I suddenly become active and go off the face of blotanical, which mainly is due to the nature of my profession.

    • Jean permalink*
      April 5, 2010 9:26 pm

      Thanks for visiting and for sharing this observation. I do think the time commitment required to be active at Blotanical help to explain the patterns in how people use it.

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