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Bloggers and Blotanists: Continuing the Conversation

April 1, 2010
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When I published a blog post last week about patterns of member participation at Blotanical (Bloggers, Blotanists, and Superblotanists) and asked readers to tell me more about why people do or don’t become active members of this virtual community, it generated so much discussion that the length of the comments soon became unwieldy. I then promised (An Amazing Conversation) to sort, categorize and summarize those comments as a way of both moving the discussion forward and opening it to new voices.
The conversation ranged far beyond my original questions, but most people included some discussion of why they joined Blotanical and why they did or did not become active members. The most common reasons mentioned for joining Blotanical were to connect with other gardeners and garden bloggers, to build readership for one’s own blog, to find garden blogs to read, and to learn and get garden inspiration from other gardeners.

 

The Blotanical Community

For many, the primary reason to be an active member of Blotanical was to be a part of the vibrant, vital community of gardeners and garden bloggers found there. There were a number of stories about how warmly newcomers had been welcomed, and several praised the encouragement and support they found there and the friendships they made. For some, the diversity and global nature of the Blotanical community was particularly attractive.

There was some discussion about whether this community was specific to Blotanical. Some strongly identified their community with Blotanical and could not imagine becoming inactive, while some commenters argued there were other ways to become part of the community of garden bloggers (although Blotanical provided quick entree).  Some felt that, once they had developed an on-line community, they no longer got much added value from being active at Blotanical. Several noted that participating in the Blotanical community takes time; some cited competing time demands as a reason for reducing their participation, and several noted that they were less likely to be active in the garden blogging community during seasons when the garden demanded a lot of their time and attention.

A few commenters wondered if the Blotanical community might be less welcoming to those who somehow don’t fit – perhaps because of their style of blogging, or because of the type of gardening they do. Some told about feeling subtle pressure to change in order to fit in. One commenter raised the issue of gender, arguing that the Blotanical community privileges a female mode of communication and interaction; this generated quite a bit of discussion. Some did not see gender differences in blog styles, in interaction styles, or in being welcomed to the Blotanical community. Some valued what they saw as female aspects of the Blotanical community. Still others felt that a female style extended beyond Blotanical to characterize the garden blogging community more generally.

The Structure of Blotanical

The structure of the Blotanical website featured prominently in the discussion of why people were or were not active members.

One structural feature that many mentioned was Blotanical’s complicated navigation. Some commenters appreciated the power of the Blotanical site and thought that, for all it offered, it was relatively easy to maneuver in. One felt that it had been easy to learn the ropes as a beginner. But far more commenters noted how difficult Blotanical had been for them as beginners. They talked about being overwhelmed, having no clue what to do, and finding the site very unfriendly. Some were rescued by veteran members who taught them how to navigate the site; some just gave up. Members who knew how to navigate the Blotanical site differed in their opinions about whether it was worth the trouble. Some found the Blotanical pick lists a good way to read new blog posts, but others found it quicker and more efficient to use a blog reader.

But the discussion about Blotanical’s structure was not just about navigation. Commenters also considered the ways that Blotanical’s structure of points, ranks, picks, faves, messages and awards shape the behavior of members. Some focused on the positive aspects of these structures, some on the negative, and some were ambivalent, recognizing that the two existed side by side.

Those who noted the positive aspects of Blotanical’s structure focused on the use of messages to welcome new members and to build relationships, on the way that the point system encouraged and rewarded interaction, on picks and faves as a form of encouragement, and on the way that pick lists exposed them to new blogs that they might not have found otherwise.

But there was also concern about the negative consequences of some of these same features. Some commenters worried that pressure to attract picks and faves might restrict creativity. Several felt the system of picks and faves and rankings and especially the Blotanical awards set up an unhealthy competitiveness that pit garden bloggers against one another rather than building community. This sense of competition was sometimes expressed in some resentment of top-ranked bloggers and suspicions that rankings were unfair or that top pickers were just amassing points without being good community members. Some veteran members pointed out that these issues were longstanding at Blotanical, and some who had been highly ranked talked about how uncomfortable or embarrassing this had been for them. A number of those who had accrued points quickly provided alternative explanations, often emphasizing the excitement of discovering so many new blogs and the response of becoming totally immersed in Blotanical. In the discussion of competitiveness, a few commenters noted that they wanted their garden blogging experience to focus on the joys of gardening and to be an escape from the conflicts, contention and competitiveness of the “real world.”

Some cautions: A summary like this one can’t include everything that was said, and I have not made any attempt to attribute specific ideas to their authors. Moreover, because it is selective, this summary is also an interpretation, and what I’ve chosen to include and emphasize has inevitably been influenced by my own developing ideas. If you feel like your ideas were misinterpreted or given short shrift, please don’t hesitate to say so!

Where Am I Going With This?

When I began this research, I intended it to be a little throw-away project to satisfy my curiosity. But this discussion has pushed me to both extend and expand the research.

  • I am planning to go back to my sample of 116 Blotanical members and measure their participation again in June-July, nine months after they joined Blotanical. I also plan to add another sample of 100 who join beginning in mid-May. These extensions of the original research should help to answer some questions about seasonal influences on participation and identify ‘late-bloomer’ patterns of participation.
  • One commenter urged me to put my analysis in the context of Blotanical’s history, but I would also like to put it in a much larger historical context. The discussion of competitiveness, in particular, has got me thinking about what gardens symbolize for us. I think the symbolic values of gardens may be connected to changing values brought about by the industrial revolution and to attempts to preserve traditional community in the face of those changes. And this, in turn, is related to gender because, in many ways, women were given responsibility for preserving values of the group and of cooperation in the face of industrialization’s rampant competitive individualism. Pursuing this line of thinking will require that I learn much more about the history of gardening, and will probably turn this into a fairly long-term book project.
  • I have become convinced that Blotanical needs some kind of short and easy primer to orient new members to the basics of its capabilities and navigation. 30+ years of teaching have given me some skills in explaining complex things clearly, and I am interested in drafting such a primer. (This would be a good way for me to give back to the Blotanical community for this great research opportunity.) I will be looking for some other members with similar skills to read drafts and for some new members who can tell me what is still confusing. I am imagining this as something Stuart could link to his welcome message for new members.

As we continue this conversation, I’d love to hear the thoughts of those who have not yet participated and the developing ideas of those who have. I am particularly interested in what being a gardener means to you and how your participation in garden blogging or in Blotanical expresses that meaning.

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46 Comments leave one →
  1. April 2, 2010 12:11 am

    That sums it up very well! I think the idea of a primer is excellent. It was hard to find answers to some of my questions when I first joined, though other members were a great help. Thanks for your interesting research and commentary!

  2. April 2, 2010 12:38 am

    I don’t think men like to blog too much in general. They’d rather do “manly” things like build stuff for the wife, carry bags of soil improvements, or fix a machine. Historically, women have done most of the gardening, harvesting, healing and nurturing. Women used to be the primary alcoholic brewers too because it was simply seen as another part of household management. Then some enterprising man saw the potential of a large income from selling brews, after watching his wife sell the surplus.
    So after thousands of years, men perhaps subconsciously still see herbs, flowers and vegetables as female territory. Blogging about gardening is just perhaps another extension of that perception. Women are great for multi-tasking, communication and community development.
    But I feel the time has come for men to become more involved. Slowly we will see a shift of men and women working together, and more men will come to the garden blog world.

    • April 2, 2010 9:30 am

      Hi Ceara,

      I agree, most garden blogs seem to be written by women, but men do blog extensively–check out Climate Progress, peak oil sites, politics, foreign affairs, anything to do with the military, and hunting–many of those sites are very much boys’ clubs.

      I wonder why the blogging world is so gendered. Women care about politics and climate change, men do garden.

      • April 3, 2010 8:24 am

        Yes I agree. I think generally speaking both sexes feel passionate about the same topics, but men are not the most likely to take photos of every little thing and talk about it. hehe
        My hubby chastised me one year and said, “You’re not going to get down on the ground to take pictures of that little plant are you? The neighbors will think you lost your marbles.” (The plant in question was Tete-a-Tete daffodil.)
        Thanks to Blotanical, I can find many photos where others did the exact same thing, without caring what other people thought. It’s therapy in a way and I don’t feel so strange. 😀

      • Jean permalink*
        April 3, 2010 7:25 pm

        Ceara and Adrian, I am really interested in this whole gender angle on the garden blogging community. I think your observations confirm my own sense that the expectations for garden blogs (especially the Blotanical style of garden blog — see Nell Jean’s comment below) fit much better with expectations of how women should behave in western societies than with expectations of how men should behave.

        Ceara, I also appreciate your observation about the history of food gardening — that before the development of industrial agriculture, at least in Western Europe and North America (I’m not sure about the rest of the world), this was part of women’s responsibilities. I feel as though this connects with my idea that the symbolic meaning we attach to gardens today may be connected to industrialization.

  3. April 2, 2010 12:40 am

    (This was my initial private discussion that I sent out to Jean, but I am now interested in getting any input to my comments below)/

    Aloha Jean,

    I didn’t mind sharing my responses publicly but I wasn’t sure how much additional fodder/slack you might get in the comments section.

    My observation of the men that typically are into gardening in general, blogging and blotanical tend to fall into three categories (from my group of friends, people I meet in the business, in sales, garden tours, etc)

    1) They are typically older, retired and use this as their hobby

    2) They are men that are in the business of plants, growers, designers, plant related

    3) They are gay and are gardening obsessed

    I find the most enthusiastic tend to be any combination of the three from meeting alot of men in all sorts
    of gatherings that are plant related. Gay people like myself are very passionate about obessions like gardening and plants, some maybe to the extreme.

    btw, i think its a great idea to have a primer set up…there is a video and maybe it can be a continuation of that as a series of video’s?

    • Jean permalink*
      April 3, 2010 7:40 pm

      Hi Noel, I’m glad you shared your observations about men who blog. If I’m right about the Blotanical style of garden blogging having female-gendered expectations, I would expect the men in your category 2 to have the most difficulty fitting in there, especially if they construct their blogs as places where they are sharing their expertise (rather than their experiences).

      The idea of a primer with links to a number of video tutorials like Stuart’s tutorial on picks is a good idea — especially because different people learn in different ways and because video tutorials might be more helpful to those whose native language is not English. Creating such videos is beyond my skill set (although I can remember being taught how to do this at some workshop somewhere; I just can’t remember any of the specifics of the lesson!), but others, including Stuart, might be able to provide this skill.

      • Elephant's Eye permalink
        April 4, 2010 2:55 pm

        Please, if you do a video tutorial, remember some of us have slow internet response time. I almost NEVER watch a video (avoiding blogs which post a lot of videos) Words and screenshots would do it too.

        • Jean permalink*
          April 5, 2010 9:25 pm

          Diana, Thanks for this important caution. I think having videos embedded in a primer would defeat the purpose of having something quick and basic. I was imagining possible links to videos (like Stuart’s picks tutorial) elsewhere on the Blotanical site.

  4. April 2, 2010 6:50 am

    Hello Jean – it’s wonderful news that you are taking this research further and extending it out to look at what gardens have meant to people over time.

    Our large country town blocks were once the productive domain of Italian migrants (who came to our area to help build the power stations, then later to work in the open cut mines) and seemed to have been part of a sharing community in which both men and women swapped produce over the back fence.

    Those days have almost gone and most blocks are now more isolated ornamental or disused gardens or blocks of flats. I hope my garden will once again be productive (but on a smaller scale) and a resource for sharing. But most of all what my garden means to me is summed up in the word ‘refuge’.

    I really like the idea of a primer – I would have been lost without the patient help of others!

    • Jean permalink*
      April 3, 2010 7:47 pm

      Heidi, Thanks for sharing the history about country town blocks in Australia. Were these similar to European allotments, with a communal gardening space divided up into individual plots? I need to learn more about allotments as part of this research project, because I know some of them are used for ornamental gardens. In the United States, community garden projects tend to be just for growing food, with individuals growing ornamental gardens only on their own property. (If anyone knows of contrary examples, please let me know.)

      Your sense of garden as “refuge” very much connects with my ideas about a counter-value system to industrial capitalism. The historian Christopher Lasch has argued that, with industrialization, the family became redefined as “a haven in a heartless world;” I wonder if gardens were similarly defined as refuges from the human/nature split that came with industrialization.

      • April 5, 2010 5:59 am

        Hi again Jean, these were privately owned gardens as part of a quarter acre house block rather than community allotments/gardens. Sharing went on ‘over the back fence’.

        The quarter acre block was once the great Australian dream and we were lucky to still get one intact from when the house was built. The importance of the garden at that time (1940s -1960s) is clear because most of the houses were quite modest (which could just be less economic resources) but were set very far forward on the block – to allow as much gardening space in the back yard as possible. The urban Australian dream these days seems to be a BIG house on a little block with as little garden as possible. But in fairness, governments are restricting the size of new house blocks to try to contain urban sprawl.

        Community gardens are starting to gain popularity here and these mainly seem to focus on growing food and sometimes also contain a community kitchen.

        I like your thoughts on the idea of gardens as a haven from the industrialised (or even info tech) world. Digging in the dirt is a lovely low tech antidote.

        • Jean permalink*
          April 5, 2010 9:27 pm

          Heidi, Thanks for stopping back and clarifying this for me.

  5. April 2, 2010 7:30 am

    Good Morning Jean: I think its great that you are continuing to do further research about Blotanical. I am sure Stuart is listening and soaking this all up. He has done a great job with Blotanical and as he tries to improve all this information will be helpful.

    Enjoy your Day,
    John

    PS. I would like to contact you by Email but can not find your Email address.

    • Jean permalink*
      April 3, 2010 7:31 pm

      John, I hope that Stuart finds the research and this conversation helpful. I tend to be a “good citizen” type, and I see my offer to help make Blotanical a little easier for newbies to negotiate as an act of citizenship. For a while, I was sending welcome messages to new members and including the link to my first post on Blotanical as a “virtual community.” I was a little uncomfortable about this because it seemed so self-serving, but the newbies kept sending me messages of profound thanks for providing them with an orientation to Blotanical.

      p.s. I hope you received my email with my email address.

  6. April 2, 2010 9:39 am

    I’m a new blogger on Blotanical, and joined to find community, and in hopes of reading and being read. I’ve found the response to be wonderful–feel very welcomed and have loved visiting other blogs in so many interesting parts of the world.

    It does take a lot of time-it’s almost like being a Facebook-obsessed teen. I find I never go to the actual Blotanical site, though, because I’m so busy traveling around to blogs themselves. For example, I got here because I visited Jim Groble’s site because he’d left a comment on my site. Consequently I’m unaware of the points-rating-fave thing, and from the way it sounds, think I’ll stay that way by choice.

    • Jean permalink*
      April 3, 2010 7:53 pm

      Adrian, This comment seems to add support to Pam’s observation in the earlier conversation that the relevant virtual community is not a Blotanical community, but a garden blogging community to which Blotanical provides easy access. Thus, it is possible to become part of that community by signing up at Blotanical and visiting (and being visited by) bloggers who are members, but without participating actively in what Diana calls “playing Blotanical.”

  7. April 2, 2010 10:48 am

    A primer Jean for Blotanical would be a great idea. I would never have figured it all out without the help of Diana and Noel.

  8. April 2, 2010 12:10 pm

    I am finding this research fascinating. I think I commented earlier that I wasn’t very active on Blotanical because I found it difficult to know how to use it and therefore the time it took. I am surprised that some feel ‘pressured’ to conform to a particular form of garden or blog. While I did join Blotanical to find blogs and build an audience for mine it never occurred to me that anyone was exerting pressure, one way or the other. I look forward to further developments – and have added you to my blogroll.

    • Jean permalink*
      April 3, 2010 8:04 pm

      Pat, your comment (along with Deb’s, Heidi’s and Rosie’s) suggests that, despite the currently available FAQ and tutorial on picks, a significant number of new members find it confusing and time-consuming to learn how to use the site. Several commenters on my earlier post wrote about finding it so overwhelming and difficult to understand that they just gave up.

      I think any pressure to conform to the Blotanical style of garden blog is a pretty subtle thing. I think most of us are sensitive to feedback we get from others, and reader stats, picks and faves (in addition to comments) provide feedback on our blogs. As Nell notes below, a Blotanical member can see what the most popular blogs there have in common that make them popular. And, if you care about connecting with readers, it’s easy to find yourself shifting the focus or style of your blog to fit those characteristics. (For example, before I joined Blotanical it had never occurred to me that every post should include images; and my inclusion of photo essay posts that are primarily photographs was strongly influenced by Blotanical.)

  9. April 2, 2010 12:42 pm

    I think those of us who have always gardened (born on a farm, family grew food and flowers) give different meaning to the process than those newly come to gardening.

    On to Blotanical, I have not seen mentioned about User Ranking. Your rank is found underneath your photo on your Plot. For instance, a random user’s Faved Ranking when last I looked was 52. Her User Ranking was 27. If I understand correctly, User Ranking is a hold-over from the earlier days of Blotanical but it is a better measure of a member’s own activity on the site as compared to being ranked (Faved) by others. The number one Ranked User does not blog, but she activiely participates. It is possible to be very highly Faved because of some other activity that attracts others to a blog yet have a mediocre User Ranking by never picking or sending messages or even looking at the blogs of others on Blotanical.

    Another facet of Blotanical that is somewhat of a mystery are the Algorithms by which rank is determined. They remain a mystery because of the possibility of ‘Gaming’ instead of ‘Playing’ Botanical. Someone alluded to gaming the Picks the other day.

    You can’t game Faves, but you can make your own blog attractive to others. If you study the most Faved, you begin to see what makes them popular: They regularly blog. They are friendly and polite. They use their own photos, usually of their own gardens or some they’ve visited. They write about the world around them from their own point of view. They blog to share what they know from experience rather than to impress. Generally top most Faved are long-time members, a logical ranking for active bloggers.

    Stuart has a primer: FAQ’s. I think it needs a tab of its own on the Directory page.

    • Elephant's Eye permalink
      April 2, 2010 3:30 pm

      ‘Someone’ is Stuart, who says he doesn’t want to reveal all the details of his algorithm, so we can’t ‘game’. But it does make it all very mysterious.

    • Jean permalink*
      April 3, 2010 8:39 pm

      Nell, I would love to hear more about your thoughts on how the meaning of gardening might be different for those who have gardened all their lives and those who come to gardening later in life.

      I think the fact that no one has mentioned the user ranking probably means that it doesn’t really matter much. According to Crafty Gardener’s account, it used to mean a great deal when the top-ranked user was featured on the Blotanical front page, and it was a source of considerable contention then. If I understand user rankings correctly, they are simply based on total # of points, which means that they are more a measure of cummulative participation rather than current participation. Crafty Gardener noted that, even after she stopped picking in response to criticism from others, she continued to accumulate points in other ways and remained in the top five. I would think that it would be pretty difficult for a new member, even a Superblotanist, to earn enough points to surpass an original member who has more than 50,000 points and is still even moderately active. This heavy weighting toward veteran members is probably part of the reason why Stuart substituted “most active in the past 24 hours” for the highest ranked user on the front page. It occurs to me that another category of Blotanical activity that no one much cares about is “favorite Blotanists.” My research showed that people are much less likely to fave Blotanists than to fave blogs.

      I think your characterization of the common features of the most popular blogs is a good description of what I have called the Blotanical blogging style. There are several blogs in the top 100 that don’t fit these characteristics, but they’re probably never going to make it into the top ten. My question about this style is whether it is self-perpetuating because those whose style is very different may end up not feeling welcome at Blotanical. (Whether this is an issue may depend on whether the non-conforming blog has lots of traffic from outside Blotanical.) Your description also helped me to understand why so many of my own favorites are from outside the top Blotanical blogs. While I value learning from others’ shared experiences, I actually learn more when people provide me with principles or analytical categories for interpreting my own or their experiences. Thus, my favorite posts are those where people share design principles or techniques that they have learned from courses, or when experts share their own tips (like the photography ones at Gardening Gone Wild), or when someone shares a theory to explain why some design feature works well (like Allan Becker’s discussion of why odd numbers of plants may work better than even numbers). I don’t know if these bloggers are writing to impress me; but they do impress me, because these are the posts that provide me with an exciting leap of understanding.

      Regarding FAQ as primer, see my response to Jim below.

  10. April 2, 2010 5:17 pm

    I must say that I find all of this fascinating. I joined Blotanical 7 months ago and have been quite active. At first, it was confusing and it did take me awhile to figure out how everything worked by myself. When Blotanical went down for a few days, I did feel lost. Blotanical with all of its positives and negatives does provide an important service to all of us 🙂

    • Jean permalink*
      April 3, 2010 8:40 pm

      Noelle, I agree. My suggestion that a primer would be helpful to many new members is in no way intended as a criticism of Blotanical, but as a contribution to making it do what it does well even better.

  11. April 2, 2010 8:35 pm

    Boy oh boy Jean. You just never know where a post will take you. Tabbing the FAQ’s with a Q&A forum in the same tab might solve the need for a primer. jim

    • Jean permalink*
      April 3, 2010 8:49 pm

      Jim, Even with its own tab, I don’t think the FAQ really meets the need for a primer. The FAQ tells you how to find information about specific features of Blotanical, but it doesn’t really tell you why these features might be important. The first item in the FAQ, Stuart’s post on “9 Steps for Getting Started” comes closer to what I’m imagining for a primer, but I’m not sure the order of items is the best, and the amount and type of information provided is very uneven. This is not intended as a criticism of Stuart; the skills that make him a brilliant software developer are not necessarily the same skills that make a good teacher. And what many new members need are the services of a good teacher. Some manage to figure things out on their own; some find individual mentors to help them figure it out; others just give up in frustration. It’s the latter group that I’m particularly trying to reach with a primer.

  12. SummerHouseArt permalink
    April 3, 2010 2:53 am

    I only recently joined Blotanical. When I first was signing on my blog to Blotanical and found in the “rules” that I had to amass 100 points in the 1st month, I almost backed out. I didn’t want to join something that had such expectations. But I persevered and I quickly set about learning how I was to accrue these needed points. And found it kind of fun and enjoyable. I still don’t want to get into a competitive thing with it, though.
    Then once I had submitted my blog I wondered if it would be accepted because it was not 100% about plants. But the “rules” were that it had to be 30% about gardening. Well, I thought ok my blog is that.
    Now I wonder if the fact that some of my posts are about mosaics or sculpture or garage sailing and recycling will be acceptable to other Blotanical members.
    Personally, I enjoy finding other members who post about things other than gardening sometimes. It makes for a break and often an intro to another art form or a new subject. So far, I’ve found it doesn’t seem to be a turnoff to other garden bloggers to read my alternative posts.
    I am just recently getting the hang of Picks. Had to watch the tutorial a couple of times or more. But it does introduce me easily to other bloggers.
    All in all, I’m really enjoying Blotanical. Like the international-ness of it. I like visiting the huge variety of people who are also to a person, very kind. And I totally enjoy the comments and visitors I’m now getting to my blog.

    • Jean permalink*
      April 3, 2010 9:31 pm

      Helen, Wow! I hadn’t heard of these rules before. I don’t remember reading these when I joined, and more than half of the new members I studied (who joined about 6 months ago) had not accrued 100 points by the end of their first month. Do others know about these rules? What happens if you don’t get to the 100-point mark?

      I think the real beauty of Blotanical at this point is that the membership is so large that I imagine most members can find a community of others who share their preferences in blogs. (Although finding them may take a bit longer if your preferences fall outside the Blotanical mainstream.) Just out of curiosity, I just went to the “Search blog content” on Blotanical and typed in “artists’ blogs” to see if it would produce a list of Blotanical blogs by artists; but since the feature searches the content of posts rather than blogs as a whole, it didn’t work. In the discussion of the pick system in the Blotanical news, one commenter asked that Stuart consider replacing the alphabetical listing of blogs on the picks tab with a listing by categories of blogs. I think the problem with this is that it would be very difficult to find a way to categorize blogs (especially if each blog had to be in one and only one category). It would be wonderful, though, if there were an easy way to identify other blogs by artists.

  13. April 3, 2010 10:53 am

    I have to follow-up on these comments, because when I started blogging in January and subsequently joined Blotanical a couple weeks later, I did indeed find an instructional tutorial on the site. It gave animated, step-by-step instructions on what picks were and how to do it. The tutorial was painstakingly slow and over-detailed (I tend to be impatient), but I listened nonetheless and learned how to use the site. Understanding all the nuances took a little longer, as is true with most things. What I like about Blotanical is that there are many ways to get involved…not just the picks or “gaming.” Blotanists are being ranked in many ways, aside from the popularity of a post. I think this site is pure genius! No, Stuart did not pay me to say that.

    • Jean permalink*
      April 3, 2010 9:41 pm

      I agree that one of the strengths of Blotanical is the existing of simultaneous ranking systems. Ideally, we should be able to celebrate all kinds of different strengths in blogs rather than all drifting toward the same formula for popularity. I think this was the idea behind the Blotanical awards, with many many different categories for nominations and voting. I should note, however, that some of those who commented on the earlier post found the awards inappropriately competitive. It’s an interesting dilemma.

  14. April 6, 2010 7:36 am

    For me, Blotanical is frustrating, to a huge degree. When I first found it I was overjoyed. I expected it to be a collective of blogs and bloggers that could offer an extensive knowledge base, and to some degree it does. However, it’s not good at doing it.

    Let me explain. Imagine that Blotanical is a town and you have a toothache. I tell you that Blotanical has a great dentist, so you set off to see him. When you arrive, there are businesses everywhere, more than you’d imagined there would be. You’re going to struggle to find that dentist. In such a case, the town of Blotanical offers you little but frustration.

    Some businesses in Blotanical have really clear signs, but others don’t. Often the signs are misleading, or puns, or even the names of their pets.

    Now, there will be people who have all day to stroll the lanes of Blotanical, checking in on businesses to see what they do. They make themselves little maps that remind them where those businesses are, and they take afternoon tea with other map-makers, and share knowledge. They know where the dentist is, because they have the time to find out in advance.

    So, people who do not have the time to spare to delve deep into the backstreets of Blotanical have no way to make a map that covers more than the businesses they stumble across.

    The solution is simple; Blotanical needs a map. Sadly, Blotanical Town Council only makes maps that list the businesses that the majority of those who have the time to delve deep into the backstreet prefer. Therefore, the maps only show the favourite hangouts of the locals. If the dentists isn’t one of them, you ain’t getting your teeth fixed.

    Here’s the thing; I don’t care if 100 people like the picture of Muddles the cat looking at a daffodil. I don’t care if Muddles is the most popular cat in Blotanical. When I need my teeth fixed, a want a dentist.

    The reason for the frustration comes from the main reference point of blogs, which is the tag system. If you want to know about cat pictures, you select the cat pictures tag. If you want to get rid of tooth ache, select the tooth ache tag, and you’ll find answers and maybe even the address of the dentist.

    I understand dynamic web creation, and it would not be difficult to run an index of the tags from posts. Then Blotanical would be brilliant. However, all I can ever see is the results of a popularity contest. Fine, have that, but without a useful reference tool, it’s nothing more than a popularity contest.

    I simply cannot see why I need to log in, go to another page which isn’t the fastest to load, then bring up a post in a confined window, pick it or read it, then navigate backwards to start the process again. Blogs already have interconnectivity that beats Blotanical for ease and speed. So what does Blotanical offer?

    I would wager that the vast majority of general users visit it irregularly. This is simply because as a reference tool, it’s not easy to navigate. Regular users do so for differing reasons. My suspicion is that often it is to promote/drive their own blogs. That’s fair enough, I am not knocking them for it. For me, I want access to information, and Blotanical doesn’t give me that.

    Or have I missed something???

    • Jean permalink*
      April 6, 2010 10:19 am

      IG, Thanks so much for sharing your perspective; it’s really helped to clarify some things for me. In all this extensive discussion of Blotanical, I think this is the first time that anyone has explicitly said that they came to Blotanical looking for knowledge. The two most common reasons people have given for coming to Blotanical are to build readership for their blogs and to find a community of gardeners and garden bloggers; and Blotanical seems to do both these things fairly well. (Although the kind of participation that is required to become part of the community is fairly time-consuming.)

      I think there may be some subtle pressure at Blotanical against claiming knowledge or expertise. (See Nell’s summary of the characteristics of the most popular blogs above.) The emphasis seems to be on sharing experiences rather than sharing knowledge. It’s interesting to note that the one part of Blotanical that seems to focus on knowledge, the forums, is not really used much.

      I think all this is related to the gendered aspect of garden blogging in general and Blotanical in particular. At least in the dominant gender systems of Western societies, being good at something because you have achieved skill, knowledge, and expertise is usually attributed to men. When women are seen as good at something, the skill is usually “naturalized,” as in “well, girls are naturally good at that.” Women learn that it is risky to claim achieved expertise, and they often downplay their knowledge and achievements (that modest, self-deprecating style that seems to be characteristic of popular garden blogs).

      Lots of food for thought here, but it doesn’t get you any closer to that organized knowledge base that you’re looking for.

  15. April 6, 2010 12:02 pm

    Sorry, when I say knowledge, I guess I really meant “experience”. For example, I’d like to browse and index, click on “Carrots”, and read posts that people have flagged with the tag Carrots.

    I do find the Picks system and the like way too clumsy, and I keep thinking it must be me getting it wrong because everyone else uses it.

    I was disappointed with the forums; I’d like that bit to be more active, and given the membership it should be.

    The gender issue with regard to garden blogging does tend to be predominantly female, and I put this down to “community”. For men, it’s very easy to talk to old boys down the pub about beans and potatoes and cabbages. They’re all full of advice and usually none of it is worth anything. Their trend is usually to “Tell” people how they do it.

    Females often lack such a focal point, and they also often lack the social hours to do such things. Blogging allows contact whenever it fits in, and with whoever it fits with. Men prefer face to face verbosity.

    Women tend to drift more towards the artistic side of gardening and introduce cookery, photography, poetry, crafts and the like. That alienates many men, because they don’t really know much about such things. To be a spud man surrounded by quotes from Wordsworth and photographs of sunsets can be unnerving for some.

    It is self-propogating; the bonds between various bloggers grow and the main emphasis is overtly feminine. Even amongst the handful of male garden bloggers, few really have a dominant male perspective. Okay, I rattle on about digging holes and falling in manure and the occasional dwarf or two, but then again I’m a bit like the halfbreed child in the attic.

    I think it’s simply that garden blogging has been created and driven by females, and so they essentially “own” the soul of it. Botanical is where many of those bloggers meet, so it will inevitably be very female.

    • Jean permalink*
      April 6, 2010 2:23 pm

      I think I ended up sounding as though I was putting down knowledge that comes from experience, and that wasn’t my intention. What I was trying to say (albeit not very well!) is that many garden bloggers seem to stop at describing their experience, leaving it to the reader to draw any conclusions or lessons from that experience. But, even as I write that, I realize that I’m thinking primarily of flower gardeners, who dominate at Blotanical. The vegetable gardeners are much more likely to write empirical pieces of the “here’s what I did; here’s what happened” variety, sometimes even with little experiments (“I did it this way in one row and that way in the other, and here’s how they turned out.”) My impression is that the vegetable blogs tend to include much more experience-based information: on techniques, pieces of equipment, germination rates, success with different varieties, and all those wonderful spreadsheets and very precise diagrams of what’s planted where in their raised beds. I want to go back at my sample of 116 and see whether the vegetable gardeners are less likely to participate in Blotanical. Many of them may feel out of place “surrounded by quotes from Wordsworth and photographs of sunsets.”

      Have you tried the “search blogs” feature on Blotanical (see Diana’s comment below)? It’s basically just a google search, but within Blotanical blogs only. Just to see what would happen, I tried searching for “carrots;” the results certainly gave a good sense of which blogs are focusing on vegetable growing. To narrow it down even more, I added “+ misshapen” to “carrots” because I know that’s a problem carrot growers often experience; that yielded a relatively small number of results that seemed on target.

      Regarding the forums: I think the problem with them is that they’re largely invisible. I think I remember some discussion somewhere of how to make them work better; maybe it was in Stuart’s questionnaire. I wonder if they would be more active if the Blotanical front page or some other prominent location included a list of “currently active threads in the forums” — so that people could see what conversations were going on there and see if they wanted to join them.

      I very much appreciate your analysis of why women tend to “own the soul” of garden blogging. I, too, think that this gendering tends to be self-perpetuating.

      • April 7, 2010 12:01 am

        Wow, IG’s words are fairly harsh! I really don’t go to any blog for information. My own blog is purely anecdotal and mostly for fun, quoting Wordsworth and all and showing off photos, which in fact records my garden and/or life at a point in time. I am new to the blogworld, but I thought that’s what a blog was all about. Goodness knows I wouldn’t want anyone to take my writings as fact. I usually get inspired to “talk to others” after I’ve witnessed something in my garden or in nature. I’m sorry IG does not like this type of blog, but at least he has been able to vent his feelings. I personally would question any blog that claims to be an information source. After all, there usually are no proofreaders, editors, publishers, or even sources cited in the writing of a blog.

        I like to check out garden blogs in the same way I pick up a garden magazine to read. Blotanical facilitates this for me. Maybe I would have rather read an article on orchids today, but if I had searched “orchids,” I might have missed that great feature on the amazing sunbirds. I have no sunbird book at home.

        Just like in the garden magazines, I love seeing a home garden featured. I love seeing closeups of their feature blooms. What gardener cannot appreciate the joy another feels when a plant blooms for the first time? Or when he sees those first orange shoulders rise from the ground? That’s all I need to know about growing carrots. Seeds are planted and carrots grow. Cabbages grow. I have little to do with that magic, though I marvel at their development. Now if there is a carrot fanatic growing all sorts of varieties, and his enthusiasm spills over into his blog, I’m all over that! Male or female…I like passion! I feel the same about professors and politicians and ministers. You can’t sell an idea without a little enthusiasm, and it’s not solely a female trait.

        I read blogs to see garden progress, heartbreaks and triumphs, lessons learned, secrets shared, a little at a time. I love seeing things I might want to copy…garden paths, structures, ponds, birdhouses…not to make perfect copies…just stealing a little inspiration. I love seeing gardens around the world and photos of amazing natural views. I love learning about real people and how they live. A little garden knowledge seeps in here and there, slowly, over time. That’s just the way I like it.

        Wordsworth was a man, may he rest in peace.

        • Jean permalink*
          April 8, 2010 1:06 pm

          Hi Florida Girl, Thanks for sharing your thoughts about how you blog and how you read blogs; I think what you are describing fits in well with the dominant style at Blotanical. I’ve been thinking about garden blogs as falling along a continuum: At one end are blogs that are like impressionist paintings, and at the other end are blogs that are more like an architect’s blueprints. And most probably fall somewhere along the continuum between these two ends of the spectrum. I think the vegetable gardener’s blogs are more likely to fall closer to the blueprint end, as they both look for and share concrete information about growing various kinds of food plants.

          I do look to garden blogs for useful information. I do pay attention to the authority of the source, but many garden bloggers are master gardeners or highly trained horticultural professionals who have a lot of knowledge I can benefit from. the posts I star in my Google Reader are almost always ones that provide me with new knowledge — for example, Janie’s tutorial on how to divide bulbs, Allan Becker’s reports on results from his test gardens, Teza’s information on plants that I’ve never heard of before. I enjoy the impressionistic pieces, too, but they aren’t usually my favorites.

  16. Elephant's Eye permalink
    April 6, 2010 2:04 pm

    1. You can ‘Search blogs’ on the Blotanical site. Not always the most direct way to find That Post or Info. This – searching for information – is why I suggested that we send each post thru in rough categories – photos, veg, native/indigenous, wildlife … Then we could skim the latest 25 posts – within a category that interests us – and The Idiot could try to avoid photos of Muggles the cat gazing at daffodils 😉 For example, today I was trying to find out what’s happened to Feedjit – and at least I now know it is not just my blog.

    2. Something else you may want to research. Some Blotanists pick invisibly. I currently have 7 picks, but only 6 names. Whined at Stuart last time it happened, but he says they want to stay invisible. (What is that about? I only want to say Tx Invisible for picking my post.)

    • Jean permalink*
      April 6, 2010 2:31 pm

      Diana, Thanks for the reminder about “search blogs.” It’s not very useful for general categories, but is much better for more specific kinds of topics.

      The idea of categorizing posts (rather than blogs) is an interesting one. It would require that Stuart do some significant new programming, because right now all the picks lists are organized by blogs (new blogs, 200 most faved blogs, blogs in this part of the alphabet). Someone (maybe Meredith) had suggested organizing blogs by categories, rather than alphabetically, but this would only work if you allowed each blog to be listed in more than 1 category. And I fear where that would lead is to most people including their blog in most categories, which would actually make the pick lists less rather than more useful.

  17. April 6, 2010 2:53 pm

    Good work, Jean! I agree with other commenters that Stuart has done a fantastic job with creating and overseeing Blotanical. I also believe your tutorial will be a complementary addition.

    Personally, although I concede the truth of gender disparities, I caution against being too assumptive in classifying their traits. … However as soon as I typed this I realized that I’m preaching to the choir. Like I said, good work, Jean!

    • Jean permalink*
      April 8, 2010 12:56 pm

      Hi Grace, Thanks for your comments. I like to make a distinction between thinking of people as gendered (as in men are from Mars and women are from Venus) and thinking of behavior as gendered. I do think that a lot of behavior is gendered, in the sense that it is seen as more appropriate for women than for men or vice versa, but that individuals can choose to resist or challenge those expectations for how they should behave. If we choose not to conform to gender expectations, though, there often are consequences. And many of those expectations have been internalized so that we’re not even conscious of them; those behaviors are just part of who we are.

  18. April 20, 2010 1:20 pm

    Hi Jean,
    I’m pretty much caught up with your posts and the paper you presented, not that I would claim to have had time to read everything carefully and in-depth.
    As active as I am on Blotanical, there are so many details that I remain unaware of, and find pointed out when reading comments by other blotanists.

    It took many months for me to figure out simple navigation steps, because I was always in a rush – fitting Blotanical in between work and life! And that is still the case. I’m certain that I’m clueless about many aspects of how the site works; how points are accrued; how to locate all sorts of things.

    No matter what explanations are offered for newbies to become acquainted, or where the information might be located, there will likely be others like me who plunge in and become involved without ever taking the time to figure out all the ins and outs of Blotanical. Especially insofar as it is complex to navigate. And the ‘rules of the game’ may not seem to merit the time involved in becoming fully familiar.

    That said, I find the aspects of behavior with regard to engaging with the site and the community,
    AND the competitive element imbedded in the points, picks, and faving system to be fascinating.
    Worthy of a sociological study;-)

    • Jean permalink*
      April 22, 2010 7:46 pm

      Alice, Thanks for the thoughtful response and for sharing your experience with Blotanical. In offering to draft a very basic tutorial for newbies, I was less concerned with those like you who just plunge in and become involved even if they don’t understand all the fine points (does anyone besides Stuart understand all the fine points?) and more concerned with those who don’t become involved or give up after a few attempts when they feel overwhelmed by the complexities of the site.

  19. January 10, 2011 3:48 pm

    Jean, did you ever write that guide to using Blotanical because if you did I never saw it. What a nightmare and my former career involved figuring out the text codes around the world. If it hadn’t been for Donna at GWGT, I wouldn’t have survived. She answered in very detailed emails every question I asked her about how to do something in Blotanical (it never would have fit in those little boxes no matter how many ‘cont.” I used—I am much more of a rule breaker than you, I just thought word limit how ridiculous and went to the next box). I could forward them to you. Thank God Donna is a superblotanist without her and those like her Blotanical would be a much smaller place. It is frustrating because I have referred customers who like my blog to Blotanical and they can’t figure it out and aren’t going to take the time to.

    • January 29, 2011 11:56 pm

      Carolyn, Alas, I never did work on the primer. This is something I think i would need Stuart’s blessing for, and he went traveling with his family for 6 months, while I got caught up by other events in my life. Diana has recently suggested that I write a post that’s a letter to new Blotanists, and maybe that could be a first draft of a primer.

  20. January 10, 2011 3:49 pm

    I meant tax codes, of course.

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