Miller-Eccles Report

March 27, 2006 | 29 comments
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Last Friday and Saturday, I participated in a panel at the Miller-Eccles group, on the topic of Mormon blogging. The other panelists were my co-blogger Nate Oman, and Caroline Kline of the Exponent II blog. It was a lot of fun.

The audience contained a number of people completely unfamiliar with blogging. So I started out and spoke on a number of the basics: What a blog is; what the bloggernacle is; why people blog; and so forth. I spoke from a set of powerpoint slides which I’m including in this post.

From there, Nate spent some time discussing the question of whether blogs represent a Habermasian public space. He pointed out that the negligible cost of entry makes blogging a different type of discourse than traditional print media. He pointed out advantages and disadvantages in the blogging medium. He suggested three areas in which blogs can excel – short drafts; discussions of books and articles; and “gateway” discussions that bring readers into the broader world of Mormon studies discourse. Finally, he discussed the “graying” issue – pointing out that forums like Sunstone symposiums are not catching on with younger participants, and that bloggers and blog readers may represent the younger generation of people interested in Mormon studies.

Caroline discussed Mormon feminism. She has an excellent write-up of her remarks, over at her own blog. Her comments were very interesting. She pointed out that blogs allow women to receive ministering and support from other women. And she suggested that blogs build bridges, and make Mormon feminists less frightening.

Finally, I closed up with a short presentation on how to start blogging.

The questions and answers were great, both evenings. I think that the most thought-provoking question came from Mike McBride (Caroline’s husband) who asked whether blogs would continue if the readers left. That is, do we blog for our readers, for ourselves, or for some combination of the two? Other questions included whether blogging is a distraction from “serious” scholarship (yes); whether blogging is a good way of ministering to others (one reader suggested it is a lot like the description in Moroni); how much time blogging takes; how we get readers; whether blogging will ever lead to “sea change” in the church. And there were also a lot of how-to and how-does-it-work questions (“do I have to pay to read a blog?”).

The people were great, too. In addition to Caroline and Nate, we saw (I’ll try not to leave anyone off the list; this is from memory) Dave from DMI, Heather Oman, Carrie (Tales from the Crib) and Todd Lundell, Mike Parker, Manaen, Armand Mauss, Rob Briggs, Russ Frandsen (a.k.a. Rosalynde’s dad), Lorie Winder Stromberg, and a bunch of new faces. It was a lot of fun. Mardell and I had a very pleasant dinner with Rob Briggs, Armand and Ruth Mauss, and Mike McBride. I also had a great discussion with DMI Dave, Heather, and Todd and Carrie, about blogging.

So I thought the event was quite successful. I had fun talking about blogging – who doesn’t like to talk about blogging? – and I think the attendees enjoyed the discussion. Plus, I saw great people. What’s not to like? Now we just need to find some Mormon Studies group on the East Coast (New York? Boston?) to bring me and Caroline out East for an East Coast panel reprise.

My powerpoint presentations:

Welcome to the Bloggernacle

How to Start Blogging

Both are also available in Word format, if you don’t have Powerpoint. (The formatting gets a little strange in the transition, though, and the screenshots aren’t included.)

Welcome to the Bloggernacle (Word).

How to Start Blogging (Word).

Both presentations are copyright 2006. If you would like to reproduce them or otherwise use them, please let me know. Thanks to J. Stapley and to the PTB at BCC and FMH for information on readership numbers which was used in the slides; thanks to Dave Landrith for SQL advice on how to crunch the numbers from the T&S database to obtain statistics also used in the slides.

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29 Responses to Miller-Eccles Report

  1. Julie M. Smith on March 27, 2006 at 6:28 pm

    Your first link isn’t working.

  2. Ronan on March 27, 2006 at 7:16 pm

    Nice job, Kaimi. But it’s virgins we sacrifice at BCC you dope!

  3. Kaimi Wenger on March 27, 2006 at 7:27 pm

    Ronan,

    Hmm – I hadn’t thought to inquire about the dating history of the chickens you fellows sacrifice.

  4. Stephen M (Ethesis) on March 27, 2006 at 7:40 pm

    Interesting:

    • T&S traffic stats:
    • 11/18/2003: Blog begins; no audience.
    • 11/30/2003: 65 visits a day.
    • 12/5/2003: 140 visits a day.
    • 2/2004: 400 visits a day.
    • 6/2004: 900 visits a day.
    • 12/2004: 1800 to 2000 visits a day.
    • Since 12/2004, traffic has held steady at around 2000 visits a day. (Sometimes dipping to 1800; sometime rising to 2200 or 2400).

    and

    • Today: Depending on who’s counting, universe of Mormon blogs is between 40-50 up to 200+

    and

    • Recent entrant Blogger of Jared (3 months old) currently draws 60-100 visits per day.

    and

    • What do these statistics show?
    – A core group of 70 frequent participants (50+ comments in 6 months).
    – A much larger group of semi-frequent participants (10-50 comments in same period).
    – A very large number of people who make one or two comments.
    • In a day, T&S usually draws 100-150 comments.
    • The bloggernacle can be distinguished from non-Mormon blogs by its comment level.
    • Popular political blogs (for example) typically don’t generate nearly this level of comments.

    I learned something.

  5. Ryan on March 27, 2006 at 7:41 pm

    I am so bummed I wasn’t there, I think my mom was intentionally born during the same weekend 55 years ago so that her future son would feel obligated to go to her birthday party instead of a forum on mormon blogging.

    Maybe next time around huh?

    Kaimi, I may just have to follow Wade to school one day so that I can meet at least one person from the bloggernacle.This way I can recognize some of you when I am staring up from a lower kingdom.

  6. Clark on March 27, 2006 at 8:05 pm

    Interesting. I get about 400 unique visitors (by cookie) a day. That just doesn’t seem right. I’d think T&S would be getting more than 5x my visitation rates. Admittedly my rate for recurrent visitors (i.e. people who have a cookie and come back) is only about 40. I’d estimate that there is about twice that much who are regular readers (since many don’t read every day). It’s hard to figure out these statistics though. It just seems pretty odd to me that my more esoteric blog would be that close to T&S. (i.e. far less than a factor of 10) Admittedly I attract a lot of non-Mormon readers. But still…

    I ought look up M*’s statistics, although I can’t recall if they do the cookie trick to detect repeat visitors and to eliminate people who come multiple times during the day.

  7. Clark on March 27, 2006 at 8:06 pm

    Also, out of curiosity, does T&S’ traffic dip significantly on the weekends? I get about 1/2 the traffic on weekends I get on weekdays.

  8. J. Stapley on March 27, 2006 at 8:59 pm

    Clark, I think it is a disparity resulting from search traffic. I imagine you probably get ~200-300 search referals per day. I imagine that T&S gets less than 200 (though I could be wrong). Wo if you subtract out the searches from the total, you will get your 10x. This is one reason why blogger powered blogs get less traffic – they get less search refferals.

  9. Guy Murray on March 27, 2006 at 9:06 pm

    Thanks Kaimi for this follow up, and particularly the power points and word documentation. Wish I could have attended as well.

  10. Ryan on March 27, 2006 at 9:29 pm

    we notice a severe dip on weekends… this is probably related to our tendency to not post anything on weekends. The aggregators don’t have anything new from us, so there is no reason to visit.

  11. Aaron Brown on March 27, 2006 at 9:34 pm

    Kaimi — I, for one, would be interested in hearing more about the individual you say got baptized as a result of his/her discovery of the Bloggernacle. Is there an interesting story to be told?

    Aaron B

  12. Wade on March 27, 2006 at 10:16 pm

    Kaimi:

    I’m really upset I didn’t get the chance to hear you at the conference (and of course upset I didn’t get to attend class on Thursday – now I really have a hankerin’ for Trusts). I was also upset I didn’t get to meet Nate. But as you know, I was over in Chicago at the NCLR.

    Thanks for posting your slides. By the way, is that the only PowerPoint interface you know how to use? You know, you could get a little crazy and use some color now and again. :) Only kidding, I’m actually partial to that style of slides.

  13. Ryan on March 27, 2006 at 10:25 pm

    To those who attended the meeting:

    Did you notice any antagonism toward Mormon blogging from any of the attendees? If so, what issues were raised?

  14. meems on March 27, 2006 at 11:26 pm

    Thanks for those slides. They were really informative. I’m so sad I couldn’t be there!

  15. Clark on March 28, 2006 at 12:16 am

    That makes sense. I do get a lot of search traffic, partially because I post on obscure enough topics. Although I still get a surprising amount of traffic for Martha Beck’s book on Nibley. Generally at least 4 – 5 hits a day.

  16. Mike on March 28, 2006 at 12:38 am

    Thanks for the write-up, Kaimi. It was great to meet you and the other bloggers.

    Another interesting thing was the make-up of the audience. Being somewhat of a MESG regular these days, I noticed that the age distribution last weekend was similar to other MESG meetings. But that means that the audience was heavy on the gray side, which in turn means that it was not really a blogging audience (although there were some bloggers), which in turn means that it was new to many of them.

    Ryan, I noticed that many of the people were quite intrigued by the blogging phenomenon, while others were skeptical that blogging is making a meaningful contribution to the LDS community. I think this reflected a slight misunderstanding about how blogs differ from traditional outlets (Dialogue, Sunstone, etc.). Because blogs are more like conversations, a single blog thread is not likely to have the same impact as a well written article. But it can spark wider interest.

    I remember that there were a few oohs and aahs when Kaimi listed the T&S visitor stats. T&S is pulling in nearly as many visits each day as Dialogue has subscribers.

  17. Kaimi Wenger on March 28, 2006 at 12:41 am

    By the way, I was very much remiss in my original post, not to note that Dave at DMI has a post on the topic as well (and a good one), at http://mormoninquiry.typepad.com/mormon_inquiry/2006/03/free_bloggernac.html

  18. manaen on March 28, 2006 at 12:50 am

    Kaimi & Nate (& Caroline),

    Thanks for a very enjoyable evening. All three presentations were concise and a generous hand across the divide between today’s bloggers and the “gray” fora’s participants (I can say this because I also am in my 50’s). I overheard some of the regular attenders say among themselves that this had been one of their best meetings and very different from their usual material.

    I’m glad I now can put people to the names of writers I’ve enjoyed here. It was refreshing to discover the personal realities of you all.

    13. Ryan,
    I didn’t sense much antagonism towards LDS blogging in Friday’s meeting. The presentations were well organized and given by people the attenders would respect. The closest that I saw to antagonism was when someone suggested that maybe Nate should spend his time writing 40-page papers instead of blogs. “Should” was used as in a moral responsibility to apply his talents for (supposed) better purposes than hip-shot commenting in blogs. I felt that this was entirely wrong because we then wouldn’t have the thread on “Deer Are Evil.” Also, I benefit more from the combination of our discussions of personal questions and issues here and the time balance of blogging and my commitment to the daily fray than I would from reading 40-page papers.

  19. Aaron E on March 28, 2006 at 2:03 am

    Interesting information and a good presentation. I wouldn’t mind seeing someone (other than me) graph the recurrent themes in blog topics since the beginning. My own sense as a casual reader is that we have covered some ground that was useful, crazy, inappropriate or boring that is less frequently discussed now (perhaps for good reason, perhaps not). My own saturation (and ignorance) level could be showing but it seems to me that the distribution of topics has become somewhat more patterned and predictable.

    I am still interested and often engaged by the initial posts and sometimes the discussion but I wonder if it will be challenging for you core bloggers to keep us free riders interested in your posts without boring either us or you and becoming repetitive.

    Of course as the only (as far as I know) blog reader in my EQP, I have an endless supply of good discussion topics. I would give you all credit for the ideas more often but you know how it sounds to say, “I was reading on the internet about this person I don’t know who said that….and that’s why the Church is true.”

  20. Jack N on March 28, 2006 at 2:49 am

    Kaimi, Nate and Caroline. A very good presentation by all of you.. I was at Friday meeting. Thanks for the heads up in T&S.
    I did feel it was a little of new media talking to old media. Then there was that little comment about you each writing some 40 page papers. I think the implication was you should do something serious in your lives.
    I only knew of the blogs of two of the speakers, everybody else was a stranger. The lady next to me was a journalist and did not read blogs-I mentioned a few that I liked (other than T&S). You may get a few new readers out of this, but it seemed most liked the way they were receiving information now.

  21. Seth R. on March 28, 2006 at 10:47 am

    Do members of the “core group” get a free t-shirt, club handshake, and a secret password?

    Oh, and don’t forget the obligatory decoder ring!

    Sounds like it was a fun meeting. It’d be nice to actually attend one of these things sometime (when I actually have money for a plane ticket …).

  22. Matt Evans on March 28, 2006 at 11:22 am

    Aaron E, I suffer from blogging burnout and boredom — I’ve written fewer posts in each subsequent 12-month period since I started blogging in 2002. My most “productive” year was the one before we started T&S. This is no news to my regular readers, but it’s been all down hill . . .

  23. Mike Parker on March 28, 2006 at 1:50 pm

    It was nice to meet Kaimi and Nate at the Friday meeting. Both of you did a great job. (As did Caroline, whom I have not previously read.)

    WRT the “graying” of the audience: I think that there are a certain small percentage of the Saints who are interested in delving into deeper issues of faith, history, and doctrine, and want to explore the boundaries and controversial areas. Dialogue and Sunstone have served that community since the 60s and 70s, but the rising generation is turning to the Internet to fill that need. In fact, I can see Sunstone disappearing within 10 years unless they aggressively move more of their content online and get serious about blogging.

    (BTW, I am not the same person as Mike #16.)

  24. annegb on March 28, 2006 at 8:54 pm

    So, is Armand Maus the guy who wrote the comic books about the Holocaust?

  25. Clark on March 28, 2006 at 11:12 pm

    Interestingly Sunstone has its own blog and appears to be starting to take it a bit more seriously. Dialog has connections to BCC, although I’ve not seen as much made of that of late.

    It’s an interesting question as there are starting to be more opportunities for academic inquiry. Both in terms of conferences (such as last week’s SMPT conference or this Miller-Eccles meeting) as well as obviously texts. Why pay for Sunstone when you can get most of the same materials online?

    It’s an interesting question we’ve discussed here before.

  26. Juliann on March 29, 2006 at 2:00 am

    I really enjoyed the presentations. I was at the Sat. lecture. It was obvious from where I sat that a few uninitated audience members were fascinated. Usually I find that people either understand the attraction or they think it is an absolutely stupid waste of time and there is no talking to them about it. There is also a divide between those who like message boards as opposed to blogs. I find blogs too exclusive and clique-ish and prefer the fast action and individual control on message boards. However, I find these blogs an impressive display of the intellectual and literary prowess of believing LDS.

    I have some concerns about the heavy emphasis on the word “feminist” in the blogger world. I discussed this briefly with Caroline. In a quick and unscientific survey of 6 women from my elist, 4 were repelled by the word…not what it entailed. That means that bloggers who want to stand on that word are automatically excluding over half of their intended audience before they even see the product.

  27. jana on March 29, 2006 at 11:52 am

    Juliann:
    I’m curious *why* the 6 women on your elist are repelled by the word feminist. Just what does this word mean to them?

    Caroline, Kaimi and Nate:
    Good work on the MESG presentations! I was there Friday and thought it was one of the more interesting MESG talks in the last few years–it certainly generated a great deal of discussion and I appreciated that Frandsen allowed you those extra 20 min or so. :)

    For those of you who want more connection to the LA-area blogging community, SunstoneWest will have a session featuring contributors to the Exponentblog on Apr 22 @ Claremont Graduate University (see http://www.sunstoneonline.com for the preliminary program)

  28. not a feminist on March 29, 2006 at 8:36 pm

    I don’t know Juliann (comment #26), but personally find the word “feminist” in an LDS setting to me has negative connotations of being anti-establishment. As a faithful adherent to church hierarchy and patriarchy, I would be dismayed to be called a feminist (even though I am an intelligent woman and published author), and thus find the term repelling.

  29. Juliann on March 30, 2006 at 2:19 am

    I think “not a feminist” states the majority view. Comments centered around the word bringing up visions of women who hate men, women seeking to assert themselves are not the same as feminists, a positive sentiment concluded with the word having too much baggage. Using it was seen as a method of “hanging on to the history”…but in a way that ticked people off (such as the gay movement trying to hitch a ride on the civil rights movement) Those of us who lived through it have problems with what it became…not what it started as. As one woman put it, “We’ve gone from women being sex objects to, gosh, women being sex objects. Guess we haven’t come a long way after all baby!” As an card carrying member of the original NOW, I want nothing to do with the self-indulgent elitist cult of personality that the movement became. I feel like they sold us out and literally ate their young…which is why any gathering of feminists presents a sea of gray hair.