When I wrote this page, our survey for older bloggers was still open for a few more days. It closed on Sunday 17 June. The video below, now obsolete, explains why we needed you to share your experience as a middle-aged or older person with a personal blog.
The Older Bloggers’ Survey is now closed. I’ll leave this page here just for the record, and update you elsewhere when the results are clear. (Working on it!)
People say the Older Bloggers Survey was fun, and we hope it will lead to new policies and opportunities related to the ageing population. We have made assumptions, and now we want facts. We want to know how you blog, why you blog, when you started, and what you gain from blogging. You can do the survey no matter what your age, as long as you have your own blog.
Seniors with a personal blog: an unexamined sphere
We are part of a huge community of bloggers with an important role to play in the world. But who pays attention to us? All research into blogging seems to be focused on business blogs, but most of us are blogging for personal reasons.
We’re the first cohort to be getting old en masse, and we are finding our way. What to do when you are old in the internet age?
We’re the first cohort to plunge into blogging as a retirement activity, because blogging wasn’t possible before.
We know our own blogging world very well, but we’re like a secret society to the rest of the world.
My reasons for launching a survey of older bloggers
For years my work was focused on business, government, academic and non-profit content. Then I withdrew from my business and launched a personal blog on an unrelated topic—ageing. To my surprise I found numerous kindred spirits, many of them also writing about the strange and unexpected experience of growing older. This world, buzzing with active, eloquent, knowledgeable people, has been pretty well undocumented until now, and I always want to know more. Don’t you?
I want to test these hypotheses—in other words, assumptions that may be right or wrong:
Blogging provides social, emotional, and mental benefits for people over 60
Older bloggers have some problems with usability and accessibility
Blogging could usefully be promoted for the social and emotional benefit of isolated older people
The survey will shine a light on the world of personal blogs
First let’s get some facts. Then we’ll see how our experience can help others, and maybe solve a few problems along the way.
Thank you to our seven testers: as a result of your input we have made many questions clearer, added some new questions and removed others.
There will be a time limit to this historic survey of older bloggers—but so far, it’s open to all. Ready, steady, go!
The people behind the Older Bloggers’ Survey are Rachel McAlpine and Dr Judith Davey. It’s wise to be cautious about surveys, so we hope our bios will show you that this is a genuine initiative, and that your data is in safe hands with us.
I was a pioneer in the field of web content, researching and writing and teaching about this topic from 1996 onwards. My non-fiction books include Web Word Wizardry, Write Me A Web Page, Elsie!,Crash Course in Corporate Communications, Business Writing Plus, Global English for Global Business, and Song in the Satchel: Poetry in the High School. I am a poet and novelist, and for a brief period was a Chartered IT Professional of New Zealand. I am not an academic but I do have has a BA Hons in English Literature and a Dip. Ed. in Education.
Dr Judith Davey
Judith’s personal focus for research is the ageing of the population and its policy implications. She is a keen advocate for Positive Ageing and for everyone to enjoy “the stage of life formerly known as retirement.”
Dr. Judith Davey was Director of the New Zealand Institute for Research on Ageing (NZiRA) from 2002 to 2007 and is now a Senior Research Associate of the Institute of Governance and Policy Studies (IGPS) at Victoria University of Wellington. She is also a voluntary policy advisor for Age Concern New Zealand.
Prior to joining Victoria University in 1991 she was the Deputy Director of the New Zealand Planning Council and started up in business as a consultant on social policy and social research in the 1970s. Judith is a graduate of London University and did her PhD at Durham University. Before coming to New Zealand, she was also a post-doctoral researcher at the University of Cambridge.
UPDATE: Thanks to my five older bloggers who have volunteered to test a survey about their experience. The process has begun and you will surely tell me about anything that is confusing or wrong. Then I can fix any problems that are spotted by more than one person, and release the survey into the wild!
Hello there! I have been looking for any research into bloggers over 60—without any luck. So I’m preparing a survey that aims to discover what you like and dislike about blogging with WordPress. For example, I’ll be asking:
What annoys you about other people’s blogs?
What problems have you had with your own blog?
What improvements in WordPress would you appreciate?
The purpose of the survey is to alert WordPress developers to any areas where they could improve the experience of older people. We do have special issues, physical limitations for example, or perhaps problems with some technology.
My hunch is that more and more seniors are getting involved in the blogosphere. I believe that blogging brings thousands of seniors a creative outlet, a purpose, a mental challenge, and an active social life—even if it’s not face to face, we still are conversing and making friends. All these factors are known to help us to live longer and healthier lives, at the very time when most nations are having to adapt to the challenges of a rapidly ageing population.
When the survey is ready for action, I’ll update this page and I hope you’ll also spread the word.
In the meantime, you surely have your own special bug-bears or delights while blogging. Please tell me, and if possible I will build your questions into the survey. I would really, really appreciate your contribution.
Once there were RSS feeds, and I had one on my blog. For months it shuffled people to the wrong URL—my fault, and what a waste.
Some people still prefer RSS feeds, and who am I to suggest a change? Changing online habits is such a pain, and I myself resist it with a little question: how does this improve my own life or others’?
Nevertheless I can’t resist whispering a word of unsolicited advice. O ye bloggers and readers, one tiny new habit can save you rather a lot of time, in the long run.
Follow other blogs without pain or penalty
The immense size, the richness of the WordPress blogging community is both thrilling and overwhelming. After a certain point you need a strategy or you will go crazy!
Never miss a post from your favourite bloggers.
Never feel overwhelmed by blogs you like but want to read only occasionally.
Each time you follow a new blog by hitting the Follow button (top right of the screenshot above), pause for a second. By activating the Settings icon immediately below, you get some options. First, do you want to be told by WordPress when a new post appears on the blog you’ve decided to follow? It’s not mandatory, it’s a choice. Second, do you want an email with that information? If so, would you like instant updates? Daily updates? Weekly updates?
Maybe you spend a lot of time in the blogosphere and don’t want to miss a thing: then you’ll opt for instant updates by email as well as notices in your personalised WordPress Reader.
Maybe you have only got about 15 minutes per week to read blogs: then you’ll want updates from just a few key people, and catch up on others on vacation.
Maybe you follow 1,000 blogs, but only need to read posts on specific topics. Then you might get weekly updates on specialist blogs, and skim the others with Reader: Search.
Skim in Reader to select before you read
Using email notifications is a great way to follow your hot favourites, and never miss a post. But you’re sure to follow other blogs as well, blogs that delight you now and then. You’ll want to see a headline before you open that blog. What is this post about? You need a signpost and a summary.
You get that on WordPress Reader facility. For skimming in advance, it is a beauty, on a screen of any size.
So you see, you can probably do everything you need as a reader without exiting the WordPress system. Which saves time.
Still want me to add an RSS Feed? I might. I might not.
On first encountering the web in 1996, like most people I was fascinated by two key questions: how can I find information online and how can I enable my own web pages to get found? Like any poet trying to get her head around a problem I constructed real-life analogies—analogies that failed promptly, because a digital world is not a physical world.
By the time I got involved around 1995, Yahoo! and WebCrawler and Lycos were doing their thing, then came LookSmart, Excite, Altavista, Inktomi and Ask Jeeves. Their processes were mystifying, their Search Engine Results Pages (SERPs) even more so.
Two filing cabinets for the World Wide Web
But Yahoo! stood out. Why? Because in its early years, it didn’t rely on spiders (robots that crawl the web and index and catalogue every page). You could submit your website to Yahoo! for inclusion. Yahoo! used real live human beings to evaluate each site—is it worth listing? is it correctly categorised?—before listing it in a ginormous directory.
(You realise that I’m over-simplifying, of course. This is a little blog post, not a PhD thesis.)
Such a pedestrian system of indexing is unimaginable now, with over 1,860,000,000 websites—oh, seconds later, that figure is way out of date. But it was doable, and kind of comprehensible. You could imagine Yahoo!’s sub-contractors as working librarians in a monstrous ethereal library. You could send them your “book” and they would decide whether it was worthy of inclusion, and which Dewey number would apply. In other words, they were filing websites. There was a “place” for every website, a folder, or a sub-folder, and if every website was filed correctly, they could be quickly discovered.
DMOZ, or the Open Directory Project, was even more noble in concept. Their conceptual filing was performed entirely by volunteer editors. I don’t think they ever developed other layers of search technology, such as web crawlers. And DMOZ closed down in 2015.
Who are you?
Extreme filing cabinet types have a place for everything, and everything in its place.
Extreme search engine types wander around searching plaintively for their car keys every day. On a good day, they say “Keys!”, and five sets of keys leap into their arms.
Most of us fall in the middle, doing our best to file things correctly and failing quite often.
All search facilities are cross-breeds using multiple methods
In the digital sphere, today most search engines combine a raft of criteria into a jealously guarded algorithm that changes frequently. If you were there in the early days, I’m sure you’ve noticed that results have improved exponentially as searchers, publishers, bloggers, developers and search engines refine their techniques.
On WordPress, for example…
Bloggers can give each blog post a Category (that’s rather like putting the post in a kind of folder dedicated to one type or topic of information).
Bloggers can list an unlimited number of Tags (other words or phrases that tell people and search engines what the page is about).
We can also write an SEO Description (a summary of what a particular post is about or for), a “slug” that gives us control over the URL, and an Excerpt.
WordPress makes it easy to provide titles, captions, alt-text and descriptions for every image we use.
WordPress gives bloggers advice about how to use all these fields. Not that bloggers follow guidelines as a rule: most of us do our own thing.
WordPress performs other magic Search Engine Optimisation tricks in the background, buried in code that most of us never see.
All these titbits of information about the topic or function of one particular blog post provide more guidance for search engines, more information for readers as they search, and a higher probability that search results are relevant and listed in order of value to the reader.
In other words, the Filing Cabinet is incorporated into every search engine, and a Search Engine into every Filing Cabinet. This is inevitable, given that digital information does not suffer from the intrinsic limitations of a physical folder.
To cross-reference information, we had to pack at least two folders with identical information, for example one filed according to topic, one according to date. And we tagged items with coloured labels.
To file the entire contents of the world wide web, you’d need an outrageous number of categories, making the whole process almost pointless. Take DMOZ: On October 31, 2015, there were 3,996,412 sites listed in 1,026,706 categories. (Source: Wikipedia) One category for every four websites? Imagine a library organised like that, with four books per category.
To categorise sites perfectly, you would need to see the future.
Search engine technology permeates all our work
Search engines are everywhere, and their success is always connected to a vigorous effort at imposing order on the materials.
Every application that purports to organise our virtual office provides choices between Folders (they might be called Notebooks or Categories or any one of 40 other names) and Tags (again, every developer thinks up a new name for the same thing).
Can you think of any application you use that does not incorporate search? I can’t.
Filing cabinet habits are invaluable for real stuff
Putting everything in its place doesn’t come naturally to most of us. Instead we learn from painful experience that it does save time.
I’ve just appointed myself life coach to my 18-year-old grandson, who is suddenly in sole charge of organising his own studies, apartment, meals, money and his time. All alone. He’s doing great, but it’s an overwhelming task. You can picture it, I think? So he’s begun three tiny habits, each with a trigger, and action, and a reward. One is to put away every garment that he takes off. Reward: clear floor space and satisfaction—Nice work! he says. Yes: ideally, every garment will be put in its place, whether a chest of drawers or the washing machine. With such tiny gestures will order emerge from chaos.
I’m a fraud as a life coach, because I badly need to cultivate my own tiny habits. Organising my computer files is a work in progress and always will be. Folders feature strongly and I too drop stray files on the floor (desktop) every day. They all have a place—mainly in the trash.
What of our minds as we shift to instantaneous information feeds?
It’s easy to get sloppy about controlling our own information, now that search engines are brilliant. Yes, yes, excuse me but they are brilliant at what they do. Maybe you hate them but just think back 20 years and count your blessings! Maybe you fear them for their invasion and stealth, but it’s a tradeoff we make while fully informed of the risks.
So has the extreme efficiency of Google changed the way you work and read and think? I believe I’m more scatty. I flick across websites. I taste and taste and taste, half-hoping there’s something more appealing only one click away.
I don’t like this. I yearn for limits, constraints to my information guzzling. I dream of the old days when you had to know where to look.
I’ve recently deleted news apps and Facebook from my iPhone, disturbed by the constant updating on news sites and the random news items on Facebook. For my news I now rely on the radio, the odd newspaper in a cafe, and a couple of long reads per week. It’s a start.
I can’t blame search engines alone for this. But they play a part. I’ll use them forever, but … mindfully? Bring on the tiny habits.
I am darned if I’ll write more than a couple of lines… because my last few blog posts have been kidnapped. This is just a test. Will this link do as instructed or lead you to Badlands 404?
Update on the missing blog posts
Problem solved, for now. Everything back in place. It was the pixies.
Of most concern were some drafts and scheduled posts: not yet published but almost ready to go. Along with the last few blog posts they had apparently vanished from my blog. My friends and followers were receiving the usual automated emails alerting them to a new post. Then they’d click on the link provided and land on a 404 (bad link,no-such-page) page.
No likes, no comments for about a week. Funny, I thought. What I had done to offend you nice people? Because it had to be my fault, right?
Then the phantom posts all reappeared again, and we’re kind of back to normal, I think.
I haven’t copied or saved anything. I’m going to trust in the mighty community of WordPress developers to carry on doing their magic.