It’s not mandatory to join the blogging conversation

Blogger wearing a t-shirt with logo "I blog", speech bubble says "no comment"

That’s right: it’s OK to blog without reading or commenting on other people’s blogs! There’s no law against it. It’s fine.

My last post was about the frequency and time spent by older bloggers on writing a blog vs. reading and commenting on blogs. As you saw, respondents had very different habits, and some never read other blogs or commented on them.

I hope this post will help if you struggle to read all the blogs you follow, if you feel anxious or overwhelmed or even guilty for not reading and sharing enough. You’re not alone: many people in our survey indicated that they feel this way.

I’m here to tell you that you can stop right now—stop feeling worried, I mean, not stop blogging. Do it your way.

If you are (like me) pretty committed to reading what others write in their blogs and comments —and it’s obvious that I find your comments fascinating—then it can be hard to understand why anybody would say firmly, “I don’t read blogs” or “I don’t comment.” After all, you understand the blessings of a dynamic online community, and the delight of discovering a kindred spirit or a “friend” out there in the blogosphere. For you, at least half the point of blogging is the social side. You feel puzzled and maybe even a bit indignant at the idea of just doing your own thing online.

Yet not commenting is extremely common. That is pure speculation on my part, but I state it boldly based on information from ManageWP.com:

Here’s an incredible fact: together, you published more than 660 million posts on WordPress.com in 2015, and made more than 655 million comments.

Surprise surprise: the ratio of posts to comments was virtually 50:50 in 2015, and I doubt this has changed very much. Now, it’s unusual for a blog post to have only one comment—it’s far more likely to have zero comments or several, don’t you think? This implies that the vast majority of blog posts have no comments at all; which in turn implies that the majority of bloggers don’t comment. I deduce that:

  • many people blog but don’t read other blogs
  • many people read but don’t blog
  • most bloggers don’t comment

Since I began researching this topic of older bloggers, I have become less and less and less judgemental. Sure, we have common guidelines such as don’t be mean, don’t tell lies, don’t promote your own blog on somebody else’s, and so forth. But apart from these basics, everyone finds their own niche, their own style, their own goals—and yours are rarely mine.

But why would any blogger deliberately avoid reading and commenting on blogs?

There are many reasons for deliberately deciding not to read or comment on other blogs. It’s not caused by a character flaw.  Let me gently suggest nine reasons, all of which are true of certain people I follow. They’re related to time available, other pressures, and the purpose of the blog. You can doubtless think of many others.

  1. A blog may consist of highly academic long articles by someone who has a full-time job and blogs in his own time.
  2. A blogger may be very ill or recovering from a serious illness.
  3. A blogger may have a disability that makes blogging extremely demanding.
  4. A blogger may spend 40 hours per week researching high quality information, gathered not from other blogs but from primary sources such as reputable medical or legal government reports. She is performing a public service already, without chatting online.
  5. A blogger may have thousands of followers and get hundreds of comments each week; if she began to answer those comments, the high quality of her blog would drop—and high quality content is exactly why she has thousands of followers.
  6. A blogger may be so chronically introverted that just to publish anything is a triumph; to engage with readers would be just too painful.
  7. A blogger may use her blog exclusively for creative self-expression: readers are genuinely irrelevant to the writer.
  8. Some bloggers have lives apart from blogging, so they tell me!
  9. Although you and I may relish online social interaction, no personal blogger needs to justify a choice like this.

Many thanks to the readers who raised this topic—you got me thinking!

WordPress posts and comments are in the millions: article by ManageWP

The day I woke up

wake up.jpgMy mother said that seventy years
is plenty of years and after that
you’re a nuisance a mistake
you’re a burden to the state.
So when I hit seventy I noticed the date
but mothers are allowed to be wrong about stuff
some of the time, that’s fair enough
and the seventies turned out to be
a sweet spot, at least so far, at least for me
until I looked around and all I could see
was other old people trotting along like me
and I thought Uh oh, you mean there’s more?
But how much more? To be precise
how many years am I meant to live?
Statistics say
the average woman of my age
will live to 84 but hey
I’m not average (nobody is)
so give me a number, do me the math.

So Google found me a questionnaire
that I trusted to offer a pretty good guess
and I answered 40 questions
and I waited for the verdict
with existential angst and strangled breath.

“Based on your answers you are likely to die
at the ripe old age of 99.”
And I said No, that isn’t me
I could almost imagine being 83
but 99 I’ll never be.
Let’s try another questionnaire
a better one a proper one
let’s do the Mayo Clinic one
I’ll fudge the truth and get the truth
and surely I’ll die in the flush of youth.

Now what does the Mayo Clinic say?
Oh shit I’m heading for 98?
I stormed away from my stand-up desk
and flung myself with all my soul
into the sulk of the century
the ultimate apoplectic huff
short of actual apoplexy
for which you need a dodgy heart
and while I raged, my heart chuffed on and on
like a good old puffer train.

Two days later I settled down and I said to myself,
Well bugger that, it’s just a guess
and I might die the week after next
but it does make a certain sort of sense—
life expectancy on the rise
me with my excellent Girl-Guide habits
my good nutrition and education
me with a home and superannuation
me with phenomenal life-long luck
of lucky time and place and genes
it’s not so freaky to believe
I could survive to 99
whether I like it or not.
If so… if so…
I’ve still got a quarter of my life to go
so I’d better get my ducks in a row.
I thought I’d die in a rocking chair
everything normal for a few more years
then a sudden sit down and a quick let down
and that’d be dying done and dusted.
But now I have to brace myself, face the facts
face my fears and the bonus years
the years and years I never chose
and make them as good as I can.
I knew all about old people
you see them everywhere
but in a million years I never dreamt
one day they would be me.

MP3 recording of this poem

Poem and recording CC BY 2.0 Rachel McAlpine

Older bloggers: patterns of engagement with the blogging process

 

Cat lying beside a diary with a daily note to Blog!
Ursula is exhausted by her daily blogging habit

We asked 123 older bloggers a series of questions about their blogging habits—not just their writing habits, but also their patterns of reading and commenting. Our results, in my opinion, confirm a finding by Pew Research Center last year: that older adults who do use social media tend to view the internet in a positive light, and to be highly active and engaged.

Habits of reading and commenting on other blogs

Regardless of age, most bloggers are pretty keen to get readers and followers and comments on their own blogs, and this applies to both marketing and personal blogs. So we wondered how committed to online social interaction our older bloggers were. I was keen to find out how much time our respondents spent reading and commenting on other people’s blogs.

Question 6: Approximately how many blogs posts do you read in a typical week?

This was only mildly informative, because some blog posts are just a photo or a short quote, while others are long reads. For the record, here are the results (percentages are rounded):

Read fewer than 25 posts per week: 42%
Read 25–50 blog posts per week: 34%
Read 51–75 blog posts per week: 9%
Read 76–100 blog posts per week: 3%
Read 101–150 blog posts per week: 4%
Read more than 150 blog posts per week: 7%

In comments, the situation became clearer.

Ten respondents made it very clear that they were there to blog, not to read other people’s blogs. Some explained why they didn’t read more. Examples: 

  • “I don’t read blogs. I write a blog.”
  • “Very seldom come across a blog that I care to read regularly.”
  • “I unsubscribe from any blog that posts regularly more than once a week.”

14 comments showed a commitment to reading and commenting on other people’s blogs. Examples:

  • “I try to read all those I follow — not always successfully.”
  • “I read 25-30 a week, mainly to keep up with the bloggers who read and comment on my blog.”
  • “I respond to all who comment on my posts as well as some special interest ones.”

The largest group of comments consisted of 16 people who either said their reading varied week to week, or cited lack of time and other commitments. Examples:

  • “It varies week to week. Some days I read 20 in a day, other times nothing.”
  • “It really depends on the time available.”

This leads us to another group of 5 bloggers who struggle with the perceived need to read and comment on other blogs. Examples:

  • “I don’t know how to navigate this medium”
  • “It’s so hard to keep up with all of them!”
  • “It can be overwhelming since I also try to comment regularly. But, it’s hard to decide who to unfollow… and I keep adding more.”

Question 7: Approximately how long do you spend reading and commenting on blog posts?

30% of older bloggers spend 0–2 hours weekly reading and commenting on posts, and 10% spend more than 12 hours

What is startling about this graph, to me, is not that 30% of older bloggers spend 2 hours or less per week reading and commenting on blogs, but the fact that 11% estimated that they spent more than 12 hours per week on this activity. That’s a serious time commitment to the social aspect of blogging!

This question was a difficult one to answer, as comments made clear:

  • “Again, sometimes I don’t do it, other times I can spend up to 5 hours or so.”
  • “It’s hard to differentiate between reading comments on my blog and commenting on others, It’s all in the same mix, especially when using the app on a mobile device.”
  • “I try to keep a balance between spending too much time reading other people’s blogs and doing my own writing. I love supporting bloggers so I make an effort to read as many as I can.”
  • “Friends will comment on how much time it must take to write a blog. I always say it’s not the writing, it’s the reading of other blogs!”

Commitment to writing and publishing their own blog posts

To be published online is, by definition, the purpose of any blog, rather than social interaction, and here we can make some comparisons with marketing blogs.

Question 8. How often do you blog?

I was very surprised to see how many of our respondents published as often as once a week or even daily. The following graph shows the answers from our survey of older bloggers:

Graph shows how often older bloggers post. Less than once a month:

Compare the above with the results from Orbit Media’s 4th Annual Blogger Survey below. According to this 2017 survey of 1377 bloggers, our older bloggers are more than four times more likely to publish a blog post daily than the Orbit Media bloggers. I’m assuming that the blogs in Orbit Media’s survey are mostly marketing or professional blogs, and that the bloggers are on average considerably younger than our “older bloggers.”

Graph from Orbit Media showing how frequently bloggers publish

Bear in mind that our survey is not directly comparable with any other, especially as we don’t have a figure for “2–6 posts per week” as Orbit Media does. Even so, our figures indicate a heavy commitment from a substantial percentage of older, non-commercial bloggers.

Q.9 Approximately how long do you spend each week preparing and publishing your own blog posts? (Choose the best answer.)

time-prepare-publish-blog.jpg

The figures (rounded) are as follows:

0–2 hours per week: 28% (33 responses)
3–4 hours per week: 32% (38 responses)
5–6 hours per week: 13% (15 responses)
7–8 hours per week: 11% (13 responses)
9–10 hours per week: 6% (7 responses)
more than 10 hours per week: 10% (12 responses)

It seems that most older bloggers in this survey do not stint on the time they spend creating and publishing a blog post. Let’s compare their answers with some data in Orbit Media’s survey of 2017, below.

How-long-does-it-take-to-write-a-typical-post-.jpg

Orbit Media’s 2017 survey focused on the average time that bloggers spend writing their blogs, and they found that the average blog post takes 3 hours and 20 minutes to write. Again, that’s presumably for marketing or professional bloggers.

I suspect that patterns that appear in our Older Bloggers survey are fairly similar to those from Orbit Media. In itself, would that be surprising? After all, we are the same individuals that we were when we were at work five or twenty years ago, and maybe we just carry on with similar habits of work.

It’s late and I’m not good at arithmetic, but I have a hunch that the average blog post by our older bloggers took a little longer than 3 hours 20 minutes. Let’s not go nano over this, because our sample is comparatively small. But my personal guess is that older bloggers take a little longer on average than younger people to create and publish a blog post.

Maybe that’s because we are more dedicated. Or maybe it’s just because everything takes us a little bit longer…

I’ll be back with another instalment of the report this Friday. (The pressure! The pressure!)

Please share freely, with a link and my name, Rachel McAlpine. CC BY 2.0

 

We are your templates

pigeon

When we bang on about our trips
and our memoirs and our blogs
and our grandchildren (the best of kind)
and our ills and pills and volunteering
and our hearing aids and hips
pay attention, don’t switch off
because
this is the first time we’ve ever been old
and we’re wondering how to do it
not just for us but for you.

I state my age out loud and often
not because I’m proud
but to populate the middle ground
between the ones you know:

the marathon-running nonagenarian
and your tragic memory of someone
whose ending was unbearable
as far as you could tell.

I’m a middle child, an average, a sample
squatting on top of a bell curve
and my name is Legion.
You don’t notice us but we’re OK.
Look at us and know
old age has many faces
let’s keep our options open.

MP3 recording of this poem

Poem and recording and photo CC BY 2.0 Rachel McAlpine. Feel free to share, citing my name as the author.

 

Who answered our Older Bloggers Survey?

Cartoon of old man saying "I'm not older!" and a young girl on a mountain saying, "I'm older!"
Cartoon of old man saying "I'm not older!" and a young girl on a mountain saying, "I'm older!"
Who identifies as an “older blogger”? Choose your own definition of older.

First, how many people completed our Older Bloggers Survey in May-June 2018? Altogether 123 people responded. Some skipped a few questions, but most questions were answered by 110–120 people. Moreover, most questions evoked numerous comments, which illuminate the results.

Who were these older bloggers? We imposed no age restriction, so people made their own decisions about whether they qualified as “older”. To our surprise, 7% of respondents were under 45. I thought their decision to take the survey was perfectly understandable: at 30, it’s natural to feel much older than 20, and at 40 much older still.

Even with this interesting minority involved, we did reach our intended population. It’s difficult to find accurate information about the age of bloggers in general, but there’s no doubt that our respondents are significantly older than the average blogger, as a group. (Percentages are rounded.)

  • 40% were aged 55–64
  • 34% were 65–74
  • 11% were 75 or older.

Where do respondents live?

The survey shows that 47% live in USA, 24% in the United Kingdom, 11% in New Zealand, 7% in Australia, 5% in Canada, and smaller numbers in India, Italy, Malaysia, S. Africa, Thailand and Poland. I see nothing surprising about this information, which reflects these two facts: the survey is in English, and the survey’s designers live and blog in New Zealand.

When did the older bloggers start blogging?

Older people are stereotyped as technophobes and low users of the internet, and indeed there is evidence for this. But, as we see here, that’s not the full story.

Of the respondents to the Older Bloggers Survey, 40% began blogging between 55–64, and 21% began after the age of 65. One started at age 83—and one as a teenager. One was a very early adopter: “I started blogging a little before Facebook and laptops and smart phones.”

At what age did you start blogging? 40% of older bloggers were 55–64.
Graph showing at what age our older bloggers started to blog

Of the 46 comments on this question, most show that age was not the trigger but some life event. The “when” of starting to blog is entangled with the “why”:

  • 9 bloggers said they began when they retired
  • 6 started blogging for work, to promote a business or a book, to create an online professional profile or to help with a job hunt
  • 2 began after having their first child
  • several began when they gained a new interest, for example in wine, travel, sustainable living, a 900km hike, or the new technology.

The events that trigger a blogging debut may be complex and idiosyncratic. Here are two comments that demonstrate this rather gloriously.

  • “Started months after husband’s sudden death by accidentally publishing and not knowing how to remove from Internet so continued to save face.”
  • “I started blogging in order to publicise my books, as a vehicle for my creativity and to vent my spleen.”

What are their blogs about?

Our survey asked, What is the title of your main blog? and we got 122 replies. From their titles, I expected to learn something about the topic or theme of each blog. But it wasn’t so simple.

  • At least 43 blog titles give no clear hint about the topic or theme.
  • At least 20 have titles that suggest ageing or retirement is an important topic of the blogs, e.g. Middle-aged Warrior, My Retirement Journey, Waking up on the wrong side of 50, Time Goes ByWhat it’s really like to get old, and Savoring Sixty and Beyond.
  • At least 19 titles state or hint at the writer’s name, e.g. BeetleyPete, Candidkay, and Wendy Goes Outside.
  • At least 14 suggest that writing or blogging is the main topic, e.g. The Word, How to Start a Blog, and Jotting Ink
  • About 8 titles specify the exact topic of their blog, as in WineTalkGroup,
  • At least 6 titles denote a professional or technical blog, for example  Mobile Mum Tech Rescue, Low Visionary, and various authors’ blogs.

Please take this categorisation of blog titles with a grain of salt. You notice that each number is qualified by “at least” or “about”. That’s because older bloggers seem to have fun naming their blogs, so that many blog titles are ambiguous, inventive, comical, multipurpose, punning, mysterious, or all of the above. How to categorise susieshy45, for example, or Myricopia, or Tootlepedal’s Blog? (Fortunately for the reader, a blog’s tag-line usually clarifies the theme or main topic.)

Judging by their titles, we can safely say that the majority of these blogs are personal rather than professional. As you’ll see in the next article, this does not seem to detract from the time and energy and commitment invested by older bloggers.


PS As you see, the number of reports on this survey has already increased. Next report on Monday is about the habits of older bloggers: how often they blog, how much time they spend, and so forth.

Please share, with a link to this page. CC BY 2.0 Rachel McAlpine

The rise of the new unyoung

Over-65s music fans at WOMAD New Zealand 2015
Music fans over 65 at WOMAD New Zealand 2015: just like normal people

It’s the lot of our lot to figure it out
nobody but us, the oldish,
the unyoung, the new old, can work it out
how to be the age we are
when the age we are and the age we’re in
are doubly strange. In the past
a few individuals survived
to a hundred years or more
but generations didn’t.
The very old were rare
tapped by Her Majesty the Queen
asked for advice—and they all knew a trick
like Marry your childhood sweetheart
or Drink whiskey every day
(they never say, Be the Queen or Have my genes)
and people would listen with respect
and carry their advice away.
As I grew old, old age grew common
it happened so fast
that a whole cohort was caught by surprise
so we flounder around
explaining ourselves and sharing our tales
shocked to recall our grandparents’ ways
their stillness, their rarity
their ancient-seemingness
the last of a geriatric elite.
Look around you now
and meet the new old everywhere
so many that even we are aghast.

MP3 recording of this poem

What older bloggers think and do and feel: a super-summary of survey results

Cartoon about the feelings of older bloggers: companionship, purpose, confidence and happiness
The feelings of older bloggers

feelings-web

It’s official: here’s a snapshot of the results of our older bloggers survey. Yes, older bloggers do gain mental, emotional and social benefits from blogging, and yes, some do have problems with usability and accessibility.

  1. Mental benefits: 75% of respondents agreed that blogging “gives me something new to think about”, and 19% made comments similar to these: “it keeps my mind active”, “challenges me to learn new things”, “sure gives the memory a workout” or “improves my analytical skills.”
  2. Emotional benefits: 96% of respondents said they got a feeling of satisfaction and 80% said that blogging made them feel happy.
  3. Social benefits: 56% agreed that blogging helps them to feel they are not alone, and 70% said it “gives me contact with the outside world.” Numerous comments on various questions stressed the friendship and connections formed by blogging.
  4. Usability and accessibility difficulties: 47% agreed or strongly agreed that technical issues with a blog can be a challenge, but 29% disagreed or strongly disagreed—no problems for them. Around 18% had physical issues that restricted their blogging: vision, hearing, energy, mobility or pain. In their comments, these bloggers particularly stressed the need for visual accessibility.

A dream problem: too much high quality information

Over May–June 2018, 120 bloggers answered an online survey that I had compiled with the help of Judith Davey.

You see, I had a bee in my bonnet: to discover whether, as I believed, the habit of blogging was a source of mental, emotional and social benefits for older people, and to get a clear picture of what barriers of usability and accessibility confronted older people.

As well as answering 21 multiple choice questions, respondents were wonderfully generous with their comments — so generous that I could write a book about it, if I only had time.

Here’s my brand new problem. I thought the Older Bloggers Survey was just a little exercise which would satisfy my own curiosity and maybe lead to better service for seniors.

However, turns out we gained so much information that every time I contemplated writing up the complete results, my heart sank and I postponed the job for another day. Too much! Too interesting!

So instead I’ve decided to write separate articles about the main conclusions and various other issues that arose. I’ll publish them on this blog as I complete them. If you did the survey and asked for a report on the survey results, I’ll alert you by email about future articles on the topic.

Why this information about personal bloggers is precious

For at least ten years, various organisations have been keeping track of the blogosphere: the world of blogging. However, the blogs they survey always have a marketing or professional purpose.

I hesitate to use the word unique, yet I haven’t discovered anything comparable to our survey, where respondents are primarily blogging for personal reasons. I wonder why nobody has bothered, up to now? Maybe because…

  • Nobody knows how many blogs exist in the world at any one time, let alone what percentages are personal or hobby blogs. They come and go, undocumented, which is no bad thing.
  • There’s a hypothetical profit in any marketing blog, so there’s a commercial interest in data about such blogs. Personal blogs exist for other, non-profitable purposes.
  • To run even a small survey in a sound and ethical way and analyse the results is quite a big undertaking. This exercise is not part of a PhD thesis: it is a labour of love, a volunteer service.

Although this is a small study (120 respondents answered most questions) it was carefully designed and produced a wealth of information. We want to share the results as widely as possible. The ultimate aim was not to help bloggers to earn more money, but (now that the results are in) to find ways of helping older people to benefit from the practice of blogging and the community of bloggers.

Future articles about the older bloggers survey

At this moment, this is the schedule I’ve got planned, and trust me, I’m trying to keep it short. No wonder I felt daunted! (Update: I’m altering the original list as I change it on the go… it keeps growing, I’m afraid.)

  1. Who answered our Older Bloggers Survey?
  2. Older bloggers: patterns of engagement with the blogging process
  3. It’s not mandatory to join the blogging conversation
  4. Older bloggers: choice of devices and channels
  5. Historic data about bloggers: their age and choice of blogging platforms
  6. Stretching our brains: cognitive benefits of blogging for older people
  7. Satisfaction and support: blogging brings emotional benefits to older people
  8. We’re not alone: blogging brings social benefits to older people
  9. Technical difficulties: what help would older bloggers appreciate?
  10. How best to extend the benefits of blogging to isolated older people

Cartoon and text by Rachel McAlpine CC BY 2.0—please share, with my name and a link to this page!