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Survey results: w(h)ither cricket blogging?

WordItOut-word-cloud-600385Post number three in this series on the results of the cricket blogger survey considers the state of the sector and where it may be heading.

Economists ask businesses to tell them their investment intentions as a guide to the future state of the economy. Similarly, we might interpret responses to a question about how bloggers see their frequency of posting new content changing over the next year, as an indicator of the health of cricket blogging.

The results, depicted in the heat map below, show there is plenty of energy there: around one-third are looking to post more frequently; another third staying the same; about one-in-twelve will stop completely.

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The characteristics of those planning to stop are that they all have daily views below 100; over half are currently posting less often than monthly; all have been blogging for three or more years

Amongst those planning to increase posting frequency there are high proportions of those with 100-499 daily views; blogging vintage of less than one year or 5-9 years; currently posting new material weekly or monthly.

If these plans come to pass, there will be more posts from the more popular sites. The responses to a question posed about the main challenges facing bloggers suggest those plans may not be realised. Time is a main challenge for 74% of bloggers, rising to 79% of those aiming to increase the frequency of posting new material (time is also selected by 78% of those expecting to decrease or stop blogging).

Readership levels are the second most commonly selected challenge, although amongst those reducing their commitment to blogging, a lack of enthusiasm for blogging came second to time.

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Respondents were asked to give their views on the current state of cricket blogging. 89 supplied answers, including nine who felt they did not know enough to give an opinion. Those positive about the sector hold a narrow majority, with a substantial minority expressing negative opinions.

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The comments of those pessimistic or critical of blogging mentioned the following factors:

Competition from new social media

The rise of micro-blogging and podcasting has made blogging an outdated medium. Anything that doesn’t sustain the attention of the easily distracted audience will be read by very few, unless it’s on a major sports website and easy to find.

Twitter is killing the comment section and without regular comment section interactions, blogs are on the wane.

Lack of community

It has changed since I began, when there was a sense of being a member of a community of bloggers… I think that’s dissipated now

Predictability of content

too much focus on topics that get plenty of mainstream coverage

People are not as open to new ideas and want to avoid serious topics altogether. People should be encouraged to embrace new content, different points of views

Overcrowded blogosphere

saturation point has been reached

Poor quality of writing

Too many bloggers of mediocre quality have clusterbombed Twitter and Facebook with low-quality links

Another cause for pessimism was the departure of stalwarts from the early days of blogging, some of whom are now writing for professional media – whose infiltration of bloggers is also criticised.

Turning to the respondents who are positive about the state of cricket blogging, there is some overlap with the factors cited by those perceiving the activity to be in decline: e.g. the ease of publicity through social media; cross-fertilisation of the mainstream media with bloggers; and the crowded field:

I like the clamour of voices, and I like the democracy of it… There should be an element of chaos about it too.

Other of the factors mentioned already are contradicted by those who are optimistic:

Range of subject matter

Whatever you want to read, a little searching can find it for you

It is a jungle with so many bloggers hoping to be noticed but that’s all to the good for the cricket enthusiast.

Quality of writing

Much of the cricket blogging that I see and read is actually of a higher standard than the professional cricket journalism that everyone reads.

Many respondents picked up this thread of comparing blogging favourably with the mainstream media:

It is healthy and getting better, and very necessary as cricket journalism in the mainstream media is in serious decline.

The sullied demise of professional cricket writing has created a bit of a vacuum, for me bloggers write the best stuff I read.

Developing this theme further, some respondents found cause for optimism about blogging in the ability of some bloggers to take on the establishment

when issues matter – Big Three; ECB v KP – I feel bloggers have done an exceptional job in holding power to account, far better then mainstream journalists who have been compromised.

This post finishes with some data that may point to some future directions for cricket blogging – a theme that the fourth and final post in this series will develop.

Participants were asked, ‘What kind of assistance or opportunities would you value most in developing your blogging and getting more fulfilment from blogging?’ and given a list of 13 from which to select three.

Three kinds of help were clearly the most popular, each being selected by close to half of all respondents:

  • critical evaluation of writing
  • finding/developing a community of readers interested in the same subject(s)
  • interaction with players and journalists.

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Interest in technical skills to aid blogging or formal organisation of bloggers (awards, meetings) drew some, but not strong, interest.

Bloggers were asked which subjects they would like to see covered by blogs and invited to select up to five of a list of 21. The top ten topics are shown below, with size of font indicating quantity of preference. Cricket history was selected 45 times; player interviews and profiles, 21 times. I hope to rise to the challenge of satisfying the demand for more just, y’know, random stuff.

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Blogging is no longer a frontier activity, with other forms of on-line expression preferred by pioneers. It attracted a lot of pessimistic comment. However, the criticisms don’t seem to be associated with reduced commitment from most bloggers. The trajectory of cricket blogging’s rise may have leveled out, but its health doesn’t seem in peril. The challenge most commonly cited by bloggers – time – would probably be the modal response from any group surveyed about their hobby. None of the major challenges identified look as though they pose a grave threat to the activity.

In describing the current state of cricket blogging, the issue that respondents brought up again and again was its interrelationship with the mainstream media. For some blogging is a stepping stone to a career in the media; for others it is the moral high ground from which the media is observed. Blogging can be a thorn in the side of the media or a refuge from the compromises of professional writing. It will be interesting to see if this complex of dependencies and oppositions is resolved in the coming years.

However, there is a danger in writing about blogging as an entity. It’s an individualistic pursuit, with only limited collegiality. That’s a state that bloggers may want to reconsider: should they, whether for their own personal satisfaction, or for the sustainability of the enterprise, attempt some form of loose organisation and mutual help? That may be needed to provide some of the assistance that bloggers report that they would value most.

 

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Survey results: the vital statistics of cricket blogging

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This second post in the series on the blogger survey results, draws out some of the significant numbers that give shape to the pursuit of cricket blogging in 2014. It follows an earlier post about the bloggers and their motivations.

In wanting to give numerical substance to that shape – longevity, frequency of posting and readership – I realised that the survey was not providing me with an essential part of the picture. I needed to know the blogs’ subject-matter. Lumping together metrics for a blog dedicated to nineteenth century minor county cricket with a multi-handed sports news blog would generate little insight. So, to make good this omission, I have quite crudely attempted to categorise blogs by what they are about.

I applied the following categories:

  • topical – for blogs where the major stories of the day, globally or nationally determine what’s written
  • statistical
  • specialist – sites dedicated to a niche of the cricket world, historical, geographical, functional, etc.
  • visual – where pictures, not words are the key content

and finally, in a category that assembles blogs of many flavours

  • essays – blogs where posts range across subjects, perhaps related to topical issues, but driven by the writer’s own experience as player, spectator, viewer or reader.

Some blogs are truly versatile. In those cases, I have applied a judgement about which category best fits.

Subject matter

The incidence by subject matter of the 87 blogs that I was able to categorise is charted here. Topical blogs are the second most numerous but account for less than one-third of all sites. Essay blogs are the most common. Many bloggers have found a specialism, away from cricket’s mainstream. These two categories may bear out the finding of the previous post that many bloggers are motivated by a belief that they have something distinctive to write about.

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Blog(ger) duration

98% of respondents to the survey have (or contribute to) live blogs. The range of time bloggers have been active, depicted below, is suggestive of a couple of trends:

1) one-third of the bloggers have been active for over five years, showing that there is a strong, durable core to the sector.

2) ten bloggers have published for less than one year, which appears small compared to the numbers that have existed for 1-4 years. If representative of this field, it could be an indication of a slowing to the rate of blogs being started, or a choice made by new writers to join existing on-line platforms.

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Blog type

The single-handed blog is the most common approach taken to publication, involving 83% of respondents. But another strong feature is light footedness, with over one-third of respondents having pieces published on two or more site types. The figures beside the arrows in the diagram below show the number of bloggers involved in both types of blogs. Included in those figures are eleven bloggers who are active in three of the blog types and one who publishes on the full set.

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There does not appear to be any relationship between length of time blogging and type of site the blogger contributes to. For example, writing for professionally published websites is as much a feature of very new bloggers’ writing as it is more established bloggers. Essay and specialist blogs are very likely to be single-handed, with collaboration more often a feature of topical blogs.

Blogging frequency

The most common and the median frequency of publication is ‘more often than monthly but less than weekly’. Over one-quarter of blogs are ticking over, with new material published less often than monthly.

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Looking at the features of those blogs publishing most often (more than weekly and daily), the following is apparent:

  • blogging duration: more likely to be blogging for 1-2 years; less likely to be in the first year of blogging. Otherwise, there is no strong association with blog age.
  • blog type: more likely to blog on multiple sites and to contribute to professionally run websites
  • blog content: surprisingly, topical blogs are not much more likely to be publishing at the more frequent end of the scale than the average for all blogs.

Those blogs ‘ticking over’ (i.e. publication less often than monthly) are associated with:

  • blogging duration: less likely to be those newest to blogging (two years or less)
  • blog type: less likely to contribute to professionally run websites
  • blog content: more likely to be essay style blogs.

Publicising blogs

Twitter is the dominant platform or method for publicising blog posts and is considered the most effective way of drawing an audience. Facebook is second for usage and effectiveness. The other digital media are all out-performed by direct contact with readers.

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Looking at the combinations of publicity methods used by bloggers, almost publicity methods-page-001two-thirds use one or two (e.g. twitter and facebook). Nearly one in ten bloggers employ five or more methods to help get their writing known.

The survey also asked about the number of social media posts made per blog post. Three-quarters of respondents make four or fewer social media posts. Only 5% of respondents report plugging new material ten or more times on social media.

Readership

In our digital age, asking how many views your blog gets daily, is probably more intrusive than enquiring about the blogger’s age and not far from asking their salary. Nevertheless, 84 respondents supplied figures.

There is a broad base of low activity blogs (under 25 views per day), with an even distribution of sites in the low-middle readership range. Six sites sit clear of the pack, attracting over 1,000 views from readers per day.

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The profile of blogs at the top end of readership (over 250 per day), compared to the rest, includes frequent publishing of new material (more than weekly); being longer established (five years or more); featuring topical material; and collaborative exercises (although single-handed sites remain the most numerous).

To gauge how on-line traffic is shared between blogs of different sizes, I have made some assumptions about actual daily views from the ranges offered in the survey. I have taken the mid-point of each range as the actual figure, except for the <25 (assumed to be 24) and >1,000 (assumed to be 1,000) ranges. Summing up the figures, there are about 15,000 views of these blogs daily. At the very least, 40% are visits to the six biggest blogs.

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If the assumption about the average actual readership of the six biggest blogs is raised to 2,000 per day, the % of views those blogs account for rises to nearly 60%; at 5,000 it exceeds 75%. No more than 5% are visits to the smallest 33 blogs.

By combining this data with my categorisation of blog types, I have been able to derive estimates for how many views each type of cricket blog gets daily. According to this calculation, topical blogs get just over one-half of all traffic, generated from one-third of blog sites. A similar number of essay style blogs attract one-quarter of daily views. The traffic to the other categories is in line with the number of blogs of that type.

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We know from the first post in this series, that many bloggers write for the pleasure of writing. Readership figures are not their priority. Nevertheless, I have looked at one other traffic statistic: views per post (derived from questions about daily views and frequency of posting new material). At the low activity end of a wide spectrum of readership, bloggers posting frequently (more than weekly) and getting fewer than 25 daily views are probably getting 50 views per post. To many familiar with the scale and reach of the Internet, that sounds paltry. I prefer a different perspective: prior to the Internet, how easy would it have been to find 50 people to read something on cricket that you, an unpublished writer, have penned? Pretty tough, I think.

This post has attempted to let the numbers tell the story of cricket blogging in 2014. In the next article, I will present bloggers’ own views of the state of cricket blogging, as well as their future aims.

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Note: post updated to include analysis and chart of blogs and estimated daily views by blog type – 7 November 2014.

Survey results: who in the world blogs and why?

Why I blog word cloud

Why I blog word cloud

If ever a survey deserved a century, it was the cricket blogger survey. Unfortunately, it was sawn off a couple of quick singles short. This first post on the survey results looks at who those 98 respondents are. For those of a more academic bent, a short post on the sample and method has also been prepared.

I start the profiling of cricket bloggers with a review of how else they are active in the sport. Over half regularly attend matches, with 37% playing regularly. The overlap of blogging with professional coverage of the game is evident with 29 doing some paid writing and 15 involved in broadcasting. The range of activities cricket supports and inspires is captured by the ‘other’ category which includes historians, book collecting, gambling, consultancy to sponsors and advice to national cricket boards.

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Most bloggers, sooner or later write about their formative cricket experience. By asking a question about which match started their passion for the sport, I have been able to derive how long ago that happened and what type of match first grabbed them. The chart shows that bloggers responding to the survey are fairly evenly distributed across the last forty years. Cricket obsession is neither an older person’s preserve, nor blogging an activity for the young alone. Test cricket was the hook for 58% of respondents. The World Cup and domestic cricket each accounted for 11% of respondents’ first matches, with the former found among the more recent followers and the latter with those whose interest dates back further.

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The cricket authorities’ notion of the ‘marquee series’ does earn support from these figures: 26% of all respondents (45% of those citing Test cricket) identified an Ashes Test/series as their starting point, with the 1981 and 2005 series gaining multiple mentions.

The survey respondents appear skewed towards UK residency (49%) and support for the England cricket team (35%) – see the post on the survey method and sample for further discussion of this. The full breakdown of location and allegiance is tabulated below. One point of note is that around 60% of respondents live in the nation whose team they most strongly support – lower than I would have anticipated.

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I didn’t ask bloggers to name cricketers who first caught their eye, but many did. Gary Sobers, Viv Richards, David Gower, Richard Hadlee and Kevin Pietersen all got mentioned, but so did Ed Giddens. One of the pleasures of sorting through the survey responses is reading the details remembered of that formative cricket experience.

west indies v australia. adelaide. 26th jan 1993. 1 f-ing run… when Peter Lever’s bouncer almost killed Ewan Chatfield… Quite ridiculously, the 2007 World Cup game between Pakistan and Ireland… Ashes 1986/87. All matches. Liked the cartoon duck. And Bill Athey.

This first post in the series ends with a consideration of why we blog.

I asked respondents to complete the sentence, “I blog because..” Those answers have been sorted for motivations, which have then been clustered into five broad categories. I have taken the love of cricket for granted, and indeed most respondents mentioned it. In this diagram, the distance from the centre represents the frequency with which a motivation was mentioned.

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Explanations of the categories and motivations with examples from the responses follow:

INTERNAL – this category comprised the motivations of those for whom the process of blogging brought its own reward, rather than the outcome of the writing.

Enjoy writing: the process of expressing oneself about this pastime provides pleasure enough for many bloggers.

I enjoy it .. I don’t care about readers or payment.

I quite like writing and get a warm, weird glow inside when I put together a sentence which I am proud of.…

To learn about the game: the blogging process develops a better understanding of cricket

it helps to make sense of the messed up game

it gives me a chance to find out what I think

An escape: an activity that demands concentration and helps take the mind off or manage other pressures

Writing allowed me to mentally evade (albeit momentarily) the stresses of corporate life and provided an outlet which helped manage mental illness. As my coping mechanisms evolved, so did my need to write.

It fills time: separated from other cricket fans, blogging provides the pleasure of discussion by proxy

none of my current circle of friends like the sport that I’m quite mad on, so basically it’s a conversation to myself.

PURPOSIVE: blogging as a way of achieving something beyond blogging itself.

(Want) to do it for a living: a small number (given how many we know do write professionally) related their blogging to writing, or wanting to write professionally.

there’s also a vague hope that someday I could find a away to be paid for watching cricket. That’s the dream.

DECLARATIVE: to make use of the web’s almost unique ability to enable people to be heard across the world.

To share/showcase thoughts: wanting and enjoying being heard, getting read.

I like the fact that my views are something that someone else also might be trying to say. It feels good to share your thoughts with random people on the internet.

Have something unusual to say: possessing distinctive insights or perpectives that you don’t hear in the mainstream media.

I couldn’t find anyone out there who looks at the game in the way I do.

I was fed up reading staid, ecb approved media reports.

To promote part of the sport: this motivation is related to that of having something unusual to say, but focused on giving air to a specific element of the sport that gets little coverage.

I want to promote women’s cricket

Also a response to being told I don’t exist – “no-one watches County Cricket anymore” – “well, I do”!

SOCIAL: to be part of a community with shared interests, using a dynamic new social force.

To get feedback/be part of a community: two way communication.

And also because I love the comments. The best part of the site’s the bit I don’t write.

Ease/excitement of blogging: it’s so easy to write and to have your words out there.

I love the sport and the meritocracy and immediacy blogging offers.

REACTIVE: as a way of responding to the cricket world.

To vent at authorities: a channeling of frustration with how the game, or its coverage is run.

Otherwise I’d be shouting at the television

an avenue for expressing a lot of pent up anger at the world and the ECB in particular.

Most bloggers are active in the sport, in the main by attending matches, playing or writing professionally. The duration of their interest in the sport and, therefore we can deduce their age, varies. Most were first drawn to the game by watching an international match, usually Test cricket. Their motivations for blogging differ, but many consider they bring an unusual perspective to writing on the sport or simply enjoy the act of writing or being able to share their views with others. In the next post on the survey results, I will look at the blogs.

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This post was re-written after images and text were lost when it mysteriously returned to an early draft version – 8 November 2014

The cricket blogger survey

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If you are a current or former cricket blogger, please take part in the survey by clicking this link: Cricket blogger survey 2014

Cricket faces commercial, political and governance challenges of an unprecedented scale. The fate of its disparate group of unpaid, online chroniclers is trivia in the grand, complex narrative of the sport. This attempt at some informal research will not uncover answers to any of cricket’s dilemmas, but don’t dismiss the subjects of this survey too quickly.

From my vantage in England, two of cricket’s biggest stories in 2014 have been the surrender of collegiate control of the ICC to ‘the big three’ and the ECB’s efforts to establish a ‘new era’ for the senior men’s team. With the exception of Cricinfo, the professional media in the UK were slow to subject both stories to critical scrutiny, denying for some time that there really was a story – or two sides to that story.

Cricket bloggers have been at the forefront of those challenging the official versions of these stories, applying critical thought to the evidence, asking awkward questions and facilitating the sort of debate that cricket’s authorities might seem to want to suppress.

I do not pretend that cricket bloggers can influence outcomes in the form of the distribution of the cash the sport generates or who leads internationally on and off the field. But surely members of the sport’s mainstream media are beginning to recognise the disdain with which it is held by many of the sports most passionate followers. And won’t this influence them or their publishers? Time will tell.

Declaration Game is three years old, making it early middle-aged in cricket blog terms. Throughout that period, twitter and blogging have combined like Laker and Lock. Brian Carpenter (the blogger’s blogger) of Different Shades of Green, has commented how attracting an audience was more of a waiting than chasing game when he began writing in 2006. For many, twitter is an end in itself, not a marketing tool for wordy material that sits in the background.

Blogging arose as a manisfestation of the self-publishing enabled by the internet. What’s true of the written word has since been played out for the spoken word, still and then moving images. Blogging, in the fashion I practice here, has long (in technology terms) ceased to be cutting edge. Creative cricket followers have quickly adopted the ability to produce and distribute audio and video material.

In 2010, Nishant Joshi’s Alternative Cricket celebrated a high-water mark in cricket writing by featuring the best in independent cricket blogs. Four years later and opportunities have opened up for the most able bloggers to have their work featured on professionally produced platforms: from Cricinfo’s Cordon to The Nightwatchman; from digital only sports magazines to the blogs of media companies and for a very few, Wisden, through its annual Cricket Writing Competition.

Some of the first bloggers have, through their excellence and distinctive voice, made the move to professional sports journalism. Blogging perhaps was always conceived of as a stepping stone to the paid gig. It’s now a prerequisite for any writer who aspires to be paid for his or her words.

Blogging varies (though, perhaps not enough) by topic, writer’s motivation and style. It is not a movement (unlike, for example, the ‘parent blogging’ world that I also inhabit). The danger in surveying something diverse is focusing on the average and missing the range. I’ll try not to do that when I present the results in future posts and I invite anyone who participates to make use of the data to carry out their own enquiries and draw their own conclusions. So, I don’t know what the survey will show. I’m not testing any hypotheses. With other bloggers’ assistance, I may be able to depict aspects of a vibrant, fulfilling activity; or one that is slowly deflating, albeit with some mighty fine writing still being produced.

So, if you do (or used to) create written on-line content about cricket for free, please take part by clicking the link: Cricket Blogger Survey 2014.

Thank you.

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Acknowledgements for assistance with the development of the survey: Russ Degnan (@idlesummers), Nishant Joshi (@altcricket) and Neil of Row Z (@RowZ6).