Monthly Archives: August 2007

31 days – the final 11

The end of August 2007I'm back from my annual pilgrimage to the Greenbelt Festival (official website) and I've got six hours left till the end of August and the 'deadline' for the 31 days to a better blog challenge.

So, it seems like a good time reflect on the month of blogging, what I've learned, and to see if I can tick off any of the remaining tasks on Daren's task list.

The learning journey so far

I started blogging in May this year, after many years considering starting and one or two aborted attempts. Over August this blog has evolved from a fairly assorted collection of posts, to have a stronger focus on youth participation. It provides a space for me to share content, engage in discussion, and invest time in critical thinking.

The 31 day challenge has encouraged me to look carefully at the blog from a visitors point of view (which made me realise early on that I needed to tweak blog settings to get comments working, and that I needed a lot more explanation about this blog) – and I've benefited a lot from the advice and shared learning of other 31 day challengers, not least with respect to improving this page giving a background to Tim's Blog. As that page says, this is still the early stage of my journey with blogging, and the exact focus of the blog is still evolving – but with these draft principles to guide me I'm on a far stronger blogging footing that I was at the start of August. As with any intense process of learning, the full results will take a while to be seen… so for now, lets look at the last 11 challenges and I'll pledge to post a wider reflection on my blogging in a couple of months time…

The tasks and some reflections:

Day 21 – Make a Reader Famous

Overlinking blog postsI try to link across to other blogs as much as possible in posts where the work of other bloggers adds to the topic or post in question. I realise, however, that I've often done that just by talking about, for example, Mike's blog, with an inline link, flooding the top of posts with lots of links, and not being selective enough or purposeful enough with my linking to other blogger. Perhaps less can be more in terms of links pointing blog readers to the blogging of other readers.

Daren also suggests increasing the profile of readers on a blog by using comments as the basis for posts. This seems a great idea, not only in that it highlights the comments of a particular reader, but it shows that comments contribute to a debate in the blogosphere.

Roger Schmidt (whose group blog with the Lutheran World Federation has made it into my reguarl reading list and is already providing a lot of food for thought) provided me this week with an opportunity to build a post around a readers comments. I was challenged to think about the concept of the 'voice of youth' by Roger's comments, and found I couldn't fit my reflections into a short reply, so this post emerged and can hopefully provide space for more discussion.

Day 22 – Catch New Readers Up on the Basics of your Blog

During the 31 day challenge I've made a lot of changes to my about this blog pages – but readers keeping up with Tim's Blog through the RSS feed or e-mail updates and regular readers won't see changes to that page. These 31-day pages have done a lot to keep readers up to date on the evolution of this blog, but as Daren suggests, periodic updates to put blog posts into context can be an important part of effective blogging, so do look out for these context-setting posts in the future.


Day 23 – Go on a Dead Link HunBlog link checkingt

I've already mentioned that I can be 'link happy' with my blogging. More links now, however, means more chance of broken links in the future.

A quick check using Xenu's Link Sleuth didn't show up any permenant problems right now (although it did show a few links to other blogs that timed out…) – however, I will need to keep an eye on links in the future.


Day 24 – Do a Search Engine Optimization Audit

There is an interesting challenge for those blogging in the youth participation and youth work niche. I primarily work on, and reflect on, work with young people in secular contexts. However, if you search for youth work online, you'll find predominantly faith based youth work blog posts, which can be a very different niche. I'm not quite sure how to resolve that yet, but I'm hoping that an upcoming seminar at Leicester De Montfort University by Thomas Vander Wal (intentor of the term folksonomy and recently blogging on the state of tagging) might provide some space for an exploration of keywords online.


Day 25 – Go Shopping and Improve Your blog

 

For day 25, Daren suggests visiting a local shopping centre and watching people's behaviours to find lessons transferable to blogging.

I wish I had picked up this challenge on the 25th of August, rather than when I returned from Greenbelt festival. As a phenomenal example of a temporary community – packed full of creativity and celebration, chance interactions and deep conversations, serious commentary and off-topic commedy it seems a far better mirror of the blogosphere that I want to engage with than does the commercial world.

Greenbelt 2007

(Greenbelt is an annual christian arts festival held on Cheltenham Race Course in the UK, attracting a diverse group of around 20,000 people, often from the 'liberal fringes' of the church or from beyond the conventional boundaries of christian / non-christian. It has developed a strong committment as a festival to social justice, and has a vibrant community atmosphere – with a quite undescribeable diversity of festival events, from headline music acts to seminars on nationalism and scottish independence. I can't do it justice in a quick paragraph – but you can see a bit of the festival here, or read more on the official site here)

The youth work seminar series at Greenbelt has certainly given me a lot to think and hopefully blog about.

And from observing shoppers in the Greenbelt marketplace I've learnt that it might seem like a good idea to buy a multi-coloured stripy cardigan with tassles when everyone around you is buying them… but you're not going to want to walk off site into Cheltenham wearing that now are you…


Day 26 – Link Up to a Competitor

I've already confessed to my propensity for linking to other sources (although this post seems notably link free). Often those links will be to other bloggers in the niche I write for – although as mentioned before, I'm not working in a collaborative, rather than a competitive mindset. I'm really keen to see the development of a stronger youth participation and youth work blogosphere in England and the wider UK, so linking to newcomers and conversations taking place on other blogs in the sector is key to building that. (If you're a new youth participation / youth work blogger – drop me a line and I'll point people in your direction…)


Day 27 – Find a Sponsor for Your Blog

Much of the content for this blog emerges as a result of my full time work, and so that does, in a sense, act as sponsorship for my blogging. Although I've not, as yet, looked carefully enough at building time to reflectively blog into my costings and work plans. As blogging does act as a powerful reflective learning tool, that is something I'll be exploring.


Day 28 – What is Your Blog’s Mission Statement

I'm still evolving a mission statment for this blog. My principles are a first part of that evolutionary journey, but this task will have to wait till I've got a long train journey to spend some time reflecting.


Day 29 – Email a Blogger that Linked to You to Say Thanks

The 31 day challenge has encouraged me to become a lot more interactive in blogging – and that pays real dividends. It also take a lot of time. The challenge is in finding equilibrium – knowing when interaction is valuable, and when the fact that someone links to something I've written (either here or elsewhere on the web) can lead to more than platitude. A bit more reflection on how I move forward with a sustainable level of online interaction is also scheduled in for the upcoming train journey (hmm, and I find myself hoping for delays again!).


Day 30 – Explore a Social Media Site & Day 31 – Run a SWOT Analysis on Your Blog

Flog Blog in FacebookOnly four hours left now (there were six when I started writing this post!) till the end of August, and I think, for the sake of being able to get some rest this evening, and for your sake (my attempt at a SWOT is likely to run on a bit…) I think my write up on these two task shall have to slip.

I'm already to be found in many social media spaces. And I've been exploring integrating my blog better with facebook using FlogBlog this month, as well as enjoying the interaction offered by MyBlogLog – but I'll leave more commentary on my experience with social networks and blogging for a later date.

The end?

The 31 day challenge has been a valuable learning experiment for me in blogging, and I'm not yet done with all my learning from it. I hope that these posts have provided some insight into the process (although I admit they've not always distilled learnings as much as I'd like… something I'm still learning to do) and that they've not disrupted the flow of other posts.

This isn't the end of improvements to Tim's Blog, and I hope it won't be the end of the very helpful suggestions, constructive criticism and input I've recieved from many readers. Thankyou to all who've helped – and to all the other 31 day challengers, I look forward to continuing to read your writings, and to opportunities for more peer learning in the near future…

Leading Work with Young People – The Active Involvement of Young People (space for feedback…)

Leading Work with Young People - Book

I've just got back to the office to find a welcome package on my desk. A copy of Leading Work with Young People has arrived. The book includes a chapter that I co-wrote earlier this year with Bill Badham. The chapter is on 'The active involvement of young people' and explores both the need for the need for strong leadership to make young people's participation in decision making a reality, and the way in which leadership in a participative organisation is radically different from conventional models of heirachical leadership.

Whilst I can't post the whole chapter here, I'm hoping to post more on the role of leadership in participation soon – and I thought that it would be useful to provide a space here open to any feedback, questions, or discussion on the chapter from those who've read the book (in particular those reading the work for Open University course E132 – Leading Work with Young People).

So, if you've read the chapter, and have any reflections on it or issues it raises, both Bill and I would love to hear them. You can drop me a line by e-mail, or share your thoughts in the comments below.

Is there a 'voice of youth'?

The idea that there is one 'voice of youth' is clearly nonsense. Yet this idea underlies many invitations to a small group of young people to participate in comittees and to 'represent the voice of youth' in those settings. Nevertheless, whilst there is no one 'voice of youth', that doesn't make it illegitimate for groups of young people to speak with one voice – and to make calls on behalf of their fellow young people.

Roger Schmidt has just added this this comment to my post reviewing the Civicus World Assembly 2007. The Civicus World Assembly included, for the first time this year, a youth assembly – which, as this post explains led to a 'Call for Intergenerational Collaboration' drafted collaboratively by the young people present. In effect, a youth declaration from the assembly.

Civicus World Assembly 2007 - Whole Group

Delegates at the 2007 Civicus Youth Assembly

Roger comments:

“…it is right to prepare young people for the participation in larger “adult” assemblies. But it is wrong to have a seperate youth contribution (declaration) or whatever because there can't be a unified youth opinion. Youth in itself is so diverse. I think that is another issue to discuss because it helps to clarify the sometimes conflicting goals of preparation and meaningful contribution.”

I agree with the claim that youth is diverse. Though the same claim can be made of any age grouping. It may be particularly interesting as a claim about young people, given a significant aspect of 'youth' (as a life-stage) is about experimentation with identity and identity formation which, it could be argued, increases the diversity of youth (as a generation). But the argument that diversity precludes collective declarations doesn't neccessarily follow.

Whilst inviting a few individuals to speak as themselves 'with the voice of youth' is flawed, young people often have shared interests: as a group collectively impacted by specific oppressions; as a group affected by age-related laws; and as those who will see the impact of decisions far beyond the time-horizons of most adult decision makers. And those shared interests can ground a specific youth contribution to a debate.

It's important that, on these issues of shared interest, young people are allowed to represent their claims as 'a voice of youth' (note, not 'the voice of youth', and not 'a voice of a young person'). Declarations that call for action from a collective young peoples perspective are a core part of forming political movements of young people to create change.

In conclusion

Individual young people claiming to speak with the voice of youth does not make sense.

Inviting a few young people to give their opinion on some issue which clearly affects different young people differently cannot be called listening to the voice of youth (it is listening to the specific views of some young people).

But where shared interests exist, and where a suitably large and diverse group of young people come together to discuss those shared interest and to articulate them, a declaration can be made as a voice of youth, and significant weight should be given to that declaration or call.

Quick reader question:

On topic: I've tried to untangle what I think are common confusions with respect to the idea of 'a voice of youth'. Does this work? Do you agree?

Meta-question: Are these 'philosophical' posts of interest? Should I just try and write up the conclusions… or is the reasoning of interest (this is already a heavily edited down version of what I first wrote…)?

31 day blog updates

Late night updates to Tim's blog inspired by the 31-days-to-a-better-blog challenge seem to be throwing up more problems than they're solving as a tinker with the blog website. However, after a brief spam-related outage, comments are working again and I've been catching up on a few of the 31-day challenges. Details below…

Day 14 – Analyze Your Blog’s Competition

Google search for youthworkOf course, as this isn't a money making blog, this is more about analyzing other blog in the same field / talking about similar or complementary topics to explore what they do well, and how Tim's Blog adds something to the picture. As far as I can tell, reflective blogging in the secular youth work sector is relatively slim on the ground. Christian youth workers seem to have all-but-claimed the term 'youth work' online (which throws up interesting challenges for developing blogging amongst non-faith-based youth workers in terms of finding tags and keywords that both allow cross-overs and distinctions between faith-based and non-faith-based youth work), and whilst there are a lot of bloggers talking politics, not all that many focus on young people's political empowerment and participation.

One key learning from exploring other blog I read regularly, and particularly from taking part in the international-in-nature 31-days challenge, is that I need to look more carefully at the language I use. For example, I often talk about youth participation, but, as Mike asks, what is youth participation? I've started work on finding out exactly what the niche of this blog is, as that should help me work out what assumptions about terminology I can make, and which terms I need to explain. So far I've drafted up some principles for this blog, and I'm considering trying some definitional posts (answering the 'What is participation?' question and related others) in the near future. Hopefully with that done, I'll be able to have a strong sense of what I am writing about, and how, when I've worked out who 'the competition' is, it can always be bringing something extra to the picture.

Day 15 – Make Your Most Popular Posts Sticky

Post It NotesI write a blog chronologically. Visitors often arrive from search engines. Many will not know what a blog is. If, with a few extra clicks, a visitor could find something useful on this blog, or may find a subscription to the RSS feed or e-mail updates useful – then I'd like them to realise that they can and so to 'stick' around on the blog for a little longer. Where posts are part of a series, it would be great if readers were supported to stick around and read the rest.

That means two things:

  1. Making sure every post explains in some way that it is part of a blog, and has details of how one can interact with a blog (like the About page compressed into a few words).
  2. Making it easy to contextualise blog posts that are part of a particular thread of series along with their companion posts.

I've added a little blurb to the bottom of each post to help with (1), and I've got some ideas for (2), partly around manually creating links in past-posts to point to updated series, but also exploring use of the Drupal Node Queue module or Views modules to make easy-to-update blocks that introduce particular series. That however, shall have to wait a while…

Day 16 – Create a Heatmap of Where Readers Click on Your Blog

Heat Map of Tim's Blog using CrazyEgg.comA website heat map displays spacial areas on a web-page where users click most often. Standard web-statistics only tell me that from the front page, 45 users visited my about page… whereas a heat-map will help me identify which link they clicked in order to do it.

I added a crazyegg heatmap to the front page of Tim's Blog a couple of days ago, and whilst there isn't a wealth of data flooding in, it has already persuaded me to switch from whole blog posts displaying on the front page, to only displaying the first few paragraphs with click-for-more links.

It highlighted what my statistics already suggested, which was when there was a long post on the front page which pushed another new post 'below the fold' (off the screen), the new post just off screen got only 1/2 the traffic of the top one.

I was also suspired by how many people were clicking through straight away to the About Tim page over the About This Blog page, so, thanks to this and earlier encouragement from fellow 31-day challengers About Tim has had an overhaul and hopefully gives a better idea of exactly who it is writing all this.

Day 17 – Run a StumbleUpon Campaign for Your Blog

Along with other 31-day challengers, I'm leaving this one for the moment – until I have content that I think might appear to a StumbleUpon audience… as which point I'll be off to explore it more…

Wikipedia on the sneeze (I just like the topic listing...)Day 18 – Create a Sneeze Page and Propel Readers Deep Within Your Blog

A sneeze page is a sort of landing page to summarize a particular topic and show what a blog has to offer on that topic. As Tim's Blog is still building up content that would need the sort of 'crating' a sneeze page offers, I'm going to hold off on creating anything in particular right now… but again this is going into the little list of blogging good-practice and 'content-curation' tips.

Day 19 – Respond to Comments on Your Blog

I'm already making an effort to respond to as many comment as I can. One omission from this blog at the moment is an option for visitors to sign up to RSS feeds or e-mail updates of comments to a post, and I'm going to look into sorting that out at the end of August…

Day 20 – Run a Reader Survey

Many of the potential readers of this blog are not, in general, blog readers. So rather than survey just the readers of this blog, I'm thinking about a wider survey to discover the best ways of sharing resources with, supporting conversations amongst, and providing information for, youth workers, participation workers and social activists is. Again, the summer precludes in arriving too early… but keep an eye out for more on that soon…

Added extra: streamlining image adding

Christine mentioned in a comment over here the challenge of finding images to use in blog posts. I've been making more use recently of a little utility called 'Capture a Screen Shot' (although any screen-shot tool that lets you grab just a set area of the screen will do) to grab images of web-pages / sections of images to easily add to posts. BlogDesk which I use for posting, helpfully offers options to crop, resize and position images – so it makes it really easy to liven up posts with a few pictures. The challenge of making sure the images are relevant, however, remains… and I'll let you judge from this blog post how I'm doing on that…

Youth led media: getting the distribution right

Film is powerful. But to have the strongest impact it needs to be used in the right way and seen by the right people. That's why thinking about distribution needs to be a key part of youth video projects.

Birmingham Youth Strategy FilmA great video about the challenges young people face in a local area, that is never seen by those who are responsible for the decisions that could improve things, is an opportunity missed. Identifying who should see your video, and inviting them to watch and respond to it, is an important part of any change-making video project*.

A lot of videos miss getting the audience they deserve. Social media and online distribution have a big role to play here. Beth Kanter has remixed a version of the Social Media Game for Documentary Film Makers. The social media game can provide a great starting point for exploring the opportunities presented by new technologies for reaching wider audiences.

Distribution in action:

Youth Media Reporter ArticleAs I was preparing this post I came across this story from Youth Media Reporter which shares an account of how young film makers in Baltimore made sure their work was well distributed and created conversation. The group realised their their videos, shown on local Public Access TV were not getting enough viewers, so they turned to the Internet and social networking sites to build a bigger audience.

But, as well as sharing video online, the group looked to showings in the local community, and have created their own do-it-yourself distribution guide including a focus on community screenings. A short quote:

Montebon explains the importance of community screenings in this new approach: “The reason for a screening is, you can [sit at home and] watch something on TV… but it takes another step to have a type of forum. I think what the community screenings are supposed to serve, is a platform where people can start a sort of discourse.” Airing a youth-made TV episode in a community context, such as a public park, museum, or neighborhood event, creates a potential for dialogue. It is easier for people to talk to one another about youth-led issues in a group setting, as well as engage with youth media makers on the issues they raise.

How do you make sure your video projects start conversations and create change?

Not just video:
If a video has been created to lobby for change (for example, to get a local authority to provide cycle lanes on a route to school, or to call on a local leisure company to make their activities affortable to all young people) then it is also worth thinking carefully about other tools that will be needed to create change. A video is one of the most effective tools for getting decision makers to understand a problem – but will everyone who is in the meeting that makes the decision you want to influence have seen the video? And have you provided a clear proposal along with your video stating in words what you want changed?

————

*I don't want to suggest that all video projects have to be externally focussed. All art-froms can be effective tools for individual and group learning as an end in itself. However, where a change making impact is within reach, then I would always encourage its pursuit…

Comments working again

Just a quick note of appology in case you've tried to add a comment to Tim's Blog in the last 48 hours and come up against error messages. Comments should now be fully working again.


The server hosting Tim's Blog fell foul of a number of systems trying to post comment-spam all over the place which a) brought the server to a grinding halt, and b) caused me to try and up the defences, messing thinks up so no comments at all could be posted.

I've since un-messed-it-up, and am looking at other ways to keep the spam at bay.

A third side to the media-box

With more funding that ever around for video and multi-media projects with young people, is the focus of the funding spot on, or missing a trick?Media Box Logo

Media box has £6m of government funding to give to "creative media projects involving film, television radio, online, print and multi-media". Government is talking about these projects as ways of addressing the negative media portrayal of young people, and often we hear about how they equip young people with skills for jobs in the media. However, if we really want to support young people to challenge negative stereotypes in mainstream media, and to participate as citizens in an ever more networked world, we need to do more than to create one-off videos or to train a small group to work in media jobs. We need to focus the core of our funding on building media literacy*.

Media literacy is "the ability to access, analyze, evaluate, and create messages in a variety of forms" (Aufderheide, 1993; Christ & Potter, 1998 in Livingstone, 2004). Sonia Livingstone (in the 2004 journal article Media Literacy and the Challenge of New Information and Communication Technologies) explains "Learning to create content helps one to analyze that produced professionally by others; skills in analysis and evaluation open the doors to new uses of the Internet, expanding access, and so forth". She goes on to say:

"In advancing policy, it would clarify matters to disentangle three arguments: [(a)] the pedagogic argument that people learn best about media through making it; [(b)] the employment argument that those with new media skills are increasingly needed as the information sector expands; and [(c)] the cultural politics argument that citizens have the right to self-representation and cultural participation." (Pg 7. Letters added and not in the original)

It seems that Media Box and other recent projects are strong on (c), and have a focus on (b) but are missing enough of a focus on (a), on how supporting young people to make media can help build their literacy for future access, analysis, evaluation and creation of media. (a) doesn't just happen. Really good learning about the media through making media needs space to be created for reflection as well as action creating media, and it needs to be focussed on process as well as product. I don't doubt that many projects with Media Box funding do have an implicit element of learning about media through making – but making sure all projects have this 'third side of the box' could, I believe, really enhance their long term impact in young peoples representation in the media*.

 

*I realise there is a piece of this story missing. How does increased media literacy lead to more positive portrayal of young people in the media? Another post to come soon on that question – particularly looking at how social media literacy in a world of user-generated-content is a key element.

My principles of blogging

Taking part in the 31-days-to-a-better-blog challenge has got me reflecting on why I'm blogging and how I should approach writing a blog post. So, as an aid to that exploration, I've tried to set out 6 principles for this blog – which are listed below.

What do you think of these principles? Do you have any written, or unwritten, rules or principles that you use to guide your blogging?

Principles for Tim's Blog (Draft version – August 2007)

1) A space for focused sharing
One of my key motivations for starting this blog was to provide a space to share reflections, resources and content that I come across or create in the course of my work. The aim is not, however, for it to be a brain dump, or a virtual equivalent of that pile of papers and articles on my desk that I thought someone-or-other would be really interested in. The aim is for shared content that supports thinking and action in relation to social justice and young people's empowerment.

I'll be seeking to make sure that, where I have relevant information, resources or reflections that could be useful to the audience of this blog, I take the time to post these in an accessible and useful way.

2) Not too much on technology
It's very easy in the blogging world to write about technology and social media in particular (I suppose many writers write about writing a lot, so it seems relatively natural). However, this isn't a space for me to reflect on the latest and greatest new technologies I've just come across unless those technologies link to the youth participation and social change elements of this blog.

3) Seeking solutions not problems
I approach the world with a very 'problem-solving' approach. I'm always looking for constructive solutions. However, the key to problem-solving is understanding the problem. That can mean that quite a bit of a blog post is taken up explaining problems – things that are wrong and need fixing.

I'll be seeking to ensure that the emphasis in these posts in on exploring solutions and positive change – and I'll working to escape the temptation to spend all my words ranting about problems.

4) Recommending and reflecting
At times, I recognize that solutions are not easily in reach, and what is needed is not a recommended recipe for resolution, but open reflection on possible ways to respond to a problem or challenge (whether with action or not).

I'll be seeking to have a balance of reflective posts that leave threads and ideas hanging, awaiting more thought – and other posts that seek to weave threads of thought together into something more of a solid thought process that leads to take-away-product of some form.

5) Engaging in conversation
This blog is not one-way publishing. I don't want to just stick content online and leave it there. So I'll be seeking to make sure I use this as a space both for hosting conversation, and for responding to conversations elsewhere in the blogosphere and beyond.

6) A personal blog
This is a personal blog. I have a relatively introverted personality. However, as these posts are shaped by my thinking and interests, I need to be transparent about these and to avoid the comfort of anonymous abstract writing in favor of an honest and open style.

I'll be seeking to strike a balance between relating everything to some personal story, and being clear that as the writer, I am part of the posts I write and shouldn't edit myself out of them.

Why we need open geodata

A work colleague was telling me last Thursday about his family's struggle to get hold of the details of a planning application for a new-build school on a field at the bottom of their garden. When they finally managed to get hold of the plans – any scale or measurements that would tell them how close to their garden, or how high, the new building was to be were absent.Leicester in Google Earth That can make it rather tricky to make an informed decision on responding to a planning application.

So we started talking about the potential presented by tools like Google Earth for genuine 3D planning applications that could let you see exactly how a building might affect you. Or that would let citizens engage in informed dialogue with architects and planners on the creation of democratised, accessible and creative public spaces and building projects.

The possibilities are exciting. The reality, in the UK at least, may lag behind.

The licence fees demanded by Ordinance Survey for UK mapping data continue to stiffle geo-related innovation, and even finding out about the planning applications near you can be a challenge, let alone being able to effectively visualise what the applications amount to.

Open Street MapSo whilst we've got access to a growing number of free-to-use tools for online mapping (not least google maps and earth), and while efforts to create wholly free mapping data like the amazing OpenStreetMap are groundbreaking, we're still short on the depth of data and the open access that we need to really innovate and make a difference with our geodata.

31 Day Challenge – days 11 to 14

I fear I'm falling a little behind on the 31 days to a better blog challenge. August is certainly a tricky month in which to strike up a regular patern of activity.

However, I have been trying to look at each of the tasks, if not getting time to consistently blog about how they are going.

Firstly, I should note my attempts to plan my posts for the week ahead (task 7 from last week) have woefully failed – as you will notice from the lack of posts this week. This can, however, be attribed in part to exciting work-related developments which mean I shall hopefully have more time to spend on reflective learning and it's blog-post-related spin-offs in September. More on that soon – and, Saturday's train journey permitting, more blog posts coming up next week.

Now, onto the tasks:

Stats

On day 11, challenge-setter Daren suggested digging into your blogs statistics. I run google analytics on most of the sites I maintain, which provides incredibly useful and detailed stats. Tim's Blog is still just starting out, so the 'sample size' to base any full analysis on is relatively small, but I'm watching use and search engine statistics with interest.

Stats

Daren suggests digging into statistics to see which keywords are sending traffic towards my blog. I've found checking up on search engine arrivals at both this blog and other sites to be invaluable not only for seeing which key words lead people to this site, but for discovering which key words people just don't search on.

In the past I've been working to optimise sites for search engines, and have found other sites I run turning up high (first result or first page of google) in the rankings for the key words I'm optimising against. And yet when I've checked the logs for those existings high-ranking sites, I've found not much traffic from those particular keywords. Implication: those key words are not the right ones to be optimising for, as they're not the most used by those searching. The search phrases that seemed obvious to me are not the same as those being used 'in the field'.

On introductions

Day 12's challenge was to introduce myself to another blogger. Since starting this challenge, I've become a lot more willing to leave comments, drop e-mail and generally interact with other bloggers. It has really helped me to understand that the social web only works when the social is brought to the fore. As day 3 of the challenge (search for an join a forum) has seen me aiming to interact more in a variety of forum and Community of Practice spaces I've also been reflecting on the value of introductions.

An introductions thread in a discussion forum or on a mailing list can be key to building community. Yet I often find it tricky to offer the right sort of introduction – preferring to wait until I see the style of introduction set by others before jumping in (Does this forum like informal introductions? Should I provide a bio? Should I talk only about work related content? Or should I just wait and see what others do?). Would examples of introductions offered through the community welcome e-mail / welcome web-page help here? Or would these be too restrictive. I'm tempted to explore when working on some community building later this year.

On affiliate programs

Buy a phoneboxThe challenge from day 13 is to Search for an Affiliate Program that Fits Your Blog. An affiliate program allows a blogger to take a commission on purchases made through links to specific e-commerce sites provided in blog posts. In my younger days of web development, I found the idea of 10% commission just for providing a link very appealing – but wasn't going in for spending my time on lots of little links – so tried a bit of niche marketting with this tounge-in-cheek site (note, embarassing online presence from an earlier age circa 15 years old approaching…). Alas I never made a sale, and have never since dabbled much in affiliate programs. So I've skipped this day of the challenge for now…

On blogging competition

For day 14 Daren suggests looking at 'competing' blogs to learn from them. I'm still trying to work out exactly what the focus of this blog, and thus who is companion/competitor bloggers are. However, I'm going to take a good look through the questions Daren suggests asking of other blogs – to see what I can learn from others and I'll be reporting back soon.

On other non-31-day-challenges

Hopefully this blog post will make it onto the web. Right now I'm battling against spam-generating-computers which appear to have picked on the server hosting Tims Blog and turned it from relatively-nippy to treacle-speed. I've taken the web-server down for the moment whilst I try and up the defences, and I'll hopefully have things playing again properly in the morning.

Update: relatively-nippy server has returned for now. However, if you find you're having difficulty getting to this blog anytime during August, I'd be really grateful if you could drop me a note (twitter / e-mail) – as I won't always be at the computer and it'll help me diagnose what exactly is going on…