Monday, June 11, 2012

An Improvement or Not? The On-Going Debate

          Today's A to Z Challenge analysis comes to you from Arlee Bird:

A to Z Badge by Ada Z from

 Where We've Been So Far

          We've been listening to your thoughts about the Challenge and mulling over some of our own.    I'm sure the debate will continue.   Over the past few weeks on this A to Z Blog I've been taking a look at the good and the bad of the A to Z Challenge.   I also asked for your thoughts on the misunderstood and somewhat neglected A to Z Video Contest.   If anyone reading this post today missed any of those three evaluation posts, I hope you will go back and check them out.  I also hope that everyone checked out the excellent comments on those posts to get a better perspective of what others thought.

 The Biggest Problem That We Can Control

          The general response to the A to Z Challenge is positive.  But as with anything involving so many people with so many different ways of approaching things, problems do arise.  For the nuisances such as CAPTCHA, blog platform incompatibility  (such as WordPress versus Blogger), bloggers who don't reciprocate with visits and comments, and other negatives that rest on individual bloggers or internet specific sources, there is probably not much we can do.

          However, there is one problem that seemed to be cited more than any other--THE MONSTER LIST! Repeatedly participants have cited that the list was intimidating and too massive to tackle.  Our suggestion of visiting at least five blogs a day starting on the list with the blog following yours was heeded by some and worked well for many of those who tried this method.    But this was not favored by everyone.

           Here are some of the problems that were cited about the big list as it was:

  • Too much time wasted on blogs that were not participating or had quit.
  • Didn't like finding advertising blogs and blogs too heavy on self-promo.
  • The overwhelming numbers mean it is just not possible to visit everyone for those of us with limited time.
  • Encountering blogs with offensive subject matter.
  • Don't have time to keep visiting blogs in which I have no interest.
  • Would prefer to just visit blogs in my interest range.

           On the other hand, many of you love the big random list.  It provides an element of surprise and allows you to discover excellent blogs that you might normally not visit.  The large blind list provides an adventure that is part of what makes the A to Z Challenge to exciting and rewarding.

          I will admit that I like the big list as well, but as a co-host I realize how much work is involved in maintaining a list such as the one we have been using.  There are two sides to this story so how do we find a solution that can please everyone?   I believe that I have one that will come close if not completely appease all camps.

My Suggested Solution

        The plan that I have would require special programming and possibly a separate web site--I don't know that it can be done on Blogger or any other blog hosting site.  I don't have specific details on how to achieve this but I'm going to lay out the general concept to get some feedback from you readers.

         The sign up process would be a bit more complex than merely adding a link to a Linky List.  There would be a screening process that would verify email addresses and blog links which would start us off with a clean list with no broken links that might have to be fixed later and would possibly eliminate more of the spam blogs.  

          As a part of the screening process entrants would be required to choose a category or categories in which their blog would be placed with a designated limit decided beforehand.  Blogs (such as my own eclectic site Tossing It Out ) could be listed in multiple category lists    Possibly some of the categories such as writing could even be broken down into subcategories.  We could also possibly add a rating system such as the kind done for movies and television.

         A screening registration process might even allow for information (probably optional) such as location (as was suggested by one of the British bloggers), blogging platform, blogging experience, interests, or what have you.   Information of this nature might help bloggers with common goals and interests to meet up and connect.    The NaNoWriMo site offers this sort of thing and participants in that event even have regional meet-ups.  As A to Z grows, we might be able to do similar things.   It might be fun for those who are interested to meet up in a local coffee shop or the like to share blogging help and camaraderie.

       After the initial screening registration process the blog links would go first into a master list where all the blog links are listed blindly as they are in the Linky List.   This list would appear on a main page.   Separate pages would contain the lists of the different categories.  This could be as vast and intricate as we cared to make it, but the final outcome would be that we would have a number of lists that would pertain to more specific things that would help those with limited time or patience to deal with the larger list.

         In essence we'd have a random list for those who like the big list and simpler lists for those who like that idea better.   And for those who really like the element of randomness we could always include the popular "Surprise Me" button that Marcus Clearspring developed for us.

        What we would probably lose in doing this central list would be the mobility that we have with a Blog Hop list.  The list would probably be confined to only one site, although it's probable that we could have the capacity to register on any co-host site if that were desirable.   My feeling is that a link list in one location is probably better anyway since as it gets bigger most of you probably would not be using it on your own blog.

         I can see many other advantages of doing the list as I have suggested, but for now I'll leave you with this initial presentation.   Let me emphasize that the registration would require only basic information needed to place you on the list.  In other words, we wouldn't be asking for extreme personal data and we wouldn't be collecting data.   The sole purpose would be to find you placement on the list and make sure as best we can that you are a legitimate blogger who is serious about participation in the Challenge.

          Now I open this up to you.  Do you think this sounds like a reasonable solution?  Would you have a problem with a simple registration process if it meant achieving what I've described here?   Do you see any possible flaws with what I've described?   What are some of your suggestions?
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Rob Z Tobor said...

Personally I think you should just make a list of say ten different categories and blogs would have to choose one at the outset. The reason being that even with a list of set categories bloggers are very likely to follow categories in a rather loose way. I did find some of the poetic licence taken by some bloggers within each letter of the alphapet stretched the concept of an A to Z to my mind. And although I have no problem with this I can see the same thing would happen if you categorised blogs, so rather that mess around agonizing about what is best just say this the is list do your best....

Rob Z Tobor said...

That almost made sense that is not bad for me.

mooderino said...

I think you may have gone from one extreme to the other.

I know you've always advocated the idea of finding blogs you might never have come across otherwise, but I don't think this is really what most people want. It certainly isn't a 50-50 split.

If I want to find blogs on random subjects i can do so quite easily, i really don't need ablog hop to do that. I know what my intersets are and I'd like to find people who share those interests. The 'surpise me' button (great invention) is more than enough for those days I feel like trying my luck.

Rather than the rigmarole you suggest, a simple data entry by the blogger as to what sort of thing their blog is about ('general' if it's about lots of things) would be fine.

I realise this would mean some people with blogs about off-beat stuff might not get very many visits, but that's for good reason - not many people share the interest.

The fact is the chance you might discover a great blog vs the time and effort required just isn't worth it.

I feel like you're pushing the idea of visiting unusual sites when the vast majority don't really want it. This is of course just my perception, I may well be wrong.


Retired Knitter said...

I sit on the fence in this discussion.

I had to no problem with the massive list and wasn't upset that I couldn't "touch" each blog with a visit and or comment during April. I guess I fall into the "adventure" group. Love just randomly visiting through "surprise me". And I will continue visiting through this year so the adventure continues. In fact, as I "window shop" I get to see who is an active blogger and who isn't - they may have participated in A to Z, but have now stopped blogging! I am interested in active blogs - so if all you did was participate in A to Z and then blog once a month after that - I am not interested no matter how good they are.

It is a sorting process for me.

I do, however, see the advantage of having categories but I don't see it as a "deal breaker" for my participation. BUT if you do decide on categories, keep them high level and few the first year. I wouldn't take a category like Writing and break it down further, at least not the first year. But I am not a big believer in this choice.

I agree with Rob - "this is the list - do you best." Or maybe this "this is the adventure - are you up for it?"


I think what you wrote Lee made sense. though I do like to comment on other blogs that is different to my own of poetry, I love to see what others are capable of writing,
With three challenges under my belt,
already working on the fourth.

Have a goo0d day,

Alex J. Cavanaugh said...

I can see the advantages of multiple lists, but...
Being able to sign up on multiple lists would mean some participants would hit the same blog more than once. We'd also never know exactly how many participated in the Challenge if blogs were listed several times.
We could do a complex list like Rachel does for the Campaign, but that does require one person to sort out participants as they sign up.
Since I managed the Linky List, I can say a smaller lists would be easier to manage, but still not sure that's the way to go. Each host responsible for a list on their site with all listed on the A to Z blog? How would we divide it up?
We as hosts still could do better eliminating the bad sites up front. We did better this year, but there's room for improvement.

SueH said...

I like the idea of categories, but I expect there would be whole sections I wouldn't visit out of choice/interest.

I think next year I'll go with the 'five below' suggestion plus use the 'surprise me' button.

Jarm Del Boccio said...

This sounds like a perfect solution to the issues people raised...just more work for you, Arlee! I like the idea of having a specialized category for my blog, and, a list I can choose to visit because the subject interests me. Good work!

Anonymous said...

I have done two challenges now...first time around I did my best to visit as many blogs as possible...this time, not so much. I took one look at that huge list and decided that if someone visited me I would visit them back. If I were to see a smaller list headed "general" which is where my blog falls I guess, then I would visit them all. Suggested headings; general, religious, political, family life, sports, nature, photogography etc..... Unfortunately this makes a lot more work for you.

Timothy S. Brannan said...

Frankly I liked seeing blogs outside my interest area. That is one of the best things about the A to Z; seeing blogs that you may not otherwise visit.

Offensive material/subject matter? I visited every blog in the list and I didn't see anything offensive. If you are easily offended then stay away from the internet.

The issue of blogs that had quite, were only in it for the advertising or couldn't link back properly in the Linky List were far more annoying.

CAPTCHA was also an issue, but it had an easy solution; I didn't leave comments on CAPTCHA-enabled blogs.

Francene Stanley said...

I like the sound of this. You are to be comended for all the thought you've put into the plan of next year's list. I'm happy to go along with separating the blogs into some order and would welcome not having to visit broken links. Hopefully, there'll be a religious section for those who want to preach. The rest of us can chose where to go for our sermons.

Jeremy [Retro] said...

i think the biggest struggle i had was finding really cool places and trying to visit those places. trying to move onto others sites, i was up to 30 or 40 places a day. we do need a better solution to "dead" a to z participants....

cause the list is very large and it does suck to find them. maybe on the list you can describe your site in one or two words and a movie rating of pg, pg13, r, adult.... [example: retro-zombie, art-pg13]... we could make a list on this site that has a breakdown of categories that you can chose, so you know who you are visiting.

now i enjoy random or surprise me button... it's fun to find new places.

jeremy [retro-zombie]

Heather M. Gardner said...

Sounds like you have your hands full with so many opinions.

I'm kind of down the middle. I had no problem with the size of the list. I had my own system of going through, but admit I never made it all the way through.

I like it random but understand its a lot of work for you guys to maintain. Really, you need to do what is best for you guys and if someone doesn't want to participate, so be it.

You can't please everyone.
I'll support whatever you come up with.

Torggil said...

An event like this is very hard to manage for volunteers. I would hesitate in making more work for the management team.

I am like many others, I didn't visit anywhere near the 5 blogs a day. Work and life made this a little impractical. I visited as many as I could and did return visit everyone who signed up to follow me- or at least left a couple of comments.

As for offensive material. I purposely trued to keep my post as free of bad language as possible- with probably a 90% success rate during the challenge.

When I went to a blog and found the material not to my taste, I simply went to another blog. Thats life. But I found some terrific blogs.

I also disabled Captcha.

I would like to report a significant increase in the number of followers, and found the challenge excellent. The only letter that gave me trouble was Z. If you actually look at my posts, it stands out as being significantly different from all of the others. I copped out to a very large extent.

I did go random when I did "flip" through blogs most of the time. I enjoyed that experience.

Torggil (Torggil's World)

JoJo said...

I'm all for the lists that we can place our blogs into. Mine doesn't necessarily fit into just 'crafts and photography' even though that's a lot of what my blog contains. I also blog about music, life, travel, my pets, etc. It'd be nice to be able to place my blog link into various categories in order to increase traffic. And I like the idea of the categories b/c then I can avoid blogs about religion and raising children which are topics that I don't care about at all. There seemed to be a lot of those.

Also, regarding blogs that don't end up participating or quit halfway thru, I think those of us who are participating should feel free to let you guys know whenever we come upon one such blog so that you can remove it from the list(s) right away.

T. Powell Coltrin said...

As I've said before, I like the surprise factor but you'll need to do what's best for the masses.

the only thing I would caution on is not being so strict that newbies (or oldbies) won't try it fearing they can't stay the course. I ran into many bloggers that had given up. I didn't feel badly about that. I just left an encouraging word and went on. I think if they try, it's nice. We all learn from experience.

I did visit wordpress bloggers, but I have to tell you that my email spam increased hugely. So near the end of April, I stopped leaving comments on Wordpress blogs.

This is a lot to think on. :)


Laura S. said...

It sounds like a pretty good idea, Lee! Though I'm confused why the registration list has to be a separate site. Can't it be another page on the A-Z blog?

Lynn Proctor said...

i think my mind is a little foggy this morning--i gotta come back and read this again!

Arlee Bird said...

I'm listening! I don't think I will respond individually to comments here today. Instead, I'm going to go for a further evaluation on my post next week that will address some of the issues raised by the comments.

Thank you for the thoughtful comments here and especially to those who understood the vision I was trying to convey here in this post.

I look forward to the comments to come.


Eliza Wynn said...

It sounds like a lot of work for you.

My only idea for dealing with categories was use a pull-down menu to filter them (all blogs, general, writing, etc.), but I'm not sure that would be any less work than your idea.

Mina Lobo said...

I think that a more formalized registration makes sense, as folks would then have to advise upfront whether there's adult content (and we have to bear in mind that not only do some adults not enjoy being surprised that way - not me, I'm a dirty birdie - but there are younger folks who blog and participate in A to Z. Won't somebody think of the children??? ;-) But seriously - there's sometimes adult content on my blog and I wouldn't want to "spring it" on anybody, just as there are things I wouldn't want "sprung on" me. It's not a question of what's "offensive" or not, nor should folks "stay away from the Internet" to avoid things they may not like. Generally, folks have a good sense of what they're about to click on before they click, and if something straight-up looks like it's not their kinda thing, they don't. What's so horrible about folks knowing in advance what kinda stuff you're blogging about and being able to make informed decisions about where they click?

Yes, yes, yes to having the three list options (the main, big list; the categorized list; and the "Surprise me!" option). I think, though, as regards categories, folks' blogs should be organized according to what their A to Z theme is, which may or may not be what their blogs are like, generally. (Case in point; my theme was music, though up till A to Z I hadn't really blogged about music at all.) And for folks w/no theme, there could be an "Unthemed" category, I suppose.
Some Dark Romantic

Unknown said...

I definitely agree that splitting it into sections will be more beneficial overall. While it'll take away some of the fun of random discovery, it'll mean we're more likely to form new blogging relationships in our interest sector than just a quick one comment wonder.

Maybe make it so that once a day you encourage people to visit 1 (or 2, or 5) blog(s) outside of their comfort zone to keep that element of randomness alive.

Graciewilde said...

I am jazzed to participate no matter what form the Challenge takes. When April was done, I was proud of myself for having posted daily and proud of myself for making the time to check out usually a good ten sites each night. But, I was worn out too! Now that I have had a couple of months to recover, I am excited about doing it again.

I have NO problem with the registration idea. In fact, I think it is a good idea. A couple of hoops to jump through might encourage those who are not serious to wait until they are ready.

I like the surprise effect and so don't mind the big list. I knew I would never get through all the blogs and I decided not to beat myself up about it. However, if someone responded to my post, I always made a point to reciprocating and visiting their site. That was rewarding.

I would also be okay with categories. I chose not to set a theme for my A to Z posts - they are as eclectic as I am - but I could fit easily into a category that includes eclectic blogger! I would also be interested in some breakdown by geography. It's cool to check in with sites that are far away from the place I call home.

Thanks, Lee, and all the team for the work you do. I can't wait for April again (it has always been my favorite month of the year but now it is better)--

Tina said...

You sure know how to get a debate going, Lee! Funny, as I was reading your post, I had my response forming in my head, then I read the comments (a habit that makes it take me a LOT longer to visit blogs than I suppose is normal, but when I'm going to comment, I like to read what others have said so that mine is unique...but I'll work on that for April 2013) I kept thinking, oh, good point, hadn't thought of that...over and over. Now I'm undecided again. Sigh.

1) I think your idea of registering with basic info is brilliant. I don't think it's too intrusive, and if a blogger isn't willing to do that, then are they really willing to participate?

2) The long list. It's only going to get longer. I feel like we should try some sort of categorization for next year, since it's a topic so many participants have brought up, but of course as the hosts of this, we reserve the right to NOT categorize the following year if that ends up being a nightmare to manage. My solution would be that the participant would need to choose:
- be uncategorized, which will most likely end up being the longest list
- choose ONE of the other categories, and be on that ONE list. I don't think it would be fair for someone to be on the photography list, the craft list, the parenting list, etc, even though their blog might normally include all those topics. That sort of blog belongs either uncategorized or in the "eclectic" category, if we have one. People on multiple lists would have more chances of more visitors, and we want to make this as fun and fair as we possibly can.

3)I have a problem with the "I'll visit those who visit me." I mean no offense, but let's look at this logically. Someone has to start that ball rolling, or we're all sitting there waiting for someone to come. I sure believe in return visits and that's my habit, but if those are the ONLY blogs you visit, you're not doing a lot of reaching out and that's part of the goal of this entire challenge.

4)I don't think five blogs a day is asking too much. We tried to convey that we didn't expect participants to visit ALL the other participants, we just wanted everyone to get some visitors, which is what that method would have produced had more participants followed it.

5) I'm starting to sound grumpy. I don't mean to. I just feel so sad for the terrific blogs I visited that had written 26 posts and my comment was the first one. The whole month. I admire the determination to keep going even when NO ONE was visiting.

6) We have a terrific community event here, and I thinks it's awesome how many have been willing to say exactly what they think. I've done so to. If my comments offended you, I apologize. My perspective as a co-host is a bit different than last year, the first year I participated.
Tina @ Life is Good
Co-Host of the A-Z Challenge
Post A-Z Road trip!

Jo said...

Keep it simple. The way it was done this year seemed fine to me.

Susan Kane said...

This idea of categories is excellent. When I went all random, I ended up at sites that had absolutely NO interest to me, or that I found uncomfortable.

Like Delores, I tried to read as many blogs as I could last year, but eased back this year. Your proposal would make my choices easier.

Wanda said...

I like the idea of categories as it will help to find certain types of blogs more easily. During my first A-Z challenge, I devoted a lot of time to trying to visit participates. But this year, I found I didn't really have the time to devote to it.

Rachel Frost said...

I like the idea of categories as well. I think putting them into one category can be limiting for those who blog about a variety of things, but I also wouldn't want things to be unfair because someone gets to show up on multiple lists while others do not. Putting a limit (say, 2 or 3) would help with that at least a little.

There were definitely a lot of ad blogs and the like that annoyed me, but even going through the process you're proposing would help with that. Still, there should be an easy way to inform you when we come across a blog that doesn't work/is just self-promoting. It's a lot of work, I understand, clearing out spam every day, but would help with the overall experience for everyone who's actively trying to participate.

I don't understand why things would have to be on a different site, though. Can't you just set up different tabs on the same site? Set up category tabs that we can visit, so we have more time to look at what we want instead of sifting through sites we're not interested in.

Or maybe I'm just confused.

Anonymous said...

There are some good ideas here. I think the registration info idea is a great one.

In terms of categorization, I did find the list unweildy and there was no chance that I would get around to all the blogs on it. So I started with the ones that were in Team Tina - about 250 blogs in total. These were chosen depending on their number in the Linky, I think we had the block from 850 to 1100. After that it was random, so there was an initial defacto categorization already. I think you are on the right track, Lee.

In terms of the Wordpress/Blogger divide, I discovered recently that you can add any non Wordpress blog to the Wordpress blog reader, simply by adding the URL. I've tried this with a few Blogger blogs and it works! Just thought I'd share in case any other Wordpress user would like to use this feature.


Pat Hatt said...

Should have a balance of some categories, but not too many, as then it be all over the place. Then again many don't just fall into one and you'll have them all over the place and of course some people are going to try and make it so their blog fits as many as they are allowed, in order to get the visits and such. There is really no good way around it, I liked the monster list, but it was hard to get through. The captcha is what annoyed the heck out of me.

JoJo said...

Also, maybe this should just be open to people on Blogger instead of also allowing Wordpress?

Zoanna said...

I like the following ideas:

1) posting a list of blog categories and have bloggers pick ONE that their blog fits into.

2) strongly suggesting that people try to read 3 blogs a day and leave a comment, but not "forcing" which blogs. Frankly, I was not compelled to keep reading the five above or below my link. I chose to read blogs based on their blog name most of the time. I figure if I like the sound of their title, I might like their content. I was often right.

4) Don't make more work for yourself. Sounds like most people want the freedom to hop around, want to get comments, do NOT want spam, and do want to find common interests.

Thanks for listening to the feedback and taking it to heart.

Tracy MacDonald said...

I did find the very large list daunting, but really LOVED the ability to bounce around it based on my mood and which blog titles/names seemed most interesting. I didn't mind the "dead" ones nearly as much as I minded the CAPTCHA ones. As I followed blogs I liked, my Google Reader list got very long and with people posting daily, I eventually stuck with the random choosing of new blogs rather than visit blogs I had been to. I also tried to visit those who visited me. That Surprise Me button was really the most helpful. My point is that categorization could be helpful, but I'm not sure it's necessary.
As the group grows, it will be important to not add any extra unnecessary work for those of you who lead it. I appreciated that you all visited me and commented regularly and if administrative work takes away from that, then what's the point of hopping to the participants blogs?
A2Z Mommy and What’s In Between

Mimi said...

I think you are a genius!! great ideas

Mimi Torchia Boothby Watercolors

Dino said...

I think this all sounds quite good. Personally I'm happy with the big list but being able to categorize blogs with more than on category is a must if categories are the way to go.

I must answer points raise by the first two comments.

Rob suggested having 10 categories and allowing blogs one category each. I don't think this would work as the Writers category would be supersized leaving other categories with few if any blogs.

mooderino said that he finds the Surprise Me buttons sufficient for a bit of randomness. Sadly these buttons don't appear on all the blogs and worse still, they don't work on all blogs. They need some work doing on them.

As you said Arlee, the debate will continue but there is hope!

KC Weldon said...

I think if you do the method you described you're going to create way more work for yourself and the other mods than you should. There has to be some sort of existing app out there that will do the work for you.

Also, I think people should only be allowed on one category list. It's not fair for some people to be on several lists when others could only be listed on one.

Unknown said...

I've done the AZ twice now, once as a participant, another time as a co-host.

I completely agree that we need the blog sign-ups to be more formal-- cuts out a lot of trash.

To my mind, yes, we should do categories, but limit the number of categories each blogger can get into-- maybe two, not more. That ensures fairness, as well as the need folks have for visiting special interest blogs in categories.

I'd rather we had one list, and the names of the categories right beside each name. Solves logistical problems of managing multiple lists. It keeps the list suitably random, yet visitors know from the word go what category blog they are clicking on.

As to bloggers who lose AZ steam-- we need to figure out a way folks can report inactive blogs to the hosts, without overwhelming the hosts with emails. I've been thinking we can have a scrolling chat box on the site where folks can leave messages for hosts...and one of the hosts would man that, consolidate a list and send to the host/s in charge of the pruning.

I'd also recommend we stop sign ups ten days ahead of April 1st, so the hosts can do the eliminations much better. Once the challenge starts, there are so many fires that the hosts are left gasping. Start the signups early and end them by 20th March. Use the 11 days to eliminate problem entries.

We definitely need a better software for the list-- something that collects emails-- or even sends an auto-email to signees informing them of the guidelines-- no Captcha, visit other blogs etc. And this software would also do the categorization tags...

Those were my two cents.. :)

Hilary Melton-Butcher said...

Hi Lee .. I'm not sure about the rating system - because the higher ranked sites would probably get the most hits ... and this A - Z is democratic - ie for us bloggers to find our own likes and dislikes. Not sure.

I agree eliminating the time wasters would be really helpful ..

I quite liked the idea of 'hit' five sites a day, moving up the list - however I failed at that ... as I had 'plenty' of new bloggers coming over. Marcus' Surprise Me button is a great idea - though I've tended not to use it ... in categories it could be useful I'd have thought.

I certainly agree with the registration process especially if it would eliminate the time-wasters ..

Thanks Lee - now I'll look at everyone else's answers ..

I think I agree with the KISS principle .. one list, registration to eliminate timewasters, surprise me button, and a suggestion that visiting 5 new blogs a day is recommended.

I often visit new bloggers from comments they've left elsewhere, which I can relate to ..

Damyanti's early stopping of sign-ups sounds a sensible suggestion ..

Also her autoemail re guidelines - sounds sensible ..

However we don't want it too 'regulated' .. it's meant to be fun ..

Those of us who've participated have a feel of what's required ...

Perhaps newbies could be directed to a few 'antique' A - Zers where they can see ideas ..

One negative I had was the overwhelmingness from bloggers prior to the A - Z starting .. I got swamped and rather stayed on the sidelines - though I did contribute a couple of posts.

Cheers and as Damyanti says .. those are my two cents .. Hilary