Feb 8, 2010

Reader Comments Put Me In Focus and the Guru Energizes Me

Two heads are better than one. Soon we will have 2,000 heads. I call this the "collective brain" of the Alzheimer's Reading Room....
By Bob DeMarco

On Saturday I wrote A Virtual Alzheimer's Support Group. The article was about my goal to promote more interaction in the comments box below the articles.

I received several excellent comments from readers on how this might be accomplished. I replied to each of those comments under the original article.

One of the best comments was about the location of the comments box. I moved the comments box up so that it is easier to find. We will see what happens.

I did receive a lot of encouragement about my idea of trying to create a virtual support group. In addition to the comments, I received 11 private emails. I believe this is wanted. I might take this concept on to Blog Talk Radio.

I'll try something soon and see how it goes. I am considering starting a weekly feature where readers ask the questions, and then we "bat them around in the comments section." We could then turn the feedback into an article that would be easier to read and review. I am open to suggestions and advice.

I'll try to figure out how to get more readers to suggest topics.

Back to the feedback, this came in the form of a private email. We have an "Internet guru" that comes to this website for an obvious reason -- touched by Alzheimer's.

Here is what I learned. First, in fact this website has a very high level of reader interaction. While the raw number of comments appears low, in fact it is high based on the number of visitors and page views. I guess you could say, I was comparing the number of comments to websites that are much larger than the Alzheimer's Reading Room and that have been in business longer.

The guru went on to point out that I should be comparing an apple to an apple.

A different reader mentioned a larger website that seems to have more interaction. In fact, that website received $5 million in venture capital funding, and has 12 times as much content. Their ratio of comments to readers/page views is less than one fourth of what we have here on the Alzheimer's Reading Room. They are bigger and well funded, they are not more interactive based on this metric.

So while 12 comments is more than 8 comments, when compared to the number of visitors/page views as a ratio -- 8 is more.

The guru also mentioned that the Alzheimer's Reading Room is 475% bigger than the average of comparable websites in our Google benchmark. Google establishes the benchmark, not me. I did know this by the way. Thanks to all of you for reading.

We are much higher in every category with one exception -- pages visits per unique reader. The guru informed me that all I needed to do was publish twice as many articles a day, and this would reverse itself. In other words, if we had more to read each day it is likely that a fraction of the readers would read more pages and the number would go up.

The bottom line. I was a little disappointed when I wrote about the number of comments. But, now that I understand the facts and dynamic, I am extremely happy and re-energized.

Having said all of the above, I want to make one thing clear -- this is about the readers. Without you this place would not exist. Pretty simple when you think about it.

The result of this endeavor taught me this:
  • We do need to try and incorporate a group support feature into the Alzheimer's Reading Room.
  • I need to find a better way to make the existing articles available to new readers that come into the Alzheimer's Reading Room. A table of contents won't work. There are almost 1200 articles. We have a search box which is designed to help readers find information.
  • What I need to do is break the articles down into categories, and then get them over on to the sidebar as topics. For example, if we had a topic named "Incontinence" and a reader wanted information on incontinence they could click on the link and get everything we have. One click to all the information on a given topic (this comes directly from a reader suggestion).
  • I need to improve the way the website can be navigated.
  • I need to unleash the "collective brain" of the Alzheimer's Reading Room as I have promised to do many times.
  • I'll accomplish this by bringing on more writer/contributors, I'll have them share their experiences and advice with us. Let me make this clear, these newbies are people that are already contributing to the success of the Alzheimer's Reading Room. It is not my intention to recruit anyone that is outside the "collective brain". I will leverage our "collective brain" now.

I learn daily from existing readers that have vast amounts of life experience outside my own frame of reference. Its time for me to try and unleash that experience and bring it on to the Alzheimer's Reading Room. I email existing readers all the time for advice. I use this advice to answers email requests that are beyond my own "frame of reference". I now understand that I should have been publishing their emails as free standing articles. The advice is often exceptional.

This does mean more content and change on the Alzheimer's Reading Room. I understand some readers won't like this. I also understand that I can't expect every single article to be a home run, or useful to every single reader. When I read a magazine I only read the articles that are of interest to me. I want the information I read, and I try to put it to good use.

I believe that from time to time we will get that "home run" article that really is helpful to readers -- both stay at home caregivers and experts in the "field". More brains means more useful information, means more "home runs."

To be honest, I never know how readers are going to react to a given article. Sometimes, I write an article that I think is fantastic and important -- result, nothing happens. Other times, I write something that I am not really happy with and the comments box explodes. Go figure.

The above means I still have a lot to learn, and learn I will.

So, I hope you'll stay as we makes some changes. I'll do the best I can to make good decisions. I'll continue to ask the readers for help and advice.

Two heads are better than one. Soon we will have 2,000 heads. And that my friends equals the "collective brain" of the Alzheimer's Reading Room.

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Bob DeMarco
Bob DeMarco is the Founder of the Alzheimer's Reading Room and an Alzheimer's caregiver. The ARR knowledge base contains more than 3,811 articles with more than 306,100 links on the Internet. Bob lives in Delray Beach, FL.

Original content Bob DeMarco, the Alzheimer's Reading Room