Monday, December 7, 2009

A Sunny Start

When I was told I was going to make an Interactive Digital Media (IDM) site for Media, Culture, and Society class, I knew exactly what I wanted to do. My brother once mentioned how he thought a website compiling human-interest stories would do well on the internet. Now, given the opportunity, I felt this would be the perfect project to pursue.

The purpose of the site is to show readers that good news stories DO exist, which is sometimes hard to believe when exploring newspapers. As my IDM Project grew and developed, I was able to experience first-hand the lifecycle of a newly created blog. After landing on a background template, adding some stories, and editing the layout – I was stuck. That was the easy part; now it was time to bring visitors to the site. While the experience was more difficult than I had imagined, it helped me learn about the ins and outs of content distribution. I specifically learned about the influence social capital has on a website’s success.

With so many bloggers on the web, I had to figure out how I could get my blog to stand out in the crowd. My intended audience was very broad: I wanted it to be accessible for children and adults of all ages. To reach everyone, I started sharing with my classmates and tried to expand from there. However, as time progressed, I realized just how difficult it was to entice college students to visit a news blog (except my sociology classmates). I finally decided to expand my resources in order to reach out to more people.

At the start of the project, I had never written a blog, I did not have a Twitter account, and did not even know what Stumble Upon was. In other words, my social capital was low. “Social capital broadly refers to the resources accumulated through the relationships among people” (Coleman, 1988). Since I only had a Facebook at the start of this project, I really had no connection to the general public beyond UVa. I also knew that while my site would be appropriate for all ages, it would be better received by an older, non-collegiate audience. Thus, to help my blog succeed, I had to expand my social capital and reach out to more potential visitors. Additionally, I had to increase the number of tools I used to do so. This would help increase my chances of the blog being spread even further.

When I only spoke to classmates about the site, the visitor count was extremely low. With the addition of a Twitter account, the number of visits began to increase. By adding this particular tool, I increased the number of internet users I could access. Many of these people I did not know at first; however, I was able to increase my friend count and thus the number of blog visitors by adding users who were interested in good news, “hash-tagging” my posts, and tweeting about popular topics. I then furthered my social capital by adding a Stumble Upon account so those interested in current events might come across my site while exploring the web. Additionally, I reached out to those beyond my social circle. I asked friends to share my website with people they knew and asked my mother to forward it to her work. I used the social capital of others as well as some social outlets to increase visitation; this worked with flying colors. I immediately saw an increase in the visitor count. While it was one thing discussing the importance of social capital for a website in class, it was amazing to see (with statistics) the affect it truly had on my blog’s success.

Bourdieu and Wacquant (1992) define social capital as "the sum of the resources, actual or virtual, that accrue to an individual or a group by virtue of possessing a durable network of more or less institutionalized relationships of mutual acquaintance and recognition" (p. 14). As the sum of my digital resources increased from Facebook to Twitter, then on to Stumble Upon and friend’s acquaintances, I saw my blog’s success increase. I believe from watching this progression that the only way to really stand out on the internet is to actively pursue an increase in social capital. I had no problem doing this; my classmates suggested ideas or other tools to help my site gain traffic. However, I realize that many people may not have the means to do the same. In order to cross the visibility divide, one must gain social capital. One cannot gain social capital if he/she is on the other side of the digital divide. Even if one has the means to access the internet, it is difficult to utilize the various tools to gain social capital unless you possess contacts who are aware of those tools.

Ultimately, I was happy with the success of my blog. I will continue to update it and explore sites that may help advertise it. Below are links to both my blog and my Twitter, as well as screen shots of the two and my Google Analytics report.

My Blog
My Twitter

Screen Shots:
My Blog:

My Twitter:

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