Lords of the Blog healthcheck

Hansard Society
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Lords of the Blog has been running since January 2008 and was launched in March 2008. An evaluation of the first six months of the pilot was carried out by the Hansard Society: everything about the blog – from the ways that authors respond to visitors, to the layout of the website – has been scrutinised. To ensure objectivity, the perspectives of site visitors, blog authors,media commentators and the House of Lords staff have been solicited (via pre and post- engagement surveys for users; the collection of stakeholder feedback and site statistics; and the tracking of media narratives about the initiative) and analysed.

One of the surprise findings was that only 70% of site visitors were based in the UK: we’re glad to see that the blog has attracted interest from people around the world and that it has inspired them. The blog was the first of its kind and as such, the evaluation has been useful in highlighting the fact that it has primarily appealled to those who are already interested in politics – even if they have never formally engaged with political institutions before. Moreover, the demographics of Lords of the Blog readers tend to reflect those of visitors to other political websites; they tend to be young men, so one of the key questions is whether and how the blog can appeal to a broader cross-section of the public than it does at present.

To answer this question, we have relied on feedback from users, bloggers and media commentators: important points have been made about the look and feel of the site. We’ve started to improve these by providing better search functions, and an experimental banner. We’re also hoping to introduce more Members of the Lords to blogging, whether as guests or regular contributors, and to develop the site in ways that tie in more with topical parliamentary debates. More is going to be done to promote the blog to the public in general, but we’ve also decided to use more video and picture content; many readers said this would help to generate interest. Please continue to give us your feedback and ideas, via the Feedback Survey. And if you’re new to the blog, why don’t you tell us about yourself via our Newcomers Survey ?

Meanwhile, we hope you continue to enjoy the blog.

Laura Miller, Hansard Society

27 comments for “Lords of the Blog healthcheck

  1. 18/11/2008 at 11:46 am

    As was pointed out in the comments to Lord Norton’s “Improving Communication” post, the Feedback and Newcomers surveys are both now closed so linking to them is useless!

  2. lauramiller
    18/11/2008 at 12:07 pm

    Hi Chris – thanks for pointing this out.

    We closed the surveys while we undertook the evaluation. We will hopefully be re-opening them shortly. Watch this space.

  3. lauramiller
    18/11/2008 at 12:35 pm

    Further to my last message – surveys are now open. Sorry to anyone who had problems accessing them recently!

  4. Adrian Kidney
    18/11/2008 at 1:09 pm

    Where’s the experimental banner?

  5. lauramiller
    18/11/2008 at 1:16 pm

    Hi Adrian – it’s at the top of the page.

    If you’re still seeing the old one, then perhaps you should refresh the page or decache (Ctrl. F5).

  6. 18/11/2008 at 1:58 pm

    Survey Monkey does not meet the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0, so some users cannot reply. Please bear that in mind in any analysis.

  7. Frank Wynerth Summers III
    18/11/2008 at 2:26 pm

    I will venture to make a few comments praising this Lords of the Blog initiative. Initiatves like this (and this initiative specifically) have a very important role to play in what I think may fairly be called a worldwide struggle even though few perceive and fewer concern themselves directly with it. The United Kingdom is continuously in dialogue with the world through its presence in the United Nations, the World Trade Organization, the European Union, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and other ananlogous organizations. All major and larger than major powers are likewise involved in such organs. These are useful and I am not in favor of abolishing such bodies.

    They are however, regarded as though they were treaties entered into by sovreign nations whereas in fact they are political entities with powerful cultural tendencies of their own. This is not the place for me to explain my very grave concerns about a world where the voice for British interest avoids being British, American power avoids being American and so on for Russia, China, France, Brazil and Italy.
    There is an impetus for wholesale destruction of the wisdom and best qualities of all countries. No malice need be involved for this tendency to be powerful. This cannot soon be resolved in a good way.

    The global access of The Lords of the Blog and any other nation’s attempt to do similar things is a countervailing action. It serves the purpose of providing a view of something really British. The same blogs serve the dual purpose of allowing Lords to pay its dues to the world in supporting its own values elsewhere. Lords can hardly help supporting those values in other countries including: aristocracy, respect for procedure, constitiutional review of tradition, recognition of excellence and a love for one’s own sovreign institutions and persons. This can be done without great effort and still impede the boiling down of Britain into one of a series of nondescript entities in a remote and flavorless world consensus that grows stronger each day. This resistance need not weaken world institutions, it merely provides a subtle countervailing force to keep them honest.

    Thus as one of the foreign 30% I say keep up the good work. I also say keep up the good fight — although I realize that may be a bit controversial. I don’t wish this to be taken too seriously, this is only dialogue not reform of the international order.

  8. lauramiller
    18/11/2008 at 2:38 pm

    Hi MJRay: while it can be difficult for interactive surveys to be completely accessible and user friendly, we have attempted to make sure that we use a host that is complaint with section 508 of US Federal law, Section 22. Namely:

    “The criteria for web-based technology and information are based on access guidelines developed by the Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium. Many of these provisions ensure access for people with vision impairments who rely on various assistive products to access computer-based information, such as screen readers, which translate what’s on a computer screen into automated audible output, and refreshable Braille displays. Certain conventions, such as verbal tags or identification of graphics and format devices, like frames, are necessary so that these devices can “read” them for the user in a sensible way.

    The standards do not prohibit the use of web site graphics or animation. Instead, the standards aim to ensure that such information is also available in an accessible format. Generally, this means use of text labels or descriptors for graphics and certain format elements. (HTML code already provides an “Alt Text” tag for graphics which can serve as a verbal descriptor for graphics). This section also addresses the usability of multimedia presentations, image maps, style sheets, scripting languages, applets and plug-ins, and electronic forms.”

    Thanks for your comments, Frank WS III

  9. Bedd Gelert
    18/11/2008 at 3:08 pm

    I guess the general comment I would make is whether it is worth having the blog running during the long summer recess ?

    Pros
    People will ‘tune in’ at all times of the year.

    A blog needs to continually updated, or it will not attract interest.

    Cons
    Fewer people surf the web to find out what is going on in Parliament while MPs and the Lords aren’t sitting.

    It is difficult to maintain topicality when the Parliament has risen so it may make sense to reflect this.

    It misses an opportunity to ‘re-launch the site’ at the start of each Parliamentary term, in an analagous way to the Telly Stations ‘launching their autumn schedules’.

    *****
    Finally, I know I sometimes get a bee in my bonnet about the likes of Lord Mandelson, and can ‘rove off topic’, but I think it would make sense to indulge in a little bit of populism when controversy rears its head in the newspapers..

    Items making the news agenda, and ‘birds of bright plumage’ usefully boost the old box office, and increase the number of people tuning in. So while comments on the Russell Brand fiasco should not become the ‘meat and drink’ of this blog, I do think that such delicacies are useful appetisers [or desserts..] to keep interest in the blog at a goodly level – it is a Marathon, not a Snickers, after all….

  10. howridiculous
    18/11/2008 at 6:30 pm

    ‘[T]he demographics of Lords of the Blog readers tend to reflect those of visitors to other political websites; they tend to be young men, so one of the key questions is whether and how the blog can appeal to a broader cross-section of the public than it does at present.’

    I’m not sure Anne Palmer would agree! Whatever one’s views of her views, she is a regular reader and contributor. And she is not a young man.

    More seriously, the question that comes to mind is: so what? Does it matter that the blog tends to attract young men? Young men are attracted to it because it is the sort of thing that attracts young men. Other people aren’t attracted to it because it is the sort of thing that does not attract them. Blogs on football attract people who are interested in football. I’m not so they don’t attract me. And so on…

    I do hope that all the wonderful work that the bloggers have achieved over the past few months is not going to be endangered by ridiculous attempts to be ‘more inclusive’, whatever that means and might entail. Certainly politically correct attempts to attract the attention of people who frankly aren’t interested would lead me to declaim:

    How Ridiculous!

  11. 18/11/2008 at 11:38 pm

    To “Howridiculous”, I am indeed “All Woman” and I will hope to constantly open minds to the actual contents of the EU if I may, and sadly the different interpretations to some of the suspect Articles contained therein.

    To Frank Wynerth Summers III I would have him question just who speaks for us in the United Nations and the World Trade Organization because as I understand it, even though the Treaty of Lisbon is in its death throes, I understand the EU already ‘speaks’ for this Country. Should “Lisbon” be revived, the EU will speak for all 27+Countries.

    The EU has already signed agreements re EU/US Arrest Warrant without any debate in our Parliament. Recorded in the EU Parliament Tuesday 3rd June 2003 EU-USA Judicial cooperation agreements Antonio Vitorino said, “This assessment has to be made taking due account of the fact that this is, as the President mentioned, the very first Union agreement in the field of Justice and Home Affairs, and it will be an historical precedent”.

    I record this because most certainly at that time, unless one follows the EU Parliament debates, no one here in the UK would have known about it, sadly, still too few are aware of what is done in their name even now.

  12. 19/11/2008 at 4:32 am

    Mr Werneth Summers:

    This is not the place for me to explain my very grave concerns about a world where the voice for British interest avoids being British, American power avoids being American and so on for Russia, China, France, Brazil and Italy.
    There is an impetus for wholesale destruction of the wisdom and best qualities of all countries. No malice need be involved for this tendency to be powerful. This cannot soon be resolved in a good way.

    Indeed, this is lamentable. I would also like to draw attention to the shockingly lax representation of the local wisdom of Northumbria, Kent, and the village of Royston Vasey on the world stage, and draw attention to the urgent need for representation from the Homo Sapiens constituency. And, of course, the geocentrism of the political establishment means that we are robbed of the intra-national Catholic, Golfer and Sweatshop-Worker voice.

    To put it another way, in an increasingly joined-up world it is inevitable that some lines will get blurred and some local cultural quirks will get overlooked. But the prejudice towards the Nation as the obvious default in these matters is very silly. Why should the 60M in Britain be equivalent to the 310M in America? Why are the views of people in Bolton best represented by people in Westminster rather than, say, Manchester, or Brussels? This is not to argue for either of these alternatives, but simply to say that the trade-offs are the same regardless of the scales involved. As anyone who has travelled to the USA or the Balkans will attest to, there is nothing magical about the drawing of borders on a map. Indeed quite often the lines are merely remnants of old aristocratic wars fought, and cultures can transition quite sharply within a nation or blend smoothly into each other at the borders.

    The blending and mixing of cultures is a fact of the brave new world of instant global communication. It is not self-evidently true by any stretch that the way things worked in the 19th or 20th centuries is sufficient or appropriate in the 21st and 22nd. I’m not too worried about losing our culture, however. Newcastle has been a part of the UK for hundreds of years and nobody can say it’s just like London. Massachusetts is not Alabama (indeed, Austin is not Houston), Paris is not Nice, Zagreb is neither Sarajevo nor Dubrovnik. People will keep their local cultures distinct regardless of what governments do above them. To the extent that they do change, it tends to be generally for the good of those in them. We in the UK no longer have the quaint open sewers and workhouses of history, but I’m sure nobody here misses them very much. Indeed, the growing challenge of the world is not keeping Prague from turning into Cape Town, but finding new ways for people from Prague, Cape Town, London and Shanghai to all have a reasonable shout in the world without getting sidelined or screwed over.

    Mr Ridiculous:

    It is not “politically correct” to enquire, in an experiment regarding public participation in the political process (try saying that with a mouthful of sherbet) what can be done to include people who are not participating, particularly if one is of the opinion that the demographics in question have a voice and a vote. And comparing a discussion of a Terrorism or Embryology bill – which can have massive impacts on the lives of women – to a game of football is, well, asinine and specious. The issues discussed here require input from the whole of society (with the possible exception of tabloid editors). It is therefore an entirely valid subject of discussion and research, and not a thing to do with “political correctness”.

    I do wish people would stop reaching for the “PC” bludgeon, and its counterpart the oft-abused cudgel of “common (non)sense”, whenever someone mentions skews of demographic representation. It is very tiresome.

  13. 19/11/2008 at 9:21 am

    McDuff asks “Why should the 60M in Britain be equivalent to the 310M in America? Why are the views of people in Bolton best represented by people in Westminster rather than, say, Manchester, or Brussels? etc,etc”.

    Because McDuff the adults out of that 60 million here in the UK pay their taxes (or did to until millions are about to lose their jobs) which go towards the High wages and vast expenses of our Politicians who, since 1973, can no longer do the complete job of Governing this Country. It is estimated that 75%-80% of our laws are made in the EU and which even our own Parliamentarians have to obey, for if they do not obey them to the satisfaction of the EU, this Country can be fined millions of pounds which this Country can no longer afford. We no longer have a Sovereign Country because it can be over-ruled by the European Court of Justice.

    Our MP’s STILL want us to vote for them probably because they have got used to being paid full time pay for doing a part time job.

    What affects us here in the UK to a certain extent affects millions of other people in the Commonwealth so we are not just 60 Million people. Many Members of the Commonwealth have fought along side our troops on many occasions. We are all part of the same family, we share the past and the future, the good and the bad. We are closer to our friends in far away Australia than those on the continent for we understand one another, we talk the same language, we need no interpreter. Even at a ‘social occasion’ with friends on the Continent, we need an interpreter.

    Even in this cultural mix here in the UK there is tension, frustration, and sometimes anger. All is not “rosy” and sadly, it may never be so, and it is time to face these facts.

    If you want to be represented by the EU, then we do not need a parliament here. In spite of the people voting against Regional Assemblies, they are already in place. Choose either EU Regions to govern here or Parliament because the people will not pay for both. Go a little further into the future and have the EU speak for us in everything. Brazil, the USA and Canada will also Speak as one, and then the UN will eventually speak with its one voice, our new Government, but before that happens????????? I don’t think you want to know!

  14. lauramiller
    19/11/2008 at 11:01 am

    Hi Howridiculous – you ask why the demographics of visitors to the blog matters?

    McDuff has made some excellent points, but I would like to add that the aim of the pilot is to promote outreach; this aim does not in any way compromise the quality of the blog.

  15. howridiculous
    19/11/2008 at 12:07 pm

    McDuff,

    First, it is not Mr Ridiculous. It is Howridiculous.

    Second, I’ve been accused of being ridiculous before but never asinine and specious. I shall take those kind comments as a compliment and trust that Laura regards those comments as one of the excellent points you made in response to my post!

    The point I was making is simple: you cannot make people interested in things they are not interested in, whether that is terrorism, embryology, football etc. And you cannot, in a free society, make people input into things that they don’t want to input into.

    And let us please inject some sense of perspective: it is perfectly possible to be interested and engaged in things without having to read about them on this blog or take part in it.

    All that said, I shall be interested to hear the outreach plans.

    Howridiculous.

  16. lauramiller
    19/11/2008 at 12:42 pm

    Hi Howridiculous,

    The blog itself is part of the House of Lords outreach work. Our evaluation has found that it has satisfied some of the goals – namely, to engage those who have not previously been in contact with Parliament.

    The plan is simply to continue: by making improvements to the look and feel of the site and to the range of bloggers contributing, we hope to increase the appeal of the blog.

    While it may be true that politics doesn’t appeal to everyone, the feedback we’ve recieved suggests that when people engage with this blog, they begin to understand the role of the House of Lords more and become keen to learn more.

    This can only be a good thing!

  17. Frank Wynerth Summers III
    19/11/2008 at 2:43 pm

    “Lay on McDuff! Cursed be he who cries Forebear! Enough!”
    I probably misquote the Bard but since you mispelled my name we’re even. If you believe in single chamber calculator democracy for the whole planet without federalism then I can think of no worse system of governance. I am ready to fight to the death and victory nor defeat matter much because survivival is intolerable. Now, where are three good Scots witches when you need them. Unfortunately if you believe Old Bill was a prophet — I am not named MacBeth.

    however fights are for another day.

  18. 19/11/2008 at 7:01 pm

    Ms Palmer

    Estimated by who? Based on what research? What part of the EU? “Laws” or “Regulations”? Are they good laws? Do they benefit us? Would they have been passed in some form by a British government anyway?

    There are lies, there are damned lies, and there are statistics. Of course, there is a fourth category of “made up statistics” but you probably wouldn’t know anything about that.

    Incidentally, the chances of the USA, Canada and Brasil (Why not Mexico? There are already pre-existing conspiracy theories you can bolt on if you’re into that kind of thing. You would probably like LaRouche and his Amero.) combining in a unified government any time in the next, oh, half century are nil. I’d bet my house on it. The Quebecois would never stand for it, for a start.

    And, really, if you don’t vote in the EU Parliamentary elections, that doesn’t mean they’re not democratic. It means you didn’t vote.

    Apologies to Mr Wynerth Summers for the misspelling.

    My beliefs about “single chamber calculator democracy” or your fervour in opposing such a development are neither here nor there, because such a thing will never happen.

    Nonetheless, such a government is not what you were originally voicing distaste about. You were voicing concern about the multiple levels of quasi-federal and intra-governmental organisations because of their distilling effect on national voices. My reference to the numbers was simply one way of pointing out that assuming the nation state is the best unit of representation is status-quo bias and nothing more.

    Local colour remains pretty much a standard feature of any society. What changes, and what should be open to change, is where the arbitrary administrative borders lie and what level of a federal or quasi-federal society is the “lowest practicable” to solve a given problem faced by government. I don’t think you can argue that NATO would be better served by being split into regional councils, or that local housing applications should be reviewed by a supreme global overlord on his laser-armed death castle on the moon. Complaining about the multiplicity of bodies or their watering down of national voices at various inter-, trans- and intra-national levels won’t make the problems they seek to address magically go away.

    Howridiculous

    Any argument which hears the notion of outreach to non-male readers and immediately jumps to the “PC” stick is entirely specious and runs the risk of damaging your knees.

    It is possible that blogs and the like will remain a male-dominated medium for the near-future, although I would hope and anticipate that as the technology itself becomes more accessible and democratic that blog audiences will equalise too. (Certainly, probably half of my favourite political blog authors are female, which is massive over-representation demographically but an indication of the sheer quality out there). In this sense, you have a half-point in that a mere blog is insufficient to reach the entirety of the population.

    If you believe, however, that politics is an predominantly male province because women are just not interested in it, well, I’d invite you to reconsider on the basis that you’re just plain wrong. It is perfectly reasonable to ask and enquire how representation can be equalised, since it is ludicrous and verging on the insulting to claim that women as a class are under-represented because they are less interested.

  19. 19/11/2008 at 10:10 pm

    Ah McDuff, so you DO know that it is indeed Mexico, USA and Canada, and also that because of the present Credit Crunch, plans for an alleged Treaty between the three have been put on hold. I have indeed read LaRouche because it is important to read all different sides, why, I have even read what YOU write. As a matter of fact I have recently disputed one of LaRouche’s theories re the death penalty which had I not read that article I would not have been able to put my workings out to it, to those that read their article.

    I do not usually vote in the EU Parliament elections but next June, I will indeed be making my mark. In fact, many people will be using the EU Parliament elections as the vote we were all denied on Lisbon. We will be voting for any Eurosceptic Political Party and although I do not belong to any Political Party at all, I will probably vote for UKIP. My inspiration for this is of course Magna Carta and the solemn oath I have sworn to our Crown and through the Crown therefore, to all the people in this land. In a similar way our forces fight for this their Country too.

  20. 20/11/2008 at 10:15 am

    One technical issue I’d like to report: if one is the first person to submit a comment on a post, there is no acknowledgement that the comment is awaiting moderation. It just disappears. Once the first comment has been approved, subsequent people commenting on the same post see the usual “This comment is awaiting moderation”. Can this be fixed? It’s disconcerting not to know if the comment was submitted successfully, particularly after taking time to write a long reply.

  21. laura miller
    20/11/2008 at 11:17 am

    Hi Jonathan,

    I shall look into this – thanks!

  22. howridiculous
    20/11/2008 at 11:26 am

    Dear McDuff,

    And I would argue that any argument that immediately jumps to the ‘anti-PC’ stick and fails to read a post properly also runs the risk of knee damage.

    At no point in my original post did I speak about reaching out to non-male people, or females, as they are known by the man – sorry person – on the street.

    What I did ask was ‘does it matter if the blog readers were largely ‘young men”? Of course, there are middle-aged male people and old-aged male people. It seems you are suggesting ‘young men’ and males are one and the same thing. This seems to me to be an ageist attitude. And it seems to me you are suggesting ‘people’ are male. This seems to me to be a sexist attitude. People are people are people whatever their gender which is why I used the term ‘people’ rather than anything gender specific.

    Your misreading of my original and subsequent post also leads to you allege that I believe politics is predominately a male province. I made no such claim and hold no such belief. So, I’m afraid, to quote you: ‘you’re just plain wrong’ on that and your final paragraph seems to me to be ‘ludicrous and verging on the insulting’ to say nothing for it being ridiculous.

    I note, finally, that you still do not address my point that you cannot make people interested in things in which they are not interested.

    Howridiculous.

  23. 20/11/2008 at 12:07 pm

    Mr Palmer

    As a matter of fact I have recently disputed one of LaRouche’s theories re the death penalty which had I not read that article I would not have been able to put my workings out to it, to those that read their article.

    What?

    What do you mean by “an alleged treaty between the three”? Do you believe the USA is in imminent danger of losing its sovereignty to a North American Union?

  24. 20/11/2008 at 1:11 pm

    8 lauramiller – Survey Monkey seem to be lying. In particular, if you try to access their site from a low-power device (try a common smartphone) it complains that you need graphics and scripts.

    To be precise, “The Web Accessibility Initiative of the World Wide Web Consortium” produced the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 1.0 and Guideline 6.3 is “Ensure that pages are usable when scripts, applets, or other programmatic objects are turned off or not supported. If this is not possible, provide equivalent information on an alternative accessible page.” As far as I can tell, Survey Monkey do neither.

    It’s not hard to make an accessible survey. Web forms are a pretty early and basic part of HTML. AskPeople, Doodle.ch and even Google Docs have better survey tools than Survey Monkey, but Survey Monkey seems to have captured lots of the UK public sector, much to the detriment of those on the wrong side of the digital divides.

  25. laura miller
    20/11/2008 at 3:26 pm

    Hi MJ Ray

    We have run Survey Monkey through accessibility testing tools and a screenreader and are satisfied that they work fine on a PC environment.

    I appreciate, however that there may be even more accessible formats; we may look into these in the future.

  26. 24/11/2008 at 6:32 pm

    Howridiculous,

    to quote your original post

    More seriously, the question that comes to mind is: so what? Does it matter that the blog tends to attract young men? Young men are attracted to it because it is the sort of thing that attracts young men. Other people aren’t attracted to it because it is the sort of thing that does not attract them. Blogs on football attract people who are interested in football.

    The “it” you say young men are attracted to, I assumed, was the political process, with particular emphasis on the House of Lords and the day to day activities of peers. The way I read this, therefore, was a statement that low involvement by non-young-male demographics shows that those demographics just aren’t interested in these things. Otherwise the question you ask can’t possibly be answered the way you rhetorically intend it to. If young women, old women and old men are interested in the work done at the Lords, then it is very relevant that this blog predominantly reaches only a fraction of the readership who could potentially benefit from it. “So what?” becomes a serious question meaning “what shall we do about this?” rather than a dismissive response.

    So either you were making a knee-jerk argument from an emotional reaction to the word “inclusive”, or you were in fact seriously arguing that the data collected on this blog’s readership is an accurate reflection of the demographic breakdown of interest in politics across the population. Which means that the most charitable we can be about that post is that you’re just a bad statistician.

    As to whether I “jumped” to the “anti-PC” stick, I further quote your first post:

    I do hope that all the wonderful work that the bloggers have achieved over the past few months is not going to be endangered by ridiculous attempts to be ‘more inclusive’, whatever that means and might entail. Certainly politically correct attempts to attract the attention of people who frankly aren’t interested would lead me to declaim:

    Scare quotes and dismissive language, an actual forwarning of political correctness for no reason whatsoever, and a repeat of the false conflation of “people who do not read this blog” with “people who are not interested in the content of this blog”, all in the same graf.

    I’ve been on the internet long enough to know a concern troll when I see one, howridiculous, and you tick all the relevant boxes.

  27. Senex
    04/12/2008 at 8:16 pm

    Its here WordPress 2.7

    http://www.downloadsquad.com/2008/12/03/wordpress-2-7-coming-tomorrow/

    But readers will see no change.

Comments are closed.