Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Blog Improvement Project: Week 1


I am very excited to participate in this year’s Blog Improvement Project (from henceforth abbreviated as BIP for the sake of my fingers). I started this blog last April and by the time I actually heard about the 2009 BIP, it was around July, too late to start, and the blog was still kind of in the late stages of development anyway. So, I’ve anxiously awaited February 2010 so I could finally start an organized method of improving the Five Borough Book Review for you, the reader.

So let’s start with what I like about the blog:
  1. It’s the collaborative effort that I have always intended it to be. I initially started this as a place for my friends to discuss our reads; that it has gained a wider audience is just a special added bonus!
  2. We don’t rate books. We don’t want to tell you if you will like a book or not; it’s usually not that simple. We want to foster discussion, so we’ll always suggest you read it and form your own opinion. 
  3. The layout is organized. Poor web and graphic design hurts my eyes, so I want to make sure our page is (hopefully) pleasing to its viewers.
Now for some things I want to change [aka, these are my overall GOALS for the BIP!]:
  1. Thanks to Google Analytics and Feedburner, I know we have a loyal readership. However, our comments don’t reflect that. I don’t need comments for validation, but when we’re trying to start discussion and don’t get much of one in return, it starts to feel like we’re talking to ourselves in the deep, Internet abyss.
  2. Along with that, it could be that my posts just aren’t interesting enough. When talking about books, it’s hard to break the habit of just writing a review rather than typing commentary that will get people to think and respond. So I want to work on quality of posts. I know that some bloggers spend hours on a post and I basically jot down whatever’s in my head. Maybe I should spend more time on it.
  3. Along with THAT, I don’t have a very wide range of topics I cover in posts; it’s usually book reviews with an occasional random post on something else book related. I’d like to write about more, but for two big reasons, I don’t. One, I often lack inspiration. The only time I work on the blog is during my eight working hours during the day; once I get home, by no means do I want to open my computer and stare at a screen any longer. And two, books are my biggest hobby, but I’m 24 and living in New York City. While I love blogging, it’s not a super high priority—I do read a lot but I also work, eat, sleep, drink, go to the gym, and hang out with my friends. [That’s why being collaborative is great, because if it was only me writing this, there would be days between posts]. I would like to diversify the content of my posts, but I don’t want to make this too much of a personal blog because I already have one of those. Plus, it’s not just my voice you’re reading (back to that whole collaborative thing). 
  4. I want to brand the blog a bit better. This will involve a layout change, which I have been wanting to do for a while.
So now questions for you, the reader. Take a couple minutes and give me some feedback! It’ll be a great start to the BIP!
  1. How many book blogs would you say you read regularly? What keeps you coming back to those blogs?
  2. What are your favorite types of posts to read? Book reviews, discussion questions, fun extras, non-book-related posts?
  3. When reading a blog post, what triggers you to hit that comment button?
  4. Would posing questions after a review inspire you to participate in a discussion of the book?
  5. How much do you want to know about the blog author? Do you just want to read reviews or do you want to feel like you know and have a connection with the blogger?


Jackie (Farm Lane Books) said…

Hi Kari! It is great to see you taking part in BIP!

I subscribe to about 300 blogs, but I'd describe only about 50 of those as my favourites. I love them because they share a taste in books with me, not necessarily because they write the best reviews or have the best looking blogs.

I normally only comment if I have something useful to add, or have read the book mentioned myself. Asking a question at the bottom of the post will encourage me to comment.

I think one of the problems with this blog is also its main benefit – the fact that this is a collaborative blog. It is great for the fact that you are able to post quality reviews more frequently, but I find it harder to develop a relationship with any of you. My poor little head hurts enough trying to remember individual blogs, without having to remember several different people from the same one. I'm afraid there is not much you can do about that.

You (Kari) are the only one I feel I am starting to know, but it hard to remember your taste in books, as it gets mixed up with all the other reviews on this blog. I think it is very important to get to know the blogger, or rather the blogger's taste in books, as unless I know this I can't decide if their recommendations match mine.

Sorry for the long answer! I hope it helps a bit!

Kari said…

Thanks so much for that long response, Jackie! You made a very good point about different blog authors. I can incorporate that in the layout change—I'll put "Posted by:" at the beginning of the post you'll know who is talking.

Great idea. Thanks!

Kristen said…

I really can't say how many book blogs I read regularly, mostly because they are still jumbled together with the non-book blogs I read in my Google Reader. But in order to make it into my Reader, the blogger(s) has to have similar taste in reading to mine, which isn't terribly hard given how weird and eclectic my reading can be.

I like to read reviews but only if I have 1) read the book already (I don't like to read reviews of something I already have sitting here but haven't read yet) or 2) I've never heard of the book. As far as otehr stuff, well, it depends on what that stuff is. I do like to read non-book related posts that give me an insight into the blogger(s) herself.

What makes me comment? It's definitely a combination of things. Do I really feel like I have something to add or share? Do I have time to comment or am I reading on the fly and don't have time to be thoughtful? Sometimes I answer questions posed at the end of a post but sometimes they feel really artifical and designed only for a response.

saveophelia said…

I read about 180 blogs. All 180 are basically my favourites. I keep coming back because of the distinctive voices of their blog, the events they highlight, and the type of books they review.

Mostly, I enjoy reading reviews but fun non-blogging things are great. It's easier to get to know someone online if they take the time to post a little something about themselves – you tend to remember them.

I notice on my own reviews that more people comment if I ask a question or leave some kind of open-ended thought for discussion.

I always go back to visit the bloggers who I know will respond to my comments, if that helps.

Jenny said…

At any given time I have between 150 and 200 blogs in my reader. I return to the blogs where I like the reviews and content and where I also feel like the bloggers are personable.

I love the concept of this blog — it being collaborative and the whole nyc thing, lol. But I really like the books you guys read and the reviews you write. I do like "extra" things where I feel like I can get to know the blogger, but for the most part I like for them to relate in some way to being a book blog. Or mix personal info in with bookish posts, if that makes sense.

Kari said…

Kristen – Interesting choice of reviews you read! I kinda do the same thing. I think it's more interesting to read a review of something you've read, because then it gets you thinking about a story you may have read weeks or months ago. I skim the reviews of books that look like they might appeal to me, and I've read several books based on other bloggers' reviews. But just like in a bookstore or library, I judge whether I read the review based on cover image posted with the review.

saveophelia and Jenny – wow, you guys read a ton! I am always impressed by how people can keep up with so many different blogs! I only subscribe to a little over 40, and my reader CONSTANTLY gets backed up! Thank you both for your feedback. I'm glad you're reading!

Linda – SE PA said…


My blog reading is varied. For book review blogs, I look for consistency in timeframes of writing. To clarify, even it is a weekend only blogger, I like to know that on the weekend there is a new entry to read.

I rarely comment on certain types of blogs. I enjoy reading the book reviews by the blog author and rarely look at the comments. The reason is I am interested in finding new reads or reminding myself of books wanted to read or re-read.

This blog is well done as is. It is well written and the only lack is that of more contributions as it is a multi-blogger blog.

The calendar is a neat feature if you live in the area. It also prompts those out of area to check out author websites and learn if they may be near our home bases.

In closing, I would say the making of a good blog has many ingredients and some come as individual as thumb prints. It is the blogger who writes and chooses – it is an audience that will respond if they are interested in that particular genre or genres. Readers change as do bloggers.

It is nice to be able to join in with a suggestion – yet, to sum it – the one issue with me is to be consistent with timing of the entry.

Kari said…

Thanks, Linda. Timing and consistency is something I would like to work on. But boy, is that hard! I'm not too good at queuing a bunch of posts I've written; I typically write and post automatically. For instance, I've been meaning to write a review post for about a week, and now I need to write it since I have nothing else to post tomorrow! I've thought about creating a weekly feature—or at least have scheduled review days—to help both me in writing and giving the reader something to check back for. Thanks for that comment…it's definitely something I'll be taking into consideration!

Elena said…

I regularly read about twenty book review blogs.

What keeps me coming back is quality writing, reviewing of books that I either already read or would be likely to read, easy navigation, funny writing, and a genuine sense of community (when comment threads turn into discussions rather than random individual ideas)

I like book-related posts that aren't necessarily a review, I like posts that ask questions, I like humour.

I generally comment if something has been said that I strongly disagree with, or if I have read the same book that is being reviewed

Yes, if phrased in a way that doesn't necessarily alienate people who haven't had a chance to read the book yet (although that's probably difficult)

I like to know an author a little: it's interesting learning a blogger's personality through their writing, and their own comments, without being told things about them explicitly. The joy is in gradually getting to know them to the point where I think of them as a friend, despite never having met.

Hope this helps. Also, to second Saveophelia, I too enjoy reading responses to comments I've left on a blog. But I think this blog is pretty groovy, hence my returning to it as often as I do. ^_^