In the beginning there was grad school. That ended in 2010. Now what do I blog about?


December 27, 2010

Collaborative blogging during a winter storm using Posterous

Sunday & Monday December 26-27, 2010

The National Weather Service predicted 12-22 inches of snow in our area beginning Sunday afternoon. By Sunday evening the amount was cut to 8-14 (which is roughly what we did accumulate by Monday afternoon). The wind was gusting, bringing down tree limbs and whistling through the siding on the house, creating huge snow drifts outside the windows. I spent my afternoon and evening launching a Posterous blog for local bloggers to track the storm in and around Worcester.

I had been hoping for a chance to try out Posterous with a small collaborative blogging project. This storm and my free time was a perfect fit. As soon as the idea struck, I set up an account and created the site. I scanned my Google Reader for local bloggers and found a few with public email addresses. I added them to the site as contributors hoping they'd take the bait. ((NOTE: Posterous does not give site admins a means to customize an invitation to potential subscribers/contributors.)) Then I linked my first post to Facebook where I knew some key people would see it and share it with their Friends. I quickly threw together a simple How to Contribute page for the site.

About an hour later I had my first collaborator, followed quickly by a second and third, then more. People began posting photos of their homes, streets and neighborhoods. Then people began posting info from the city and the Dept of Public Works regarding traffic, plowing and cancellations, including an important trash pick-up cancellation. A water main break was reported in a neighboring town. A power outage was reported in a large neighborhood. Soon, local Twitterers began linking to the site in their tweets and page views quickly accumulated like the snow outside. I added a @Twitter page listing local Twitterers.

I stayed up until midnight tweaking the template, which required my learning their CSS formats and diving into the Posterous Developers Knowledgebase. I spent some time troubleshooting user accounts with someone who somehow ended up with 3 profiles. We also worked on issues using the iPhone Posterous app. Another user had issues with the Android app, but I was unable to help him because I had no Droid to test.

When I woke up in the morning, I logged in and found a few user complaints in my email - people who I had added as Contributors in the beginning. They said they were buried in emails and wanted out. ((NOTE: Posterous does not allow Subscribers/Collaborators without Posterous accounts to unsubscribe or manage frequency of emails. This is a major #fail.)) I did my best to diplomatically handle these issues and created a Help (FAQ) page. I also added Google Analytics to track site visits, page views and browsers.

Plowing and shoveling wasn't bad. I grabbed a short video of my hub plowing the driveway and a photo of the stairs after I shoveled and posted them. Likewise, other bloggers shared pics of their sidewalks, driveways and stairs. Posterous is so easy to use to share images and conducive to collaborative blogging by people with mobile devices. Very cool for this type of project.

It stopped snowing around 2pm on Monday afternoon. People got on with their lives. Pictures and posts kept trickling in and the site continued to record visits and views. I'll be curious to see if this project has any legs beyond this storm. We'll see if local bloggers keep using it and maybe we'll discuss it at a future #worcbloggers gathering.


Anonymous said...

adding people as contributors without asking doesnt sound very collaborative!

@carrie_at_umass said...

No, it's not. I had to go with my gut. It was important to get people blogging as soon as possible to document the storm. Also, there are people who already blog, not random people. Finally, these are people who communicate and collaborate in other ways as a blogger community, so it was a relatively safe bet to select them.

I stayed online and monitored the site, my email and my Twitter for several hours and fielded any/all questions that came in. I worked with a few people in real time over the web troubleshooting and answering questions. I also went in and reviewed the list of members in the admin dashboard compared ot those who actually contributed. One person who had not contributed was removed from the list. The others had all added to the blog.

All in all I considered the risk to be low and think it was outweighed by the potential success of the project. I learned something in the process which is why I wanted to share it here. I also posted a list of concerns based on these experiences to Posterous.

carrie jo said...

Nicole, Worcester had this to say: