Newbie Blogger Initiative 2015: Anecdotal Feedback from a Newbie Blogger

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Today is June 1st and marks the official conclusion of the Newbie Blogger Initiative. I’ve been wanting to provide some feedback about my experience with the NBI, as I was one of the Newbie bloggers participating, and I think now is a good time to do so. However before I begin I want to clarify that this a critique of both the NBI event and of the way I personally interacted with it. Some of my criticism may reflect on how the event can be improved while other aspects of it may reflect on how I could have better engaged the NBI. (And to be honest, I may be too close to tell the difference!) Regardless, I think this is a fairly accurate view of my experience with this year’s NBI— what I liked, and what I think could be better next year.

When I signed up for the NBI I wasn’t sure what to expect. I learned of the event through Syp’s blog, Bio Break and from there went to the official website. There was a sign up for new bloggers and one for sponsors but when I went to announcements and information almost everything there was from last year. I was expecting a breakdown of what would happen over the course of the month or a schedule of writing prompts, something to tell me what I should do as a participant but if it was there, I couldn’t find it. Without those things I had no idea what I had just signed up to participate in.

Murf’s Safari was the first “official” writing prompt I saw and I stuck with it every week. On that note, I’d like to take a moment and thank Murf for initiating this challenge and for every show of support he offered all month long. Were it not for Murf and his Safari challenge, his regular interactions with my blog, and retweets of my posts, I don’t think I would have really felt like a participant in the NBI. Just giving my posts a “like” was awesome. It let me know he was supporting my writing efforts and it encouraged me to do the same for other writers.

That’s one of the biggest positives I’ve taken away from the event, how important it is not only to read other blogs but to let other writers know I am reading their work through comments, likes, and retweets. All of these things provide bloggers the encouragement needed to keep on writing, and isn’t that why we all blog in the first place, to be read and interact with our readers? My stats page records the number of unique visitors and average pages viewed and a bunch of other numbers but what it doesn’t give me is the sense that another human being has actually engaged with my work. Because of the NBI (and especially Murf’s participation) I am more determined to interact with and encourage other writers.

After the Safari, I eventually came across the first talkback prompt. This was the kind of thing I was looking for with the NBI but Gamergate was (in my opinion) too heavy a topic to start off with and I chose not to write on it for a number of reasons. I wasn’t even aware of Gamergate until long after the hullabaloo had died down and as such I didn’t know much about it. Gamergate also wasn’t the kind of thing I wanted to write about with my blog, so I opted out. However when I chose to skip the topic I assumed I would hop back in with the next writing prompt but that did not end up being the case. I probably could have written on Kickstarter and early access despite the fact that it was another topic I had little experience with but in the end I passed on it as well.

That proved to be a terrible idea because by the time it was all said and done May was over and I had not written on a single talkback topic. I take a lot of responsibility there, I should have written that first week regardless of the topic just to set a precedent, but I also think some changes to the topics themselves and the way they were presented would have helped. First of all, I would recommend lobbing a softball as the initial NBI writing prompt. Let it be something simple and non-threatening to ease in new writers. For example, you could ask writers to reflect on a memorable gaming event, favorite game, or how they first discovered MMOs.

Secondly, I would suggest providing several prompts each week so that writers can still participate if one of the topics doesn’t “click” or is simply a subject they have no experience with. I would also recommend that a calendar of these prompts be provided at the start of the event. Give participants a roadmap of what to expect over the course of the month. And if other bloggers like Murf plan on hosting a weekly challenge of their own, include these on a centralized event page or calendar as well. Perhaps you could even reach out to the veteran writers in the months leading up to the event to solicit talkback topics and a list of planned peripheral events to be hosted by individual bloggers. The biggest problem I found with the NBI was that I went into it excited but without a clear understanding of what was expected of me or how I would be participating and so I sort of lost steam early on. I think that’s why I latched onto Murf’s Safari, it was the first signpost I found along the way.

Finally, let me say that the NBI is only as good as the veterans who function as its sponsors (which is to say, it is quite good!) I’ve already mentioned how important Murf’s participation was and for me that’s what made the NBI so special; here I found seasoned pros coming alongside new bloggers who were willing to show us the ropes. And there were many others who helped out as well, Braxwolf, Syp, Aywren, and Belghast were a few that I interacted with but I’m sure there were many others as well that I’m forgetting. I would recommend adding some formal structure to these interactions if at all possible. For example, if you have 15 newbie participants and 5 sponsors, assign each sponsor 3 newbies to invest heavily in with likes, comments, and maybe even an email of encouragement and constructive criticism once or twice during the event. It’s understandably hard for one person to interact with all the newbie bloggers in a meaningful way, but if organized each veteran could easily engage with a handful of writers. And if a sponsor has time for more, that’s even better!

All in all I’m glad I took part in the Newbie Blogger Initiative this year. The folks who put it on and the ones that support it are such a great community of bloggers. As a participant, I’ve found a bunch of new blogs to follow and a renewed interest in supporting other bloggers myself. Are there areas to be improved? Absolutely, both in the event itself and in how I engage with it. However I would strongly urge those who run the event to continue doing so, and God willing if I am still blogging next year I will plan on helping out as a sponsor myself.

Cheers, NBI, it was a good month of reading and blogging. May you continue to grow a supportive, blogging community for years to come!

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26 thoughts on “Newbie Blogger Initiative 2015: Anecdotal Feedback from a Newbie Blogger

  1. I appreciate the kind words so much and I am glad you took away a lot of positives from the experience. I’ll have to say, it is a bit of my fault that the Screenshot Safari wasn’t more centrally located on the main page. It was sort of a side project and it just felt more natural for me personally to host it myself. I do take your recommendations to heart though and they are duly noted!

    Liked by 1 person

    • No worries, I think it’s great for other bloggers to throw out their own prompts for newbies, the suggestion to centralize and make visible those kinds of things early in the month was just to help give participants a clear vision of where they would be going during the NBI event. I think that’s what I liked about the Safari, I knew what my goals would be each week for the whole month right from the get go, like a syllabus in a college course.

      Liked by 1 person

    • And yet… the Screenshot Safari was a lot more visible to me than anything else! You can’t win. 😀

      Seriously, the way I’m going to find out about such things is by them appearing in my regularly visited places (Twitter, WP reader, Feedly etc) rather than me having to go someplace special to read about them.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I agree, I think that’s why I knew about the Safari more readily than I did anything else. To clarify, I think bloggers like Murf hosting their own challenge should be advertising it through Twitter, WP, etc. A calendar of all events would be in addition to that so that you reach as many people as possible.

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  2. I think there’s a lot to what you say here.

    I’ve always found the current NBI forum hard to figure out, and generally it’s pretty hit and miss whether I even know what events are planned that I could participate in, or understand what would actually be entailed in participating in them.

    I’d also recommend that initial events should be more along the line of “ice-breakers” than “controversy stirrers”. Things that lead to sharing about oneself, getting to know each other, and generally bonding over a bit of fun rather than arguing and taking up positions.

    Not sure the idea to assign people to comment is going to work well though, as commenting really depends on people being interested in the post topic and having something to say in response to it.

    It makes a bit more sense with mentoring, but even that is going to be a bit tricky because it’s going to depend a lot on a good mentor/mentee fit and that’s going to hard to achieve when people don’t know each other at all. The best way to go might be for the newbies to approach vets whose blogs they esp like and say “Hey, can you help me learn how to do what you do?”. (E.g. I’ve got nothing to say on how to blog daily if that’s something you wanted to do!) Prob people might feel a bit shy about asking, so some encouragement and structure for that might be good to have.

    Agree very much that it’s amazing how much a simple like can hearten you as a newbie blogger, or even as a vet. I sprinkle them out generously as I read. Though it’s only on WP.com blogs that I can easily do that.

    Btw, nice blog! If I don’t comment or visit more, that’s only because of things like not being into SWTOR currently.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the additonal feedback, you make a lot of good points about how to pair newbies with vets. I’m not sure what the best approach might be, but I think it’s worth working toward something. Interaction of that sort is so important for motivating and equipping someone new to any activity or discipline.

      I appreciate you taking a look at my blog as well. Just so you know, I don’t write exclusively on SWTOR. In fact that has been only over the last couple of months. I tend to play a variety of MMOs, switching it up every so often. Lately I’ve been into Trove. I’ve got about 3 or 4 posts prepared on that game to publish over the next week or two. But who knows what I’ll be playing next month!

      Liked by 1 person

      • It’s great that you’ve started this discussion on how to improve NBI. Without the prompt of this post I wouldn’t have taken the time to think about it, or add my 2c, which hopefully may prove useful.

        I think you’re in my feeds, so if you post on subjects closer to my heart I will likely see them. Who knows, I may even return to SWTOR sometime!

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  3. And I wouldn’t have written this were it not for Belghast jotting a few thoughts down on the NBI in his post yesterday, that’s one of the things I like about the blogging community! We are catalysts for one another.

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  4. I think you have a lot of excellent points and ideas! This was my first year as a sponsor, and while I tried to post, interact and respond to prompts (also opted out of Gamersgate), I wasn’t quite sure what I needed to be doing to best support NBI either. So I had similar issues, but on the other side of things.

    I agree that I think Murf’s prompts were nice because they gave us a list of topics to pick from. The “Seven Sins” prompt also seemed popular because it was a questionnaire type format, which allows for bloggers to respond to something more specific.

    The cool thing about all this is that next NBI, you can also take part as an organizer if you’re interested! You can be one of the vets! You can bring your thoughts and ideas to the table (or forum), especially since you have relevant feedback from this year, and help improve next year. I’d totally be on board as a mentor blogger, or someone who helps brainstorm up writing prompts! If I could get some guidance as to what newbies needed most, I’d be more than happy to provide time and effort.

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    • As long as I’m still blogging (and that’s the plan) I would love to participate as a sponsor and help with some of the ideas. That was one of the reasons I wanted to take the time to write about my experience, so that when I have completely forgotten what it was like this time next year, I’ll have a record of what I enjoyed, what I thought could be better, and what I wished I had done differently.

      It sounds like it would also be beneficial to have a “So you want to be a sponsor” set of instructions for people who want to help newbies but aren’t sure how. Having clear expectations and suggestions on how to interact with the new bloggers may also encourage more people to be sponsors.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Lots of good suggestions. I almost opted out of doing the gamergate post, but wanted to stay a part of the initiative. Even though it was a no-post post, I wanted to get something out.
    The initiative was a bit chaotic and hard to know what was going on. If there was anything beyond the challenges (which I found out originally reading other people’s posts), the safari and the poetry slam, I missed it. But it looked like this snuck up on a lot of the sponsors and organizers, so I can see why.
    I 100% agree about the likes and comments helped me out. It kept giving me energy to write and participate more.
    Good post, Iron.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Thanks for your feedback. Hopefully I can explain a few things.

    When it was time for the NBI to get organized this year, there were less people who were able to commit to leading the event. The heart and soul of the event last year was Doone, and he did a far better job than I in making sure that everything was organized and ready to go before the launch date. This year he was far too busy to help, and that obviously showed.

    Some of the other folks who originally committed to leading the event ended up having more real life stuff come up and also had to bow out, so outside of Murf’s safari idea, it was mostly me making sure anything got done at all. Don’t get me wrong, I was happy to make sure the round ups and the talkback challenges got posted, but it is definitely more than a one man job to make sure the NBI goes off without a hitch.

    I take full responsibility for the first writing prompt. It was my idea and mine alone, and despite some of the other vets saying it wasn’t a good first topic, I put it out there anyway. I think it turned out well enough, but was not my brightest idea. The challenges last year were more as you describe with multiple choices, but again, will little input, I just picked a handful and posted them once a week.

    I’m not saying this as a cop out, just that there is only so much one man can do. I appreciate the feedback, and hopefully next year we get a bigger team together to run things, and have it organized well in advance.

    Hope to see you next year.

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      • We considered using Slack or Reddit this year, but that didn’t happen. I know the domain expires around may next year, so we might do a migration somewhere else, hopefully in advance this time.

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      • I think a blog dedicated to the NBI (with all organizers having author rights) could be a good format because it easily fits in the infrastructure we bloggers are used to, and it might be easier for the individual members of the organization to contribute (if it’s a group of people). It may also feel more natural to keep up with official NBI news for participants because we’d be inclined to just add it to our feeds and treat it like any other blog. That way the NBI website’s reach may be increased.

        Just some random thoughts in reply to what Pasduil said.

        Liked by 1 person

      • I don’t Reddit and I haven’t even heard of Slack. Like Ravanel says the advantage of WP.com (for the likes of me anyway) is it’s a place many of us already go every day. and it has all the infrastructure for RSS feeds, tweeting,. tagging posts etc. Plus it can handle multiple contributors easily.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for replying. I’m sorry to hear it was so much work for you. I’m really thankful for all the stuff you did, I certainly enjoyed myself this year! If I would have known there was such a shortage of organizers, I would have offered to step in. Consider me available for next year. 🙂

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      • One way and another, it may be better to find a way to organize things such that they can be done by a larger group of people putting in a smaller effort over a longer period of time.

        I’m happy to help in small ways, but anything that needs a big chunk of time for a month or two most likely wouldn’t be do-able for me.

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    • And I added my thoughts in this post already, though wanted to say I agree with you on many more of your points that I’ve only just read.

      Contentious topics like GamerGate are not friendly ones to such an event. Fine, outside of these events, go nuts. But I’d rather events like NBI focused on community building and having fun with blogging, not things like this.

      Furthermore, the site and forums need a redesign. It’s been a long time since they were designed and since that time a lot has changed. They could do with having a cleanup and make it as simple as possible to find your way around and get to what you need, with regular updates on the blog.

      It has definitely been a learning experience and I hope we get something new together. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Yes the NBI did seem a little lacklustre this year. I see no reason in denying it. Simply put there were too few people involved on the administrative side. For an event like this to work you need a structured plan and all the respective work divided up between clearly defined roles.

    We didn’t have that this year. In 2014 there was a driving force behind the NBI propelling it forward. Namely Doone Woodtac. Unfortunately Doone was not available to take the lead this time round. Events like this need some to take point and to follow through on pretty much everything. That’s a big ask and finding volunteers like that is not easy.

    Now I’m now going to be quite candid. If people want a dynamic and thriving NBI next year then people have got to come forward and get involved. It’s nice to read that so many people are supportive of the NBI but unless folk actually do something tangible, it will not be the success it deserves to be.

    I have been involved with the NBI since 2012. For the last three years I have paid for the domain name, website and forum. I will not be doing this next May. I have been a vocal and ardent supporter of the community over the last few years and I feel that Contains Moderate Peril has played its part. It’s time for the NBI to pass on to others.

    Therefore if anyone is interested in taking control of the domain then they need to get in touch in the next 11 months. I personally think that a single unified point of presence on the internet is key to the NBI. But overall it needs organised, discipline people who are prepared to roll up their sleeves and get involved.

    I want to thank Murf and Izlain for all their hard work this year. They really did pick up the slack this time round. As to the future of the NBI it is effectively in your hands. Hopefully some of the class of 2015 will be the organisers of next years event. The NBI ultimately is a force for good and therefore it deserves to continue.

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  8. Wow, I was not expecting so much discussion on the topic, but I’m glad it’s happening! First of all, I apologize for my silence over the last couple of days, I’ve been busy with work related stuff. As for the NBI, it was good to hear about the work that was happening behind the scenes. Islain, thank you so much for organizing this event and pulling everything together. Seriously, I would have never guessed it was mostly one person. And Roger, thank you for hosting the domain. There would be no virtual space to collectively gather without you.

    As for next year, it sounds like it would be worth trying to use a WP site as place of meeting. As far as I understand it, this would mean an absence of a forum but there could still be a post for sign ups, a post for feedback at the end, etc. I like the idea of shared authorship among all the sponsors organizing the event. Using a blog format to support a blog event makes sense.

    Looking at the NBI site, there was a call for help in setting up the event, however it must have been largey unanswered. Long term this can be for the good of the event because now the veterans and participants of 2015 alike are aware of how critical leadership is to a good NBI. Izlain, thank you again for being that pillar this year.

    Maybe next year in March (or earlier) we should all touch base on preparing for the event. We could even start blogging about the importance of the NBI or how it has helped us personally in the weeks leading up to NBI to drum up interest for sponsors and participants. I am definitely on board with helping out.

    Whatever the specifics, I think the event will only be stronger from open discussion about its weaknesses this, or any other year. And none of this should be a personal criticism of those who have lead the event this or any other year. 2015 was still a success. It was also really helpful for punctuating the importance of a plurality of leaders from the community. I look forward to seeing how the event grows next year.

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  9. Pingback: Blogs vs Wikis vs Forums | Planet Pasduil

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