The Motivational Techniques of “WordPress.com”

Goal: Consider how real-world systems use motivational techniques to encourage use.

Assignment: You are analyzing a system of your choice in terms of the techniques it uses to motivate use, and suggesting design changes that would increase its “stickiness”. You should focus on design features and explaining why they’re motivating in terms of social science theory.

So here it comes, my third Homework for Dan’s class:

The “Stickiness” of Blogging on WordPress.com

I admit that I am “responsible” for several so called “dead blogs” in cyber space. Several blog platforms and communities that I have tried before are not attractive enough for me to keep posting things regularly. Three months ago, I started to blog using the service from WordPress. Surprisingly, I am still blogging on it on a weekly basis and the blog “Nuttyears'” has almost 2000 hits so far, which makes me wonder what has lead to the “stickiness” of this particular blogging platform:

Stickiness 1: Freedom to customize/personalize blog page

WordPress offers users a lot of freedom in terms of choosing blog themes, page layout, sidebar widgets, which serves well users’ need to purposefully create certain online self-presentations. Similar to selectively posting photos and links on one’s SNS pages, the “manipulation” of one’s blog is considered by some people as a way to represent their attitude or to perfect their social self-presentation. Though this is not something unique of WordPress, I do think this platform provides a greater variety of options and tools to arrange and polish the page compared to other blog host sites.

Stickiness 2: Integrated Stats System

In the dashboard provided by WordPress, users can easily access the viewing stats of the blog. The number of blog hit can be viewed on a daily, weekly or monthly basis. The figure above intuitively shows the popularity of my blogs in the first half of February. When click on those specific points representing each day, you’ll get to know how many views happened on that specific day and what article has been posted on the day. Below the blog stats, there are “top posts” (ranking the view times of each posts) and “top searches” (ranking the key words people used to find your blog). Users can also add a widget automatically shows the total visits to your blog on the sidebar.

Since I am not writing this blog to record my private emotions, I use it to record my thoughts and experience, reflect on things happening around me and share them. I found the stats part to be particularly sticky, cause I want to know there are audience out there and my little posts and thoughts have been heard by this big world in some way. Just like FB, you can also set to let WordPress send you email notifications when there are incoming comments.

This is similar to the controversial motivational technique used in Chinese version of Facebook – Xiaonei.com. The SNS site would tell you how many people have visited your page, and how many people have looked at the photo you just posted. I’ve always been curious about what the underlying socio-emotional processes explaining people’s behavior in frequently checking on the “popularity” of one’s page or certain photo/posts. These behaviors are actually not that different from posting and reading other’s comments on one’s own status updates. They all serve as real-life “manipulation checks” to constantly measure how certain thoughts or certain ways of online self-presentations are perceived and evaluated by other people.

Stickiness 3: Semantic connections and links among posts (ways to build strong ties to a community)

It is written on the official introduction page of WordPress that “when you write a post and add relevant tags, we automatically add them to our global tag system and tag surfer, driving new traffic as other people interested in the same topics as you will find your post and leave comments on your blog”.

I found myself frequently click on those “related posts” to see what other people are saying about a similar topic. At the same time, some of the visits to my own posts are driven by the links of my posts on other people’s pages. It’s like a simplified version of recommendation system. I found it to be very helpful in terms of getting me bloggers on WordPress who share similar interests with me. I would then subscribe some of their blogs, which motivated me to participate in this WordPress blogging community.

Two weeks ago, I translated an English commentary article featuring “social media” to Chinese. Surprisingly, several Chinese social media blogs on WordPress and some other sites linked my translated article to their pages. WP notified me by telling me there are several incoming links to my recent posts. Another interesting feature provided by WP is called “Pingback”, which means I will also be notified when people comment on the my posts which are cited by other sites. It opens a public chat channel, so that I can see a shared conversation generated around my posts no matter where it has been posted. Another good way to search and to be related to similar interests friends, sites and communities.

I always find one effective way to be related or connected to certain community is to building some close/strong ties with a small group of people in this community. One can hardly maintain close connections with the whole community or a large group of people (in some way similar to the tragedy of the commons). I used to be a member of Cornell Chorus. To convince myself to go to rehearsals on snowy winter nights, I found the reason “I would like to meet up and spend time with my friends A, B and C from the Chorus” always more effective than “I want to be part of the chorus to rehearse our repertoire well”. Once a few close ties have been built in a small group, I find it more obligated as opposed to just being part of a large group, in which I am not particularly responsible for certain aspects.

Stickiness 4:  Emerging Various Social Media Platform

Several books on social media that I’ve read recently, including Clay Shirky’s “Here comes everybody” (nice to listen to his keynote in CSCW, though it was not super CSCW relevant, I’d say) and Tamar Weinberg’s “The new community rules”, all point to a same idea: building an open platform with as many connections to other social media space as possible will more effectively drive traffic to your sites (increase the stickiness) compared to the strategy of traditional web portals (Yahoo, AOL, etc.) which want to keep users on their sites as long as possible so as to generate ad revenues as much as possible.

WordPress provides widgets that you could link your Flicker, Twitter, del.icio.us accounts and various subscribed RSS feeds to your page. Sometimes for me, to open my own WordPress page is not simply for the purpose of writing a blog. The connections to my other social media accounts make it become a personalized social media platform for me to conveniently check my feeds, favorite blogs’ updates, recent tweets, etc.

I think this is also what most social media platform wanted to accomplish (FB, Google Buzz, Friendser, etc.). They want to aggregate and merge social media resources as much as possible so as to let users use them as a primary portal for information creating and sharing. It is good in a way that they reduced users’ effort in jumping back and forth between several different places searching for sometimes similar information. However, it may be harmful to the development of communities that have particular interests to certain issues. The information can be overloaded on those platforms while without any focus.

6 thoughts on “The Motivational Techniques of “WordPress.com”

  1. jg

    Interesting stuff, reminds me my first semester in that class. a suffer for me at that time with no tech. & comm background at all, i really should wait to take the class with your girls.

    Reply
  2. Xuan

    Good idea to archive every little pieces of ideas and thoughts. 我也应该把我的old blog翻出来… 向Sally同学学习!

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *