I've Been Thinking!
A month has passed since the end of the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge of 2011 and I've had some time to ruminate on the Challenge. Many of you have offered fine suggestions and opinions about the Challenge and I have read through all of them. In today's post I want to bring my ideas and your ideas together in order to provide my assessment on how the Blogging from A to Z April Challenge can be better.
In any event with many participants it's difficult to please everyone. Looking at my comments on the previous evaluation posts and elsewhere, one can see how divergent opinions can be on various aspects of the Challenge. My goal would be to make the most people happy by accommodating as many as possible. My suggestions will begin by addressing the most common issues with possible solutions and then will make some other suggestions that might enhance next year's Challenge.
The Primary Concerns:
1) The Big List-- I am against putting a limit on the number who can sign up. The Challenge should be open to anyone who wants to join. In the first year I discovered that 100 blogs were too many for me to cover adequately on a regular daily basis. Twelve hundred is an impossibility for anyone. The realistic goal is not to visit every single blog on the list, but to establish contacts with blogs of your own choosing. Some bloggers may prefer to stay with their regular blog friends, while others may prefer to be more adventurous and discover new bloggers and establish new contacts. It doesn't matter whether the list has a hundred, twelve hundred, or twelve thousand sign ups. Participants should be able to set limitations for themselves and not expect the list to be limited.
2) The Overly Eclectic List -- Many of us enjoy the thrill of discovery. To pigeonhole participants into categories might infringe upon the surprise in store for us in finding blogs that we might normally pass over based on what they are about. However, I can appreciate the desire of some who due to time limitations or for other reasons might want to zero in on specific blog types. Why not offer options? We could allow for customized lists that could be separated into topic categories or into other divisions such as age groups, geographical locations, or other groupings. Perhaps listing alternatives could be offered such as an alphabetized list or some other way of listing that might be more attractive to certain participants. I think that a flexible list would accommodate the varied needs of many--whatever it takes to make the list more user friendly.
3) A Screening Process -- Perhaps there should be a more thorough screening process for sign ups to filter out advertisers, blogfest whores, and people who don't understand the concept of the A to Z event. Eliminating the blogs that waste our time would probably satisfy many of the complaints about the long eclectic list. If the big diverse list of blogs consisted of links to participants who were sincerely and actively contributing we would all feel less frustration with our time spent going to those sites.
My thought is that entrants would have to submit a form which would included email address, information about their blog, and up to five topic categories that their blog covers. Also, using a similar format as the Blogger Profile uses, they might submit information such as occupation, location, and interests. With adequate information blogs could be more precisely categorized for those who preferred to stay within their own range of interests.
Having this information on hand should allow customized lists to be drawn from the master list of all those who have signed up for the Challenge and give anyone who wants it the option of separating a list specifically attuned to their own range of interests.
4) Offer Guidelines and Blog Etiquette -- Many of you and I are in agreement that the first rule of the Blogging from A to Z Challenge is to have fun. As I frequently stated, the A to Z Challenge is not confined by any hard set of rules and is more of a personal challenge than anything else. I don't think we want to make the Challenge overly rigid by setting any strict rules to follow. However some guidelines will help make things easier for all of us. It would be antithetical to the true spirit of blogging freedom to say that posts must be a certain length, bloggers can't use CAPTCHA or other screening devices, or everyone must approach the list in a certain way.
The Challenge hosts and others put up special posts and made pleas to recommend that everyone do things in certain ways. Some participants listened while others either didn't hear it or just didn't get it. Let's face it, some folks are gonna do what they wanna do so let them deal with that. We can offer guidelines on how to best participate, but I don't think we should be overly restrictive.
Likewise, blogging etiquette should be something that we all should practice. It seems appropriate to use this as a post topic to help instruct those who don't practice good etiquette. The courteous approach to blogging should be part of the guidelines and in some cases blatant offenders (e.g. spammers and those who abuse their interaction with others) might be eliminated from participation. Hopefully, the screening process would eliminate the need for this.
5) Navigation Buttons --Marcus's Navigation Buttons were a great idea. Perhaps something of this nature could be reinstated with a capability of accessing the list in various ways. Some participants may prefer the crossing of categories and be interested in discovering different blogs. It becomes more like a game. In limiting oneself, one might be missing some great blogs they might not have seen if they weren't looking in other categories. The randomness would give some a greater sense of adventure. Ideally, the "Next Blog" button could start at any point and have a capability of being reset. Again a big thanks to Marcus for contributing these buttons to the Challenge of 2011.
Some Other Possible Ideas:
6) Awards --How about some recognition for best blogs? Best posts? We could have readers submit nominations for favorites in various categories. Special badges for winners could be created and perhaps even actual prizes. The incentive of the awards might stimulate greater creativity and ambition to complete the Challenge. There are many possibilities that present themselves in this.
7) Word Prompts -- Offer alternative word prompts for those who need them. I don't think too many of us had a problem with coming up with topics to write about, but some people do like prompts. We could offer special prompts for each day for any who would prefer to operate in this manner. This is something that was suggested by more than one person.
8) E-Mail Updates -- If participants fill out a entry form that includes an email address, then they would be able to receive email updates of matters concerning the Challenge.
9) Special Challenge Website or Blog -- I certainly don't mind the increased traffic to my Tossing It Out site, but maybe it would make more sense to have a site devoted specifically to the A to Z Challenge. The entire site could be devoted to daily news about the ongoing Challenge and could include pages with special tips, how-to's, and other relevant information. And then, of course, there would be that massive participant list or lists.
10) Provide Tutorials -- On the above mentioned site we could also provide tutorials on how to access the various providers (Blogger, Word Press, etc) and filters (Intense Debate, Disqus, etc.) (FaceBook and Networked Blogs, Yahoo, other networking services). Many of us, myself included, were deterred or slowed down by unfamiliar sites. A forum could also be offered to get help from those who are using those sites or from those who have a better understanding of how to better access sites unfamiliar to others.
Okay, granted that I am doing some big thinking here, but after our experience of this year I think we need to think in a grand way. I am not well versed with computer knowledge, but I think the ideas I have presented are practical and possible. Before the next Challenge I will either have to amass some extensive programming know-how or get aid from a source who has that know-how.
This may sound like it will require a lot of complex preparation, but I think this is necessary to make the Challenge itself an easier and more fun event for those who participate. Any operation that runs smoothly does so because of the planning and preparation that goes into it.
Without getting overly bogged down by what it would take to get there, what are some of your thoughts on these ideas? What problems can you foresee in my ideas? What are your favorite suggestions? Is there anything else that you would like to add?