Athens, GA (May 22, 2008) - Like any vertical market (sports, technology, petroleum, etc), there are a lot of blogs. Some are good, some are bad, and some are just plain bad. Occasionally you will find one that stands head and shoulders above the rest, and not for reasons you might expect. For sports media professionals and people interested in sports and sports media beyond the sensationalist headlines, University of Arkansas Associate Athletic Director for Communications Dr. Bill Smith offers the community "Dr. BS: The Road Scholar."
What makes Smith's blog so good? He is a sports information director that "gets" the new media and is not afraid of it. He is willing to embrace it for its value AND criticize it for its warts. He understands social software and social networking sites. Consider this entry from Wednesday, May 21, 2008:
Why do sports information directors (and athletic directors and coaches, for that part) have such near universal disdane for bloggers and message boards? Aside from the obvious rumor mongering and anonymous sniping, I have a theory.
They don't know how mad the fans really are.
For the past 19 years, I have had the luxury of sitting in the stands at almost every home Razorback football game. While considering the future in which I will likely be in the press box, I began to associate the behavior of the fans with the behavior of the posters. Aside from lingering prose and far deeper detail, I don't think I read anything on-line terribly different in general sentiment about the previous football coach than I heard in the stands. Maybe that's why it didn't shock me to read things on the boards after sitting among fans -- anonymous to me and most of the people sitting around them -- through these games.
Second guessing plays. Second guessing personnel moves. Rumoring what was going on along the sideline based on body language (and occasionally, oh-too-clear to discern salty language). From the reads, it was obvious fans that shared the feelings and emotions of the ones sitting around me would go home and post (excuse me, vent) those opinions on boards and blogs.
Here goes the theory: no one screams and yells like that in the press box. The athletic officials don't hear the crowd during the game, and those they might hear are not likely to be the average fan -- a skybox owner or a low, 50-yard-line seat holder.
This follows up on my theory of the function of the message board as the perpetual coffee shop. Personally, message boards are filled with the same gossip that swirled around the local college hangouts with one very, very important difference. You had to be at the coffee shop at the same time the rumor was passed, or the athletic department official (or coach) was shooting their mouth off about something. If the rumor was juicy enough, it would circulate, but not far and not for long.
Today, you can walk into the digital coffee shop at any time and from anywhere. By the miracle of the cached file, you can catch up on all the talk -- it never goes away. Thus, if you knew how mad they were in the stands, the kind of things they anonymously said out loud for all to hear, would what they wrote later be so shocking?
Smith's blog does have a few warts itself, which make me question whether or not he is truly embracing the Web 2.0 paradigm of collaboration and community building. Specifically, to make his blog an even better resource, he needs to:
1. Include the link to his RSS feed on the blog. Unless a reader knows the Blogger site hosting taxonomy, they will not know how to get his RSS feed. That is OK for readers of this posting because we offer you the link to his RSS feed here.
2. He does not allow comments on the blog, so there is no free exchange of ideas and thoughts on his topics. That is one reason I don't consider CNBC's Darren Rovell's blog to truly be a blog. There is a difference though. Rovell does not allow comments because the powers that be at CNBC will not allow it. For Smith, it is a conscious, individual decision. This is something he should consider changing to really add value to the overall quality of sports blogs.
3. The headlines do not stand on their own, which is critical in the age of RSS readers and information overload. If I just saw the headline in a RSS reader and did not know that Smith always contains excellent content and wisdom in his posts, I would have no reason to open the full post and read it.For example, the headline of the post cited above is "Trying Out a New Theory." It does not stand alone to give readers an idea of what he is writing about.
4. There are no keywords/tags on his posts. If you want to read archived content on the site, your only option is to read each months archives line by line, which is very time consuming and go against the very basic constructs of the "social web." Smith needs to add tags and add them now. Otherwise his content will continue to spiral out of control, and this would be a shame because of the overall quality of the content. If he added tags such as "Fan Opinions", "Sports Information Director Issues", and "Fans Not Being Heard", it gives readers a better idea of the content.
On Wednesday, July 2, 2008, Smith will be moderating a panel discussion at the annual College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA) workshop entitled New Media & College Sports: Understanding the Impact of Citizen Media and the Blogosphere. This will not be an ordinary panel discussion, as one of the panelists is Dan Gillmor, the considered by many to be the "Godfather of Citizen Journalism." Hopefully, we will see thoughts on Smith's blog about this panel discussion. Maybe someone will even record it as a podcast he can make available for download on his blog.
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This was originally published on Eye on Sports Media on Wednesday, May 22, 2008.