This morning Washington, DC has been hit by one of the strongest snowstorm in years, with an average of about a foot in most of the area. The federal government has shuttered down, they made the call late last night to the delirous delight of thousands of adults in the capital city. Snow day!!! It never loses it’s magic, does it? The way your innerself jumps up in joy when work closes has been seared into our psyche from our days of Middle School when we didn’t have to do our homework and would stay up late watching TV.
So how have I spent most of my morning? By reading a newspaper blog online which is……way more fun that it sounds, you will not believe me. It’s a weather blog. The most fascinating and addictive blog on the internet might just be about the weather. I am referring to the Washington Post’s Capital Weather Gang’s Blog . The gang affectionately referred to as CWG is run by Washington Post staff who are actual meteorologists.
As a student of social media, there are many areas that are interesting enough that they could be fertile research topics for an enterprising grad student. For example:
Two Way Communication: I have never seen a “serious” blog in which the bloggers interact with their commenters as much as they do here. By “serious” I mean a blog run by technical professionals employed on behalf of a large visible organization. There is a lot of public interaction, all the staff there drops in in the comments, answers questions, and they have gotten to know some of the more popular commenters (more on this below).
Of course research on two-way communication is not new, it’s pretty much self-evident for communication/PR students, yet many large organizations still get this wrong. Blogs where the bloggers interact are significantly more engaging than those in which either (1) the blogger NEVER comments or acknowledges their comments or (2) where the blogger is a high-profile public personality but the one blogging or answering comments (in PR speak generalities) is clearly a random staffer. The second situation might actually be worse, audiences can tell and it just seems insincere. (Note: Ofcourse CEOs can’t be on their iphones answering comments but the way around this is to simply acknowledge up front that while the “name” is being used for the blog, staffers are handling the comments).
Tribes & community building: This site would could be good source material for an internet study exploring social characteristics of online blog cultures. How do the social interactions between participants on the blog construct the blog as a social space? At the rate that this blog is developing, I’m guessing that it is possible that at some point there will be offline events such as happy hours or meetups. To the blog has reached that level of collegiality from a weather blog where such meetups don’t sound outlandish is impressive. Recently, meteorologists in the South were bizzarely on the receiving end of complaints (when they should all have been aimed at public officials). Commenters here have become fiercely protective of the bloggers and for example often go to great length to admonish ‘drive-by’ commenters that often drop in to sneer at “failed” weather forecasts.
To my knowledge there is not much scholarly research on the study of online communities and tribes–but see Norman (2012) for a rare example from hockey.
Gatekeeping: How central is gatekeeping to online communities? As the blog has developed “regulars” are some voices outside of the staff deferred to and looked on as leaders? Who starts being looked at as a defacto authority figure? Some posters are even recognized by some of the staff for the knowledge they bring to the table.
Technological Change: Nobody likes change, anyone that works in a large organization knows that when the IT folks introduce a new software platform everyone groans in dismay. Sure enough, the Washington Post has recently introduced a new comment system and it’s been on been well received. Is it that the new commenting system is BAD or that people just don’t like change?
But apart from all that academic stuff, the blog is really cutting edge–hell, bleeding edge.
There’s NOTHING like it on the internet. This is a blog about WEATHER (and I’m saying that in a good way) yet it’s accessible, impossibly fun but also educational–I never though I’d care or know what Polar Vertices, Derechos, or Comma storm patterns were.
I wish every city had one like this, these guys make meteorologists cool and hip. I would also say that technical bloggers could do well to study this blog and see how to talk to both a general audience, and a technical audience.
You can see a history of the CWG blog here .