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 inner child 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. Like the WEATHER section of the newspaper. 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, the Post’s weather staff there drops contribute to the comments, answers questions, and they have gotten to know some of the more popular commenters well (more on this below).
Of course research on two-way communication is not new in the Communication and Public Relations fields, but many large organizations are still trying to figure this out. Blogs where the bloggers interact with their audience are much more engaging than those in which either (1) the blogger NEVER comments or acknowledges comments or (2) where the blogger is a high-profile public personality but the individual blogging or answering comments is clearly a random staffer, responding in obvious PR-speak. 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: 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.This site would be good source material for an online ethnographic study of blog communities. How do the social interactions between participants on the blog construct the blog as a social space? At the rate that the Capital Weather Gang blog is developing, I’m guessing that it is possible that at some point it will move into IRL events such as happy hours or meetups. A rich subcommunity of ‘snowbros/gals’ , meteorologists, and yes, trolls, is developing. Commenters here have become fiercely protective of the bloggers and often go to great length to reprimand ‘drive-by’ commenters that drop in to sneer at “failed” weather forecasts.
Gatekeeping: How central is gatekeeping to online communities? As the blog has developed “regulars” do they become the opinion leaders? Who starts being looked at as a defacto authority figure–is it a function of posting frequency, personality or technical knowledge? Today some posters are even recognized by the Post’s meteorologists for the substantive contributions that they bring to the table. Nice cred!
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 not been well received. Discontent with this new commenting feature is currently playing out on the CWG blog oo.
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 domma storm patterns were.
I wish every city had one like this, these guys make meteorologists hip. I would also say that technical bloggers in any practice 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 .