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In my May 13 diary, "What does Daily Kos accomplish?", I began with these questions:

  • "What purposes does DK achieve?"
  • "How well does it succeed in them?"
  • "How can we quantify that?"
  • "Which purposes are in tension with each other?"
  • "Which ones are most important?"

saving all but the first and third questions for later. As luck would have it, on the same day, another diarist simply declared "DailyKos sucks". Well, that's straightforward, but a bit unscientific.

What purpose does DK achieve? In my last diary, I came up with 46 possibilities, from "allow people to rant" to "convince people to run for office". One commenter turned to Daily Kos's mission statement, which is to help elect Democrats. I'd want to at least qualify "Democrats" with "progressive", but I responded as follows:

Okay, so does it actually help elect Democrats and if so, how do we know? That's where the measurement issues come in. How do we know that this site is effective at recruiting canvassers or donations? How do we measure the effect that our strategy discussions have on the actual world? And if this site's mission is electing Democrats, do any of the other things that it does interfere with that mission?

And now I'll answer myself: Given the tools we have, and the limited use we put to them, it's impossible to determine to what extent the existence of Daily Kos makes a difference in electing Democrats. It's quite possible that DK turned the tide in, say, Jim Webb's squeaker victory, both by coaxing a few canvassers out the door and, earlier, by publicizing Allen's racism. But we can't know. One could imagine setting up an interface that facilitates tabulation of doors knocked or money raised, but it doesn't exist yet.

So electing Democrats is supposedly our central purpose... and yet, we have no way of measuring our effect? We don't know whether we're getting people into office, and we don't know how many people we're putting out on the streets?

And what if our other goals interfere with our main one? For instance, we pride ourself on building a lively, albeit rowdy, community here, with the help of "pootie" pictures, collages, and in-jokes. But what if these actually worked against helping to get progressive Democrats elected? I'm not motivated by puritannical thinking, but by our limited amount of time and real estate, which forces us to do some zero-sum thinking. If slapstick satire diaries and filler comments consistently overwhelm action diaries and informative comments, is the site really working? Sure, it's comforting to tell oneself that satire serves a purpose, perhaps drawing people who wouldn't visit otherwise. But without measurements, or defining goals, it verges on the Texas sharpshooter fallacy, where someone fires a gun and then draws targets around the bullet holes, and the person stumbling across the holes later concludes that s/he must have been quite a good shot.

Last year, stephdray called the community out with the bold declaration DailyKos Fiddles while America Burns. I'd love to just quote the whole thing, since she's one heck of a writer, but I don't have the space. To summarize, she pointed out that while we were focusing on the salacious details of Cheney's hunting accident, we had lost the opportunity to push for a filibuster to block Alito's nomination. She held the leadership of the blog especially responsible for this lost opportunity, but she also suggested that individuals should consider the impact of their diaries on the real world when deciding what to write about.

Unfortunately, two other excellent writers used their gifts to blunt Steph's points. Hunter, in I, Hunter, Am Your Leader, suggested, with a heavy dose of snark, that any attempt at leadership would be rejected by the community. Jerome a Paris, in DailyKos is doing fine, took a more serious tone, and brought up some worthwhile distinctions between the relatively few frequent visitors and the hordes of less-frequent readers. But his main purpose was to demonstrate that Steph's objections could be laid to rest, and in doing so, he turned here and there to mild Panglossianism (multiple recommended diaries on the same subject serve as a useful mirror of our interest) or unproven assertions ("the collective mind of dKos... flags the best diaries or the most important information") that made no attempt to define criteria: How do we know that the best diaries are being brought to people's attention when we aren't even defining criteria to measure "best"?

I think it does make sense for each of us, individually, to define explicit criteria for judging the diaries we read or write, and then determine how well those criteria are met for the diaries on the recommended list, or on the rescued list, or on the diaries that we end up opening for whatever reason.

Some criteria are easily quantifiable. One might call for X letters to the editor, or Z dollars. I think such goals are great. You might exceed your goal, you might make it, you might fall short, but you learn something in the process.

Last year, I conducted an interview with Paul Jay of Independent World Television, a network developing a daily news show, The Real News. IWT is determined to reach a mass audience with news that really matters, and by refusing to take money from corporations or government agencies, it addresses our chief complaints about media bias. In 2005, there had been a number of diaries on IWT, two of which drew hundreds of recommendations and enthusiastic comments, initiating a wave of publicity that IWT hadn't been expecting.

Great setup, right? Once again, bring the good news about IWT to the blogosphere, and prove the power of the blogosphere to IWT. So I put a lot of work not only into the interview, but the marketing. I knew that worthwhile diaries often disappeared, and even auxiliary listservs (e.g., election integrity and reform) never attracted enough visitors to push a diary onto the recommended list. So I looked through every Daily Kos diary ever written on IWT and harvested the e-mail addresses of the people who had posted diaries, comments, recommendations, or tips, and had listed addresses in their profiles. This was a laborious, nonautomatable process (perhaps not a bad thing). I informed people on the list that unless they wanted to be removed from my mailing list, I would inform them when each installment was up. I had very few "remove" requests, and they were fairly polite. Of course, many people never wrote back. But I did get many enthusiastic replies.

I posted the five installments of the interview, "Go big or go home", during the first week of 2007, and analyzed whether the series had satisfied my criteria for success.

In terms of content, I was satisfied that my diary:

  • offered new information , since no one in either the blogosphere or the mainstream media had written about IWT in months
  • offered the words of a compelling spokesperson; Jay knows how to captivate an audience
  • addressed a subject that had been shown to be of interest to the Daily Kos community
  • suggested an action as simple as visiting the IWT site and possibly making a donation
  • contained one picture per diary to attract attention

That much I could control. Now did the attention paid to the diaries meet my criteria (goals)? Not really:

  • They didn't land on the recommended list, and only the last installment landed on the rescued list.
  • They attracted perhaps 20% of the comments and recommendations that the highest-impact 2005 IWT diaries did.
  • They attracted perhaps 5% of the attention paid that week to (a) a well-known blogger for her defense of an alleged troll (b) that blogger's later mea culpa, (c) another well-known blogger's humorous observations on the whole exchange.
  • They didn't have a huge amount of reverberation beyond Daily Kos or within it (didn't see many comments that reference IWT or my diaries)

However, they certainly got a wider readership (both numerically and in a geographic sense) than they would have received had I posted them on a physical billboard or handed them out to passersby. jotter's diaries showed that:

  • one of the installments was read by 205 registered users
  • 4 of the 5 installments landed on the middle of the high-impact list, somewhere around the 60th most noticed diaries for the day of publication

And I did get e-mail from one writer for Mother Jones, which I found very exciting until I learned that his editor wanted him to sit on the story for as long as a year.

I've had similar experiences with my ongoing series on progressive talk radio (e.g., Grassroots Meet Rainmakers: Boston Progressive Radio).

Now, I would have never heard of IWT or progressive radio at all if it hadn't been for DK, so clearly the site is useful. But since the site is only achieving a fraction of its potential success in getting new, "actionable" information to people, I wonder if we can make our site better, both through our individual behavior and through technical changes to the site.

I propose some effectiveness tips that I myself try to adhere to:

  • If you're not registered, register. It takes two minutes, you lose no privacy, and when you read a diary, your visit increments the number of registered users who've visited it.
  • If you are registered and don't have your e-mail address in your profile, add it (in spam-proof format: mine is alanfordean AT-SIGN yahoo DOT com). If you don't want to make your main address public, you can take 15 minutes to obtain a free dedicated e-mail account for this purpose. The effect on your privacy is negligible, and now you can actually be part of a social political network.
  • Add yourself to the Frappr map for Daily Kos so that people can get a hold of you if they're looking for someone in a particular area. Kagro X has done this, and I have as well.
  • Try cutting down on the number of diaries you visit just to see whether they'll confirm your suspicion (based on the title or author name) that they'll be truly awful. If you do visit them, don't spend much time there.
  • If a diary looks like it's about to be a rant that won't teach you anything, try looking elsewhere to see whether there's something with more value.
  • If a diary has already attracted some threshold number of comments, think twice about adding another unless it contains important information.
  • Specialize in a subject, and scan the diary list for that subject. You'll be doing your part to make yourself an expert on that subject and make sure that it gets the attention it deserves.

As for technical improvements, I'd love it if the admins would listen to the most frequently raised request and expand the recommended list. For all intents and purposes, it has stayed the same size as the readership has increased by a tremendous amount. There can't be any technical reason why going from a list size of ten to twenty could be a problem.

I could go on, but I've already written at length (despite much pruning), and I'm very curious to hear what your responses are.

Originally posted to AlanF on Wed May 23, 2007 at 05:58 PM PDT.

Poll

Do you like the idea of applying quantifiable criteria to a diary?

53%14 votes
46%12 votes

| 26 votes | Vote | Results

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Comment Preferences

    •  For me (6+ / 0-)

      It's a place to stay on top of what is going on with respect to current events, like the ongoing Gonzalez saga, to cite one example.

      It's a place to suck in some positive energy to motivate to do things like turn the tide in CA-11, for example.

      It's a place to read what many really bright people think, particularly those of us who are convinced that the overall right path leans, in most cases, to the left.

      It is a place to tirade, rant, and vent, but I learn something everytime I spent 10 minutes here, and for me, those things are enough.

      "We will now proceed to construct the socialist order."

      by 7November on Wed May 23, 2007 at 05:55:19 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  This Diary (6+ / 0-)

      ... is reminiscent of the old Qualitative vs Quantitative debate.

      Those of us with a social sciences or humanities background are content with several things about this site - the plethora of news sources, quality of writing, humor, political analysis, call to political action, discussion of cultural issues, and the like.  

      Others with a more technical bent are always interested in quantifying things.  Not that there's anything wrong with it.

      My response: some things just are.

      Good diary though.  

      A riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma

      by JekyllnHyde on Wed May 23, 2007 at 06:24:13 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  That's a good insight. (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        JekyllnHyde, Cho, moosely2006

        Indeed, I do have a technical bent. Maybe that's why I'm so fond of quantitative analysis. But you're right -- there is a value to qualitative analysis as well. It's just that it may be harder to get people to agree on the criteria.

      •  I have a social sciences background (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        JekyllnHyde, Judge Moonbox

        And my first reaction to your comment is that I think a lot of people who put in time and effort here are hoping for a lot more than just making people feel content.

        I'm sure there are plenty of people who come here for reasons that have nothing to do with electing Democrats. But I think those people who actually want to further the site's goal of electing Democrats would be well served by some means of evaluating its effectiveness in achieving that goal.  More than that, I think the goal would be well served, also.

        The Senate is the last bastion of white supremacy. --Andrew Gumbel

        by Free Spirit on Wed May 23, 2007 at 07:12:27 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  I don't think JekyllnHyde (1+ / 0-)
          Recommended by:
          JekyllnHyde

          was saying that his/her main goal was to feel content. I think s/he was talking about being content with how the site was doing, including its calls to political action.

          •  Well, I guess I see that as... (0+ / 0-)

            ...pretty much the same thing. I think people who want the site to actually contribute to electing Democrats want it to do that, not to making people feel content with how the site is doing in that regard.

            It's like the difference between actually improving the integrity of our elections and "restoring public confidence" in them.  The one doesn't necessarily have anything to do with the other.

            The Senate is the last bastion of white supremacy. --Andrew Gumbel

            by Free Spirit on Wed May 23, 2007 at 07:44:18 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

    •  Quantify TV spot Feedback via DailyKos (3+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      AlanF, Cho, rougegorge

      Great Diary.

      AlanF, a few months ago I diaried about poltical strategists overlaying a user interface on DailyKos, which would enable them to gather realtime feedback as they produce spots.

      http://www.dailykos.com/...

      I strongly believe that independent voters are won over via TV spots, and that we in the Kos community can help quantify the effectiveness of TV spots.

      Learn about Centrist Economics, learn about Robert Rubin's Hamilton Project. http://www1.hamiltonproject.org/es/hamilton/hamilton_hp.htm

      by PatriciaVa on Wed May 23, 2007 at 07:35:38 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

    •  Just wanted to add... that (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      AlanF

      the whole series of interviews was also reprinted with AlanF's permission...
      on ePluribus Media's Journal Go Big or Go Home


      Thanks again, AlanF, for letting us do that!

      •  No, thank YOU! Really! (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Cho

        I have nothing but good things to say about ePluribus Media. Now there's a crew with focus.

        •  There is a big difference (0+ / 0-)

          Between ePM and dKos. Ones mission is to seek out facts, and the others is to elect Democrats. While these two missions may overlap in areas, given the little fact that the left tends to be a little more based in "reality".

          The two sites are still two different animals.

          And if ePM stays true to form in their search for supportable and credible facts (at least, that is the form I see?) than they will likely be as much a thorn in the butts of a Democratic president as they are to bush.

          dKos? IMHO (and sadly so!), not so much...

  •  We do??? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JekyllnHyde, John DE, buhdydharma

    How can you tell?

    ...when you read a diary, the author knows you've visited it.

    Politicians and diapers need to be changed frequently -- often for the same reason.

    by KnowVox on Wed May 23, 2007 at 05:57:57 PM PDT

  •  Assessment? (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    JekyllnHyde, cfk, PatsBard, buhdydharma

    It sucks.  The assessment document I've been working on for months is due tomorrow.

    Teacher's Lounge opens every Saturday between 11 am and noon. It's not just for teachers.

    by rserven on Wed May 23, 2007 at 06:00:26 PM PDT

  •  I don't follow (5+ / 0-)

    I read, comment and recommend based on what I want to do, not what message it might send.  Why should I change my reading habits to manipulate some statistics?

  •  Design and Evolution (9+ / 0-)

    Two of your initial questions particularly stand out to me:

    "What purposes does DK achieve?"

    and

    "Which ones are most important?"

    Kos, other FPers, and a host of participants trying to self-police this community keep reminding us that the initial raison déte for this site is to 'Elect Democrats.' I haven't been visiting here long enough to know in how much detail Markos planned this all out. What I do recognize, however, is that this place is constantly undergoing evolution, in form, in function, and in community attitude.

    Besides the (apparently) main focus on analysis of issues, Net-based activism, fundraising and advocacy toward electing representatives, the 'peripheral' issues seem to be the elements that set the tone of the community that has developed. How did we wind up with a Pastor? Why do people wonder 'WYFP?' or choose to create occasional support groups? It makes me think back on a phrase from the '60's: 'The Personal is Political'.

    Evolution; well, there is a Creator here with the ultimate power to make any one of us vanish -- or, He could even pull the plug on the whole damn thing, if it came to that! But you wonder how bemused Markos might be watching the evolution of this place. Sometimes he intervenes in the affairs of us mortal and tells us when he doesn't like something. But more often, as far as I can tell, he just makes pointed suggestions.

    How is it that long-standing members become persona non grata, GBCW, or are actually banned, to wail and gnash their teeth on other sites? And, I have also seen (apparently) long-term members say something really ugly, admit their sins, mea culpa, and are welcomed back into the fold. Does this help the ostensible goal?

    I don't know if that is at all quantifiable. Are people who are more empathetic with each other, who have a value of being 'reality-based' (although often falling short), who believe in doing actual research and backing up their opinions and perspective, and who hone the specificity of their language more capable of creating a more just and progressive society embodying Democratic and democratic principles?

    Only our grandchildren will be able to tell us that.  I'm trying to participate in recovering our society's values because I'd like them to say yes.

  •  I understand that some new things (6+ / 0-)

    are coming for DKos in the future.  I would like to see more rec diaries...10 or 12, as you say.

    But, I don't see you talking much about the community diaries that keep people coming here.  I do feel that is vital.  

    "Other cultures are not failed attempts at being you. They are unique manifestations of the human spirit." Wade Davis

    by cfk on Wed May 23, 2007 at 06:27:13 PM PDT

  •  As for statistics - you should check Jotter's (6+ / 0-)

    diaries.

    Tons of stats there for you.

    Kos and his techs are also working on DK4 - a major revamping of the site - which may address the Rec list expansion and other improvements.

    "Liberalism is trust of the people tempered by prudence. Conservatism is distrust of the people tempered by fear." William E. Gladstone (British Statesman)

    by PatsBard on Wed May 23, 2007 at 06:27:26 PM PDT

  •  I believe (7+ / 0-)

    we have far, far more influence than we give ourselves credit for.

    Whenever you hear the word bloggers on TV, or read it in the mainstream press....they are talking MOSTLT about us. Start listening to the words Blogs and Bloggers as Dkos anf you will see what I mean.

    We are the wal-mart of blog opinion.....the lazy and uniformed shop here. Which is a GOOD thing. We are the clearing house of blogging.

    •  So what you are saying is that... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      buhdydharma

      ...the value of DKos, a site created and inhabited mostly by folks that constantly ridicule and denigrate the MSM and its worthless coverage, should be measured by how much the MSM covers it. Huh.

      The Senate is the last bastion of white supremacy. --Andrew Gumbel

      by Free Spirit on Wed May 23, 2007 at 07:15:49 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  well (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Ignacio Magaloni

        from the perspective of political and societal impact, yes.

        What matters ....to me...is how much our voice and views influence the political 'conversation.' Otherwise we are just pissing into the wind....on anything other than the wonderful community stuff that goes on. We ARE heard.

      •  Nah. The point is that the quick reaction (3+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        Ahianne, dirtfarmer, rougegorge

        to attacks on our political body, often just under the MSM radar, coupled with the Argos-eyed analysis that often appears on this site then goes on to affect readers who already have their hands on various levers of power.

        Alan's suggestions might increase the effectiveness and attentiveness to issues, but this has been considered in previous meta diaries and, like ckf mentions above, new changes are on the wings.

        I like Alan's desire for measurable effectiveness, quite appropriate for a reality-based politics.

        But I do think the current effect DK over the last few years has been out of proportion to the size of its membership: intellect has a way of floating to the top here at DK, even as it reflects other aspects of blogdom, which Alan rues.

        I remember how it felt to be a liberal in the wilderness before blogs like DK came along--and before its offspring became active.

        I have seen key news cycles affected in the MSM by us, often without acknowledgement. The MSM is starting to create a persona for us in order to minimize our influence (just saw a scroll on MSNBC this afternoon reporting that someone's wife mentioned their husband would be attending YearlyKos--did not catch the beginning, unfortunately).

        Kossacks understand change:
        We are only beginning to test the real force of this medium.

        Habeas Corpus:See Hamilton quoting Blackstone in The Federalist Papers, number 84.

        by Ignacio Magaloni on Wed May 23, 2007 at 07:41:57 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  What you are getting at, (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AlanF, A Siegel, dirtfarmer, Judge Moonbox

    is how to get more visibilty for important issues/diaries that may not be the issue of the day. It can be overwhelming to visit the site. I wish sometimes that I had all day to read through most of the diaries, there is so much knowledge to be garnered. Many interesting diaries vanish from site before there's even a chance to read them. One can search for specific topics, but like browsing in a really good bookstore, you might stumble upon something that you might not otherwise read.

    As the site has grown with more and more contributors, it is harder for a newer contributor to get established. In general, this is true across the internet with all blogs. Those who were early contributors have a bigger advantage.  At a certain point, there is a saturation point.

    One of the problems that I see with the site, is that people who are not familiar with the site can get intimidated. I know that it took me a while to figure out the rating system. I lurked on the site without commenting or voting for quite a while. It's gotten easier over time with some of the previous site upgrades.

    In general, I think the site is successful, although I don't know if it helps elect more Democrats other than some of the more highly visible and controversial ones. I like that the site can build a sense of community and raise awareness of the issues from many points of view. There are not that many places that encourage a higher level of discourse (despite the snark and cleverness sometimes for it's own sake here). We don't get much real analysis from the MM, so this is essential.  

    And BTW, I don't think that revisiting quantitative issues is necessarily bad, or that it's either or... it can do/be both.

    •  Yes, that IS what I was getting at (4+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      Cho, rocketito, A Siegel, rougegorge

      and though I went on at great length, there's still much more I could have said. For instance, it feels like the widely-read diaries tend to appeal to people's outrage. But I've had it with outrage. I believe in giving people information that they can build with. Of course one doesn't necessarily preclude the other, but sometimes it does.

      As for the supposed advantage that getting in early should give me -- I wish it were that easy. I've been here since early 2004, which I think puts me in the geezeriest 6% or so of site participants, I've written 30 diaries or so (excluding the one-liners I posted at the beginning), and I'd probably say I've left an average of three comments here a day since I first arrived. But I doubt that that gives me a lot of name recognition. I think that the prolific writers do get a lot of recognition even when they've only been here a short while. Also, I suspect that those who frequently attend social events with groups of DK-ers get well known.

      •  I think that more recognition (0+ / 0-)

        will come over time... just keep posting your thoughtful insights! Cross posting helps as well (as I know you have sometimes done).  Encouraging new people to read the diaries and also teaching them how to recommend and rate the posts helps as well. Again, it takes a while to feel confident to actively participate for many people reading!

  •  Q on Username's Page. (0+ / 0-)

    When we fill out our pages, should our blogrolls reflect what we reccomend, or what interests us even if we don't feel it reflects our views? I find that since I always view my comments to see if there are replies that I should answer, it's good for personal reference, once I've finished with the comments, I can just click over to get the next blog I want to read.

    Poster child for the "If I'm so Smart, Why Ain't I Rich" Syndrome.

    by Judge Moonbox on Wed May 23, 2007 at 07:23:11 PM PDT

  •  No hosts announced yet. (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    AlanF

    I've also received limited interest when I tell people about IWT.

    Maybe most liberals don't find it exciting per se that there may be a new TV news program in September 2007.

    Liberals were excited when Air America Radio was on it's way because we were told that Al Franken and Janeane Garofalo would be hosts.

    IWT hasn't announced hosts.  If they announce hosts we're familiar with and admire, that may produce excitement.

    •  Good hypothesis. Let's measure it. :-> (0+ / 0-)

      Seriously, I'll be curious to see whether announcing hosts has an effect. I have a feeling that they will be people similar to Amy Goodman or Jeff Cohen. This will please people like you and me, even if it leaves a lot of people saying "Huh?" I personally prefer journalists over comedians/actors even as commercial radio talk show hosts, but I understand the need for both in that medium. However, IWT does need hosts who will be focused on investigation rather than humor.

      IWT will be having a conference call for members soon, so I'm looking forward to what I find out.

      •  I wrote them urging them to hire Jeff Cohen (0+ / 0-)

        ...to host, and so I'll be excited if they did.

        Amy Goodman probably prefers doing her own thing.

        I noticed that you used the phrase "similar to."  If they hired hosts who are similar to Cohen and Goodman in fame, then I expect many liberals will be excited.  If they hired people with similar qualifications whom we haven't heard of, then no.

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