Blogging and the elderly

Today, early morning, I woke up and read this brief post on the blog we have setup for a group of elders attending a Community Services Center in downtown Trento, which put me to thinking about how ICT is motivating them to participate. The post is just an small note from one of the elders that regularly participate at our ICT laboratory, where they learn how to use and play with computers and social networks. Because of a cold, she couldn’t make it for the last session, so she entered the blog to take a read what her co-bloggers have been writing,  concluding at then how good it is to know how to use the PC for moments like these, when you are forced to stay home.

It is nice to see that our job is having a positive effect, even if sometimes is small ;-). This is why it occurred to me that I should write some lines and solidify some of my thoughts about the experience of blogging for the elders of Kaleidoscopio. That’s my goal in this post (although, I must confess, I am writing it a bit too much in a hurry 🙂 ).

It is almost a year already from the moment we started the ICT laboratory for elderly, and 6 months of them blogging. I never thought that blogging would have become a regular part of their lives at the beginning. And yet, for some, it has.

First, it is important to say that blogging was among the many different topics they  wanted to learn when we held our first lab session and brainstormed with them the topics to explore during the lab. They didn’t know exactly what it was, but it sounded interesting. That curiosity and active interest about the things they do not about technology has been the leading force of the lab, and it is the reason why we are still continuing it.

After learning the basics of using a PC and how to write documents, we got to the topic of blogging. We were not expecting that some of them would become regular on it. In fact, it was our intuition that most of them would not be interested on going on but, as it happens, an small yet significant proportion of the group did so. Out of 25 that started, 4 to 6 had remained active and constantly blogged in the last six months, producing 11 posts only in january (plus 32 between october and december/2012 and more than 90 in the period of july-august/2012). All that without us or any other doing much to motivate them. So, the question that comes to my mind is: what motivates this participation? why they keep on it even if there is so little feedback about their posts?

Commenting for example has been very rare. And mostly the comments come from people in their group (in particular 1 person who is THE follower of the blog, contributing only via commenting). So, with so little feedback, why do they keep blogging?. What drives them to share?

When it comes to themes, an informal analysis brings up that they mostly blog about the trips and activities they do in the center, besides writing about wisdom phrases or stories, poems, recipes and some small and interesting general knowledge articles.  They usually write their posts when they go to the Services Center and write in pairs. When I asked them who is the author of the post they wrote while working in pairs, they don’t seem to be much worried about authorship of the articles.

Another common practice I noted is that whenever they write a post, they look for pictures on the internet to support what they have written. This can lead to copyright issues or involuntary mistakes they are not aware of, like this case, when they used a wrong picture to refer to a place, and some people of that place somehow found it and said “Hey, that’s not the place you are talking about”.  Still, it is good to see that they were able to create their own workflows to support their interest in blogging (later on, we installed a plugin to search for pictures in the editing post page and they loved it!)

In summary, almost without intention, the blog has already become an instrument of participation and increased their social interactions (which is the goal of my whole Ph.D. thesis! ;-). In other words: sometimes what you need is already there and there is no need to reinvent the wheel. I have been very focused on designing an app lately and might have missed that in some cases you just need connect people with the right tool that already exist.

Moreover, this small reflection made me think about a couple of research questions that might be interesting to explore based on the blog. First of all, why do they blog?. What satisfaction do they find on doing so. And for those who have not entered the game, what other activities supported or mediated by technology, could motivate them to interact with others? what barriers would stop them from using these technologies? (availability of computers/internet, difficulty of the tool, etc.).

Also, how they share what they blog and with whom?. It would seem that the people reading the blog are only those who are either writing on it or participate on our lab. So, who are they writing to?. I think these are all interesting questions to explore and they can be explored from different perspectives. One perspective is that of usability and user experience, which could be experimented upon by either adding or changing sharing features on the blogging system to see if this ease their sharing or motivate them to write more.

For example, based on the observation that they were usually blogging in pairs, a plugin for signing posts in pairs was enabled. However useful it was, they never used. Why?.
Another example was that based on the observation that they were always looking for pictures on google to attach to their posts, an embedded pictures search within the post editor was enabled. In this case, the new feature was a blast and everyone started to use it. Again, why?.

Another perspective is a qualitative one, based on the exploration of the motivations they have for sharing and what type of things they are interested to share.

In any case, it seems that inadvertently and without intention, we are already helping them to enhance their social interactions. The blog is an instrument of participation and we are going to put some effort on understanding why and how to further improve it.

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