This article was written on 22 Mar 2012, and is filled under Volume 16 Number 1.

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You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it blog

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Different seas, Same boats? Column

by Dr. Peter Murray, Senior Editor

This column was made possible by an educational grant from
Chamberlain College of Nursing


Murray, P.  (February, 2012). You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it blog. Different seas, same boats? Column. Online Journal of Nursing Informatics (OJNI), 16 (1). Available at http://ojni.org/issues/?p=1255


Different seas, same boats?Strictly speaking, the latter part of the title should be “but you can’t make it read or comment on a blog” – but the short version used is, I think, more attention-grabbing, and hopefully will have tempted you to read at least this far. Blogs are one of the methods that I and several colleagues have used in recent years to try and provide some of the sharing of experiences in the fields of nursing and nursing informatics on which this column series focuses. A number of recent articles in the wider, non-nursing technology and social media literature, have discussed whether blogging, as an activity, is declining, and the possible reasons for this. My own experience of doing less long format blogging and more micro-blogging than a few years ago resulted in my reflection on some of the issues, and therefore this current column.

A blog, according to the fount of all wisdom and the bane of teachers’ lives, Wikipedia, is “a personal journal published on the World Wide Web consisting of discrete entries (“posts”) typically displayed in reverse chronological order so the most recent post appears first. Blogs are usually the work of a single individual, occasionally of a small group, and often are themed on a single subject.” (Wikipedia, 2012) While the term “personal journal” may be a very loose description of many blogs, the other essential elements of the description are accurate. With a group of nursing colleagues from around the world, I have been using blogs for more than seven years to report of nursing informatics and health informatics conferences, with the twin aims of providing a form of ‘virtual interaction’ for those unable to attend the events and of exploring a form of collective, group reporting on the events (see http://www.hi-blogs.info).

We have presented the experiences in a number of journals and conferences, and reported the varying degrees of success in engaging with the wider community of nursing colleagues around the world. (e.g., Ward & Murray, 2006; Kouri, Saranto, Moen, Murray, & Hansen, 2010) In summary, according to the various informal evaluations we have undertaken, we found that people liked the content of the blogs, thought they were useful, and wanted them to continue. However, we also have found that, while we have often had many readers for the posts, we have had little of what I would term real interaction in terms of comments and other feedback. This may have been, in part, because we have tended to ‘lock down’ the blogs, due to risks from spammers, so that people could not post comments instantly; but the log files indicate that there have been few attempts to post comments.

Blogging, especially live-blogging wherein presentations are reported as they occur, rather than a summary produced afterwards, is hard work. Until recently, many conferences did not offer wireless Internet access that could support real-time comments and interaction. We reported on many conferences, small and large, starting with Medinfo2004 in San Francisco, and our most active period was probably around 2005-2007. So, is blogging declining, especially in terms of the amount written in them and the degree of interaction with posts? Some suggest that the ‘Golden Age’ of blogging is at an end and its use is in decline (Bartlett, 2011; Kopytoff, 2011; Owyang, 2011), although a careful read of Owyang’s blog post suggests that the situation is not actually as simple as the headline suggests. The innovators and early adopters (such as our team of health informatics conference bloggers), who pioneered the use of blogging (as we did around 2004-09), are moving to other tools, and the whole milieu is evolving.

Certainly, I have moved from writing lengthy blog posts to greater use of micro-blogging, specifically via Twitter, and have seen what appears to be a greater degree of interaction around the events as a result. Does Twitter offer better potential than blogs, email, or other tools for nurses to interact online? To illustrate the change, one can look at the ways in which we provided virtual interaction with two international nursing informatics conferences – NI2006 in Seoul, Korea and NI2009 in Helsinki, Finland. For NI2006, we provided a blog (http://difference-engine.net/ni2006blog/) where members of our informal team wrote a series of posts about presentations and other activities at the conference. Some were reports produced more or less in real-time, during the presentations, others were summary posts written afterwards. A minority of the posts attracted comments, and while most people felt the format was worthwhile, there seemed to be little interaction between readers and writers. Twitter had not been publicly launched at this time, but by the time of the NI2009  conference, it was attracting considerable interest. We did not develop a stand-alone blog for NI2009, but incorporated blog posts into our main blog site (http://www.hi-blogs.info/) and used a Twitter account in addition to this to test the capabilities of and response to this new development (http://www.twitter.com/ni2009). The experience of being able to provide short, real-time reports and comments on presentations was new to many people, but it did generate a greater degree of interaction, we felt, than the blog posts, although it is difficult to say which has had the greater long-term readership and impact.

Since 2009, I have done far less blogging, and more tweeting from conferences. The use of Twitter as a way of reporting from, and interacting with, conferences has grown, with more people having Twitter accounts and more reading tweets, to the extent that it is now routine for conferences to have their own Twitter hashtags as a way of tracking tweets from and about the events. Kevin Clauson’s blog post illustrates some of the issues around the development of tweeting at the event AMIA 2011(Clauson, 2011), and similar results have been seen around other conferences. However, the number of people tweeting is still in the minority, while it is difficult to assess how many people read the tweets from such events, although responses to, and retweets of, popular comments suggest a considerable amount of interaction with the comments.

With the growth of social media use, are we seeing greater interaction, or are we seeing, as some suggest, simply the use of social media as another, parallel, set of ‘broadcast channels’ by many people who use them. Engelen (2012), for example, who has invested considerable energies into using and exploring social media, suggests that social media “is still mainly used as a send-channel and not as two-way corridor.” by many of the hospitals in Europe who have developed their use.

I suspect that “the jury is still out” on the longer-term trends, but if we look at the fact that Internet access for many people, in many countries, is increasingly by mobile devices (smartphones, tablet devices) rather than ‘conventional’ desktop and laptop computers with full-sized keyboards, we may begin to see a direction of travel. The small physical keyboards of devices such as Blackberries, or the virtual keyboards of touchscreen smartphones such as iPhones, make composing large amounts of text quickly a difficult process. I look forward to seeing how, and through which media, colleagues report on, and interact with, the forthcoming NI2012 nursing informatics conference in Montreal, Canada in June this year (http://www.ni2012.org). Perhaps we can collectively write a column later in the year reflecting on the experiences, and on how much real interaction and discussion results, as opposed to passive consumption of broadcast thoughts.



Bartlett, A. (2011, October 4). The decline (or re-defining) of blogging?  (Blog post). Retrieved from http://andrewbartlett.com/?p=7905

Clauson, K. (2011, October 26). Who can you find tweeting at #AMIA2011? (Blog post).  Retrieved from http://cchir.com/2011/10/26/who-can-you-find-tweeting-at-amia2011/

Engelen, L. (2011, December 31). Changing healthcare is like sex: A lot of people only talk about it.  (Blog post). Retrieved from http://lucienengelen.posterous.com/changing-healthcare-is-like-sex-a-lot-of-peop

Kopytoff, V. G. (2011, Feb 20). Blogs wane as the young drift to sites like Twitter. Retrieved from  http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/21/technology/internet/21blog.html?_r=1

Kouri P., Saranto K., Moen A., Murray P., & Hansen M. (2010). Social media – new tools for personal health and wellbeing. Panel at Medinfo2010, 13th World Congress on Health and Medical Informatics, Cape Town, South Africa.

Owyang, J. (2011, December 27).  End of an era: The golden age of tech blogging is over. (Blog post)  Retrieved January 09, 2012, from http://www.web-strategist.com/blog/2011/12/27/end-of-an-era-the-golden-age-of-tech-blogging-is-over/

Ward, R. & Murray, P. J. (2006). Collaborative blogs as a new model for virtual conference participation: The HC2005 experience. IT in Nursing, 18(3), 3-10.

Wikipedia. (2012, January 09). Blog. Retrieved January 09, 2012, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Blog



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