Sunday, August 16, 2009

Should we measure the quality of blogs?

Blogs have now become ubiquitously available. Just as the Internet is widespread and accessible, becoming cheaper, better understood and more user-friendly and flexible, so are blogs becoming more common and important. Access to blogs is increasingly via phones and multiple devices which can be read or viewed anywhere, anytime. The recent emergence of the i-Phone and Blackberry generation of devices, with their extraordinary capacity to download and play music and movies, to act as a phone and messaging system, to use email and scheduling software, and to fully access the Internet for maps, search tools and the like, has simply made the Internet a more accessible and useful tool for use in everyday life. And blogs have flourished with this easy accessibility.

Blogs are all about opinion. They are now massively used, promoted, discussed and quoted. Some have become mainstream news outlets, checked every day. Blogging has become a new form of work for both trained and untrained "journalists". I, as an educator, have even started using them as an educational tool in an online course I am teaching, and have all the students creating and maintaining their own blogs as part of their assignments.

But who is attempting to evaluate blogs for quality, accuracy, truth, consistency and all of the other components that are typically focused on by, for instance, editors of published journals or newspapers, or directors of television shows. Blogs are, in reality, a mix of all sorts of different media types, often presented in a multi-media fashion with video clips and a number of other enhancements.

And should we be trying to measure the quality of blogs anyway? After all, a blog is a derivation of literally a web-log. Early blogs were simply a series of postings in the form of a diary of activities posted on the internet for all to see. They have certainly rapidly developed as an information source since those first examples, and now often used to promote views held by individuals or organizations on almost any subject under the sun.

We do measure and evaluate most written communications, and most media publications, and for many different reasons. We may want to demonstrate certain levels of quality and accuracy, to see if they have changed views of the subjects who read or watched them, to count what they have sold or promoted and demonstrate their effectiveness or to judge how to improve them for future editions. Alternatively we may want to measure usability or readability. But do we do this with blogs? Blogs are different from many other publications on the Internet, and are even less permanent than many other types of website environments. While most blogs do have an archiving process for past postings, all such archived postings can be changed, deleted, and otherwise altered retrospectively, so that the sense of permanency that the internet has with some content, simply doesn't exist with blogs.

I have searched the web briefly for articles about blog evaluation, or blog measurement, and cannot find many that have made a serious attempt at this. Does this mean that this is not worthwhile doing? I doubt it. Does it mean that no-one is doing it. Again a negative answer, as I am sure they are. Does it mean that it is a hard and perhaps thankless task? Most certainly. Can any readers of this article find some good examples of blog evaluations? I hope they can.

The only form of "measurement" of blogs seems to be a popularity index, and there are many groups now focused on identifying the "top 10" or the "top 100" blogs in a certain area. But popularity is very different from quality, and it would be good to see some structured quality measures combined with the popularity counts. Some blogs do get widely quoted, and are "fact checked" by a range of groups, but this fact checking is really only about core content quoted on the blogs, and not about the quality of the blog more generally.

It does seem odd that blogs, which are now becoming a mainstream news source for many of us, and which we know are notoriously unreliable, are not being evaluated and are not being treated in the same way that other important new sources are treated.

My own area of interest is internet healthcare. It would not be too difficult to set up a measuring and evaluation process to use with blogs in that area, and this would seem to be a well worthwhile task. This is particularly important with respect to our current debate on healthcare reform, as blogs are taking a front row seat in the efforts of all sides to promote their views, yet there is little attempt to evaluate their quality or accuracy, and this leads to the potential for the rapid spread of misinformation.

Peter Yellowlees MD has recently published “Your Health in the Information Age – how you and your doctor can use the Internet to work together”. It is available at and most online bookstores.

Health Informatics Student blog url's

I am currently running a course through UC Davis Extension called "The Internet and the future of patient care". As part of that course all my students have to write a blog - they have just started and I attach a list of the name of the students and the url's for those blogs that are currently active, and will update it with a few more over time.

It is interesting to see the types of topics they are choosing - a lot of interest on how social environments and attitudes mix with technology - fascinating


Mary Vasterling

focus on human trafficking and health reform

Emily Norman

challenges in the E-Health Record system from the perspectives of IT software, hardware development and support that I leanred from my professional experience.

Brian Paciotti

to focus attention to the human ecology of health and medicine by looking at medical outcomes on a map.

Jonathan Ware

the efficiency and organization of healthcare - 5 posts already

Rajiv Kairon

privacy and genetics

Esther Munoz

just started

Marie Goddard

I want to start discussions about how we can get people, both health care professionals and the lay public, including patients to feel more comfortable and confident with using computer technology in managing personal health, the health care of patients and of our population

Mohammed Morshed

how internet changes the fundamental dynamics of health care, the way people think about health care.

Adrish Sannyasi

just started

Nwamaka Dim

I discovered certain inefficiencies in the handling of medical records in healthcare organization. How the organization lose a lot of money and lack of follow-up of their patients due to improper record keeping.

Jermy Wong

This is going to be my healthcare informatics journal, I would like to share my thoughts and what I learn via this blog