Friday, June 26, 2009

Connecting With Readers

While editing and annotating Julia Brumfield's 1919 diary, I've tried to do research on the people who appear there. Who was Josie Carr's sister? Sites like can help, but the results may still be ambiguous: there are two Alice Woodings buried in the area, and either could be a match.

These questions could be resolved pretty easily through oral interviews -- most of the families mentioned in the diaries are still in the area, and a month spent knocking on doors could probably flesh out the networks of kinship I need for a complete annotation. However, that's really not time I have, and I can't imagine cold-calling strangers to ask nosy questions about their families -- I'm a computer programmer, after all.

It turns out that there might be an easier way. After Sara installed Google Analytics on FromThePage, I've been looking at referral log reports that show how people got to the site. Here's the keyword report for June, showing what keywords people were searching for when they found FromThePage:

Keyword Visits Pages/Visit Avg. Time on Site
"tup walker" 21 12.47619 992.8571
"letcher craddock" 7 12.42857 890.1429
julia craddock brumfield 3 28 624.3333
juliacraddockbrumfield 3 74.33333 1385
"edwin mayhew" 2 7 117.5
"eva mae smith" 2 4 76.5
"josie carr" virginia 2 6.5 117
1918 candy 2 4 40
clack stone hubbard 2 55.5 1146

These website visitors are fellow researchers, trying to track down the same people that I am. I've got them on my website, they're engaged -- sometimes deeply so -- with the texts and the subjects, but I don't know who they are, and they haven't contacted me. Here are a couple of ideas that might help:
  1. Add an introductory HTML block to the collection homepage. This would allow collection editors to explain their project, solicit help, and whatever contact information.
  2. Add a 'contact us' footer to be displayed on every page of the collection, whether the user is viewing a subject article, reading a work, or viewing a manuscript page. Since people are finding the site via search engines, they're navigating directly to pages deep within a collection. We need to display 'about this project', 'contact us', or 'please help' messages on those pages.
One idea I think would not work is to build comment boxes or a 'contact us' form. I'm trying to establish a personal connection to these researchers, since in addition to asking "who is Alice Wooding", I'd like to locate other diaries or hunt down other information about local history. This is really best handled through email, where the barriers to participation are low.


Jeanne said...

Since you already break out the People 'tags', could you customize pages like this one to include a link that says "Are you researching John Smith too? Please contact us." or "Submit additional bio information about John Smith"?

Ben W. Brumfield said...

That's a really neat idea, and has got me thinking about more possibilities:

In addition to making the 'contact us' wording more compelling, there's also the possibility of linking John Smith researchers with each other.

One form this might take would be a directory, in which you indicate the subjects you're interested in, and can view the contact info for other people who have indicated interest in the same subjects.

Another form this could take is a sort of wiki watchlist, in which you receive updates via RSS or email whenever the subject article is updated, or whenever the subject is identified within a newly transcribed page.