MUniversity of Minnesota

April 12, 2005

Happy birthday to UThink!

Today is UThink's first birthday! A year ago today I unleashed the beast that is UThink upon an unsuspecting public. With no advertising and only word of mouth to help it grow, UThink is now one of the largest, if not the largest, academic blogging site in America. I'd like to say thanks to everyone that has given UThink a try, especially those bloggers that have consistently fed their UThink blogs with content. It is because of you that UThink is as successful as it is today. I'd love to mention all of you by name, but (fortunately!) there are just too many good blogs and bloggers out in UThink land to list! Anyway, thanks from the bottom of my heart for helping to make UThink a success. You all know who you are.

As of today UThink has 1,231 individual blogs, 2,200 registered blog authors, 17,654 individual entries, and 12,486 comments to those entries. However, you might be wondering what all of these statistics actually mean. How many blogs are still active? Who is using UThink and why? How many blogs are created per day? How many posts are entered into the system per day? As you might imagine, there is a lot of fascinating data coming out of this project.

First of all, it would be silly to think that just because UThink has 1,231 blogs that they are all currently active. An active blog is defined as a blog that has been updated at least once in a two month period. Using this measure as a guideline, UThink has about 400 active blogs and a blog abadonment rate of about 65%. Some of you may be stunned by this data, but it shouldn't be that surprising given that about 66% of blogs are abandoned in the "blogosphere" at large. UThink, it seems, is no exception.

There are many reasons why people blog on UThink, but for the most part the blogs on UThink can all be categorized into one of four blog types. My own analysis suggests that 57% of the blogs on UThink are personal in nature meaning they discuss a blogger's life in general or opinions on various topics. 5% are research based meaning the blogs track a research topic or they are used to keep track of research citations. 23% of the blogs are class based meaning they are created for a particular course by an instructor or the students themselves as part of a class assignment. The blog abandonment rate can partially be explained by these class blogs, many of which are no longer updated after the course ends. And finally, 13% of the blogs are work related meaning they are created for a specific department or by a blogger to keep track of work related matters.

In terms of who is using UThink, the statistics are somewhat surprising. Although undergraduates make up the bulk of the 2,200 users (about 60% by my estimation) blogging on UThink by undergraduates is done mainly in a classroom setting. Most of the undergraduates on UThink are attached to class-based blogs, and many of them (maybe most of them!) have never created an entry on the UThink system. There are undergraduates who have personal-type blogs on UThink, but the majority of personal blogs on the system are authored by graduate students and University staff. Graduate students make up 22% of the users, and faculty and staff make up 16% of the users.

Blog creation has been fun to watch. Again, I unveiled the UThink system a year ago today, and on that first day about 30 blogs were created. By the end of April 2004, there were 100 blogs on the system. By June we had 280 blogs, and by August we had 450 blogs. During the fall semester we saw a big jump in the number of blogs with the number climbing to 725 by November, and by January 2005 we had over 900 blogs. And of course today there are about 1,231 blogs. This factors out to about 3 blogs created per day.

Analysis of blog entries on the system demonstrates that the content mirrors somewhat the types of blogs being created. In looking at 10 days worth of posts last November (about 600 entries) I found that 50% of the posts were personal in nature, 34% were class related, 5% were research related, and 11% were work related. Over the course of the entire project, UThink has received about 48 posts per day. However, as the project gets older this number is increasing. During the month of March 2005 UThink saw about 68 posts per day.

Overall I am thrilled with the success of the project so far, especially considering that we really haven't advertised its existence. It has been fun just watching UThink become what it is supposed to become. I must admit that I am surprised that graduate students are the dominant bloggers on the system given the sheer number of undergraduates at the University. It seems that undergraduates are sticking with tools like Xanga or Livejournal for their personal blogging needs probably because of issues like the lack of anonymity on UThink, or because they simply don't know about UThink. A side effect of graduate student dominance on the system though is that UThink is much more "academic" than I would have expected. Blogs on the system have more of an academic tone than I thought they would have. This, of course, is wonderful and it provides UThink a solid niche in the ever expanding blogging market.

Most of all, though, I have been the happiest just with the great content that undergrads, grad students, faculty and staff at the University have fed into UThink. It is already a great resource for what people at the University think about the issues in the world at large and closer to home. I encourage everyone to continue to share your opinion through UThink about community issues, and take part in the intellectual and academic freedom promised to University faculty, staff, and students by the Board of Regents. The more people that participate in UThink, the better this tool will become as a resource for intellectual freedom on campus.

Finally, as UThink continues to grow there will be some changes in the next year as we work to improve the system. For one thing, we'd like to either upgrade or change the software running UThink to give bloggers on the system the most up to date blogging software available. We will also be looking closer at issues like community building (organizing blogs by major, department, etc.), private posts and/or blogs, guest blogging from people outside the University, better integration between UThink and services like MyU or other library services, and expansion of UThink to all the coordinate campuses of the University of Minnesota.

Having said that, please take a moment to think about what kinds of things you'd like to see changed in UThink. Is there anything you wish UThink could do? Is there anything you are hoping the next version of UThink will be able to do in terms of class blogging or blogging for research? If you have any ideas or issues you'd like us to tackle in terms of the future of UThink please feel free to share them in the comments below. I'd love to hear from the users of UThink about what you think would make UThink a better blogging tool.

In closing, I'd just like to say, again, Happy Birthday to UThink! It has been a really fun first year of blogging, meeting new people, and watching the system grow. Stay tuned as we continue to work on UThink and make it better for everyone at the University. Thank you to everyone that has helped make UThink a success!

Posted by snackeru at April 12, 2005 09:26 AM

Happy Birthday to yoU-Think! And I know I speak for all UThink bloggers by saying thanks to you, Shane, for your untiring enthusiasm, support, and emergency aid.

I think further tweaks to categorizing bog topics would be wonderful. I have no idea how that would be done--maybe through tagging, but that so far seems to be a kind of quirky system. ALong with categorizing, ways to track "hot topics" of conversation on UThink over time would be cool.

Posted by: Yvette at April 12, 2005 03:05 PM

Thanks indeed, Shane. All of the improvements you mention in your third-to-last paragraph would be welcome, especially the possibility of private blogs (for some administrative uses) and guest bloggers from outside the U (as a kind of Outreach). Of course, I know that limited time and money are issues. Thanks again.

Posted by: Tim G. at April 13, 2005 08:32 AM

Thanks Shane! You've done a sterling job with UThink, and it's helped create a good blogging community here.


Posted by: Evan at April 13, 2005 10:57 AM

UThink is definitely one of the things that stands out in my graduate education here at the University of Minnesota! Thanks, Shane!

And, as a graduate student blogger, I just want to add that although I certainly contribute to your stats on "abandoned blogs," my blogs that haven't been recently updated are certainly not abandoned! In fact, I use them to "store" my creative thinking, to return to in the future--I'll be getting back to a couple of them really soon.

Posted by: Laurene at April 13, 2005 02:47 PM

Thanks, Shane, for starting UThink and keeping it going! Happy Birthday, UThink!

Posted by: Sno Cones at April 13, 2005 06:22 PM

Thanks Shane! Although I have barely been blogging for a month now, it is a great resource for University Students, Staff, and Faculty!

Some things I would like to see is the ability to track readership. Stats like number of visits, searches, etc. This would be nice information for bloggers to have.

If the number of blogs grows, it might be useful to be able to seperate "active" blogs from non-active blogs. Thus, if someone wants to know what is happening in the University Blogosphere, they can find active blogs and avoid those that haven't been updated in months. It is nice to have the "Most Posts" and the "Most Comments" but neither of these ensure that the blogs are currently active.

I enjoy the site and thanks for the service!!!

Posted by: DEG at April 15, 2005 09:50 AM

I'd like to say "thanks" as well, Shane, for all of your hard work on UThink and help you've given to us bloggers. It's fun to see it grow and I know I've learned a lot in the process.

I like your ideas for improvement, as well as those mentioned in the other comments. My personal wish list would be more advanced categorization and browsing or searching capabilites; the ability to view, move, and delete uploaded files (like pictures); and visit stats like DEG mentions above.

Kudos to you and happy anniversary to UThink!

Posted by: Carrie at April 15, 2005 03:46 PM

Yes, thanks a lot, Shane, for all your hard work.

I agree with DEG from above. Perhaps a "most posts/comments in the past month" could be added.

I like how the network has developed into an actual community. There are several UThink blogs that I always read, even though I have never met their authors. Now if we could only convince those "U" students (and I know a lot of people who blog) to switch from Blogger/Xanga/LiveJournal to UThink (a superior and much more interesting service in my opinion-- and one they are paying for in their tuition anyway.) I think people just don't know about it. Perhaps more advertising is in order-- not necessarily paid advertising, but word-of-mouth, social network based advertising. Maybe we should get another article in the Daily, which is how I originally found out about it.

Besides the lack of knowledge, there may be the ease-of-use factor... from what I've seen, Xanga and LiveJournal are a little simpler to use than MovableType, but anyone can definitely learn to use MT if they invest a little time in it-- and it allows for much more customization. Unfortunately, time is one thing a lot of college students don't have!

Posted by: Pat at April 17, 2005 03:26 PM

Thanks, Shane, for making this a reality. I probably would still not have a blog if not for UThink--I love it.

Posted by: Danielle at April 18, 2005 07:53 PM

Yes, congratulations, happy blogiversary, and THANK YOU Shane for all your dedication!

Posted by: Clancy at April 24, 2005 11:23 PM

I'd be lost without blogging! Thanks, Shane. This is definitely a way to find your voice while pursuing graduate work. I don't get near the interaction with fellow students as I expected in person, so the virtual community has become a new helpful facet to the dialogical process.


Posted by: Gregg at May 26, 2005 10:22 AM
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