Monday, February 28, 2011

The results are in!

Actually they've been in for a few days, but I didn't have the chance to address it yet. Last week I created a poll and asked readers if they felt I explained things properly in my posts. Realizing that some of my readers possess a great deal of technical knowledge, and others less, I want to strike the proper balance and make the blog enjoyable for all kinds of readers. At the same, I also don't want to wholly change the character of the blog.

After one week of polling, 74 people responded. Since stats are boring, I won't break them down specifically (although for a few days you can see the stats on the sidebar), but a little over 50% felt that things are fine as they are, about 20% feel that I should explain things more fully, and 30% feel that something in between would be fine.

These results made me happy. It isn't as if 95% said they have no idea what I'm talking about. If 50% already get it, and 30% would get it a little more if I made the effort, and 20% really could use much more explanation, but took the time to even respond, then I feel this is something I can do - maintain the present character, yet at the same time try to make a few changes which will hopefully inform readers better.

Before I disscuss that, I want to respond to a few specific comments:

Binyamin writes that he voted "yes," and as it stands my posts are too difficult. He gets maybe 25% of it. He believes that I can attract a broader audience and even help educate people if I did a better job. He also feels that most of my post would not be understood properly by 95% of the people who would be inclined to forward them to, so he doesn't.

He is exactly the kind of reader for whom it is worth doing better, and I will try my best. I think it might be a good idea to occasionally do some remedial Jewish history type posts, where I get into the background behind some persons, events or movements, and then I can link to the posts I've already done about these subjects. For example, instead of simply assuming knowledge about Christian Hebraism, I could do a general post about it. Then, a reader can reread the earlier posts, and hopefully get into it more, with newly acquired background.

Jordan suggests that I put in more links to Wikipedia and also translate key Hebrew passages more. Both of these are things I can do. The reason I often don't link to outside sources like Wikipedia - although sometimes I do - is sheer laziness - for me, links involved typing out the HTML. Today I posted about Johann Reuchlin. I don't think I linked to Wikipedia. I think my assumption is that people can just google the name if they want to know more. Yet Jordan is right, because knowing my own browsing habits I can confirm that I might might click a link, but if none is there I won't necessarily search myself. Probably most people are similar, so I will use more hot linking. As for Hebrew translation, that's a good idea as well. I don't like doing translations so much because of pride. The more I translate, the more likely I am to make a mistake and be called on it. Yet it's probably a good idea, good for me, and good for the readers.

Ezzie made a similar suggestion re links.

Aiwac made two suggestions that I am probably not going to adopt, but I would like to at least address them. The first is to reduce the size of pictures. I wonder what browsing platform he is using? To me things look okay, butI would like to hear if readers have problems. I guess I can see how some posts which might have like 10 images, 590 pixels by 1000 all in vertical order can be hard to browse. What do people think about Scribd, which enables embedding an entire document? I've used it from time to time. Do people like it or hate it? This might solve some of Aiwac's problem with regard to discontinuity in a post.

Incidentally, here's a good place to discuss why I love to show pictures of books (not to mention people and things) so much. It's a little quirk of mine. I love typography, I love the look of old books, archaic spellings, etc. I feel like something is added by seeing, even seeing text. I could quote such texts - many sources are easily available in plain text, and I wouldn't even have to type them. I just feel that seeing something as it looked in the original is a lot more charming than text, even though in terms of content it could be identical. Example: in this post I showed a text in English, from 1665, in which the Talmud was spoken of as the eternal law of the Jewish nation all over earth. I could have just typed this author, Clement Barksdale's, words. But as interesting as they are, seeing it as it looks in the book is that much more interesting (to me, maybe). So I'm probably going to take a pass on it. True, I could make thumbnails, but my worry is that many people won't click them.

Secondly, he correctly indicts me for being too wordy. Alas, but I don't know any other way. A few years ago I found some book reports from elementary school, and I had to laugh at my tendency to basically repeat the book. I have always struggled with the ability to summarize properly, and I envy those with this skill. At the same time, I also enjoy being thorough, and sometimes I like to just go all out and try to uncover as much as I can. I also have pride, and sometimes I sort of want to demonstrate that I already knew all the sources, so if I include very much information then it's less likely for someone to point out something I missed. Not a very admirable trait, but the truth is the truth. Secondly, many people have asked me why I don't publish. The reason is because I have this idea that if or when I publish anything it will have to be perfect. No source overlooked, no mistakes, no reference left out. Although I take my blog very seriously, I feel to some degree that it's only a blog. If I make a mistake, so what? If I wasn't comprehensive, so what?

DF says that the blog is a Beis Vaad Lachachamim (a scholar's circle) and that it ought to be too bad if it goes over people's head, including his own. I say that the problem for me is that not enough people comment. I really love comments, even if it's very basic stuff. But all too often I can see that x amount of people read a post, and only one or two, or even no one at all, comments. So I feel that in reality it could be a scholar's circle, but I need people to comment.

Dan Klein says he likes the digressions, and I say that I am not, in fact, as scatterbrained as my tangents and digressions suggest. I simply enjoy the way one thing can lead to another, and I enjoy the fact that sometimes a pearl can turn up in the 12th paragraph of my post on an entirely unrelated topic. So it's like a reward for sticking it out and reading to the end!

Another anon reader says that Wikipedia is not that great. I say that it is a mixed bag, but sometimes can be very good. He also suggest some occasional general topics, like on Italian Jewry, and I say that's a great idea. He also says that he found certain recent remarks of mine on searching beyond Google to be interesting, and I'm glad that he or she noticed. I intend to post more about how to do online research. Yitzy made a similar remark, and I suggest that he email me, as I forgot his email address!

LkwdGuy points out that I have an entire blog dedicated to Artscroll, to which I reply, that I haven't updated in years.

Thanks for participating.


  1. I've noticed that I'm less likely to read a picture/document if it's in Scribd, though on the flip side too many large pictures/docs makes me sometimes skip a post. And Scribd does compress it down nicely, so there's that aspect, but even on my larger screen because it's embedded it requires scrolling within the space Blogger allots, which is annoying/difficult - I couldn't read past 4 pages from today's post in the Scribd link because it was simply too hard and annoying to do so (this is one of the few real annoyances I have with Blogger in general - I have the same issues when posting large images or embedding something which scrolls).

    I don't know if there's a way to turn these images/docs into thumbnails that expand when clicked on, certainly to do so easily, but that would seem to be the best way if it's easy: It lets those who wish to see a document see it easily, while those for whom it slows down the page too much or who just want to read the post and not the source material as much it lets them scroll past it easily.

    All this is of course if it's no more work for you - as it is, I don't and I'm sure others don't expect a blog to cater to their stylistic desires; but since you asked, I figured why not.

    Thanks for working on more hot links!

  2. You can download from Scribd though. Is that too much of a hassle?

  3. I don't often read the scribd stuff straight in the webpage (not sure why), but I do download the ones that look interesting, so no complaints about it.
    "But all too often I can see that x amount of people read a post, and only one or two, or even no one at all, comments. So I feel that in reality it could be a scholar's circle, but I need people to comment."
    I totally love this blog and I suspect most of those other non-commenting readers do as well. The reason I don't comment - I find that whenever I read a post I've always learned quite a bit, but I rarely have anything useful to add to the discussion. I expect that most of us who are not professional scholars are probably in the same boat. I think you can take that as a compliment - even most of the 50% who do understand the posts don't have much to add once you're through with a topic.
    Thanks for the fantastic blog!

  4. I don't know how many readers I speak for, but I, for one, have difficulty commenting, being that I read your blog on a smartphone.
    I wouldn't like to see any of the above changes implemented necessarily, except for extra links.

  5. I hate scribd! Keep up the great work.

  6. S., I understand your decision not to accept my suggestions, but phrasing the rejection thus:

    "Aiwac made two suggestions that I am probably going to mostly ignore, but I would like to at least give it the time of day."

    is more than a little hurtful. I would appreciate it if you reworded it to be less dismissive.

    Thank you,


  7. Seriously? I certainly did not mean that. I was just being idiomatic, especially since I discussed your suggestions in three paragraphs. Clearly (to me) I didn't mean anything hurtful.

    However, I will certainly change it.

    (If you don't mind, could you tell me how you look at the blog? Do you use a hand held device or a desktop?)

  8. I use a laptop. My problem is that the pictures break the flow of the reading. It's taxing to constantly scroll down to get to the next part of the post.

  9. I hear that. I'm not a fan of mouseless browsing myself.

  10. I use a laptop and I think that even though it's annoying to browse without a mouse, it's still well worth it, and I totally disagree with Aiwac.
    Keep the pictures coming!

  11. I'd rather not download, though I hadn't actually thought about that; if I'm reading on my phone, though, I wouldn't download. (I usually read via computer.)

  12. Fotheringay-Phipps5:09 PM, March 01, 2011

    I did not get around to participating in the poll.

    My only real suggestion is that you find some other way to show Hebrew characters, because the way you have it, they all show up as question marks on my screen. But possibly I'm the only one who has this issue, if no one else commented on it.

    It's very difficult to be all things to all people. Myself, I'm very interested in little known (or suppressed) facts or new perspectives about famous and/or important people or events. I'm not all that interested - generally not interested at all, in fact - in stuff about completely obscure or irrelevant historical footnotes. But again, that might be just me.

  13. i dont like the scribd thing either. [And the baby kangaroo said - ME NEITHER!]

    Fred, I too, like Aiwac, think you were too dismissive of my brilliant comments. And I am hurt by it. to make up for it, you should make a study of all my other brilliant comments, and dedicate a post to them to be called "profiles in courage". Alternatively, I will settle for an depth post on the glory of Hungarians.

    I also like typography, especially of the hebrew -I am a sucker for a nicely shaped lamed. anything on that subject is OK with me. Also on philology. But would like to see more posts relating to the Bible or rabbinic literature, esp. the talmudim.


  14. To tell you the truth, I love your post even though they are over my head, sometimes. If not fo my close friendship ith Dan Klein, I wouldn't even know who Shadal was. I wish sincerely you would design a Jewish history book for high school students so our past wouldn't stop after the Achronim.



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