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Your Thoughts on the Blog?

It is difficult for me to know what really “works” on the blog.   On the whole, most things seem to work well: as I’ve reported recently, the blog continues to grow.   We are working toward 7000 members (but I very much want that in six figures!) and this past year we raised on average over $420 a day for charity.  That’s a lot of dosh.  All to the good.

But I’m concerned about the quality of the blog and whether it is doing what you yourself want it to.   I have only two ways of knowing: the rather crude rating system we use for blog posts and the feedback I get.

The rating system could probably be improved, but I’m not completely sure how.   Of course each post isn’t read by 6700+ members every day, but even so, I typically will get somewhere between 5 and 10 people rating a post.  That much is helpful (especially if there is a consistent trend), but it’s not a lot to go by, nothing anywhere statistically significant.

The feedback comes in two ways: the comments I receive either in the comment section or in personal emails.   Most of the comments are focused on the substance of the post or related – or even unrelated – issues, and that’s what we want: it’s the point of the comment system.  It does seem to be working well.  When I do receive evaluative feedback, it is almost always positive, for which I’m deeply grateful indeed – every time I get an uplifting comment!   But if there are things that can be improved, I would like to know.  Tell me, either in a comment or a private email.

What has raised the issue for me is a particular issue.  I was thinking last week, while doing a post, that some are a bit longer than others.  I always shoot for 1000 words a day, but the reality is that they are almost always a bit longer, more like 1200 words.  And sometimes they shoot up over 1400 words.  And I wondered: does this make any bit of difference at all to people reading?

Would people prefer *shorter* posts, so as not to take so much of their time, making them more likely to read and use the blog with greater regularity, say 500-800 words?   Or would people think that isn’t enough bang for their buck – they want more.   On the other hand, do longer posts turn people off, so they are unlikely to read them, because it’s too much time and effort?  Is 1000 words about right?  There’s no particular logic to that number: I just arbitrarily hit on it, mainly because I thought it seemed like a decent length to say something reasonably substantive without getting crazy.

I have no way of knowing!  No one has ever said.   So feel free to tell me.  Even if responses are not statistically significant, it will be of some use.  (I’m not about to create a detail questionnaire for people to fill out!)

Feel free to give me other feedback as well.  Do you like the topics I cover?  The depth at which I cover them (too technical sometimes? Not enough depth?  Too much depth?  More than you really wanted to know?)?  The style and attitude of the posts?

One of the things I really appreciate about the blog myself is that in the comments – even in responses to others — we don’t have any serious snarkiness here.  How often does that happen on the Internet???  Other comment forums I occasionally tune into are just awful.  (I try to delete snarky comments, and that seems to have created a nice ethos on the blog; if some fall through the cracks, mea culpa!)

In terms of the substance of the comments, some come from people who don’t know the field at all and are just curious.  I’d like to encourage those, and you who make them.  Please DON”T feel that you have to have to have an intelligent view of something or a reasoned judgment of it or even any knowledge at all about it before asking a question.  Everyone on the blog is respectful of our levels of knowledge.

Other comments come from people who know a heckuva lot.   Most come from the lots of folk who are between the two extremes.  All comments are welcome.  I’m happy to engage both the basic and the highly technical ones, at the level that the commenter seems to want/need.

If you have any responses, in general, to the level of my own responses, let me know that too.  I know some people wish I could engage them more and have more sustained and lengthy responses and backs-and-forths.  I wish so too.

In any event, and in sum:  if you feel like giving me some feedback to make the blog better, let me know.  If not, keep reading!  I’ll take it as a good sign.


Don’t Trust What You Read!
My Pod Cast Interview with Sam Harris

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Comments

  1. Avatar
    TimKendrick  January 17, 2019

    Does this (post length) make any bit of difference at all to people reading?
    NO, MAKES NO DIFFERENCE FOR ME.
    Would people prefer *shorter* posts?
    A MIXTURE OF SHORT, MEDIUM AND LONG POSTS WOULD BE FINE. DOESN’T HAVE TO BE THE SAME SIZE EVERY DAY.
    Do you like the topics I cover?
    YES.
    The depth I cover them (too technical sometimes? Not enough depth? Too much? More than wanted to know?)? JUST ABOUT RIGHT MOST TIMES.
    The style and attitude of the posts?
    JUST FINE. IF ANYTHING YOU SHOULD FEEL FREE TO ADD EVEN MORE HUMOR. 🙂

    IT’S A GREAT BLOG!
    SOME TOPICS I FIND MORE INTERESTING THAN OTHERS, BUT I’M SURE THAT’S TRUE FOR EVERYONE.
    OVERALL I THINK THE BLOG IS GREAT JUST AS IT IS.

    5
    • Avatar
      eminentlaw  January 18, 2019

      I’ve never commented before, so I’m not sure if I’m doing this correctly. My intent is not to comment another blog reader’s comment, but to give Bart a little feedback in response to the post above.

      First, don’t be concerned about length. We did not join to get “bang for our buck.” We joined to contribute to the charities and to have a chance to learn more from you. Just include the material you deem most responsive to the question or subject you are addressing that day. If that can be done in 500 words, that’s fine. If it takes 1,500 words, that’s OK too. We trust your judgment to determine what is necessary to fully explain your thoughts on a subject.

      The subjects you are addressing are the types of issues I expected when I joined. You’re doing great in that regard.

      Format is also fine. We’re readers (I’m a lawyer, so I read all day long), so we don’t need a fancy outline or other eye-catching video displays.

      When possible without requiring that you spend undue amounts of research time, please include references to other sources you recommend if we want to delve deeper into a particular issue. That is helpful.

      In sum, this concept is terrific. Raise money for charity, while allowing the members to learn from one of the preeminent scholars in the field. Thank you for implementing and remaining committed to it.

      4
    • Avatar
      tcasto  January 20, 2019

      This is the first comment that popped up and it says pretty much what I would say. I think the length should be determined by the content; take as much time as you need to make your point.

      I don’t read the blog every day but when I get behind I binge to catch up. I rarely post a comment/question and I don’t often read the comments. I think the comments section is good and you should keep it. I have no problem if you use volunteer help to manage it.

      Does your website give you statistics on readership? That would be a good measure of how well you’ve met your readers goals. You’ve certainly met mine.

      Cheers.

      1
  2. Avatar
    luigi  January 17, 2019

    I’d like to have a way of following threads a bit more easily.

    3
  3. Avatar
    gwayersdds  January 17, 2019

    The longer the blogs, the more I tend to skim the material. I’m not sure that 500-800 words would adequately cover the subject. I recommend that you keep it as it is even though my opinion is probably statistically insignificant (just ask my wife!)

    1
  4. Avatar
    AstaKask  January 17, 2019

    I joined the blog recently, and I’m very pleased. I feel I get my money’s worth, not only in the posts but also by gaining short answers to my various questions in the comments. The length is fine for me, but I have all the time in the world so I may be an outlier there.

    1
  5. Avatar
    JohnKesler  January 17, 2019

    1) I think that the 1000-word length of blog entries is just right.

    2) Perhaps an FAQ section could be added. Questions might include things like the following, some of which I know the answers to:
    a) What do you consider yourself–believer, agnostic, atheist?
    b) If you’re a nonbeliever, why do you teach and blog about the NT?
    c) Are you trying to convert/”deconvert” people to your way of thinking?
    d) There are errors in the Bible? Care to show me some?
    e) Do you do debates? How much do you charge to debate? Does the opponent have to have a doctoral degree? You could also link to this page about upcoming speaking engagements: https://www.bartdehrman.com/speaking-engagements/

    3) Would a colleague who is an expert on the Hebrew Bible be willing to offer an occasional guest post and answer questions the way that you do?

    1
    • Avatar
      JohnKesler  January 17, 2019

      One thing I forgot to add: Would you consider enabling HTML on this blog? Quotation marks and asterisks are okay, but being able to set off comments that we are responding to with the block-quote function and using italics bold print might be helpful.

      1
      • Bart
        Bart  January 18, 2019

        It is enabled. I just choose not to use it sometimes. (But you’ll see other times I do, especially block indentations and underscoring)

        • Avatar
          JohnKesler  January 18, 2019

          I was able to put a word in bold, but I could not use the block-quote function or italicize. What I have in mind is the full range of options available in your forum.

        • Avatar
          hankgillette  January 19, 2019

          It is enabled.

          I think he meant in the comments.

          Hey! It is enabled. Who knew?

    • Bart
      Bart  January 18, 2019

      2. Interesting idea! 3. I’ve tried to get colleagues to do it, but they think it would involve too much time and effort! Although you’ve given me an idea. Maybe I could contact scholars who have just published a book to see if they’d like to describe/promote it in a 1000 word post. That might be interesting!

      21
      • Pattycake1974
        Pattycake1974  January 18, 2019

        I mentioned this when your friend Dale Martin released his book, but he wasn’t interested in posting. I’ve never understood why a scholar wouldn’t take the opportunity to promote themselves. All they have to do is copy and paste an excerpt from their book and talk a little bit about it. Maybe tell them they don’t have to write 1,000 words. Hurtado’s can be short sometimes. Just so long as they get their point across. 750-1,000? Or leave it to their judgment.

        • Bart
          Bart  January 20, 2019

          I’ll be trying a new approach now, but in the past, friends/colleagues have told me they simply don’t have the time. It’s hard to write 750 words, and takes some effort to write them well….

          1
        • Avatar
          Petter Häggholm  January 30, 2019

          Short, meaningful, and comprehensible is hard! Remember the Pascal paraphrase: “I’m sorry I wrote you such a long letter; I didn’t have time to write a short one”.

      • Lev
        Lev  January 18, 2019

        Great idea. May I recommend Joel Marcus? His recent book on John the Baptist is awesome and I’d love to ask him some questions if he’s willing to engage in the comments.

      • Avatar
        hankgillette  January 19, 2019

        If you do that, you should make it contingent on them doing another post where they answer questions about their book or field.

  6. Avatar
    nichael  January 17, 2019

    To be brief, my vote is “Practically Perfect in every way”.

    In a bit more detail: As far as content and topics: When a topic I might have already been aware and/or am already interested in, it’s great and I always learn something new. When the topic is about something that I wasn’t aware of or hadn’t thought about before, I always find a new topic that I wish I *had* known about.

    As far as “quantity”: Speaking for myself I read each new posting and the associated comments. (My personal ideal would be a new chapter-length posting each time I open my browser. But I think we both understand that that’s not going to happen…)

    My vote would be against shorter postings. But that said, I have no idea how you maintain this level of productivity (especially given all your other obligations and responsibilities.)

    In sum, I (and I’m sure I speak for many others) am grateful for this blog and for your generosity in sharing your knowledge and expertise.

    Thank you.

    12
  7. Avatar
    Pat  January 17, 2019

    I like 1000 words or more. You can develop the subject a little more in depth than you can with fewer words. Those who don’t care to read more words can simply stop reading at any time.

    3
  8. Avatar
    crucker  January 17, 2019

    I think the length of the posts have been reasonable, and I don’t have too much of an issue with some daily variability in length. I have used the star rating system a few times, but I often forget about it being there.

    Other suggestions:

    1.) One thing I would like to change would be the date of the post to display when viewing from a mobile device. I’m using Chrome on a PC now and I can see the box with the date at the top right, but when I view on an iPhone using Safari, I can’t see this. The reason this would be nice is that I use Facebook to get notifications when you post something new, and for some reason I’ve had issues with the Facebook notification/links directing me to an older post (e.g. maybe a day or two before, rather than the most current). While I typically realize what has happened very quickly once I begin reading, the date would make it very clear up front.

    2.) This may be too difficult and require too much work to get going, but do you think there would be any way you could have a mobile app for your blog? That way we could get notifications directly for that app, and I wouldn’t have to use Facebook as a middleman. It may also make it easier for us to navigate to older posts/topics if we wanted as well. Unfortunately I have no experience in making or maintaining apps, so I’m of no use in helping.

    2
    • Bart
      Bart  January 18, 2019

      1) We’re working on that one! 2) Interesting idea. I think I’ll look into it. …

      3
      • Avatar
        Charles  February 5, 2019

        Bart, a mobile app would be great. For security reasons, my family does not use Facebook so I loose that connection with you and I have to be on a computer to really read the blog. That doesn’t happen as often as I’d like.

  9. Avatar
    gbsinkers  January 17, 2019

    Bart,
    I just checked my download folder and there are currently 10 documents that I downloaded from your blog to share with others because I found them so fascinating. Most of the time it was because there was some new information in the blog post that I had never heard before that I wanted to share with others. Those 10 downloads go back to Nov. 21st, less than two months, when I last cleaned out that folder. There were many other times I nearly downloaded a blog post but decided I had already pushed too much to my friends and held off. I’ve been a subscriber to our blog for over two years and have read most of your trade books as well as books by many other scholars in the same general area. So for me to have downloaded 10 posts in less than 2 months because of some new information I thought worthy of passing on I would say you are doing a FANTASTIC job! I keep an open tab on my browser set to your blog and look forward to each new post. Somehow I missed the fact that I could rate the posts. I will try to use that rating mechanism going forward. Thanks for all you do, keep up the good work!
    -Scott

    3
  10. NulliusInVerba
    NulliusInVerba  January 17, 2019

    In all honesty, I am fully satisfied with the blog as it is. And, no, that is not a cop-out to avoid specifics nor am I applying the halo effect. The blog fulfills a need I have to keep up with not only your writing but also your thinking. And further, I want to understand the NT for what it really is, absent the myth, magic and legend. Nonetheless, you explain why the myth, etc. might have been injected and what the agenda/bias of a particular author might have been. That is also important to know.

    As far as the length of the posts, I think the range that you are currently using is fine. I would be disappointed with less. But ultimately, the length of the posts should be dictated by the substance of your message rather than an artificial framework. When necessary, you break a topic up into a thread. That is both understandable and desirable. Further, I think the number and nature of the comments you receive indicate that your posts are meaty enough to generate intelligent interaction with many of your readers. It is that interaction plus the growth of the blog (and its charitable benefits) that are the true marks of success.

    I find myself looking forward to each day’s discoveries and, once again, would find briefer posts less satisfying.

    5
  11. Avatar
    ayunas  January 17, 2019

    Hey Dr. Ehrman. I really appreciate your work and consistency with the blog. It’s a blessing to have access to such a wealth of info from a reliable source such as yourself. Keep up the good work.

    In think you should keep post lengths at 1000 words, and if they end up going to 12 or 1400 , if that’s what is needed to get the point across then that’s completely fine. I look forward to reading lengthier posts as long as the content is good and to the point.

    Also with the layout of the blog, I think you should place the latest posts in an area easier to find. It took me a while to figure out where they are by scrolling all the way down.

  12. Avatar
    meltuck  January 17, 2019

    Don’t worry about the length of the post. Use as few or as many words as necessary to deliver your message about the topic.

    2
  13. Avatar
    ksgm34  January 17, 2019

    My thoughts:

    – Now I know the star feedback system is helpful to you, I’ll try to remember to regularly rate your posts.

    – You MORE than provide value for money – I’d be happy with the posts being shorter (but the length does not put me off) or even half as frequent considering the low cost of an annual membership.

    – Inevitably some topics I find more interesting than others and some posts more detailed than I “need”; others I would love for you to have kept on writing. I suppose that will be many people’s experience and is to be expected when catering for an audience of thousands.

    – I really like the tone and style of the posts.

    – It’s reassuring to know any level of question is welcome! The comment feature is brilliant… but I wonder whether the word limit is a bit too generous!

    – I’d be interested in more guest posts too.

    3
  14. Avatar
    John  January 17, 2019

    No complaints from me at all. Blog is just about perfect. Also 1000-1500 is fine for length and you go over posts if your need to. Keep it up.

    You may want to think about an increase. $30 would still be excellent value for money especially given where it ends up.

  15. Avatar
    coopenn  January 17, 2019

    I suspect that many users are like me: we generally read daily but occasionally fall behind and catch up by reading several posts at a time. I think the setup now is fantastic – your demeanor, the length of posts, the digressions into side topics. As it is now, the site feels very personal. Not to mention the fact that by providing this service you are very much filling the much needed (and laudable) role of public intellectual. I greatly appreciate the efforts you make to compress years of labor into digestible and interesting daily posts.

    With respect to daily posts, I am happy with 1000 words, but if that were to change I would hope it would be to the longer side.

    A more critical suggestion concerns the layout of historic posts. I know they are searchable and I know they are already grouped by broad topic, but even still I have spent a great deal of time trying to locate / gather together posts that address a specific topic. It *might* be useful to other readers if you were to have someone create an index with major topics and sub topics that links to all relevant posts addressing that specific issue. Again, this is doable today, but you have to know beforehand what you are searching for, whereas a detailed index would help readers answer questions they didn’t even know they had!

    Thank you so much for providing this wonderful blog.

    3
    • Bart
      Bart  January 18, 2019

      Do you mean an index that is even more specific than the one we currently have, where (this is just the beginning of the list) you can look up all the posts by topic:

      Acts, Catholic Epistles, Revelation
      Afterlife
      Bart Answers Readers
      Bart Responds To Critics
      Bart Revisits Debates
      Bart’s Book Discussions
      Bart’s Reflections
      Bart’s Video Media
      Bart’s Biography
      Canonical Gospels
      Christian Apocrypha
      Constantine and Nicaea
      Development of Christian Doctrine
      Early Judaism
      Films About Jesus
      Greco-Roman Religions
      Hebrew Bible/OT
      Heresy and Orthodoxy
      History of Biblical Scholarship
      History of Christianity (100-300CE)
      Home Slider
      Memory Studies
      Mythicism
      NT Text and Manuscripts
      Other Early Christian Writings
      Paul and His Churches
      Etc Etc.

      • Avatar
        coopenn  January 18, 2019

        Recognizing that you do already offer an extensive list, I am suggesting that it *might* be useful, especially to new readers, to have something that is perhaps presented as an outline (with links) and, yes, more sub categories. Noting that many of those index headings have over 10 pages of posts (100+), it can take quite a while to search through those for the topic of interest.

        This may or may not be a great example but suppose a new user was interested in learning more about inconsistencies in the gospels or the divinity of Jesus, those 2 respective topic headings (Canonical Gospels, Historical Jesus) currently have nearly 400 posts each and sorting through all of that can take some time. On the other hand, speaking from experience, this gives the reader an opportunity to come across all sorts of things that she wasn’t even looking for in the first place – not a bad thing!

        Although this indexing is admittedly of secondary importance, I think it would help make the blog more of a “research” resource whereas now it functions mostly as a traditional blog built around the chronology of daily posts.

        • Bart
          Bart  January 20, 2019

          I’d suggest trying the search function. Just search for “inconsistencies” or “divinity of Jesus” and see what you come up with. (The difficulty of creating a signfiicantly more detailed index is that I’d have to go through all nearly 2000 posts and categorize them into sub-sub-categories, one at a time. It would take dozens of hours. It probalby *would* be good, but I’m not sure if it’s cost effective. But I’m open to the idea!)

      • Avatar
        cthore  January 23, 2019

        OK, so where do I find this list that you mentioned?

        • Bart
          Bart  January 25, 2019

          If you’re doing this on a computer, it’s on teh home page. If you’re doing it on a phone, we’re trying to get it there too.

    • Bart
      Bart  January 18, 2019

      Do you mean something more specific than the current index, which allows you to see all the posts under broad topics (this is the first large chunk of the options):
      Acts, Catholic Epistles, Revelation
      Afterlife
      Bart Answers Readers
      Bart Responds To Critics
      Bart Revisits Debates
      Bart’s Book Discussions
      Bart’s Reflections
      Bart’s Video Media
      Bart’s Biography
      Canonical Gospels
      Christian Apocrypha
      Constantine and Nicaea
      Development of Christian Doctrine
      Early Judaism
      Films About Jesus
      Greco-Roman Religions and Culture
      Hebrew Bible/OT
      Heresy and Orthodoxy
      History of Biblical Scholarship
      History of Christianity (100-300CE)
      Home Slider
      Memory Studies
      Mythicism
      NT Text and Manuscripts
      Other Early Christian Writings
      Paul and His Churches
      Proto-Orthodox Writers
      Etc Etc

  16. epicurus
    epicurus  January 17, 2019

    I’m happy with the way things are. Long posts, short posts – I like them both. I never even noticed a way to vote on the post, I guess I just mentally ignored those icons out of habit.

  17. Avatar
    rivercrowman  January 17, 2019

    Bart, I don’t care how long your posts are. I appreciate that you respond to member questions. If I donated to your Foundation every time you’ve responded to my questions, I’d be broke now. Even if you admit you don’t now, that’s valuable too. It’s probably a good question, and probably no one else knows the answer either!

  18. Avatar
    Raemon  January 17, 2019

    You asked for comments, Bart. I do have a couple.

    First, the blog is an essential part of my daily structure. I look forward to every topic since they all address aspects of my curiosity.

    Second, I think 800 – 1,200 words is ideal for a column. Granted, I am retired, so in general, longer is better.

    Finally, I would like to see even more granularity sometimes, including cites to evidence both for and against conclusions you have reached academically. I am not interested in opposing rhetoric or polemic … just their hard evidence.

    Thanks for the work you do!

    Raemon Polk

    1
  19. Avatar
    william.thomas.cox  January 17, 2019

    I come for the content, but I stay for the tone you achieve on the blog.

    I enjoy the length and depth of the posts. They’re enough for me to read in my phone and digest over lunch. The only problems with that are that I often forget that I wanted to ask a question by the time I get back to a computer, and the days without a post leave me scrambling for something else.

    But, what I’ve really valued is the tone of the blog. It’s great to see all levels be able engage with a scholar like you and makes me miss those opportunities from my college days. It’s also one of the few places, internet or otherwise, where I’ve seen a spectrum of believers and non-believers be welcome, be engaged, and find value. There’s some occasional eye rolling at believers in the comments, and occasionally some overly aggressive apologists, but those are the exceptions.

    I’d still value the content even if it were shorter, but the posts already leave me wanting more and I especially enjoy seeing a topic covered across multiple posts. And, of course, it’s not just about “buying access” (for which it’s an incredible value), but that the money goes to charity. Maybe that means I should give more…

  20. Avatar
    obrienma  January 17, 2019

    Bart,

    The length of your posts always seems appropriate to the topic–no need to shorten for our reading attention sp…

    I miss the weekly Readers’ Mailbag (perhaps I missed the post where this was discussed and dropped).

    And speaking of questions, what factors do you consider when endorsing a book via a jacket blurb? Does respect for the author (e.g., Pagels’s new book) drive the decision as much as the content of the book (that you may not agree with, e.g., supernatural occurrences)? Or how about Aslan’s 2017 God book?

    Thanks!

    • Bart
      Bart  January 18, 2019

      I still do the Mailbag, but simply don’t call it that. I haven’t been doing it every week though. Maybe I’ll return to the weekly version and start calling it the Mailbag again!

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