Checking in on the Oilogosphere

One thing I’ve enjoyed writing about on this blog is the link between hockey fans and communication technology. It was the basis for my research project in school, and it’s been a while since I really paid attention to the current Oilogosphere landscape. So reading Wanye’s latest post on OilersNation conjured up a lot of ideas. Here goes:

  • While it’s true that many blogs have gone by the wayside, the majority of the content that these websites published is still available. Ever wondered how bad it was in 2008? There’s some great articles that summed up the team, the management and of course the general consensus of fans (man, we were an optimistic bunch back then). Even though these blogs aren’t active, there’s some excellent archived material that the current crop of bloggers could potentially build off of.
  • Fans have definitely embraced Twitter. It’s a fantastic tool to connect the Oilers fan community and the hockey world at large. It’s a great people connector. Blogs on the other hand, are more of an idea connector that facilitates a tighter, and more fluid discussion. Done right, blogs can still serve as a fantastic tool for information sharing and knowledge development.
  • There’s also a lot more people commenting on blogs than there were in years past. The comment section isn’t everyone’s cup of tea, but there are a lot of people who commit a lot of time and energy, the same amount they would have committed on their own blog, to contribute to the overall discussion. Commenting rather than blogging just works better for some.
  • There’s a very clear meritocracy at work in the Oilogosphere. Bloggers are differentiated by the quality of their work rather than their job titles or financial backing. This is a good thing when a community is growing and developing. But eventually the gap between the content produced by top bloggers and the rest increases. This has happened gradually over the past 9-10 years within the Oilogosphere. It can be awfully intimidating now for new bloggers when the Oilers fan community already has a lot of heavy hitters. Many just simply comment or focus their attention elsewhere. I will say that the Oilers fan community in general is very receptive to new or emerging bloggers, so if you have new content or want to build off older stuff, do it now. There’s always something to create or build off of.
  • If you’re interested in making money from blogging, treat it like an actual business venture. It’ll become pretty apparent that the financial rewards are very low. Blogging is about developing new information and sharing ideas. And many of the bloggers that have gone on to do big things were not focused on the money when they started out. They were instead very intrinsically motivated, focused on the quality of their work rather than the potential ad revenue.
  • The value of a press pass has decreased significantly over the past ten years. You can get live press conferences, post game scrums and every single quote in real time and on your phone these days. Giving a blogger a press pass would be nice so they can ask questions directly and possibly enhance their work. But the reason why bloggers have done so well is because they work outside of traditional media rules and standards. Instead they’ve focused less on what player’s say and instead pushed the discussion on things like analytics to focus on what players actually do. The lack of direct information from players has pushed bloggers to analyze the game more creatively, relying on a more collaborative approach to information and knowledge development. They’ve carved out a nice niche in the overall coverage of the Oilers, while those that do have access to players are somewhat floundering in their positions.

Again, if you haven’t read Wanye’s post, it’s here and well worth a read: Oilogosphere Down

Keeping the NHL Data Open

legosIt would make absolutely no sense for the NHL to restrict fans access to any level of stats, whether it be the traditional set or the advanced possession ones (i.e., Corsi, Fenwick, etc).

The NHL has changed it’s Terms of Service to reflect that. On Thursday, Zsolt Munoz of The Copper and Blue provided an excellent summary of the changes and raised concern that this might impact the go-to websites like Behind the Net and Extra Skater.

As of Friday morning, Extra Skater has become inactive, much to the dismay of its many users. The website does scrape data from the NHL website but extends it to calculate new information and “advanced” stats. Darryl Metcalf, the websites administrator, puts it all in a fantastic dashboard format making it easy to navigate and use. I’m really not sure what’s happening with ES, but I’m pretty confident that the NHL will not be preventing anyone from using and extending its game data. Couple points:

  • Any sort of data analysis, or finding patterns, whether it be simple counting of goals or calculating Corsi%, requires an individual’s time and effort. The more time and effort a person puts in, the more engaged they become with the game. It requires critical thinking and gets people into the game a lot more than if they just read static stats from a game report. Fantasy league is a prime example of something that gets fans into the game and is linked to data analysis. Fans are growing an attachment to teams and players they typically have no interest in because of fantasy leagues. The NHL has got to love that.
  • There’s a been a lot of weight put into the concept of “open data“. The idea is if you provide anyone and everyone with easy to use data, individuals may be able to come up with new information that can be shared with the community at large. For example, the City of Edmonton publishes data sets, which have been used by individuals to develop new apps available for public use.
  • And, as mentioned by Tango Tiger, the online ecosystem today, supported by stats from the NHL or the data scraped by Extra Skater, have served as a fantastic training ground for analytic folks. Teams like the Edmonton Oilers and New Jersey Devils have hired individuals who have had access to this data and demonstrated its value.

I really see the NHL really opening up the flood gates when it comes to data. They may push to be the gatekeeper of data, which may be a fair trade-off if fans can extend it into accurate information. Past attempts by Major League Baseball to stifle the analytics growth have either failed or been held up in court, which I think gives hockey fans some hope that whatever data they want will be available to them free of charge. I also think the NHL will develop a process to support the development of new applications that use the data in some creative way. The more people toiling away with hockey data, the more time they’re spending on NHL related stuff…I assume that’s what the NHL would want,

And hey, if for whatever reason the league restricts data or even tries to charge for it, you will definitely see more tracking projects pop-up, similar to Corey Sznajder’s All Three Zones Tracking Project, who has found an excellent way to track his own stats and receive compensation from the larger fan community.

Information and knowledge can’t be restricted in the modern society as far too many tools and the cooperative nature of individuals will support its growth. The momentum of information growth is giving fans a new role when it comes to consumption as a shift from passive consumption has been replaced by active, collaborative, engagement.

Oilers4Life

Source: Edmonton Oilers

Source: Edmonton Oilers

Derek Zona of Copper and Blue posted an interesting question for Edmonton hockey fans: Why haven’t you quit the Oilers?

It’s a fair question that I’m sure most Oiler fans have thought about. The team last won the Cup in 1990. It’s been eight years since the team made the playoffs. And since Daryl Katz took ownership of the club, the Oilers have been the worst team in the entire NHL.

For an outsider who may not value sports fandom, this may seem like a bizarre scenario: sports team keeps losing, yet the fans keep coming back for more. So here’s my response to Derek’s question.

Being a fan doesn’t follow the same traditional model of consumption that other products rely upon. It really functions in a unique ecosystem that has all sorts of weird norms and values. It’s tough to rationalize a lot of what happens in a cartel like the NHL and compare it to other consumable products.

A key element of being a fan of sports teams is continuously extending the product, before, during and after any game. Think of the conversations you’ve had about the Oilers with others, the articles you read, the stats you’ve glazed over, the digital artifacts you may have created (i.e., blogging, Youtube, etc). I don’t think there’s any other product for humans to consume that involves so much time and effort.

All of this continuous extension really engrains the fans deeper into their team. Quitting the team means you leave behind the continuous extension, a lot of which is spins off some extremely positive stuff that probably gives fans some relief from the losing. A lot of the positive relationships built, whether it’s at the game or online, keep fans following the shared product. And having a shared product like the Oilers also gives us a vehicle to connect with others and share our own ideas and values….all the stuff that’s critical for community building.

Trying to calculate your sunk costs like they do in the Freakonomics podcast (“The Upside of Quitting”) Derek links to is tougher for sports fans who consider quitting their teams. It’s tough to put a number on the emotional and intellectual investment you put into following the game and extending the content.

So good luck to the Oiler fans who want to quit now. Especially the bloggers and hockey analytic folks who have made valuable contributions to the game. Your creativity and intellectual contributions have you got you all in too deep. 😉

Related: Hockey Gossip and Blogs (2012, February 1)