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

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Data Journalism in Hockey

old-time-reporterHockey analytics is doing some pretty remarkable stuff for the game. Not only are there new methods of understanding and following the game, but we’re beginning to see some of the more unintended consequences of its growth.

One thing to keep an eye on will be the evolution of hockey reporting and journalism. Analytics has received widespread attention this summer with NHL teams hiring experienced professionals and discussing the new statistics quite publicly. All of this is great, but now the people following the game, especially those that are relatively new to hockey analytics, will demand supporting evidence, in an easy-to-use, storytelling format.

Travis Yost brought up an excellent point, citing the potential for new data tracking technology as a reason why the demand for better sports writing will likely grow. There will definitely be teams looking to hire individuals with experience in analytics to keep up, but there will also be media outlets looking to enhance their coverage of the game and these advanced stats.

This will put the onus on anyone developing information about the game, whether it be newspaper writers, hockey analysts on television and fans online. The game has changed because of analytics, and now the information surrounding the game has to evolve.

What this means is that the distribution of  information has to shift from simple reporting to more data journalism. It won’t just be about grabbing quotes from coaches and players and then referencing some of the new stats like Corsi and Fenwick etc. But it’ll also mean having to embed graphics and information in an interactive and engaging way to tell a unique story.

The good news is, there are a handful of newspaper writers and bloggers who have been doing this very well for a few years now. James Mirtle of the Globe and Mail, as well as Japers’ Rink and SB Nation’s Outnumbered come to mind. But now, there will be an increasing demand for it. And I can definitely see some slick new platforms or reporting dashboards that can take all of the advanced stats and put together a strong game story.

Blogging platforms have served as a solid foundation and medium to develop hockey analytics. And now, they can be a real training ground for those looking to advance their careers in writing about the growing field.

 

Oilers hire Tyler Dellow of mc79hockey.com

620-eakins-dallas2-thumb-620xauto-329706Happy to see the Oilers hire Tyler Dellow of, the now defunct, mc79hockey blog. Tyler’s been blogging for years about the Oilers, focusing on hockey analytics and recently applying his findings to game footage. The blog was a fantastic source for analysis, really pushing the discussion on hockey analytics, and will definitely be missed. Sounds like he’ll be joining the Oilers hockey operations department and reporting to Coach Eakins.

Related: On Tyler Dellow, his role, and what this can tell us about Eakins – Copper & Blue

I’d love to point out some of the work he’s done including his dissection of Taylor Hall’s Corsi stats and the Oilers performance following defensive zone faceoff losses. But I guess it’ll have to wait until someone can uncover that hidden treasure. A lot of his work picked apart the Oilers and did show some of the weaknesses in their tactics, so I guess it makes sense for the Oilers to ask him to remove the content. His blog was also one of the few sites where the comments section was just as  valuable as the actual post. I found it a little troubling that Tyler was able to wipe out the work of others who trusted that their contributions would be always be accessible. I’m sure most of the commenters are supportive of Tyler’s move, so maybe losing their work was just a necessary trade-off.

Those who have read my work know that more than hockey analytics itself, I’m interested in the social, online environment that fosters the development of hockey information and knowledge. So as much as the growth of analytics interests me, so too does the network and the collaboration of fans.

I think Tyler would admit that a big reason for his success in analytics is the open environment that he was able to work in. He received regular feedback both on his blog and on Twitter, which played a big role in the direction he took with hockey analytics. He’s obviously a bright guy and will more than likely carry on with his ideas and insight as a member of the Oilers. However, the corporate culture that the Oilers have is far different than the interactive environment Tyler has grown accustomed to. Online, Tyler has been extremely open with his data, which makes him open for feedback and criticism. Now that his work will only be reviewed by a select few, I’m curious to see what impact it might have on his own critical thinking. There’s a much different working-dynamic when you’re sealed off with a select few. Biases, groupthink, politics, etc., are all the things that tend to creep in to any bureaucratic system.

It’s almost as if the Oilers should actually hire a few more bloggers that Tyler’s work can be tested by. The good news is, the Oilers do have an analytics working group that can really challenge his work. But it might be in the Oilers best interest to add additional bloggers, or some sort of external advisory group, with little social or financial ties to the team, who can provide Tyler with feedback.

Finding the SuperFan

An Oiler fans trek through blogs, hockey analytics and academia.

Back in 2008, I decided it was time to head back to school to finish a graduate degree. Something I can do part-time, something related to my day-job, and something that would interest me enough to stay motivated. I came across the Communications and Technology program at the University of Alberta while surfing the web and decided to take the plunge.

My background was in sociology and my interests were always research methodology and group dynamics (how do groups get together to accomplish stuff). I figured a lot of the technology starting to take off was changing the way groups interact and to how much they could accomplish as a group. My main interests have always been information and knowledge management. How do we know what we know, and how do we work collectively to build new knowledge and information. That group dynamic is always intriguing since it’s been occurring for centuries, but has really accelerated because of the advancement of communication technology. The web is an obvious example, but what is it about the web and what sort of rules apply that allows it to be so critical for information development and knowledge sharing. It was pretty high level thinking at the time since I honestly had no idea where my graduate career was going to go.

The Program

Before starting the MACT program, all applicants had to submit a research idea for their final project. I had no clue what I wanted to do, so I decided to something work-related and chose electronic health records. It was a hot button topic in healthcare, so I thought some sort of research on it would be interesting. I received my acceptance letter and was to start the program in the spring of 2009.

All students were also asked to maintain a “digital portfolio” (i.e., a blog) as a way to centralize assignments and reflect on key topics. Not many students actually did one, but I figured this might be a useful way to find a supervisor for my final research paper.

Within a couple months of starting the program, getting deep into communication theory, I realized there wasn’t anything interesting about electronic health records. There had already been a ton of research on it, including the type of technology used, its adoption in various countries and the benefits of it. That realization and the fact that others in my cohort had some killer ideas, I knew right away that I needed to find another topic.

Reset

By the end of the spring session, which included a three week residency-type set up on campus to complete a two courses, I was absolutely spent. We covered a ton of material and new concepts and spent hours completing assignments and presentations. I really tried to apply my research topic of health records to everything we covered, but it just wasn’t interesting. My attitude about the program reflected it. And my grades showed it as well.  Continue reading

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)

Importance of Hockey Analytics II

Source: Zimbio

Source: Zimbio

Originally posted at Hockey in Society.

It’s been remarkable to see how quickly the field has developed over the past few years. The amount of new information being derived from hockey analytics has grown and continues to be discussed across a large and diverse online community. And while the focus has rightfully been on the hockey data and extracting meaningful patterns, it’s important to assess some of the foundational concepts that have supported the development and growing popularity of hockey analytics.

Analytics in any industry is a continuous process. Regardless of what patterns are found, new questions will arise to continue advancing the discussion initiated by analytics. Hockey analytics is no different as it really is a never ending process to uncover, share and build upon new information. Because it pertains to professional hockey, there is new data available almost every day and involves analysis from anyone that’s interested in the topic. The game itself, including the off-ice business (i.e., trades, free agency, draft) is highly chaotic and at times unpredictable.

Related: Importance of Hockey Analytics – Hockey in Society (2012, June 11)

What makes hockey analytics, or any sports analytics unique, is that it’s being done in an open environment that allows for anyone with basic analytic and communication technology tools to join the discussion. Using blogs and Twitter, participants have created a very collaborative environment that supports discussion and the continuous extension of ideas and information.

Continue reading

Deconstructing the Jersey Toss

"The medium is the message." (1964)

“The medium is the message.” (1964)

Originally posted at Hockey in Society.

The jersey of any sports team, professional or not, holds a history, a story, and many different meanings. The message that resonates with any sports jersey is different depending on who is involved in the communication process. To some, the jersey simply designates who plays on what team. For others, a jersey holds significant, personal meaning which can be immersed in a narrative to build and share.

During two embarrassing losses on home ice this past season, two Edmonton Oilers jerseys were tossed by fans on to the ice. Both were acts of frustration and disapproval towards the club and their miserable performance. Many understood why the fans threw the jersey, while others, including Oilers goaltender Ben Scrivens, questioned why the jersey was used as the medium to send a message.

“I’m from (Edmonton). You’re not just disrespecting guys in the room you’re disrespecting guys who wore the jersey before us … Messier, Gretzky, they all take pride in wearing that jersey. You’re a fan, you get to say and do whatever you want, call me whatever name you want, but when it comes to that logo, that’s a sacred thing for us. It’s disheartening for me to see our fans treat it that way.” (Canoe.ca)

The crumpled jersey on the ice for all to see was significant because it was an extreme response to a poor performance. It brought to light the narratives, history and meaning we each have as fans of the team. And, aside from the disrespect to the past players as Scrivens pointed out, the toss of the jersey also challenged and disrupted the traditional communication channels sports fans have established with their team. Continue reading