New Scientist tells us that some of my former IBM Research colleagues have been busy looking at ways to give bloggers inspiration:

Want to get more people to read your blog? A software tool that provides a list of topics for you to write about could help.

Blog Muse [PDF], developed by Werner Geyer and Casey Dugan at IBM’s Watson Research Center in Cambridge, Massachusetts, produces the list based on other users’ suggestions or by matching the blogger’s profile with other writers’, and scouring their posts for keywords.

It was created after a poll of IBM bloggers showed that new writers often struggle to come up with initial topics and were hesitant to write if they didn’t already have an audience. “People may not write about exactly what was requested, but the suggestions might inspire them to explore a new avenue,” says Geyer.

Of course, it’s not rocket science to know that people trying to figure out what to write about could use some advice. What’s cool about this, then, is how they find other bloggers with profiles similar to yours, and use what they write about — and what they say they want to read about — as a jumping-off point. I like that approach, and I think it’d be useful.

And what’s more, it appears that blog entries using Blog Muse suggestions were more popular:

While the system was intended to tackle writer’s block, bloggers using it proved to be no more prolific than others. But those who wrote blogs based on topics Blog Muse suggested were twice as likely to receive comments, the numbers reading it rose, and where readers assigned ratings to the posts, these were also higher.

It’s not clear how well this work, which was tested within IBM, would carry over into the Internet blogging world. The researchers selected participants from IBM’s BlogCentral internal blogging site, and that site has some significantly different characteristics to Internet blogs. As its name implies, it’s a central system that has the blogs cross-referenced and collected. Finding blogs to follow is a very different process there than on the Internet. On top of that, there’s a dashboard feature — much as there is here on ScientificBlogging — that shows the recent blog entries, making it easy for users to see what’s being written, even on blogs they do not follow.

It’s also not clear how effectively we could collect “what I want to read about” topics on the Internet at large, without filling the list with so much noise and silliness that it becomes useless (consider slashdot, for instance).

In any case, this is interesting work that looks like it’d be fun to play with and to adapt for the Internet. And I hope the authors have a chance to take it in that direction.