I have always claimed that I don’t look so much at my statistics for this blog, that I write for the sake of writing. That is mostly true. However, I probably should have been thinking a bit more about my readers over the last year or so. For one thing, I just found out that the menu above has never really shown up for Internet Explorer users (fixed!), and that a fairly large proportion of the links to the site were broken because they were still going to /news and that was no longer forwarding (fixed!). There are lots of other little things that I had always planned to do but never got around to. But the overall picture is one of fading gradually into obscurity.
Actually, that’s not entirely the case. In practice, the average number of visitors has been steadily (logarithmically) declining over a period of several years, with a small number of spikes of traffic here and there. Now, let me be clear, I am quite happy with a small “audience”–I would far prefer to be writing to a small number of people who are interested in what I’m thinking, since these are often the people who I am also most interested in hearing from. That said, it’s hard to look at that slowly declining number and not think “what am I doing wrong?”
I think there are a few reasons this could be happening that have nothing at all to do with me. First, there are a lot more blogs out there with interesting stuff to read. I find my own attention more scattered across blogs than ever before–to the point where it’s no longer a priority to keep up. Second, I have a feeling that people aren’t spending as much time reading blogs these days–the hype has finally burned itself out and we’re going to see a period of attrition. Third, I am tending to post more things that have to do with me, me, me (like this post!) and don’t appeal to what’s “hot” right now. Over the next few months, I may end up blogging a bit more about Second Life, since I’m teaching a course there this fall, and its hype cycle seems to have peaked over the last couple of months, so that might drive traffic. But, frankly, dog posts don’t pull that much.
What readers like
There are a couple of different groups of readers for this blog. First, there are the subscribers and regular visitors. Most of you are pretty quiet. It always surprises me when I’m talking to someone in Real Life and they mention that they regularly read my blog, since most are invisible. Some of you comment, and let me take this opportunity to thank you for that. The comments and ideas from people on this blog are probably the main reason I keep blogging. However, it’s also really hard to know what you want to see less / more of in the blog. Let me know!
It’s a bit easier to gauge what others like. There are a few ways I can figure this out. I can look over historical logs for traffic peaks and try to figure out why they happened. Alternatively, and with less effort, I can look at the logs to see which individual posts got the most page views last month. Obviously, those are biased toward the posts I actually made last month, but old popular posts still get way more traffic than the new ones do. Those are (roughly in order):
How to cheat good, The Isuzu experiment, Capstone defenses, del.icio.us for class, BestBlogForward (ironically, an effort to publicize the most popular posts), Bariata: November Archives, A bad few days, School of Informatics post-mortem, Check this out: Informatics Dissolution, WordPress.com, The graduate, NoFollow for WordPress, Bloglines Step-by-Step, Really Sexy Sindication, Last stops to Buffalo, Ask Alex: Getting a communications Ph.D.
The number of comments per post probably roughly mirror this list. So what can I say about these postings?
Length Matters? To Whom?
These posts are generally longer than my average post. Now, this may support (/me cringes to admit) Neilsen’s recent advice to write articles rather than blog posts. Now, those of you who know me know that I am not a huge fan of Neilsen, though I respect some of his work. Perhaps it is not surprising that someone who writes articles rather than blog posts thinks that writing articles is better than writing blog posts. But, let me assume the opposite position for a moment.
One of the reasons the longer posts get more hits may simply be because they have more words, and more words gives Google more of a chance to mislead people to my site. If that’s the case, I expect that people showing up to read the longer pieces probably spend less time on them. In other words, they get a lot of viewers, but few readers, and even fewer regulars. After all, the regulars probably only click through if they want to comment. Otherwise, they never leave the front page or their aggregator.
That aside, there is definitely a commonality here. The posts that have to do with my professional life tend to get more hits than my random film reviews or political rants. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most popular posts are the ones that took the longest to create.
But it may also be the case that my regular readers–friends, family, and the silent few–are more interested in my shorter posts. It’s hard to tell. These are, after all, the audience I am most interested in reaching.
As always, this post comes of some reflection on why I am spending time blogging. So, here is my strategy moving forward.
1. Blog the stuff I am working on and doing, rather than what’s “hot now” as Krispy Creme likes to say. Strangely, local and personal stuff seems to be more popular than the more general stuff. Despite a recent mis-step in talking about department hires too soon (oops!), I’ll be blogging more about what’s going on at Quinnipiac and in my research, but I’ll probably keep talking about movies, shows, and books, when I get the chance.
2. Add some delicious and digg buttons, so my readers can help make me popular again :).
3. Keep better track of the conversation. I’ve fallen off my reading lately. I’ll be deleting my aggregator and adding feeds from scratch, and I’ll post which feeds I’m adding and why.
4. Post longer, and less frequently. I’ve been feeling bad about letting the blog lay fallow, but if the short updates don’t matter much, I’m not going to mind leaving it when I have little to say.
If you think I should be doing something different with the blog, comment below!