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Monday, September 24, 2007

Weekend Stat Update (updated)

Well, so far the statistics I reported last week are holding steady. More traffic in the first 4 hours of this fine Monday morning than I had all weekend.

Again, nothing Earth shaking, but I find it interesting on both a personal and professional level. One of my goals with this site was to learn more about how blogs and other general interest sites attract and maintain readership and how rapidly information propagates through the general data sphere without special effort (there may be a book on this subject in my future). As some of you may know, my professional background is in the field of Information Management and the Perception of Information, and I'm highly interested in how a single site grows and connects to the larger data sphere, how connections develop, strengthen and refresh or fade, attract new connections, decline new connections, and how information moves from one site to another. Specifically I'm interested in the information itself, independent of the site or platform, i.e. when does the information become an entity of its own, and not part of the site or database where it was created? Does this happen automatically? Does it always happen? Does it never happen? Can it be made to happen? Can it be prevented from happening? How does the information change? Etc. If this sounds like I'm talking about Information as if it is alive, I am in a way. It may help to think of how the human brain stores information, maintains it, changes and perceives it over time based on new information and experiences, and how information fades over time without refresh. Personally, though, I tend to think in terms of Object Orientated Programming, where Information and the code for manipulating it are considered to be a single object. The data object can inherit properties from parent objects, can spawn descendants, and can connect to other objects.

I use the stats from my blog as a basis for observation, but I also use a large number of other sites as data points. Both well traveled sites and those that aren't visited often. These are simple observations, not empirical data points, so take the below with a reasonable margin of error.

Couple things I've noticed:
1. To maximize data connections, a blog should post a wide range of topics.
2. To maintain data connections and provide for maximum refresh, a blog must post as often as possible - at a minimum of once per day. More than once per day is better.
3. Controversial topics may develop a momentary boost in connections, but do little to maintain or refresh long term connections. Connections developed from controversial topics tend to fade rapidly unless controversial topics are the norm. If controversial topics are the norm, connections tend to be confined to a specific interest group, and other general interest connections tend to fade rapidly.
4. Humorous content tends to propagate widely, becoming independent of source more quickly than other topics. Humorous content tends to attract, maintain, and refresh data connections more rapidly and reliably than other forms of information.
5. (Update, I had this in my outline [and yes, I do outline more serious posts], but somehow I overlooked it). Feedback. Blogs that tend to attract and hold readers are those blogs that are interactive - even if they don't interact with you in particular. In other words, blogs (and even news or topic specific sites in broadcast mode) that have active comment sections, and especially where the blogger and commenters maintain active dialog with each other, tend to attract and maintain readership. They also tend to generate spontaneous connections to other data nodes. This appears to be true even if the reader is not a commenter him/herself. It may indicate that people are more interested in conversation, instead of simple lecture formats. This is my experience in public speaking and teaching as well. When I taught military doctrine theory, I very much made my lectures interactive as well as dynamic and tied directly to the target audience. I think this is one of the major reasons I was so successful at it.

Tentative Summary: Talk about a number of different things, talk a lot, talk often, sensitive subjects attract new readers, but non-offensive humor keeps them. If you want to become immortal, be funny. Update: Engage in dialog, listen to your readers.

Question: What do you think makes a good blog. Design and layout. Topics. etc

16 comments:

  1. Humor does sell, that's for sure. I try and keep my blog on the lighter side (it would be WAY too easy to go dark, at least for me). So I'll try and crack a joke, or make a funny title (mostly song lyrics twisted just slightly, or from the part of the song where people sing, "la la hmm hmm hm, something, YEAH!")

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  2. I have no input on writing and maintaining a blog, because, you know, I'd much rather just heckle those that do.

    *poke, poke*

    Seriously, it's the humor that keeps me coming back for more. And more than just humor, it has to be humor that relates to me directly on a somewhat regular basis. So humor regarding the military, SF and politics keeps me coming back here and to the Whatever, humor regarding the sartorial nightmares that pass for fashion keep me visiting gofugyourself, humor regarding science keeps me visiting Matthew Jarpe's Feedback, etc.

    Because it's all about, you know, entertaining me.

    Dance, my domesticated monkies, dance!

    Bwhahahaha!

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  3. After you (and MWT, in the comments) talked about adding a stat counter to your blog(s), I ended up adding one to my own. I have a week's worth of data so far and more regular readers than I expected. I thought most people checked my blog weekly, at best. Turns out that I have half a dozen who check daily and then more who check every few days or (perhaps) weekly. It has made me feel much more connected to my audience as it turns out that many of them lurk! It has also made me feel more pressured to produce new content daily. After all, they're doing me the honor of visiting daily, the least I can do is entertain on a daily basis.
    A little orangutan softshoe anyone?

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  4. Steve, me too. Due to my personality type, and the fact that I tend to become very introspective when I write for some reason, it would be extremely easy for me to be consumed by the dark side.

    Janiece, I agree, and I shall endeavor to keep you entertained. I may even don a funny hat and little sequined vest when I do the monkey dance.

    Anne, amazingly, one thing I've discovered is that no matter what you say, on the web you tend to find an audience. Good or bad. For me it tends to temper what I say. I tend to be fairly vicious sometimes, not intentionally but I come from a background where I never had to watch what I said. In a Navy wardroom there are certain rules of decorum, Officers never discuss politics, religion, or work at the dinner table for example. Unlike regular Officer, a Warrant (me) was expected to speak bluntly - even at the dinner table. I basically got paid to say what needed to be said. I find that here, I need to temper that - I'm not a Warrant any more. Seeing several hundred readers lurking around my site tends to remind me of that. It's not that I don't say what I think, but I try not to be out and out offensive about it.

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  5. Well, the main reason I keep coming here is because you're hilarious and fascinating. Hilarious for the wisecracks you kept making to Whatever which made me want more of that, fascinating because I enjoy following the lives of people that are completely different from mine. It makes for a proxy of living several lives at once and learning from all of them. I was wishing you had a blog for months before you actually made one, and if you already have hundreds of regular visitors, I must not be the only one. ;)

    All of which is to say - one of the things you didn't mention was the draw of the author. It helps to be known and liked/respected in large communities, so you start off with a lot of friends who want to read you before you even start. It also helps if you go around to other people's blogs and make comments on them, so that they'll be curious and click on yours in return.

    By contrast, I have a blog that has a lot of the things on your list - wide range of topics, at least an attempt to say something every day, etc. - but I'm a big nobody with few friends, so my readership is growing much more slowly. (It probably doesn't help that for the largest community where I'm known/respected/maybe even liked, I've been careful about passing the address around, because there are a few people I'm trying to avoid letting anywhere near my life). Also, my humor tends toward the dry and/or bitingly sarcastic, which doesn't sell very well; the few humorous things I've written have been heavily nerfed. My stat counter has been running for a week now, and it says an average of 6 people visit per day (minimum 2 the day after I didn't post; maximum of 11). I may have more weekly readers than daily readers; we'll see this week if any of the onetime visitors from last week come back. Of the frequent people, I recognize all but one. Over half are people I've carefully selected from the aforementioned large community, and most of the rest are apparently from Whatever. The one anonymous visitor is most likely from Whatever, and I'm flattered s/he keeps coming back.

    I started my Siram blog for a lot of the same reasons you did - to see what kind of readership building/maintaining patterns might show up. Mainly I wondered if it would go anywhere based entirely on content alone, without having lots of readers that knew me from somewhere else to start with. Well, based on our respective stat counter results, now we know. ;) If you'd like more details on my stats, let me know - I'm willing to compare and contrast.

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  6. I come for the same reason MWT does. Plus, you are a good writer, which always gets my attention. I rarely (if ever) find you too blunt, but that's because I err on that side myself. In fact, I seek out up-front-ness in the people I choose to associate with.

    If MWT is an example of an introvert with a blog and you are an extrovert (as you clearly are, online anyway) with a blog, then I'm the control sample. I'm your average joe with a medium sized family and several circles of friends, half IRL, half through the internet.
    My audience (avg. 10) is heavily dependent on my family and a few friends (appropriate, since I started the site to communicate with them via something other than email). Occasionally, I'll have someone from one of the online communities I participate (lightly) in -- usually someone curious enough to click through on my profile. It's interesting trying to figure out who some of the visitors are.
    My content is primarily anecdotal: what I'm up to, trips I've taken, how work is going, though occasionally, I'll run across an interesting article and post it with my thoughts. I'm rarely funny, mainly because I find humor in situations and it's hard to manufacture that via the internet. I do try and keep my posts interestingly written or supplemented with pictures and fairly short ('cause if everyone is like me, and reading while working, then like me, they'll want to click back to a work screen pretty soon). I guess my content is appropriate to my target audience.
    I'm looking forward to seeing how the tracking goes and how the increased frequency of new content (a side effect of the tracking) affects the readership.

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  7. Anne, I guess you could say I'm an extrovert - when it suits me. I was pretty introverted as a kid and teenager, but the military pretty much cured me of that (if cured is the right word here). To be a successful NCO and especially a Warrant you need to be seriously extroverted. I made a conscious decision to be so, and I was for so long that it became habit.

    As to audiences, I'd say it depends on what your goals are. If you're aiming mostly at family and friends, then that's probably what you'll have primarily - and that's perfectly fine. I think family blogging is a great idea, it's a way to use the technology to increase intra-family communications that offsets this hectic modern life-style that the pundits are always complaining about.

    Incidentally, I've been by your site on more than one occasion. Depending on which computer I'm using at the time, I may not be logged into blogger/goggle so it may be me that you're seeing as anonymous.

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  8. My sister (a HR person and psychology major) once told me that the true difference between introvert and extrovert is how they recharge thier internal battery (with people or without). In that respect, I am still a mild introvert, but otherwise, I am similar to you. I decided to acquire the skills to be able put myself out there. I find it fascinating that you developed them as an NCO.

    As for tracking visitors, I've been labeling each server as I figure out who it is. Some are identified by the company who owns the server (several of my friends have been IDed that way) and some I've figured out the connection between a visit and a comment. You, in theory, should show up as coming from a server in Alaska (as you did this morning). Thanks so much for stopping by! :)

    However, this brings me to the question -- do you get AskJeeves hits? I've gotten a couple people coming through a google search, but the AskJeeves is from an AJ server. Do you know what that is?

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  9. Anne,
    try using Whois to identify the server IP addresses. For example, mine should appear as registered to GCI, Wasilla, Alaska.

    I do a get a number of Ask.com (Ask Jeeves) hits, they don't seem to stay around long though. I think people using Ask.com are usually looking for something very specific. Strangely, so far the highest number of hits from search engines on my site come from Google searches for Laura San Giacomo. Figure that one out. I mentioned her name in a single post that contained a bit about the Tom Seleck movie Quigley Down Under. Seems a lot of guys are interested in her. Strange, very strange.

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  10. Oops, Anne, I should have mentioned, for IP addresses, use the "Search by IP Address" function at the bottom of the Whois main search page.

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  11. Thanks, Jim. Stat Counter does give me an astonishing amount of information, without having to do anything. It did give me the Wasilla, Alaska and GCI info. But it wasn't able to say it was Jim Wright on the line. Not that I expect it to. In fact, I can often glean some information from those bare facts, like if the Janus server shows up, I know my sister visited from work. There are some though, that I can't figure out -- the server owner is a podunk outfit, or so big that everyone would use it (Comcast, around here). It's no big deal, I'm used to the psuedo-anonymity of the internet. There's one unexpected visitor that I get on a daily basis, but he doesn't know that I know he visits. It's no big deal, but it's an interesting example of human behavior.

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  12. And I just realized I said "it's no big deal" quite frequently in that post and I didn't mean to. Darn that no editing comments!

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  13. Anne, well, I use the word "yeah" in dammed near every comment post, which is weird since I never use it in speech. When I go back and read the comments I've left in different places, I feel like an idiot. Whatever, the last thing I'd want is you, or anybody, feeling self conscious around here. So we'll just say we're going to be casual with our comments and leave it at that :)

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  14. I only ever get one visitor from Alaska, so it's easy to figure out who it is. :)

    Things I've noticed about statcounter: it's wildly inaccurate when it comes to deciding who counts as a "unique visitor." I recently had "20 unique visitors" - but it turned out 16 of them were one person doing repeated searches without having cookies turned on. Also, it's terrible about putting people in the right countries. I've got a Canadian who seems to be part of the US, and a Croatian who gets lumped in with the UK. Then there was someone who didn't realize he could read every post at once by going to the main page, and added over a hundred "hits" just by browsing around in the list of posts (he was apparently bored that day).

    Overall, the "visitor paths" link tells me the most stuff, and I wish it would use IP address instead of cookies to figure out visitor uniqueness/returns.

    Most interesting random visitor thus far: some guy in India who was looking for the "Siram fortune". I could sure use some of that...

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  15. MWT, yep, you've got to look at all the screens and do some sorting and analysis to get accurate results.

    Supposedly, the paid subscription does most of that for you but so far I haven't decided if I want to go that route yet.

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