Happy Birthday to us!

Whoops, almost missed this–Dynamic Ecology is one year old today! Happy birthday to us!

When I left the Oikos Blog, it was because I wanted the freedom to do whatever I wanted. Now that I’ve been at it for a year, I can tell you that having that freedom has been every bit as much fun as you might imagine. In case it’s not obvious, doing Dynamic Ecology is an absolute blast for me. That’s for two reasons:

  • Brian and Meg. The single best thing I’ve done with Dynamic Ecology was invite Brian and Meg to join (Chris too, but he decided not to stick with it). It’s worked out even better than I imagined. You may not realize this, but Brian and Meg and I hardly knew each other when I invited them to join. I knew their work, but I’d never even met Brian before asking him to join, and while I think I’d met Meg once I don’t really recall it. I invited Brian because he was a frequent commenter on Oikos Blog. I invited Meg because I heard she was active on Twitter and so thought she might want to blog as well (a thought that in retrospect looks naive to me, as I now realize that tweeting and blogging are very different activities). I didn’t even know if they’d like blogging, much less if they’d be any good at it–and neither did they! It turns out they’re both born naturals. They both shocked me early on by writing posts that weren’t just really good, but that drew massive traffic, far more than I’d ever drawn myself. It actually got my competitive juices flowing, in a good way, which is something I never expected. I don’t want to be the third-best blogger around here! And talking with them about the blog (which we do a lot) is actually one of the best collaborations I’ve ever been a part of. Collaboration is something that doesn’t come easily to me, and I’m still not great at it. When I was a kid in school I always hated group work, and as a grown up scientist you won’t see very many collaborative projects on my cv. And like I said, the whole reason I left Oikos Blog is because I wanted to do my own thing. But now that Brian and Meg are on board, “my own thing” is “our thing”. And “our thing” is way better, and way more fun for me, than my own thing ever would’ve been. So thanks Brian and Meg–I’m proud to be a part of what we’ve created.
  • You. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: it’s tremendously gratifying and flattering to have the readership we do. First of all, there’s so many of you! A year ago, I never dreamed our readership would grow to the size it has. I thought Oikos Blog was big–but Dynamic Ecology’s traffic now dwarfs the traffic Oikos Blog had when I was there, and we’re still growing (see below for traffic stats). I’ll admit that’s actually a little scary sometimes, but in a good way. Feeling like I need to earn, or keep earning, a readership, and knowing that if I screw up it’ll be in front of a big crowd, is great motivation for me. Second of all, you comment! That’s one of the things that really sets us apart from almost every other ecology blog, I think–our active commenting community. One of my goals with Dynamic Ecology was to start serious conversations, and to become the go-to place for ecologists to have those conversations. I think we’re achieving that. So thanks for reading, everyone–you’re what makes writing this blog worthwhile.

State of the blog and the year in review

Now seems like a good time to summarize the state of the blog and look back at some of the highlights of the past year. If you don’t care about the stats, scroll down to the last few paragraphs, where I pick some of my favorite posts of the year.

Currently, we get about 6000-8000 pageviews per week (syndicated + non-syndicated), from about 2300-3100 unique visitors. Some people visit more occasionally–we typically get about 10,000 unique visitors and 26,000 non-syndicated pageviews per month. By way of a somewhat apples-to-oranges comparison, in a small year the Ecological Society of America Annual Meeting has about 2800-3000 attendees.

Our biggest single day was 4647 non-syndicated pageviews. Our biggest week was 14,618 non-syndicated pageviews, from 8441 unique visitors. Our biggest month was April 2013, when we got 36,496 non-syndicated pageviews from 16,377 unique visitors. All of that was due to the insane response to my post on E. O. Wilson vs. math (see below).

We currently have 1367 subscribers to our various feeds (Twitter, email, RSS, WordPress feed).

Here’s a list of our most popular posts this year, the author, and the number of non-syndicated pageviews they drew:

  1. E. O. Wilson vs. math (Jeremy) – 10,414
  2. Statistical machismo? (Brian) – 4,636
  3. How to decide where to submit your paper (Jeremy) – 2964
  4. Is using detection probabilities a case of statistical machismo? (Brian) – 2840
  5. The insidious evils of ANOVA (Brian) – 2508
  6. Can the phylogenetic community ecology bandwagon be stopped or steered? (Jeremy) – 2360
  7. Some well known tricks for clear writing (Brian) – 2271
  8. Do bird papers have the best figures? (Meg) – 1810
  9. How to suggest referees in your cover letter to the journal editor (Jeremy) – 1808
  10. And the most cited ecology paper published in the last 10 years is… (Jeremy) – 1742

Meg, Brian, and I often talk about how you can never tell which posts will be popular. I had no idea my E. O. Wilson post would go viral like that. Or that an innocuous post on how I decide where to submit my papers would draw so much interest. I just tossed that post off to fill a gap in our posting queue, on the off chance somebody might find it useful. I think the story of Brian’s writing tips post was much the same–he just tossed off what he thought was rather obvious advice, and then got surprised when it drew a lot of traffic. And Brian’s statistical machismo post, which he did very shortly after joining the blog, made me feel bad for him. Before he joined, he naturally wanted to know how much work it was to moderate and reply to comments. I said not that much–we hardly ever get more than 20 comments. And so then he had to literally give up two whole days of his life dealing with what quickly became our longest-ever comment thread: 141 comments by the end! Serves him right for making a liar out of me.🙂 And Meg often jokes about how she needs to do more posts on bird poop, because clearly that’s what readers want. Conversely, I’ve done some serious posts that I really thought would prove provocative and controversial–and they were only read by our most avid readers and went mostly uncommented. So beyond the general rule of thumb that posts that aren’t ecology-specific have better odds of drawing lots of traffic (because the potential audience is bigger), you never know. Which is actually good, I think, because it means Brian, Meg, and I never feel any urge to try to do “traffic bait” posts. All you can do is say things that you think are worth saying, and then hope people will want to read them.

Our readership is pretty global, we have readers in something like 100 countries. Of the 243,000+ non-syndicated pageviews we’ve gotten in the last year, just under half (120,936) were from the US. Other places from which we draw many readers include Canada (24,436 pageviews this year), the UK (18,132), Australia (10,918), Germany (8,054), Brazil (7,826), Sweden (6,024), and India (5,618).

I’ll end on a personal note, by picking a few of my favorite posts from the past year. It’s really hard to choose, like picking one’s favorite children or (in the case of Brian and Meg’s posts) one’s favorite friends. But here they are, in no particular order.

Brian’s statistical machismo post is great. That post, and the conversation it started, is maybe the single best advertisement we have for blogging as a vehicle for serious scientific conversation. Brian would’ve really struggled (at best) to publish that as a paper, and even if he had it probably would’ve gone mostly unnoticed. But as the comment thread on that post and the follow-ups shows, the issues raised are really serious ones that ecologists really need to talk about. Plus, he pitched it so well–“statistical machismo” now ranks with “zombie ideas” among this blog’s great coinages. I also really like Brian’s post on whether ecologists have schools of thought. What a great idea for a conversation topic, I’m still kicking myself for not thinking of it first. And just the fact that every one of Brian’s posts are so meaty and substantive is causing me to rethink my own blogging a little. I’m feeling like I might want to cut back my own posting frequency a bit and aim for fewer but meatier posts.

My favorite post of Meg’s is her story of almost quitting grad school. I know a bit about how she felt, having almost quit science myself at one point. But only a bit, because my own circumstances were much different and much less gut-wrenching. The image of Meg, sitting alone by a lake thinking the future she’d dreamed of had just fallen apart…that was a really powerful image for me, and I’m sure for a lot of other readers as well. And while I don’t know if Meg would agree, I think it took a lot of courage for her to tell that story on a blog. That’s one thing that impresses me about many of Meg’s posts, that she has the guts to talk about the stuff she talks about. Like women being raped while doing fieldwork. Meg’s talked recently about how there are some topics she hesitates to post on for various reasons, and how she sometimes worries before she hits “post”. Which just goes to show that courage isn’t a matter of not feeling nervous or worried, it’s a matter of what you do despite feeling nervous or worried. Meg, you’re awesome–keep hitting “post”!

Some of my very favorite posts this year were guest posts. Deciding to invite guest posts is probably the second-best blogging decision I made this year. I love Peter Adler’s post on how he, like the rest of us, is a hypocrite when he claims that his work is valuable because it helps us predict and manage the effects of climate change. Just brutally honest. That’s one thing blogging is great for: saying things that really need to be said, but that can’t be said in a journal article. Peter’s promised more guest posts in future; I can’t wait to read them. And Carla Davidson’s post on how she found the courage to leave academia and strike off on her own as an independent consultant had the same openness and brutal honesty. I hope I’m as self-aware and thoughtful as Carla is. But I know I can’t write as well and I doubt I ever will.

As for my own stuff, I have to say that many of my very favorite posts are from the early days of the Oikos Blog. I feel like I’m struggling to reach those heights again, but I’ll keep trying. Plus, I’ve increasingly come to see the body of work as the most important thing–what matters is the shooting match, not the individual shot. But having said that, here are my favorites from this year. This one on “the road not taken” is probably one of my best efforts as far as quality of the writing. I like finding excuses to use poetry and other material you wouldn’t expect to encounter on a science blog. I like the writing in this piece on peers, mentors, role models, and heroes too. I think the device of starting with a contrasting set of quotes works well, and I think the links to the videos are both fun and (in one case) thought-provoking. I think my post on why academics should read blogs is very effective. I think too much advocacy for blogs and other social media is question-begging, and/or too jargony and not designed to resonate with those who don’t currently read blogs. And the question-and-answer format of that post, partly inspired by Brian’s many list-based posts, works well. My appreciation of Peter Abrams was a spur of the moment thing, and an interesting experience to write. I had originally intended it to be just a brief note, but as I was writing it I kept thinking of aspects of Peter’s work I wanted to talk about. So that through the exercise of writing the piece I actually came to a much fuller appreciation of his work than I’d had when I started. Having never tried to write that sort of piece before, I’m pleased that it came out well. And while it technically wasn’t a blog post, I think my paper in Trends in Ecology and Evolution on the zombie IDH is one of the two best papers I’ve ever written. I’m including it here because everything in it came from my blogging. Finally, this is probably one of my better attempts at humor.🙂

10 thoughts on “Happy Birthday to us!

  1. By the way, I almost missed our birthday! I casually checked our stats history today, in order to start working on a post for our birthday in July–only to discover I needed to write that post immediately!

  2. Happy Birthday, and congratulations on a job well done! I agree that your ability to start serious conversations in the comments is one of the best things you’ve achieved. Keep it up!

  3. Just hearsay, but I was at a grad student workshop recently, composed of about 50 students across the sciences and from around the U.S. Toward the end, they had us assemble by discipline for a particular exercise. About a half-dozen of us ecologists got together and were talking about the presence of ecology on the web. Dynamic Ecology was the first thing that came up, and it turned out we all read it. One student said: “oh yeah, that’s THE ecology blog.”

    No pressure.😛

    • Well, like I said in the post having a big audience is a bit of pressure in some ways. But in another way it isn’t any pressure at all. To me, pressure comes from having to try to do something you’re not sure you can do. But if we’ve already become THE ecology blog, well, it’s easy enough to just keep doing what we’re doing!🙂

  4. Happy birthday to us! And thanks to you, Jeremy, for the inviting me to be a part of the blog! I’m glad I decided that, even though the year was going to be insanely busy, this was not an opportunity I wanted to miss out on.

  5. Congrats to all three of you on the milestone! I have really enjoyed checking out the near daily posts (how you guys find the time is beyond me) and the conversations that follow over the last six months. It is always an interesting, and not at all unproductive distraction from my workday. Keep up the great work!

  6. I just remembered that I broke the blog with my first post! I can’t remember exactly what happened, but I think I had somehow done something that made it so that the title wouldn’t appear. An illustrious start!

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