Our least-read posts

Just for fun, I just looked up our least-read posts. Some of what I found was unsurprising, but other things were kind of interesting. Any of you who are thinking of starting your own blogs might find some useful tips here as to what sort of posts people don’t want to read.

  • Unsurprisingly, announcements about the blog (e.g., “Meg’s away for a while”) don’t draw readers. Which is fine, sometimes you just need to say things for the record.
  • Our Friday linkfests drew very few readers early on. They’ve become more popular, which has convinced us to keep doing them. Plus, I find that doing them is a good source of new post ideas. But they’re still easily the least-read sort of post that we do regularly. I’m not surprised. People mostly share links via social media these days. And apparently, our brief commentary on our links doesn’t add enough value to draw many readers.
  • But even less-read than Friday linkfests are short posts sharing a single link. Even if they’re pretty cool links to old stuff like this. That’s actually one reason we do the Friday linkfest posts–the alternative is to do lots of short, single-link posts that nobody would read.
  • Joke posts like this one mostly get ignored. Clearly, our readers have no sense of humor.๐Ÿ™‚ This is why I’ve mostly stopped doing joke posts.
  • The job ads that we occasionally post for ourselves and for friends don’t draw many readers, unsurprisingly.
  • Posts that mostly consist of an interesting or provocative blockquote mostly don’t get read. Not even if the person quoted is Charles frickin’ Elton.
  • Somewhat to my disappointment, posts where we just pose a question to readers, or ask readers a poll question, draw few readers. If we just toss out a question and “open the floor” for discussion, we usually get next to no response. The partial exceptions seem to be our “ask us anything” posts, and posts that pose really fun questions.
  • Meeting previews and recaps mostly draw few readers, unless we write them in such a way as to effectively turn them into regular posts (and sometimes not even then). I know there are some readers who really appreciate these posts as a way to attend scientific meetings vicariously. But I’m sorry, there just aren’t that many of you. I’ve been dialing back on the effort I put into doing ESA preview and review posts, and I’ll probably dial back further in future.

The general principle seems to be that readers want to read what we think, preferably at length. They don’t want us to just pose questions for them to think about, or write little mini-posts, or toss out links. And they only want jokes about bird poop.๐Ÿ™‚

More interesting are the substantive posts that were little read, but for no obvious reason that I can see. Here, in no particular order, are our least-read substantive posts. Note that the list includes a couple of posts I think are quite good, which just shows how much I know.๐Ÿ™‚ Note also that all of them are by me; Meg and Brian are nowhere to be seen on this list. Make of that what you will.๐Ÿ™‚

Getting over Robert MacArthur. Sparked a good discussion, but in retrospect it’s a bad post. I did a poor job of articulating what was bugging me. So good on y’all for not bothering to read it.

Against live-tweeting talks. A brief post linking to and agreeing with something someone else wrote. It drew very few readers, which is probably for the best as it’s a lousy post. I was mostly wrong, as commenters and some other bloggers politely pointed out. I was also unclear, which caused some people to misread me. And given that the post touched on a hot-button issue for some readers (a fact I suspected when I wrote it), it really needed to be above average rather than below average.

Yes, the IDH is a zombie: a response to Karl Cottenie. A good, productive exchange with Karl Cottenie on the IDH, but hardly anyone read it, despite the fact that the whole “zombie ideas” meme is one of our most popular memes. Maybe this post just seemed too much like a private, technical conversation?

Is macroecology like astronomy? I think this is one of my best efforts and it sparked a really good discussion. Heck, I even think the title is pretty good! But hardly anybody read it. Go figure.

Take-home messages vs. the devil in the details. Argues that we all (including me) skim in many situations when we ought to be reading carefully. But you wouldn’t know that because you didn’t read it.๐Ÿ™‚

Thoughts on NutNet. I think NutNet is one of the great ecology experiments of the past decade, and we should all be racking our brains for other questions ripe for attack with the same approach. If you have no idea what I’m talking about, you really should click through.

Why are some ecological ideas controversial? Ok, this one got few readers because I posted it on New Year’s Day. #amateurhour

p.s. Yes, I am aware of the irony that this post isn’t likely to get many readers.๐Ÿ™‚

18 thoughts on “Our least-read posts

  1. Good grief, don’t stop the joke posts whatever you do!!! I mean, you wouldn’t have anything left if you did…

    [Quoting my dear friend Foghorn Leghorn: “That’s a joke, I say…now listen to me when I’m talkin’ to you boy…I say that’s a JOKE son”] ๐Ÿ™‚

    • “Good grief, donโ€™t stop the joke posts whatever you do!!! I mean, you wouldnโ€™t have anything left if you didโ€ฆ”

      Wow, can’t believe I didn’t see that one coming.

  2. I’ve found something similar on my blog. Although my fairly light-hearted posts about life as a researcher are usually pretty popular – your readers must be a bit more serious! One of the weirdest things is that some of my “most read” posts are ones I didn’t think were that great at the time – shows what I know. I try not to worry too much about what people want to see in my blog posts and focus on writing what I want

    • “I try not to worry too much about what people want to see”

      Yup, we’re the same. Brian, Meg, and I never worry about what people might want to read when we’re deciding what to write. Indeed, I think that’s precisely why we have a decent-sized audience. If we consciously tried to chase traffic, I think we’d actually lose traffic.

    • I’ve noticed a lot of how much a post is read has a lot to do with chance events on who picks up what on Twitter (and other social media), which has a positive but low correlation with post relevance/quality

  3. Trip down memory lane – it was the “Is macroecology like astronomy?” post and the exchange in the comments that made me decide this blog thing was an important phenomenon.

    • Interesting–I didn’t know that! I knew you’d been reading and commenting, which of course is why I invited you on board. But I didn’t know that there was a specific post that was particularly important in shaping your views on blogging.

  4. Hi Jeremy (et al),

    generally, thanks a lot for the great work your doing here. I am now a very regular reader and your posts most often are inspiring and continue to broaden my knowledge about ecology and many other things. Keep it up!
    On the topic: I was just wondering how many subscribers you have who don’t have to visit your blog-url to read the content of any post (rather read it as email). Would be interesting to see the relative amount of subscribers compared to the numbers of hits your most-read and your least-read posts get.

    • Thanks for the kind words Gregor!

      To answer your question, as of right now, we have 476 email followers. They’re part of our total follower count on the upper-right of our homepage (that count also includes RSS followers and Twitter feed followers).

      I believe our emails are full-text posts, so yes, folks who follow us that way won’t show up in our pageview stats. Given how many unique visitors and pageviews we get per day, I suspect that email represents a fairly small (but not trivial) fraction of our readers and pageviews.

      People who follow us via RSS do show up in some of our stats, but as a separate category of views. Roughly speaking, the number of syndicated views each post gets is constant. It’s maybe a couple of hundred views or something, and doesn’t vary a lot from one post to another. I suspect the same would be true of email reads, if we had the data.

      In contrast, non-syndicated views (which are always a substantial majority of our views) vary a *lot* from one post to another, in large part because of the stochasticity of what happens to get widely shared on Twitter and Facebook.

  5. Is it really stochasticity that governs what gets widely shared on Twitter and Facebook? “Better” posts (by some definition) probably get more social media action for some reason or another.

    I for one am glad to see that the meeting p/review posts do poorly. I find that the only purpose they serve is to widely promote your own narrow interests. They put people whose work you happen to know or like (or people whom you happen to personally know or like) on a pedestal, at the exclusion of many other good people. Granted, this pedestal is a personal privilege you have earned, but at the same time I believe that, inasmuch as the blog provides a service to the community, this type of promotion does the community a disservice.

    • “Is it really stochasticity that governs what gets widely shared on Twitter and Facebook?”

      Yes, mostly. Just for fun, the three of us often try to guess which posts will draw lots of traffic, or not much. I’d say our guesses are a bit better than random–but only a bit. And like Brian above, I do think there’s a positive correlation between post quality and whether it goes viral, but it’s very weak and noisy. I do regularly check on who’s tweeting our posts, and the posts that go viral and draw a ton of views often are the rare ones that happen to get retweeted by people with *lots* of Twitter followers (like, 10,000+) and get lots of views from Twitter (we get data on traffic that comes here via links from other sources, including links in tweets). There’s more to the social media dynamic than that, of course, but for our posts that does seem to be a big part of it.

      “I for one am glad to see that the meeting p/review posts do poorly. I find that the only purpose they serve is to widely promote your own narrow interests. They put people whose work you happen to know or like (or people whom you happen to personally know or like) on a pedestal, at the exclusion of many other good people.”

      This is a very interesting comment to me, and really surprising, because it’s a good illustration of how different a blog can appear to its readers vs. its authors. When you say you don’t like posts promoting our own narrow interests–well, from my perspective, that’s what *all* our posts do! Seriously–this blog is *not* intended as a service to the community in the sense you seem to mean (maybe I’m misunderstanding you? if so, apologies…) *Everything* we write is “self-promotional” and “promoting our own narrow interests” in the sense that it’s the three of us talking about whatever we personally think is worth talking about. Doesn’t it seem that way?

      We don’t make any effort at “balance”, for instance. If one of us writes a post arguing for a certain point of view, we of course allow and engage with comments criticizing that point of view (indeed, we particularly welcome such comments–we don’t want our commenters to function as cheerleaders or yes-men). But if no such comments happen to get made, we don’t seek them out, or invite guest posts from people who disagree with us, or anything like that. Nor do we make any effort to, say, provide comprehensive coverage of all topics of interest to ecologists. Nor do we invite guest posts from just anyone–we mostly only invite them from our friends, to the exclusion of many other good people whom we happen not to know. Heck, a big part of why I invited Brian and Meg on board is because I personally admire their work and agree with them on a lot of things (though I didn’t know them personally when I invited them). I didn’t set out to assemble a group of bloggers that would provide the best “service to the community” or anything like that. Etc. For us, this blog is a place to start conversations on the things *we* want to talk about (which is a small and highly biased sample of everything worth talking about!) We presume that any readers who don’t want that will stop reading.

      Note that we do avoid “self promotion” in the different, narrower sense that we don’t ever blog about our own research. Well, unless it’s just an example in the context of a broader discussion. Like when Meg talked about the advantages of local field sites, and used her own field sites as an example.

      • Fair enough. Point taken regarding self-promotion, service to the community, etc. However, I still find the p/review posts annoying.

        I’m not sure I get why you avoid self promotion of your research but not other stuff. Other than you think it would bore people.

      • @Anonymous:

        “Iโ€™m not sure I get why you avoid self promotion of your research but not other stuff. Other than you think it would bore people.”

        Not exactly. Talking up our own work without some independent reason to do so really would feel self-promotional to us. But certainly plenty of other bloggers do it, which is fine–readers can choose whether to read it or not.

        Talking about our own work also wouldn’t add any value. Any competent academic ecologist has their own way of identifying papers to read, and is perfectly capable of reading them. Nobody who might want to read our papers needs us to point out our papers or summarize them.

        Thanks again for your comments, it’s always good to be reminded that the way the blog appears to us as authors isn’t necessarily how it appears to readers. And it’s not that readers are necessarily wrong when they see the blog differently than Brian, Meg, and I do. For instance, it hadn’t occurred to me that the meeting p/review posts could be seen as self-promotional in a way our other posts aren’t. So while I don’t see them that way myself, now that you’ve pointed it out I can certainly see where you’re coming from.

  6. Regarding the Friday link posts, can you tell how many people are clicking the links contained within them? I find that I generally use them to find stories of interest directly from the dynamic ecology URL, but don’t often click into the article itself.

    If not, there could be more people reading them than it seems.

    • Yes, we do get data on how many people click the links. They vary a lot, not surprisingly. Anywhere from <10 to dozens of clicks/link in the linkfest posts.

      The other thing to keep in mind is that the views for each post don't include the hundreds of views that dynamicecology.wordpress.com gets daily. Most days, our most popular "post" is our homepage. So probably, you can add several hundred views to the total for every post, to reflect readers who visit the homepage.

  7. Pingback: Friday links: revisiting old papers, life after lab closure, and more | Dynamic Ecology

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