Dynamic Ecology reaches carrying capacity

Dynamic Ecology will be 5 years old in July. But according to our monthly pageviews, we’re all grown up:

dynamic ecology monthly pageviews

Seasonal fluctuations aside, our traffic has been more or less flat for a year or so. Carrying capacity for Dynamic Ecology turns out to be about 60,000 pageviews/month.

Meghan, Brian, and I are grown up, too, professionally speaking. We all are or shortly will be full professors, the highest rank ordinarily available to US and Canadian profs not employed by Rutgers.*

When you reach your peak, it’s natural to think about where you’re at and what comes next. Below, a few hopefully-interesting thoughts. Or, possibly, the blogging equivalent of a middle-aged guy spotting the first hint of a bald spot in the mirror while this song plays in the background. Whichever.

It’s hard to say how much influence our traffic actually represents. More than enough for me to make blogging a good use of my time–but probably not all that much in any absolute sense. Much of our traffic comes from a fairly small core of regular readers. There are probably only a few hundred or at most 1000 people who read most or all of our posts. Which is a pretty modest number compared to, say, all the ecologists or ecology students in the world, much less all scientists or academics. And a non-trivial chunk of the rest of our traffic comes from searches. Many readers who find us via searches will read one post and never return (if they even read one post; some fraction of them won’t find what they were looking for here). And if we get more traffic than some blogs or other websites, well, we get much less than some others. Longtime academic economics blogger Brad DeLong gets about 100,000 views per month (those data are not super-accurate, but they’re in the right ballpark). Andrew Gelman gets 200,000-500,000. Why Evolution Is True gets 500,000-750,000. Marginal Revolution gets 1 million. Slate Star Codex gets 1 million. FiveThirtyEight gets 12 million. The NYTimes gets 300 million. Those traffic comparisons are apples to oranges, of course; it would be silly for me to lament not drawing Marginal Revolution-level traffic, never mind FiveThirtyEight or NYTimes levels! But they provide some context for our traffic levels. Further, it’s not clear how much our pageviews matter, individually or cumulatively. For instance, many of our most enduringly-popular posts give advice to grad students on things like how to structure a scientific paper. Things that, frankly, those students probably would’ve learned from some other source if they hadn’t learned them from us. All of which is a long-winded way of saying that major, lasting influence over lots of people or entire scientific fields is really rare, and Dynamic Ecology doesn’t have it and never will. Which is not a lament or a humblebrag! As I’ve said in the past, I’m tremendously humbled and proud that we draw as many readers as we do. And I’m increasingly of the view that, when my career is over, Dynamic Ecology is going to be my most important professional legacy. But it’s difficult to say how important that legacy is in any absolute sense.

I wonder if (when?) our traffic will start declining. To be clear, I don’t see that happening any time soon. But there’s no law of the universe that says we will continue to get 60,000 pageviews/month indefinitely. Blogs as a form are slowly dying, and the long-running blogs that are still going strong write a lot more about current events than we do. I think it’s hard to stay fresh if you don’t. And there are some signs of decline around here. Our comment threads aren’t as active as they used to be. And our linkfest posts have grown in popularity relative to other other posts, which the pessimist in me takes as a sign that readers are finding our non-linkfest content a bit stale. I can imagine a possible future, years from now, in which Dynamic Ecology becomes a quaint relic, admired for its persistence but no longer widely seen as a vital part of ecology.** We won’t ever consciously try to chase traffic; there’s no point to traffic for traffic’s sake. But I am feeling the restless urge to start experimenting a bit, perhaps by posting more about recently-published papers.

Weirdly, I also wonder if Dynamic Ecology is starting to become an institution. Something that people read out of habit, or because of the vague feeling that they “should”, or because Meghan, Brian, and I are Senior Ecologists. To be clear, I don’t have any particular reason to worry about this; it’s just something I’ve been wondering about. I’m humbled and proud that we’ve earned a good reputation and a readership to go with it. But I don’t want people to keep reading us just because of our reputation. I don’t want people reading us just because we used to be good. I want people to read us because we’re still good.

Ok, time to stop looking for bald spots in the mirror and change the radio station. 🙂

*At Rutgers, there are two ranks of full professor.

**Like the coelacanth.

23 thoughts on “Dynamic Ecology reaches carrying capacity

  1. I clicked the Youtube link and listened to the song in the background. Didn’t find a bald spot, but holy cow that’s a lot of grey hair on me…

    As a professional nerd, I have to ask you for your evidence about a plateau in that plot. By eye it seems weak. Is the quadratic term significant?

    • No, I didn’t run the plot through a time series partition. I just eyeballed it. But I’d write the same post if the “true” trend was now very, very slow growth rather than zero growth.

      I did run these data through a time series partition last year sometime (?), and long-term trend growth had already slowed to a crawl back then.

  2. Your blog (and many of you and your co-bloggers’ papers) have been an excellent resource for me personally as a PhD student (and very soon a postdoc) in mathematics. Books and technical papers are sometimes difficult to get the big-picture ideas about a field that are so useful to newcomers, and I think this blog does an excellent job at trying to highlight these major trends and fundamental ideas in an illuminating way.

  3. Congratulations to the three of you for your successful growing up professional despite blogging. And congrats and thanks to you (and to your small ponded, squirrelly kin) for taking time to spur discussions these many posts. So maybe you are reaching carrying capacity. That’s OK. The Galapagos Islands undoubtedly reached carrying capacity for early colonizers soon after arrival, but the islands are still quite valued and hardly lacking interest.

    What’s up with the seasonality to readership? Less in the summer? More reads in the winter with dark mornings and people lingering over coffee and reading blogs? (But not commenting, because phones are great for reading but suck for writing. I had to fire up the laptop. Doing a proper comment with formatting and links starts to take real time, so I don’t).
    Maybe post a link to your analytics too. The others were interesting in my bounce glances. More people bounce in and bounce out than read.

    “Blogs as a form are slowly”
    Why do you suppose that is? Because they are computer rather than smartphone based? Because they aren’t the shiny new thing anymore? Because their writing and reading is more about thoughtful consideration rather than flashy images and click responses? I am curious about the staying power of blogs like this one, which become an extension to the published literature. Jeffrey Beall’s abrupt takedown of his years of blogging about sketchy science publishers took me aback. That seemed like an established source of information until one day it was gone. What if WordPress and their kin stopped hosting for modest fees or free? Could it all be gone in the stroke of a key?
    Pardon all the questions, but congratulations and thanks in anticipation for your ongoing and future posts.

    • Yes, fewer readers in the summer and over Xmas.

      Yes, more people reading on their phones is surely one factor in the decline of our comments.

      Re: wordpress maybe vanishing without much warning, yes. That’s why we periodically download the entire blog–all posts and comments.

      Blogs in general are dying for a combination of reasons. Social media is a big one.

      Bealls list presumably vanished because of legal threats. It’s a special case.

  4. I find your blog useful and engaging just the way it is! But if you’re looking to keep things fresh, maybe consider finding an early career ecologist to join your ranks? Different perspectives = new content.

    • That’s something we’ve considered occasionally over the years, and may consider again in future. There are some challenges with that, not least the difficulty of identifying someone who would want to do it and would be reasonably likely to stick with it for the long haul, but who doesn’t already have their own blog. To a good (but not perfect) first approximation, any ecologist who wants to blog in a serious way is already doing so, because the barrier to entry is zero (a bag of hammers can set up a WordPress site). As evidenced by how often we invite guest posters who eagerly accept the offer, and then never follow through and actually write a post.

      Looking back, I got *incredibly* lucky when I started Dynamic Ecology. I invited three people to join me, and two of them (Meghan and Brian) stuck with it for the long term. I would not expect us to be so lucky if we tried that again.

      One new strategy we’ve never tried would be to put out an open call for guest post proposals. We’ve never done that because we don’t want anyone to think of Dynamic Ecology as a journal to which anyone is free to submit. And we don’t want anyone trying to use Dynamic Ecology as a platform to promote themselves or their own pet causes. But on the other hand, maybe we should worry less about that and more about the diversity of voices. Possibly, the main “risk” of an open call for guest post proposals is not “we’d be overwhelmed by self-promotional proposals we wouldn’t want to publish” but rather “nobody would propose anything”.

  5. I’m reading this blog for about two years and I never wrote a comment, but I must say that this is my favorite ecology/science blog and as a bonus, I practice my English reading. I truly believe that there are many others “silent” readers like me, so the impact of this blog should be higher than we imagine. Thank you all for all this awesome content!

    • Thanks Renan, glad you find the blog useful.

      You are right that we have many “silent” readers. The vast majority of readers never comment, and of those that do most comment only once or twice.

    • Same here. Also, as an early-career ecologist (postdoc) in Brazil, I really appreciate the opportunity to get in touch with a broader range of ideas and views in Ecology. I think this is provided by both posts and comments therein!

  6. This is my first time on your blog – I look forward to reading more.
    Happy birthday and here’s to blogging not being a dying form 😉 (I have hope for it.)

  7. Geologists read DE too! :). Most of your advice for grad students applies to all science. Wish I had had a similar resource as a grad student.

  8. Ric Charnov apparently brought the blog post about dimensional analysis to Dave Stephens, who told me that the number of reads of the Stephens/Dunbar dimensional analysis paper on ResearchGate within the past week has been about as many as in the prior two years. That’s about 30 downloads, which isn’t a staggering amount…but it seems like Dynamic Ecology has some influence here!

    For what it’s worth, I’ve been nudged a bit on certain topics by Dynamic Ecology posts — usually ones that are meant to be provocative, by countering or promoting a controversial idea. For example, there are elements of the community phylogenetics and the latitudinal gradient in biotic interactions posts that I disagree with (along with elements I quite strongly agree with), but I really enjoyed reading the discussions that took place after the fact.

    • “That’s about 30 downloads, which isn’t a staggering amount…but it seems like Dynamic Ecology has some influence here!”

      Thanks, but “isn’t a staggering amount” is the key phrase there.

      “For example, there are elements of the community phylogenetics and the latitudinal gradient in biotic interactions posts that I disagree with (along with elements I quite strongly agree with), but I really enjoyed reading the discussions that took place after the fact.”

      You should’ve commented! And it’s not too late, the threads are still open, and I at least would still reply.

  9. I totally agree with A. Krause and Renan above: “Dynamic Ecology” is an excellent source of information for those who need or feel they need to keep up with ecological theory, ecological statistics and new concepts in the field and by no means can they afford the time to go through hundreds of pages in review papers. To be honest, I have to admit that I had never even heard before of many of the things that come up in the text (neither as a student nor as a professional ecologist) i.e. the Price equation. I assume there are many others like me. In conclusion, the blog 1) gives assess to ecological ideas/theories little discussed outside the academic world 2)teaches us on practical aspects of how to use and interpret our data c) provides a top paradigm of how to formulate/present logical arguments in ecology d) is really entertaining!!!!!!!
    I personally thank you very much for all these…please keep up this good work.

  10. I just caught this post, and thought it’d be worthwhile to say a similar thing thing has happened with my numbers. Readership has just about flatlined over the past year on Small Pond Science too. I’ve been mulling over for the past few months what this might mean and what it doesn’t mean, and my thoughts aren’t so different than what’s here.

    I think my data would fit a logistic model. One additional thought is that while the number of ‘visits’ fluctuates a lot, and looks like it’s nearing some kind of k, readership still is increasing from subscribers via email and RSS. I’m continuing to pick up email subscribers at a good rate (though for all I know, for old subscribers, the posts end up in the spambox). Perhaps this plateau is the audience that reads by browsing the website, but then if people have a high fidelity, then they might subscribe? I’ve also dropped down to one post per week, and I was wondering how much this has retarded growth, because clearly a site with daily posts garners daily visits more than a site with weekly posts garners weekly visits. This isn’t anything I worry or fuss about, but like other complex systems, it’s curious.

    Is Dynamic Ecology an institution! I would definitely say yes. Then again, I’ve been surprised on multiple occasions, when I’ve referred to something here with some other ecologists (in the US, grad students and junior faculty) and they haven’t heard of it. Which makes me wonder about the relationship between k and niche breadth in academic blogs. Likewise, I realize that most scientists in teaching-focused institutions aren’t aware of my site. I think my site is doing what I set out to do, and then some more, but I admit to not understanding its role in the academic ecosystem, and I’d really like to, but that’s hard to assess.

    • Yes, our number of subscribers (and Twitter followers) continues to grow slowly. But as you say, you can’t measure the rate at which old subscribers stop reading without bothering to unsubscribe.

      Also, we know from past surveys that very few of our readers actually use our Twitter feed as their primary means of accessing our blog. Which means I actually have no idea why most of our ~6000 Twitter followers follow us.

      The question of how a blog’s breadth of topics relates to the size of its readership is an interesting one. I don’t know the answer. Previewing our reader survey results, I can tell you that many of our regular readers say they read Dynamic Ecology to be introduced to new ideas and information they wouldn’t otherwise have encountered.

      “Likewise, I realize that most scientists in teaching-focused institutions aren’t aware of my site. ”

      Yup. There are a *lot* of ecologists who are unaware or only vaguely aware of Dynamic Ecology. And if you drill down to awareness of particular posts, awareness drops even further. As evidenced by the fact that we sometimes resort to reruns when we’re too busy to write new posts, and they draw the same traffic and about as many comments as brand-new posts tend to draw.

      I’ve been thinking about this as I gather data on the gender balance of this year’s newly-hired asst profs in ecology. I compiled data on this last year and found that they were 53% female. That was a surprise to many readers, who when I polled them said they were expecting strong imbalance towards men. I’m very curious what will happen when I repeat the poll this year. Will everybody remember last year’s data and say they expect this year’s hires to be 53% women? I think that’s probably the most reasonable expectation. But I bet this year’s poll will look the same as last year’s, because so few people will have seen and remembered my post on last year’s data.

      Mostly, the lack of penetrance of individual posts doesn’t bother me. But it does when it comes to the rare posts that I think are really important. That post on gender balance of recent ecology hires is one that I wish many more people knew about.

  11. Pingback: Reader survey results! | Dynamic Ecology

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