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