Happy New Year! This post is mostly just navel-gazing notes to myself, but if you’re curious please do read on.
As noted in past year-end wrap-ups, commenting on our posts has been on a bumpy, gradual downward slide for years. But in 2019, starting in Feb., the downward slide showed up in our traffic stats too. We’ve now had 11 consecutive months of down traffic, year-on-year, despite posting just as much as in 2018 (197 posts in 2019 vs. 200 in 2018). We got about 640,000 pageviews in 2019 from about 315,000 unique visitors, both down substantially from each of the previous three years (~730,000 pageviews from ~360,000 unique visitors every year from 2016-2018). And we were down to about 2350 comments this year, from ~2800 last year.
I suspect there are various reasons for this decline. We’re drawing less traffic from searches than we used to, which is why visits to our most popular old posts are slowly declining. Presumably, that reflects Google’s PageRank algorithm having a preference for younger pages. But first-day traffic to new posts is dropping too. I suspect that’s in part because Meghan and Brian struggle to post as much as they used to. And it’s probably in part because I just don’t have as much new to say any more. I’ve been blogging for 8+ years, counting my time at Oikos Blog. Presumably, some longtime readers are drifting away–as well they should, if they no long feel like this blog has much new to say to them! I’m not complaining here; nobody’s entitled to pageviews. Selfishly, I’d of course prefer it if everybody kept reading and commenting, because traffic is a means to an end for me. I blog to start and participate in conversations about the ecology-related topics that interest me, and thereby hopefully have some small positive influence on the direction of the field. But obviously, nobody but me has any reason to care about my preferences. 🙂
Longtime readers drifting away is presumably only part of the story, though. I’m sure there’s always been some turnover in our readership, with new readers replacing those who’ve stopped reading. It would be interesting to know if decline in our traffic is because we’re losing more old readers, not gaining as many new readers, or both. Possibly, fewer ecology students ever start reading any blogs these days? Whether because they prefer Twitter, or for some other reason. If so, that wouldn’t surprise me. Blogging as a form has been slowly dying for many years. So part of the explanation for our declining traffic probably lies in broader trends that have nothing to do with any individual blog.
If memory serves, longtime economics blogger Tyler Cowen has an old post in which he suggests that all bloggers run out of new things to say after 5 years. So perhaps we should consider it a compliment that anyone still reads us after 7 years, and give ourselves a pat on the back! And of course thank those of you who still read us. 🙂 It remains a humbling honor that so many people choose to read us, and that a few of you even comment from time to time. 🙂 We’ll do our best to continue to make it worth your while in 2020.
Some of my personal favorite posts and comment threads of the year:
I’m amazed Brian banged out a timely post on whether N. America really lost 3 billion birds over the last 48 years. Commenting intelligently on a fast-moving news story is just so hard. And the associated comment thread is fabulous. It’s a mix of informed technical discussion of bird abundance data, and thoughtful commentary on how to present scientific information to the public in a compelling but non-misleading way.
Even after seven years, Meghan retains her gift for really fun posts that spark excellent comment threads. As illustrated by her list of the things that blow the minds of Intro Bio students.
Meghan also retains her gift for honest, nuanced posts about things that are hard to talk about. For instance, I agree with Meghan that it’s not merely ok but actually essential to pick and choose tasks to take on and causes to support. Even though that means there are lots of interesting things that you will simply be unaware of, and lots of important causes to which you’ll contribute nothing. But I also feel like it’s hard to admit that to yourself even in private, so kudos to Meghan for admitting it in public. I also admire Meghan for continuing to speak publicly about mental health in academia, including her own mental health. She’s even publicly questioned widely-publicized data that likely overstated the prevalence of mental health problems in academia. Meghan shows through her own example that caring deeply about a problem, and working hard to highlight and address it, is not mutually exclusive with a commitment to accuracy. Exaggerated claims inhibit progress, they don’t aid it. Meghan’s posts reflecting on her pedagogy also resonated with me (e.g., this one). I’m not as good a teacher as her, but I too wonder if my modest pedagogical innovations are having their intended effects.
Speaking of honest posts about things that are hard to talk about…Gina Baucom’s guest posts on her tenure debacle and the support network that got her through it (all the way to the happy ending!) were our best guest posts of the year to my mind. Many people have gone through, or have worried about going through, a similar experience, and so I know Gina’s brave words resonated with many.
For my own part, I’m proud of my post on when and why the ecology faculty job market first got competitive. I think data compilation posts tend to be my best and most useful posts these days, and that one was a particularly good one if I do say so myself. I’m also proud of my various posts bringing data to bear on the current ecology faculty job market, for instance regarding how many people apply for which positions, and what sort of teaching experience new hires tend to have. I even calculated the fraction of recent ecology faculty job seekers who’ve gone on to tenure-track faculty positions (a minority, but a surprisingly large one!). The data reported in those job market posts are imperfect in various ways. But I hope that, on balance, compiling and publishing those data has made the world a slightly better place for ecology faculty job seekers and those who advise them. In terms of other data compilations, this one on the “life histories” of ecological ideas was both fun and interesting, I think.