We blog but is anyone actually reading?
Answer: Yes, of course.
We have web stats that let us know that people are reading our posts. The real question I want to look at is what sort of impact our posts actually have on our audiences. This is what I want to tackle for my contribution to February’s #blogarch question.
In the past I looked at how blog posts actually receive more views than many peer reviewed articles. So blog posts, some at least, will be read more than most of the written work we as archaeologists produce. This is of course a simplistic look at impact. As this article in the Slate stated in its title, You Won’t Finish This Article. It is a great article and well worth the read if you have the time. It turns out that 38% of the people viewing that article leave the web page before even having a chance to get beyond the first sentence. Half of those who did not bounce away right at the beginning of the article are gone after only a few hundred words in. The decline continues and very few people actually make it to the end of the content on a Slate Article.
I want to emphasis the Slate Article part because I don’t believe that all content is viewed the same. Unfortunately, most stats for blogs are very blunt. With WordPress.com I know the number of views on my articles but I don’t know the length of the stay of those view. I don’t know if people bounce away or stay to finish the full article. Maybe some of you have better stats and can estimate if people actually read all of what you write. That aside it is interesting to consider that views of blog posts, downloads of journal articles, etc. does not mean that people are actually reading your work.
Even if people do read all of what you write what do they take away from it? Luckily, blog stats do track some of sources that bring traffic to your posts and it is possible to go back to those sources, like twitter or forums, to see what people say about your work. Not perfect but it gives you an idea of what a few people think about your work. This sort of data can be illuminating. It turns out that out of hundreds or thousands of words we write sometimes only half a dozen actually move people. Sometimes a single quote is what people find most useful out of an entire post. It is what they comment on. Not the whole article, just a few words. Take for example Stephan’s contribution to Feb. #blogarch, a single quote from a long New Yorker article. Out of that entire long article what stood out was a single quote.
Learning that only a few words are what matters to others can be discerning for an archaeologist. We tend to be taught that a few words form a sentence, several sentences make up a paragraph, multiple paragraphs create a section, several sections creates an article, multiple articles creates an issue, issues equals a volume and volumes equal a journal, the be all and end all of many people’s goals for publication. Yet, the most valuable portion of a journal to some might only be the very basic building blocks of the work, a few words.
Even it blog stats are blunt and weak they still can provide interesting insights. For example, wordpress.com gives me both unique viewers and views on posts. For some reason most people concentrate on unique viewers. Probably because it gives a representation of the number of people who view a website. However, when I combined these two stats I found that a few people will actually view multiple posts. That is they come to one of my posts via social media or search and then begin to explore the rest of the blog. I would say fairly clear signs that whoever it is finds the posts good enough to read several of them. Then there are of course people who read enough that they sign-up to email alerts or RSS feeds to read more. Another indication that people at least like what they read.
These are mainly just my musings on the topic. A bit of digital archaeology using the blunt tools available to try and determine what people think based on their digital remains. I would like to expand upon this topic but for now these are just some thoughts I have had.