Monday, January 3, 2011

State of the Blog, Q4 2010

Time for the quarterly review of how the blog is coming along. The above shows the overall visit stats from Sitemeter - I've switched to my own Excel graph since the earliest months have now fallen off Sitemeter's 12 month view.

The surface impression is that the stats, after growing sharply in the first 6 months, leveled off.  However, I think that's a little misleading.  My sense is that readership stats divide into two categories - what one might call "regular" and "temporary".  Regular readers show up habitually most of the time with the intention of reading this blog.  Temporary readers come in because someone/somewhere else linked to a particular post here and they came over to read it.  Temporary readership is very spiky, fluctuating wildly depending on who links to me, and how prominently.  My sense is that the regular readership was running about 400 visits/workday back in May, but that was boosted by a big series of temporary spikes, mostly driven by a single post: Odds of Cooking the Grandkids.  By November/December, the regular readership is up to about 600 visits/workday when no-one is linking.  It goes down on weekends and holidays, and up when there are inbound links.  Obviously, it's nice to have a "hit" post, but I'm certainly not able to predict in advance when that will happen, and other things being equal, I'd rather have a regular readership.

This quarter was also when I passed the 100 mark in Google followers, so that was nice.

So quantitatively, I think the story is a little more one of steady growth than the stats show, albeit slower than in the first six months (which is only to be expected).

I will say that personally, the blog felt like a bit more of a struggle this quarter.  It works best when I find something to write about that ignites my personal passion - it's directly more satisfying for me that way, but also readers and other bloggers, being human, respond to the emotion too.  If you look at a blogging superstar like Andrew Sullivan, he is pretty much in a permanent state of high passion about something or other.  But, I can't/won't fake that, and it was a little trickier to find subjects that did that this quarter (with the Future of Drought series being a notable exception).  I'm still thinking about that - possibly it just is a natural fluctuation, but it may also mean that it's necessary to shift the way I blog somehow - we'll see.  I imagine the blog will need to shift and grow over time - since certainly I have every intention of trying to continue to grow as a person, and the blog will have to reflect that.

There are two possibilities that I think about here.

One is that, scratch me hard enough on the subject of "Risks to Global Civilization" and deep down I will still bleed cyberwar.  If the lights ever go out and don't come back on, IMO the reasons will most likely be cyber-attack related.  And yet I barely talk about it on this blog.  There are two reasons.  One is that it's slightly awkward from a COI perspective with my obligations at work, (lots of confidential things that I know but couldn't talk about, as well as the fact that the marketing interests of any particular employer and the demands of authenticity and integrity on a blog will never align perfectly).  But really, that could be worked around (see Schneier, Bruce for a good example) and the real reasons are personal and emotional - I got very badly burned a few years back for following my heart on those issues, and I haven't really recovered my passion for the subject.

The other is that a lot of my spare time now is, and will be, going on projects up at the farm.  It would be fun, for me, to write about that more.  But the audience that wants to know about global oil production stats and the audience that wants to talk about how to replace missing braces in a timber-frame barn are probably not the same.  One possibility would be to borrow the strategy of Ran Prieur who has a separate landblog where he talks about his doings on his land.  I'm just not sure I could maintain two semi-linked blogs to an adequate quality without it eating my life completely.

I'll keep thinking about it.

Of course, at a personal level, 2010 has been a huge transition year for me.  I've commented extensively on that elsewhere (1, 2, 3), and I don't have much more to say at present except to say that I'm extremely thankful that such a large transition has gone as well as it has.  I feel a good deal happier, and more integral, than I did at the outset of 2010.  I'm sort of hoping that 2011 will be a little more about consolidating the gains...


Burk Braun said...

Thanks for your work. As far as threats to civilization, I'd suggest biological infections as perhaps even more threatening than cyberinfections.

Wise Bass said...

"Cyber-war"? That's a rather . . . unusual perspective. It could certainly cause some economic catastrophes (although it's important not to over-emphasize the danger of it), but I doubt it's the world-ender.

I'd be much more worried about biological attacks. Considering the money that pours into biosciences research, it's almost guaranteed that there will be some nasty bugs created in the next century.

Greg said...

Do what you have to do, Stuart.

I like your blog - a new post from you is always the first one that I select in my reader. But I could live with posts becoming sporadic, or even ceasing, if that meant the blog stayed focused on 'risks to gobal civilization.'

The great thing about the new media is that you don't have to have a publishing schedule. I have blogs in my reader that only get a new post about once a month on average. They are no less valuable for that. So, consider this my vote for quality and integrity over quantity.

Thanks for all your thinking, and thanks for sharing it.

KLR said...

Thanks again for all your work, Stuart!

I've been using Google Reader lately - it's excellent, much more handy than other aggregators I've tried in the past - but does being a follower of your blog constitute a hit per post? I only actually open up pages if I'm interested in the comments. Which generally is the case anyway. Still. Would investigate this further but am pressed for time so thought I'd post this question.

Stuart Staniford said...

Greg, KLR - yes, I used Google Reader too, and I agree that it makes low frequency high-quality blogs much more attractive relative to high frequency lower-quality ones. However, I thing many readers are still just pointing their browser at a bookmark, or even regularly googling my name or the blog name and then reading that way. So for those folks, I don't want to disrupt their habit too much (I miss the odd day when something doesn't work out in time, but don't want to start getting very irregular).

KLR - no, I don't think Google reader reads show up as hits unless someone clicks through to the post. So, the followers and daily hits are probably semi-independent metrics.

Stuart Staniford said...

Greg: one idea I've toying with is that weekdays are strictly "Risks to Global Civilization, and then weekends might get eclectic (photos of beavers, posts about barns, etc). A bit like Kevin Drum's catblogging maybe, but more eclectic. How would that sit?

Stuart Staniford said...

On the bio vs cyber thing - I thing the worst case is almost completely disastrous in both cases. The bio worst case is we all die from infection, and the cyber worst case is all modern industry stops working overnight and can't be restarted fast enough, in which case most of us die.

Now, in neither scenario is the worst case at all likely in any given year. In particular, I've realized from long observation that the cyber threat doesn't quickly go to the worst case possible at any given time. Most of the bad actors are small time players with venal motives. The worst case requires massive engineering and testing efforts, and a wholly destructive intent, and that's not a combination that has existed to date. The engineering/testing cannot be done except by large organizations, and the managers of large organizations are typically a) not that visionary, and b) usually bought into the system as it is.

So the threat gets somewhat worse with each passing decade, as the cyber-overton-window expands, but doesn't go instantly to the worst case (and may never - I can't tell).

And this is where I would distinguish the cyber situation as worse than the bio situation - it's much further along in practice. We have only had a single case of a deliberate use of a malicious bio agent (the anthrax thing) and that was very local in impact. So there's just no community of bad guys developing expertise and thinking in that way. There's also no obvious business model for would-be bad guys to develop expertise. By contrast, there's tens of thousands (presumably) of professional cyber bad guys deploying gazillions of new threats every year. So people are a lot further along in terms of developing the skills and thought process required to make a really big attack (even though we haven't seen such a really big attack to date - probably Blaster or thereabouts is still the biggest total impact thing that's occurred).

Burk Braun said...

Hi, Stuart-

You are right about the low probability of engineered bioweapons, for the next couple of decades at least. I think we were thinking of good old-fashioned evolution- that new pathogens arise naturally to wipe us out.

You could make pretty cogent arguments against this scenario as well, such as... all areas of Earth have already been explored and degraded, so there are hardly any novel reservoirs left for some truly devastating zoonoses to arise from.

And it is less likely for existing human pathogens to transmute to some terribly lethal form- all the evolutionary forces push in the opposite direction, towards milder, more durable infections. HIV may be the most recent example.

And also, perhaps human genetic variation is increasing all the time, if slowly, so it becomes more likely that some people will survive no matter how bad a pathogen might be.

All the best..

Mike said...

You should write about whatever interests you, without worrying much about what the audience expects -- whether it's cyber-war, barn-building, recently deceased actors, or whatever -- including things that are new to you. Andrew Sullivan writes about all kinds of subjects. So does Sharon Astyk. Or, say, Mark Evanier. Most of the bloggers I enjoy have a pretty wide range of interests. Even though I don't share all their interests, I enjoy following that kind of writer -- such blogs are less narrow and predictable, and introduce me to new things I might not have known about or developed an interest in. If it works for you to generally focus on certain kinds of things on certain days, that sounds like a good approach. But you have to keep it interesting for you, or it won't be interesting for other people. Go ahead -- surprise us!

Southern Sassafrass said...

I think you would be surprised about the overlap b/t farming issues and oil issues and those of us interested in both. Some of us the knowledge we gather around oil to make decisions to live more sustainably.

Glenn said...

I, for one, would read both for oil stats and replacing the bents in your barn. But then, I'm a carpenter and timber framer in the Northwest who's enrolled in a wooden boat building school.

By all means, keep it up, and add what interests you.

Marrowstone Island

Greg said...

On the "weekdays business, weekends eclectic" thing: that's fine with me! I certainly wouldn't unsubscribe.