Sunday, January 31, 2010

State of the Blog, Jan 2010

It being a Sunday and the last day in January, which was the third month of my resumption of blogging here at Early Warning, it seems worth doing a little virtual navel-gazing.  As you see from the Sitemeter graphs above, things are off to a decent start.  The blog started from a miniscule level of interest, but growth is very rapid - we are still more than doubling month-over-month.  Presumably growth will slow down and level off at some point, but I don't have much visibility into when that will be.

The level of readership is still miniscule compared to long-established blogs.  If you look at the Sitemeters at more established sites like Calculated Risk, The Oil Drum (who apparently recently removed their sitemeter link), or Econbrowser you'll see numbers one to three orders of magnitude larger than mine.

Looking at a more detailed view of how the blog went from 4k visits in December to 9k in January, the daily visit count over the last month looks like this:

From a level of about 100/day in late December, the traffic increase was largely driven by two "major posts", Iraq Could Delay Peak Oil a Decade, and Chinese Transportation Growth, which were of sufficient interest that blogs with much larger readership invited me to cross-post them, or linked to them, or discussed them somehow, and some of their readers came over to see what the fuss was, and a fraction of them stuck around.

In the last  two weeks of January, there were no major posts, and it seemed like I held onto around 250-300 readers (to the extent "unique visits" at sitemeter is a proxy for "readers" - there could be some inflation from folks who check the blog from multiple computers etc).

I had originally intended to do a large post every Monday, but that proved impractical.  The blog is largely written from this cafe, which is at the bottom of the hill from my house.  I stagger down there every morning shortly after six am, they give me a latte while they are in the middle of setting up the tables, I open up my laptop at my favorite corner table and produce whatever I can between then and around 8am.  A little additional work happens some evenings and then varying amounts on the weekend, between other commitments.  What has proved practical with that level of time input is a smallish post each weekday, one on the weekend, plus about two major posts each month.  In the case of January, the major posts were the Iraq one, which was a lot of work and some of the research was done over the Christmas vacation, and the China transportation one, where I just got lucky and normal daily research led very easily to an interesting post.

The timing of the major posts doesn't seem to matter too much and I will just do them as they are ready.  I have a couple started for February, one of which will probably go early next week, and we will see if they drive much readership or not.

The smallish posts in between are generally follow-ups to things I was already researching, or early stages of research into things I'm exploring, or stuff where I'm not sure it's going to work out too well (like the analysis of Failed States Index).  For the most part, they don't drive a lot external links, with the exception of Big Gav at Peak Energy, who seems to think more like me than most people.  Also, from time to time, readers of mine will link to one of my posts in discussion at some other blog or forum, which can drive anywhere from a few to a few dozen visits.  I deeply appreciate this, as well as those folks who take the time to comment - comments have been almost uniformly thoughtful and intelligent, and I greatly value the nascent conversation we have started there.

From my standpoint, the most important thing is that there do seem to be a few hundred people who are willing to stick around and read whatever I can come up with each day, which to me is plenty to justify showing up every morning at 6am or so.  If the cafe was full with a few hundred people physically present and waiting to hear me speak, of course I would feel honored and would make a point of showing up and giving the best presentation I could. Although it's harder to visualize, in a way the fact that my audience is all over the globe, makes it more significant, not less.  When I was in the process of deciding to start blogging again, which took me a few weeks before I was ready to take the plunge, I was reading Abraham Maslow's Towards a Psychology of Being.  I don't have the book to hand to get the quote right, but there was a line in there which affected me deeply about one of the ways to remain less than fully human was to "Be the man who sees the truth and remains silent".  I am no longer in that category.  For whatever it's worth, my voice is no longer missing from the global conversation about what we should be doing in these difficult times.

So, overall, I find myself well satisfied.  My largest uncertainty in restarting blogging was my ability to sustain a blog all by myself.  But I find I now can: I can produce a daily output worth reading to enough people that I am happy to do it, and I can do so without derailing other areas of my life: my employer still wants me, my wife and children still see me, I get an appropriate amount of exercise, not quite enough sleep but I can get by, and I write this blog.  As a planetary civilization, we face some very serious challenges in my opinion, and we aren't doing a very good job of facing up to them.  I have no control over that, but I now have the feeling that I'm making a reasonable effort to do my part with such time and skills as I can spare from the task of making a decent daily life for my family.  The rest is up to everyone else.


James said...

Twenty years ago I would read The Economist to try and find out what was happening in the world. Today, I would much rather read Early Warning and Calculated Risk.

Not that old media cannot ever print anything worth reading. This article in the NYT titled 'U.S. Speeding Up Missile Defenses in Persian Gulf' really caught my eye:

The article, to my mind, does not really present a coherent explanation of what the motivation for the deployments is. I cannot help but suspect that they might be paving the way for a strike on Iran's nuclear installations - since I have long wondered if the Saudi oil terminals might not be relatively soft targets for an Iranian response. I doubt the Iranians could close the Straits of Hormuz for an extended period, but I wonder what the effect of a barrage of short range ballistic missiles armed with cluster munitions would be on Saudi oil storage tanks.

Phil Hart said...

kudos Stuart

there's a reason why your stats are looking so healthy already - you take blogging to a new level.

you are objective in finding and reviewing data and your ability to make surprising new findings on even well trodden ground (sometimes surprising even yourself i think) is remarkable. i enjoy it.. i just wish i could get up at 6am to match your productivity!

i'm not *quite* as optimistic as big gav :) but otherwise share much of your joint view of the world. keep it up.. your work has a big influence on my thinking and the little that i can do in my occasionally public roles on the peak oil and climate change fronts.


Stuart Staniford said...

Phil - thanks for your kind words, and thanks for the link from your TOD post to my very first post back in November - I think that was what mainly drove the first hundred readers.

Stuart Staniford said...

James - that is an interesting story. Sounds like President Obama is rattling his sabre.

KLR said...

The thing I like about your analysis is that it's fairly exhaustive, and focused on what matters; for peak oil that would be supply and demand. Huh! Also objective as to what could unfold over time. Far too many people treat peak oil as a Sword of Damocles with almost all the fibres in the rope sliced through; you can read innumerable prophecies of petroleum doom from the late 70s too, notice how that didn't quite turn out the way it was supposed to? What happened? Will the same happen now?

For some time I've yearned for a forum or blog with a focus on energy - to the exclusion of anything else. I'd have a moratorium on anything off topic, politics, AGW, you name it, and especially eschatological ramblings. Reason being, of course, that a lot of people are really put off by these excursions into dire resignation and some of the have very valuable knowledge to contribute. All the sites I've posted at have slowly denigrated in the quality of research being done, very likely because of all the bunker bound misanthropes, which is a shame, there are still many wild cards in the deck, like hybrid vehicles. Are total sales 2005-2009 really 0.6568% of the fleet? What does that mean in terms of saving fuel? Why did the % of total sales peak in 2007? Will they rebound - are there historical parallels?

All I can do is gather some data and take really crude WAGs - uh, so maybe those hybrids are saving us 214.8 kb/d? Kinda...? So it's great to have you back in the game, Stuart.

Sam Charles Norton said...

So long as you keep shipping, we'll keep reading :)

(reference: he's worth reading regularly if you're not familiar with him)

kjmclark said...

I appreciate your willingness to dive into the actual numbers and do the math. Except for the economics sites, there's a real dearth of "show me the math" blogs out there. You're very good at extrapolating trends. It's well worth my time to stop in every few days.

OTOH, one of my concerns is that in seeing where the trend is headed, sometimes the predictable low-probability event gets missed that derails the trend. That's not necessarily a bad thing; most sites are so interested in the set of possible events that they fail to see where things will end up if there's no catastrophe. It's good to see where things are really headed if none of the fringe events happen, since things like burning the food supply could sneak up on us.

For example, you did a post a couple of years ago on fuel economy improvements that looked at the possible improvements based on the history of the 70s/80s. My concern at the time was whether the possible mpg improvements would happen if the economy crashed in the process. We got the oil price spike that the peak oil community expected, but the outlier event of the economy crashing happened, so our fuel economy improvements have been modest.

I'm concerned about the situation James brought up. Iran strikes me as unstable, with increasing potential to cause disruptions.

Still, if nothing happens in Iran, or China, etc. it's tremendously valuable to know where the oil situation is headed. You're really providing the best analysis out there on that. Thanks!