Gas station without pumps

2015 January 2

Why doesn’t anyone comment on blogs?

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 13:27
Tags: , , ,

Nina Simon’s Muesum 2.0 blog post, What You Lose When You Become Embedded, and a Moment of Mourning for Blog Conversations, discusses how her posts start a lot of conversations that she is not privy to, and that she would really like to be included in discussions of her posts.

Problem is, I’m only part of a tiny fraction of those conversations. I’m learning less. I feel more lonely in my writing. It makes it harder to keep it up.

This “problem” disproportionately impacts only one of this blog’s thousands of users: me. For me, this content being embedded across different platforms and conversations is lovely in the abstract but frustrating in the day-to-day. I used to feel like a party host with really amazing guests. Now I feel like a street performer. I’m part of a bigger city. I supply some content but only get to talk with a few gadflies who stick close to the show (of whom I am very appreciative). One of my greatest blogging-related joys is when someone shares a blog post with a colleague and accidentally hits “reply” instead of “forward”—thus letting me in on their conversation.

This is what it means to be embedded. To not be the center of attention. To be used by someone else, somewhere else, without notification or participation. To be more important, but to feel less important.

In response to a comment of mine on the post, Nina Simon pointed me to another article about blog comments that she wrote way back in 2008, Museum 2.0: Why Doesn’t Anyone Comment on Your Blog?:

When people ask about blogging, the question of comments comes up more frequently than any other. It’s a bit strange. Why not ask more typical website questions, “why don’t more people visit my blog?” or “why don’t more people link to my blog?” There are many good ways to measure a blog’s value, but somewhere inside ourselves, we feel that comments are the thing that validate a blog’s existence. They prove that the conversation is two-way. They demonstrate that the blog is a more participatory vehicle than other kinds of media. So when people ask, “Why don’t more people comment?,” it gets me excited. It means that you are blogging because you want to hear from someone else.

In both her old post and her new one, she talks about why people don’t comment much. Although it is clear that she accepts the rather low ratio of commenters to readers, it is also clear that she would rather have more public conversations in her blog.

Me too.

The external commenting rate on my blog is about 0.6%—that is, about 6 comments from people other than me per 1000 views.  I’d like to have a rate more like 2–3%, that is, four or five times as many comments as I now get.

One of her commenters pointed out that a lot of ephemeral discussion happens on Facebook and Twitter, and that many people are intimidated by the greater permanence and public nature of blog comments.  Some of her lurkers have promised to try to comment more on her blog (though they recognized that this was likely to go the way of all New Year’s resolutions).

I don’t even have that comfort of triggering discussions on other platforms, as I doubt that my posts are getting much attention on Facebook or Twitter—the referral numbers to my blog from either is rather low. About 2/3 of my views are coming from search engine hits—people are looking for specific material that Google thinks they can find in one of my blog posts.  They may read just one blog post and not return, though I do have a (small) number of regular readers who subscribe to the blog.

One big difference, I suspect, between her blog and mine is that she has a fairly large community of regular readers on her blog, almost all of whom are interested in museum administration. They have a lot to say to each other. My more scattered posts on electronics, programming, teaching, home schooling, university administration, and random stuff that interests me does not result in a large, loyal following. People who are interested in only some of my posts may have nothing to say to people interested in other of my posts. When I put up a series of posts on one topic, I may lose subscribers who were only interested in one of the other topics.

I follow a lot of blogs (too many, actually, as it eats up too much of my time), and I try to comment on them whenever I have anything to say, because I know how much comments mean to blog writers. Even slightly stupid comments are better than silence. (I try not to make stupid comments, but I’m sure I do sometimes.) Some of my most frequent commenters are fellow bloggers whose blogs I comment on—we sometimes have blog conversations that are not contained just within the comments, but that trigger longer posts on our own blogs.  These are often quite satisfying conversations, which we are glad to share with other readers—and we invite you to join the conversation in the comments.

For those of you who don’t feel you have anything to say, here are some questions I’d like answers to: What brings you to my blog? What should I write about to keep your interest? What topics would you feel more comfortable commenting on?

I’m a bit of a fringe member of Nina’s blog community, having gotten interested in the Museum 2.0 blog mainly because of what she had done to turn the Museum of Art and History in Santa Cruz from a stodgy little provincial museum, of no interest to almost anyone, into a vital part of the community. I keep reading her blog, because she writes well and gets me thinking about things I would otherwise not consider, even if much of what she writes about has no application to my professional or personal life.

2014 December 31

2014 in review

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 09:15
Tags: , prepared a 2014 annual report for this blog—missing, of course, the last 3 days of 2014.  I prepared my own report today, with somewhat more up-to-date statistics.

I had about 116,000 views in 2014, up slightly (about 3.6%) from 112,251 in 2013. My blog seems to have reached a nearly steady state of readership, with only 3.5% growth a year for the past 2 years. The standard advice for making popular blogs (creating a narrowly focused, single-topic blog and pushing it a lot on social media) does not appeal to me, so I’ll continue making an eclectic mix of things that interest me, and be content with having relatively few readers.

I still don’t get many comments though, with the total number of comments about 0.97% of the total number of views, and about 39% of the comments are mine (either automatically generated links to newer posts or replies to other commenters), so the outside comments per view is more like 0.6%. These numbers are approximate, because WordPress doesn’t provide a time-based analysis of comments. My top commenters are thoughtful people, and I appreciate the comments they provide.

My readers are from around the world, though the US dominates (not surprising, since much of my content is about education in the US):

Country Views
United States FlagUnited States 76,890
United Kingdom FlagUnited Kingdom 4,064
Canada FlagCanada 3,216
India FlagIndia 2,608
Germany FlagGermany 2,207
Australia FlagAustralia 2,000
France FlagFrance 1,885
Korea, Republic of FlagRepublic of Korea 1,357
Italy FlagItaly 1,192

The most popular entry point this past year has been home page (which is what subscribers go to, or people looking specifically for my blog), but the home page accounts for only about 30% of the views—the rest come from direct links to the blog or search-engine hits.  The most popular posts this past year are an eclectic mix—some are technical help (like installing gnuplot or making WAV files from C programs), some are educational musings (how many AP courses or Carol Dweck’s Mindset), some are looked for by students cheating on homework (the various bridge design contest posts), and some are just pointers to other sites (like the AP exam score distributions). Of the posts with ≥500 views, only 4 were written in 2014, 4 in 2013, 8 in 2012, 7 in 2011, and 1 way back in 2010.  My stuff seems to get more popular with age (or I was a better writer 2–3 years ago).

Home page / Archives 34,570
How many AP courses are too many? 4,602
Engineering Encounters Bridge Design Contest 2014 2,603
Installing gnuplot—a nightmare 2,537
Carol Dweck’s Mindset 2,333
Making WAV files from C programs 2,133
Why no digital oscilloscope for Macbooks and iPads? 1,831
West Point Bridge Designer 2011 1,675
Why Discrete Math Is Important and The Calculus Trap 1,544
2014 AP Exam Score Distributions 1,422
2011 AP Exam Score Distribution 1,345
CS commenters need to learn statistics 1,161
Essay prompts for college applications 1,161
Homeschooling chemistry this year? 1,008
Journals for high school researchers 937
Summer project 937
Difficulties with the new Common Application 853
FET threshold tests with Bitscope 790
labhacks — The $25 scrunchable scientific poster 662
EKG blinky parts list and assembly instructions 654
Teaching voice projection 605
Physics posts in forward order 577
EMG and EKG works 562
Soda-bottle rockets 532
Making Ag/AgCl electrodes 530
West Point Bridge Design Contest 2012 523
Getting text from Amazon’s “Look Inside” 509

The WordPress annual report referrer list is misleading, as the search engines and social media outstrip the web pages that they list, with search engines being the main way that people find posts on this blog. The Facebook and Twitter links are interesting, since I don’t use either service. I do comment a lot on computinged and xykademiqz, and the writers of those blogs are also frequent commenters on my blog, so the views from those more popular blogs are welcome.

Referrer Views
Search Engines 61,171 549 492
Facebook 484
Twitter 369 272 211


2013 December 31

2013 in review

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 11:19
Tags: ,

The stats helper monkeys prepared a 2013 annual report for this blog, as they do each year. Click here to see the complete report.

My total views were up less than 3% from last year—I’ve probably reached a steady state with people giving up on reading my blog at about the same rate that new readers come in. My number of readers may have gone up a bit more more than 3%, as I think that I’ve not been posting as much in 2013: only 289 new posts (but today’s posts were not included, so it is probably 291).

Most popular is still my home page (29,814 views out of 112,064), but that is under 27% of views. Only 4 of my top 10 most-viewed posts this year were written this year:

post year views in 2013
2011 AP Exam Score Distribution 2011 6,996
Installing gnuplot—a nightmare 2012 4,203
How many AP courses are too many? 2012 3,305
West Point Bridge Designer 2011 2011 1,806
Difficulties with the new Common Application 2013 1,775
Why no digital oscilloscope for Macbooks and iPads? 2010 1,759
2013 AP Exam Score Distribution 2013 1,595
Instrumentation amp lab 2012 1,592
MOOC roundup 2013 1,228
Essay prompts for college applications 2013 1,154
Making WAV files from C programs 2011 1,104

None of those are particularly good posts, but they have good links to other information sources, so come up high in search engine algorithms. Some of my most popular posts from this year are obsolete—I should probably add links in them to newer posts, especially the 2011 AP exam score distribution and West Point Bridge Designer posts.  The instrumentation amp lab post is a strange one of the 202 posts on the Applied Circuits course to be the most popular—this is probably Google’s fault.

I should probably thank Google for keeping old posts alive—57,090 views or about 51% of my total came from search engines, and 54,104 or 48% of my views were referrals by Google.  Bing contributed only 1,120, Yahoo only 1,413, and all other search engine referrals were under 100 each.

Social media contributed more than I expected, since I don’t use Twitter or Facebook.  Twitter referrals were 574, Facebook 470.  Email lists probably contributed more, but they are harder to count, as only yahoo mail referrals are counted (564, plus 198 from the homeschool to college list).  I wonder why doesn’t count gmail referrals—I’m sure that gmail tracks the links. My being part of the Santa Cruz Sentinel Media Lab helped a little (405 referrals).

Commenting on other people’s blogs got me a number of referrals also.  I think that many of my regular readers have come to my blog from some other blog or from e-mail lists, rather than from search-engine referrals, but I have no way of knowing that for sure.  Some of the largest referral counts from blogs are from comments that I’d forgotten about making, and that are niche blogs for which only a few of my posts are relevant. Having another blogger point to my blog in a post is more valuable than just comments,

One piece of  advice I’ve heard for maximizing readership is to focus narrowly on one niche, so that everyone who comes to the blog knows what to expect after seeing one or two posts.  That works for some bloggers, but I have eclectic interests and can’t really limit myself in that way—I don’t want to start dozens of blogs on different topics.  So for the next year, I’ll continue posting whatever I feel like writing about.

I expect that there will be a number of posts about my new freshman design seminar, because new courses always occupy a lot of my mental space.  Home school and college application stuff will probably disappear after this spring, as my son will be graduating from high school in June.  I may revive one of my old hobbies over the summer, in which case I’ll blog about it.  The question is—what old hobby should I bring back, or what new one should I pick up?  Probably it should either involve exercise (which I need more of) or making something (I feel attached to the Maker movement, but I’ve not really made much beyond stuff for the Applied Circuits or freshman design courses in the past year).


2013 June 1

Blogoversary 3

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 19:59
Tags: , , ,

I got a notification from today that my blog is now three years old.  In that time, I’ve posted 1070 posts and gotten 235,600 views and almost 3000 comments (about 40% of which are mine, though, so only about 1800 comments from readers). My comment-to-post ratio is 2.80, nearly the same as previous years, and Bonnie and Mylène are still the top two commenters.  I offered them a prize last year of a suggesting a blog topic, but I don’t remember either of them claiming the prize—the offer is still good.

For my other blogoversaries, I did some analysis of which posts were the most popular (1 year, 2 year), so I suppose I should do that again. Here are the posts with 1000 or more views:

Home page / Archives 63,539
2011 AP Exam Score Distribution 17,482
West Point Bridge Designer 2011 5,480
Installing gnuplot—a nightmare 5,118
Why no digital oscilloscope for Macbooks and iPads? 3,542
How many AP courses are too many? 3,408
Bring back the mammoth! 2,769
West Point Bridge Design Contest 2012 2,010
Computer languages for kids 1,993
2012 AP Exam Score Distribution 1,937
Instrumentation amp lab 1,707
County Fair with Pictures 1,614
Why Discrete Math Is Important and The Calculus Trap 1,613
Resources for bioinformatics in AP Bio 1,356
Google Scholar vs. Scopus and SciFinder 1,330
Waterproofing cameras for underwater ROVs 1,294
Soda-bottle rockets 1,273
Adding bioinformatics to AP Bio 1,237
A use for an Ion Torrent 1,108
Teaching voice projection 1,106
Should high schools and colleges teach sentence diagramming? 1,098
Underwater ROV contest 1,049
What is giftedness? 1,037

No single post gets more hits than the home page, which is viewed by those people who read the blog on a regular basis, but overall I get over 41%  of my views from people referred by search engines.  People are reading my stuff for the content, not because the posts are by me.  I’m not sure whether that is good or bad.

Some of the popular posts are artifacts of search engines: like the mammoth post, the pointers to AP score distributions, or the pictures from the County Fair. Some are from middle-school students trying to cheat on homework (the West Point Bridge Designer posts), and some are just weird choices (why the instrumentation amp lab post out of the 173 posts for the circuits course?). A lot of the posts are coming up because of useful content, though (like how to install gnuplot, bioinformatics resources, or soda-bottle rockets).

Only two of those most-popular hits are from the last year, so perhaps I should list the posts with over 300 views that were written in the last year:

2012 AP Exam Score Distribution 1,937
Instrumentation amp lab 1,707
Soda-bottle rocket simulation: take 2 750
EMG and EKG works 732
Physics posts in forward order 714
College tours around LA 670
Coursera Course Catalog 648
Circuits course: Table of Contents 562
Better electrode placement for EKG blinky 519
Medical Instrumentation, Chapter 6 510
UC Berkeley college tour 448
EKG blinky parts list and assembly instructions 421
Temperature lab, part 3: voltage divider 401
Where you get your BS in CS matters 397
Homemade super pulley 372
Weird problem in Coursera course 366
FET threshold tests with Bitscope 361
A critique of CS textbooks 347
Capacitive sensing 323
NSF “clarifies” Broader Impacts 314
Possible textbook, Horowitz and Hill 313

Of these, only the 2012 AP score distribution is embarrassing (it is just a pointer to a post where someone else collected the stats from a third person’s tweets, so it is really 3rd-hand info). Interestingly, the pages that serve as tables of contents for the home school physics and the circuits course have both been fairly popular. I would not have pulled out the instrumentation lab post nor the Chapter 6 summary out of the circuits-course posts as being particularly valuable, though.

I’ve not been pushing my posts on mailing lists much this year—of the new posts, probably only the two tables of contents and the two college-visit posts have been boosted by my telling people on mailing lists about them.

I’ve been averaging about 10,000 views a month lately (though the stupid AP score posts cause a spike in May each year, and December, August, and June were slow months—a lot of my readers are students or academics, so vacation times result in lower numbers of viewers).

2013 March 23

Post 1024

Filed under: Uncategorized — gasstationwithoutpumps @ 19:58
Tags: , ,

I’ve finally gotten to more posts than I can count on my fingers (10000000000 in binary, 2000 in octal, 400 in hexadecimal, or 1024 in decimal).

Since this is a milestone on my blog, I should probably report a few statistics:

1,023 Posts, 20 Categories, 1,305 Tags

211,322 Views, 2,878 Comments, but about 40% of those comments are from me (either adding notes to a post or responding to another commenter, so I’m really getting only about 8 comments for every 1000 views.

The big categories are

Circuits course 164
 home school 127
 Robotics  46
 data acquisition 36
 printed circuit boards 34
 science fair 27

Because still does not support displaying posts in chronological order (only reverse chronological), and the theme I use does not include next/previous links (the one major complaint I have with the theme), I’ve had to create and manually maintain a couple of table of contents pages:

Circuits course

Homeschool Physics

The major tags are

education 297
circuits 158
teaching 127
high school 109
physics 105
home school 96
course design 95
bioengineering 86
Arduino 75
higher education 67
computer science 56
bioinformatics 49
science education 44
math 41
programming 40
Matter and Interactions 37
AP physics 37
engineering 36
science fair 35

There are probably a number of posts that should have the “home school” tag but don’t.

The major referrers are

Search Engines  (almost all Google) 84,867
Various Yahoo mail servers 1,879
Google Reader 1,468 1,401
Facebook 915 762 486 470 443
Twitter 432 359 283 283 208

Since I have neither Facebook nor Twitter accounts, the number of referrals from those social media sites are surprisingly large, but searches and e-mail referrals are clearly a far more common way to get to my blog. The coming loss of Google Reader may end up hurting my readership numbers, though I suppose that most Google Reader users will switch over to a different RSS reader. I’ll have to choose one soon myself (I’m thinking of The Old Reader, NewsBlur, or NetVibes, though I understand that NewsBlur has stopped giving out free accounts for now, because they got too many new users with the demise of Google Reader).

Here are some of my all-time most popular posts (some of them are definitely not among my favorite posts):

Title Views Comment
Home page / Archives 57,462 I show a few recent posts on the home page for the blog, so many of my readers just view posts there.
2011 AP Exam Score Distribution 13,937 Just a pointer to data on someone else’s web page, with minimal commentary
West Point Bridge Designer 2011 5,189 middle-school students trying to cheat on their homework
Installing gnuplot—a nightmare 4,233 The comments on this post have proven to be useful—the instructions for installing gnuplot in the comments are better than the post or the official gnuplot installation instructions.
Why no digital oscilloscope for Macbooks and iPads? 3,244 Obsolete now, as the BitScope USB oscilloscope does work with a MacBook.
Bring back the mammoth! 2,734 A throw-away comment that got a lot of views from Russia, for reasons I still don’t understand.
How many AP courses are too many? 2,526 thoughts on the tradeoffs between challenge and overwork
Computer languages for kids 1,922 The post I point people to when they ask about how to teach kids to program. Because my son has been an excellent programmer for a while, I get asked this a lot. I don’t recommend teaching (most) kids the way my son learned, but I have given some thought to how I think programming should be taught to youngsters.
West Point Bridge Design Contest 2012 1,847 Middle-schoolers cheating on their homework, but using a more recent version of bridge designer. Interestingly, this year’s post for the 2013 contest has not had many hits—probably because it is not part of the positive feedback loop that causes posts on the first page of Google hits to become more commonly reported by Google.
2012 AP Exam Score Distribution 1,697 Yet another pointer to someone else’s web page with minimal commentary
County Fair with Pictures 1,513 I’ve never understood why this post gets so many hits. There must be 1000s of better collections of County Fair pictures.
Why Discrete Math Is Important and The Calculus Trap 1,468 A pointer to some good articles on the Art of Problem Solving web site, along with some commentary.
Instrumentation amp lab 1,297 Another post in the Google positive feedback cycle. I have better posts than this one about instrumentation amps and labs using them, but this one is the one that gets clicked on.
Resources for bioinformatics in AP Bio 1,225 This post has a number of pointers that I collected that are useful for AP bio teachers and students. The teachers now have a resource repository on the College Board website that is probably more useful to them. I’ve not checked whether everything I’ve listed here has been put into the College Board repository, and probably never will have the time or energy to do that.
Adding bioinformatics to AP Bio 1,194 I think that this post was about the need for adding bioinformatics to high school biology, rather than resources for doing so. Some grad students and I have done some volunteer teaching and lesson development since then (see bioinformatics in AP Bio lessons)
Google Scholar vs. Scopus and SciFinder 1,190 A somewhat dated look at different scholarly indexing services, using searches for my work as one measure of coverage and false positives.
Waterproofing cameras for underwater ROVs 1,187 A record (with pictures) of the workshop taught to high school students for the MATE Rover underwater vehicle contest. It is a surprisingly cheap and simple way to create waterproof video cameras.
A use for an Ion Torrent 1,088 A throwaway idea for a market niche for a fairly low-cost sequencing platform. From what I’ve heard, Ion Torrent is still trying to get their error rates down to reasonable numbers, and they were badly hurt by sleazy moves by their marketing people (suppressing papers from early adopters, for example).
Soda-bottle rockets 1,066 Soda-bottle rockets are a great topic, and I have some other posts under the rocket tag, but I probably get more hits on a much older pair of PDF files for one-page handouts on how to make a simple soda-bottle launcher (English and Spanish).
Should high schools and colleges teach sentence diagramming? 1,042 Sentence diagramming seems to have gone through a nostalgia phase about a year ago. I’m not convinced that it helps students much, but it is probably better than ignoring grammar entirely or just teaching parts of speech.
What is giftedness? 1,035 I nearly always get a wave of views when I e-mail a link to post to one of the larger parent-of-gifted-kid email lists, but I try to minimize how often I do that, and only point to posts that are highly relevant to the conversation in progress on the list, so as not to be viewed as one of those obnoxious people who are just on the mailing list to shill for their books, courses, or blogs. I try to limit my mentions of my blogs to about one out of ten of my comments on the e-mail list or less.

I seem to have 20 posts with over 1000 views. I wonder what the blogging equivalent of the h-index is. Probably something like the largest h such that there are h posts with ≥50h views.

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