Sunday, September 27, 2009

Half way house

I’m currently half way through an 18 month master’s of journalism at QUT. I am actually slightly over the exact half-way mark as the mid-term break that arrives next week is strangely week 11 out of 14 (something very Irish about that!). Mine is a three semester course-work degree, so the end result will not be treated as highly as if it were a research masters. However a third of my work is thesis. That will be due in late May 2010 and I want that to be treated and examined as if it were a full research thesis. (pic: QUT Kelvin Grove "Education A Block Building" by Derek Barry)

Though I’ve yet to nail down a decent journalism-related research question for the thesis, I have chosen to broadly situate the study within blogs and their place in the world, But whatever the question will eventually be (and I’ll need to get that sorted by the end of this year) it makes sense to discuss it within the context of my own blogging. Reflective analysis means applying an honest blowtorch to my own work prior to making any grand statements about the wider world.

So this post is the first attempt to publicly verbalise the journey. I will be trying to do this on a weekly basis between now and June 2010 (though there might be a few weeks off between semesters). It will be as open and self-critical as I can make it. This won’t be easy - I made the decision to discuss blogs back in February and for reasons I cannot yet easily explain I’ve been dragging my heels on mentioning it in my own blog.

Or blogs plural. I currently spend several hours every day running three blogs (or two and a half to be more accurate). I maintain two versions of Woolly Days. The original started on Blogger in September 2005 and a new one started on Wordpress in February this year. The two are almost exactly alike in article content. My third site is Irish I’s which I started in June 2007 to post jokes, pics, and oddball stories I stumble upon on a daily basis. Irish I’s is also on blogger (though is possibly an ideal candidate to move to a newer platform such as Posterous).

But Woolly Days is my major preoccupation and I can often spend four to six hours a day putting to a post together. I am currently persisting with two versions of Woolly Days because I cannot decide which one to go one with. I like the more professional look of WordPress Woolly Days but I’m still fond of Blogger Woolly Days on the Google-owned platform that gave me a public voice four years ago. So I put up with double-entry bookkeeping (though typographical errors fixed up subsequently in one are not necessarily retrofitted to the other). If I were unsentimental I should be seriously considering leave the Woolly Days brand behind and start blogging under the label of Derek Barry or else at some other “Days”. This might well happen when I physically leave Wooloowin (where I’ve lived since 2004).

I don’t think it would greatly matter wherever I publish next because it is the blogging form that matters not the brand. It is as a blogger I think I am establishing an authentic, articulate and unorthodox voice that is slowly getting recognition in the wider community.

That pleases me because blogging is important. Don’t be deceived by the claims that it is so 2004. The fact that the early adopters have moved on means is that it is a maturing product with tens of millions of active exponents. These people blog because it gives them as a long-form and free platform of communication on the Internet. If democracy could be defined as the freedom to express your opinion widely, then the rise of the blog is a good thing. For me that means over a thousand articles and a million words over four years at a rate of six or more posts a week.

So is anyone listening to this widespread distribution of opinion, is anyone paying attention? Who is reading my million words?

To answer these questions, I need to analyse some audience metrics for my blogs.
After 20 days this month (approx 3 weeks), my sites have received the following number of hits (in brackets number of hits a day)
Woolly Days Blogger 32, 927 = average 1,646 hits a day
Irish I’s 1, 319 = average 66 hits a day
Woolly Days Wordpress 378 = average 19 hits a day.
For a grand total of 34, 624 at an average of 1,731 hits a day.

Hits aren’t humans and I don’t have breakdown of hits to visits on a monthly basis. However on a daily basis the number of visits averages between 65 and 90 percent of the hits total. If we go with the lowest figure of 65 percent that would mean an average total of 1,125 human visitors come to my blogs every day in September 2009. The actual figure that read my work is higher than that as Woolly Days blog content is also available to read in Facebook (to 94 people) and all are available as RSS feeds (to 42 subscribers on Google Reader and an unknown number on other RSS readers). But lets assume however this number is low and adds merely another 75 or so visitors, to give a nice round total number of 1,200.

This means I am talking to about twelve hundred people every day. But nowhere near this total are listening or indeed reading the same material. Far fewer still are actually talking back, but I might have to save the analysis on that for a later time. Because I wanted to concentrate on how people get to my site now. Why, when there are tens of millions of blogs to go to, do they come to mine?

90 percent of my traffic arrives serendipitously – well, its pleasantly surprising for me, anyway. But most of these people aren’t interested in Woolly Days at all. Four out of every five people come from Google Images (and increasingly Bing). They’ve clicked on the picture and may or may not stay to read the text in the lower pane. I’m reasonably high in a surprising number of Google image searches in my increasingly long tail. The most popular page at the moment on Woolly Days is a 2006 article on Magna Carta. For reasons entirely unknown to me, it is currently number in Google Images for that search.

I thank Google for their algorithms but it is the one in five that don’t come for the picture that are most likely to pay attention to the words. Half of these come from Google searches (10 percent of the entire total). These searchers usually do not hang around for long once they found an answer (or a lack of answer) to the question they have asked Google though occasionally are hooked in to explore a bit further.

The last 10 percent are people who come via bookmarks, links, Twitter, Facebook, RSS and other recommendations. It is these 120 or so people who come regularly to the site as part of their regular media consumption who are most likely to be reading what I’m currently writing. Given that most of the posts here at Woolly Days break the cardinal rule of short blogging and are often quite dense and political, it is likely that at least two thirds of these will not have the time or inclination to read this far into the post. Let’s assume then that there are just 40 readers left at this stage.

I humbly thank this mathematical derived forty that have stayed the course and hope that they find the rest of this journey interesting. I would also love to hear back what people think about blogging or what they think might be an interesting research question. I would like this quest to serve as much meaning as I can cram into it. But if it there is no meaning or if none of this matters, I’d like to hear about that too.

Next week I’ll be looking at how much journalism is in my work.

Derek Barry

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