Thursday, July 21, 2011

State of the Blog (2010-2011)

It's been another year since I began this experiment and one year since the last "State of the Blog" post. This writing business seems to be turning into a bit of a habit. It's been quite a year and there's lots to review. Some things I feel I have been doing forever, and it is a surprise to notice that many are only fairly recent developments.

Let's kick things off with the statistics. In the 2009-2010 period, I had written 28 posts. That has doubled to 56 in the 2010-2011 period which means that I now average better than one post per week. Admittedly, this frequency has dropped off a bit recently, but I hope to pick up the pace a little bit with some fresh ideas. With luck, my writing is getting better. If that's the only outcome from putting these posts together I will be happy.

There have also been many developments that have provided material over the last year. In particular, the shift to the University of Western Ontario opened up a whole series of planetary science-related lectures which I put together into a series. Similarly, I began speaking on the radio as a member of "Live from York U" over on The list of interviewees to which I spoke accounted for many posts.

Posting is not the only stat to have increased over the last year. Readership has expanded greatly as well. As of last June, the blog had essentially zero page views, a trend which I had expected to continue. However, this total began to rise over last summer, picked up steam following the DPS meeting and positively exploded in December. As of today, there have been nearly 12,000 page views over the past year! This astounds me, and I am thankful to all of you who have dropped by to read what I have put down in indelible internet ink.

Things get even more interesting when you break down all of those page views by post and by topic. I think I am starting to figure out what you enjoy reading about. For one thing, Astrobiology is a popular topic. Three of the top ten posts are on that subject, including the massive "An Astrobiology Tempest: Arsenic Life?" which has been read 5800 times, or about 25 times as often as the next most popular post.

That second place honour goes to my first post about the leaked decadal survey "LPSC Notebook: Trouble Ahead." This particular post highlights some "marketing" I've been doing. I try to make a note on twitter when a new post is available. Whenever these have been retweeted by the planetary society, I've seen my statistics here light up like a Christmas tree. Three of the top ten posts fall into this category.

However, the popularity of some posts has been extremely surprising. For instance, who would have thought that my thoughts on Ontario Bill-68, a fairly local concern for Scientists located in this province would have come in at number 5?

My audience is also evolving. The United States remains my top area for readership with over half the page views of the blog originating there. Canada  "punches above its weight" (as we say in this country) by totaling about a third of the page views. The UK, Australia, Slovenia, India, Germany, the Philippines, Ireland and France round out the top ten. A fun metric is how many dollars are spent on the space program in each country divided by the page views. Canada and Ireland are top of the list here with only $0.2 Million per page view. The UK follows with about $0.8 Million, the US with $2.6 Million, India with $11.8 Million, Germany with $26.6 Million and France with $47.3 Million. This is a bit of a silly metric, but it shows where I have room to grow an audience.

Also over the past year, I decided to branch out. Shortly after transferring to York in the fall of 2009, I decided that it might be a good idea to focus my reading habits a little more. I had always enjoyed science fiction and so I decided that perhaps I should fill in the gaps of my experience in reading Hugo and Nebula   award winners. To my surprise, I had read relatively few of either category. Thus, why not do the entire list in chronological order? Thus was born which combined my enjoyment of this genre with my love of reading and literary criticism. This should be a useful activity since developing an argument and dissecting writing are key skills for me in Science as well. So farI'm up to the mid-1970s in terms of reviews and early 1980s in my own reading.

Finally, I should say something about jobs. Originally, this blog was started in part to recount my search for a permanent position. I have deviated from that monomania a little, perhaps even more than a little, in my writings here. But the search does continue. On this front it has been a quiet year and for good reason. Last year I signed a 2-year contract good until the end of 2012. This meant that during last year's December busy season I had the freedom to restrict my applications to only those opportunities that offered the greatest interest to me.

It was a good feeling, and it is a luxury I know I won't soon repeat. In particular this upcoming busy season will be critical for my applications. This December will mark 3 years since I graduated with my PhD and I can already feel the storm clouds gathering at the edges of my brain. I find myself asking: am I approaching my sell-by date? Should I set a time limit after which I will give up Science, and if so, how far out should that day be? I sense that the year to come will be key and that it will contain a turning point. One way or another.

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