I knew it was coming, and yesterday it happened. I was really hoping to see hit number 1,000,000 appear on the small ‘Blog Stats’ item at the bottom of the right sidebar, but I just missed it due to a small traffic spike right around the time that it occurred. As near as I can tell, the one millionth hit came at 1:27 p.m. (Central Standard Time) from somebody in Tempe, Arizona. Whoever you were, whether a regular reader or just passing by, congratulations. However, the real thanks must be shared with all of you who helped log the previous 999,999 hits, for without you there would be no Beetles in the Bush. Here’s to two million!
p.s. To those who would poo poo this accomplishment, who think that internet traffic site stats are meaningless, that there is nothing out there but an army of bots and search engines generating irrelevant stats, please go rain on somebody else’s day.
No, not this very alarmed male Prionus heroicus (among North America’s largest longhorned beetles) seen this past June at Mills Rim Campground in northeastern New Mexico—although he could very well have spent several years underground as a ever-fatter grub feeding on tree roots (probably oaks) before emerging as an adult.
No, today is the 7th birthday of this blog, and I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I’d almost completely forgotten about it. To a human, seven years of age is still immaturity, but in blog years that’s getting close to old age—perhaps like it’s author! I guess old age (on both counts) qualifies me to reminisce a little bit. I’ve seen the blogging thing come—there was a time when it seemed everybody was blogging, and I’ve seen it mature into something a little different. People still blog, but not as many and not for the same reasons. In the early days, blogs were how people with common interests connected and interacted. Nowadays other social media (e.g., Twitter and Facebook) have usurped that role. I don’t think that has made blogs irrelevant, but rather they now seem to serve more for outreach and as searchable repositories for information (at least among natural history blogs). In the past I’ve vacillated greatly in my feelings about this (and I still do sort of miss the “good ol’ days” of lively conversations in the comments). But actually I’m okay with it. When I want my social fix I jump onto Facebook (or Twitter in certain circumstances). When I want to write a little more substantively—to recount memorable field trips, document interesting things I’ve learned, reflect on my experiences as an entomologist, etc.—I blog. I used to watch hit counts; now I hardly ever give them a thought. I care less about who is reading and how many of them there are than I do about the content of the writing and quality of the images I share with those who do choose to read. I am enjoying the fruits of having blogged consistently for seven years—able to write well (and fast), vastly more versed in natural history, and connected broadly to the larger entomological community—and that alone makes it worth continuing. I’ve learned to blog for me and not for what I think others want to see. How liberating! After 7 years, I am more comfortable with and motivated to write than ever.
To all those people who have followed me, either now or in the past, thank you for your part in helping me in this journey. To those who are still to come, I look forward to meeting you!
For seven years now I’ve been conducting this experiment called Beetles in the Bush. In that time I’ve written nearly 1,000 posts (with the help of a few guest authors), posted nearly 3,000 images, contributed or entertained over 10,000 comments, and watched the site creep ever closer to its millionth hit! This might leave you wondering why I should, now, be asking readers to provide feedback on why they visit BitB and what they like most (or least) about it. The reason is simple—blogging is less popular now than it was a few years ago. Comments and readership are both in decline (not just here, but across the platform), and the trend has left few clues about who the remaining readership is and what they are interested in. If I know clearly what readers want, it will be easier for me to provide it. That is not to say I expect (or even could) drastically change my content or its focus. However, if I know a certain topic is more popular than others I can give that topic priority, or if nobody really reads the “long-reads” I can skip them altogether. I hope you’ll indulge my curiosity by participating in the five short polls below that need only a few anonymous clicks of the mouse—no written responses required. Of course, if you wish to provide written feedback in the comments section it will be most appreciated. And, as always, thank you for your readership.
It seems that November 24th came and went without me even realizing that BitB turned six years old that day! Six years—wow, has it really been that long? I guess forgetting birthdays officially puts me in the old-timer camp (both as a person and as a blogger). No fanfare or celebration. Instead, I blithely wrote my 778th post (Q: How do you photograph cactus beetles?) and carried on as usual.
I guess it’s too late now to make a big deal of it, but I will make the observation that November 2013, with its 15 posts, was one of my heaviest blogging months ever (the most since 18 posts in December 2012 and the overall high of 21 in April 2010). This may come as a surprise to those who have heard me grouse periodically about the decline of blogging, both of my blog in particular and as a platform in general. It’s a different world than it was when I started BitB—Twitter and Facebook have taken over much of the social interaction that used to take place on blogs, relegating the latter primarily to satisfying a small but persistent niche demand for long-content. Throughout the course of these changes, however, motivation to blog still comes to me consistently and often. Mostly it seems to be an internal need to express myself, but the occasional and very much appreciated feedback in the form of comments and emails also helps. So, with that, thank you for the past six years, and here’s looking at the next six!
Enough blather—here are a few colorful net-winged beetles in the genus Calopteron (family Lycidae) to help with the celebration. They were photographed in northern Argentina (Chaco Province) in April 2012 while visiting flowers of Chilean goldenrod (Solidago chilensis). I’m not sure if they represent more than one species, as the taxonomy of the genus in the Neotropics appears to be very poorly known at this time—if so it would seem there exists in this area a mimicry complex that is ripe for study.
Calopteron sp. on flowers of Solidago chilensis | Chaco Province, Argentina
Calopteron sp. on flowers of Solidago chilensis | Chaco Province, Argentina
Calopteron sp. on flowers of Solidago chilensis | Chaco Province, Argentina
During the first few years of writing this blog, I maintained an open comment policy with few restrictions on who could comment. In November 2011, however, I began experiencing a flood of spam comments, and as a result I had to implement a new comment policy that included comment moderation for new commenters and the requirement for all commenters to include their name (shown publicly) and e-mail address (not shown publicly). My hope was that the change would end the hundreds of spam comments I was getting each day while minimizing the inconvenience to those leaving valid comments.
Fortunately, the spate of spam has abated, and I think now I can relax the comment requirements. I think such measures do much to inhibit comments, as many people simply find it easier to leave comments at links on outreach sites (e.g. Facebook) rather than the post itself if they have to enter extra information in addition to the comment itself. Remote comments such as this are, of course, appreciated, but my greatest pleasure is in seeing and partaking in the conversations that develop on-site in the direct comments. I also realize that many people simply are not comfortable divulging their name and providing their e-mail address, no matter how secure the site is proclaimed to be. As a result, beginning today I have removed all comment moderation and the requirement to include name and e-mail address when leaving a comment. This means that anonymous comments are once again welcome. By eliminating as many barriers as possible to free, open communication, it is my hope that readers will not only find leaving comments here easy, but also feel comfortable doing so.
I’m not obsessed with blog stats, but every now and then it’s interesting to take a look and see what information I can glean from them. One of the stats provided by WordPress is “Referrers”—which sites readers came from. This is good information to know, as it can help guide decisions on which sites to put effort into as a referral site. It was precisely this stat that caused me to leave Google+ some months ago. I tried G+ for a time as an alternative to Facebook, cross-posting links to new posts and occasionally posting separate photos to maintain a consistent level of activity. But after several months I decided the interactions I was having on G+ weren’t very satisfying—no conversations about the subjects like what happens on Facebook, just brief comments of the “Nice shot” variety. Moreover, my WordPress Referrer stats showed virtually no traffic coming from G+. This was puzzling, as I found myself continually being added to G+ circles (thousands eventually, which in itself seemed very “spammish” to me), but since there was no automatic mechanism for linking new posts on G+ (like there is for Facebook and Twitter), I decided the tiny amount of traffic it drove was not worth the effort. I stopped posting to G+ (yet continued to be added to circles, which made me even more suspicious and eventually led me to deleting my G+ account altogether).
As my involvement with G+ waned, I became more involved with Twitter. I get Twitter—really, I do, although I had trouble getting it at first. It’s quick, it’s fun… it’s a great way to keep tabs on a lot of people who like to post links to things I am interested in. Nevertheless, I still find myself having trouble staying consistently involved with Twitter. My problem is the 140-character limit—again, I’m more interested in conversation than quips, and in this regard Facebook is a much less limiting—and thus more enjoyable—venue for interacting with like-minded individuals. I also find Twitter to be rather clumsy when it comes to sharing photos compared to Facebook’s more elegant (Google+ inspired?) model. If I can’t converse on Twitter the way I’d like to, then all I really have left to use Twitter for is to provide links to new posts on BitB. A few hundred followers may be modest, but one would still think it enough to drive a fairly good amount of traffic to the blog. Curiously, recent review of Referrer stats show this not to be the case. Over the past 30 days, only 43 visitors have come to BitB from Twitter—less than 1.5 per day! WordPress enables automatic linking of new posts on Twitter, so it doesn’t really take any effort on my part to maintain the account, but I still have to wonder if such little return warrants even this amount of effort.
Of course, search engines—primarily Google—reign supreme in driving traffic to BitB, with the past 30 days yielding 6,180 visits. But among non-search engine sites, where do most of my readers come from? Facebook! In the past 30 days, 232 visitors have clicked on a link to BitB through Facebook—either on my own page or that of somebody else who liked a post on BitB and provided a link to it. Considering how much fun I have on Facebook aside from providing links to posts on BitB—whether it be quick photos of experiences as they happen, enjoying photographs of other expert insect macrophotographers, or involvement in multi-party conversations about the finer points of insect taxonomy—the fact that it also drives a large amount of traffic to BitB almost seems like a bonus. People like to make fun of Facebook, and the recent exodus of many bug bloggers to Twitter and G+ cannot be ignored, but for me Facebook continues to be the supreme medium for online interaction.
I realize this a one-case study and don’t intend to generalize my experience to others. It does, however, raise some interesting questions. Why are Facebook users so much more likely to click on my links that Twitter or G+ users? What prompted thousands of G+ users to add me to their circles but almost none of them to actually click through to my content? Is my experience typical? Any insight on these questions would be appreciated.
I should also mention another significant referrer for BitB—Alex Wild. Combined stats from his Myrmecos and Compound Eye blogs over the past 30 days resulted in a cool 99 BitB referrals. While this is not quite at the same level as Facebook, it is remarkable for an individual blogger to be the source of so much traffic for my blog. I doubt Alex himself is responsible for all of these visits (although I’m sure he checks in from time to time), rather it is likely that a portion of the enormous reader base he has uses his sites as jumping off points for other bug blogs they like. No other bug blogger, and not even WordPress Reader or Blogger themselves, comes close to sending as much traffic to BitB as does Alex Wild. So, Alex… thank you!
In April 2012, I wrote a post called “Is blogging dead?” – Another view in response to Alex‘s previous day’s post (Is Blogging Dead?). While Alex acknowledged that blogging provided an early social network structure now better served by Facebook and Google+, he also maintained that there still remained a dedicated contingent for whom blogging best served their needs. As a committed blogger myself, I really wanted to share Alex’s optimism—but I just couldn’t. Something told me that blogging was at a crossroads, and the future wasn’t rosy. Why did I feel this way? My site stats didn’t suggest trouble ahead—from February 2009 (shortly after I moved Beetles in the Bush to WordPress) until April 2012, site visits—and presumably readership—had increased steadily (see chart below based on weekly stats, with the periodic surges due to posts I wrote that got picked up by Freshly Pressed). Not like one of the big blogs, of course, but still not bad for a natural history blog aimed at a specialty audience. Rather, it was the decline of comments and coincident increase in the use of Twitter, Facebook, G+, etc. as the platforms of choice for social interaction among those for whom blogs previously fulfilled that need. To me it seemed inevitable—why invest in clicking through to individual blogs and reading a 500- to 1,500-word post when one could read several hundred 140-character headlines, quipping an equally short reply to as many of them as desired, all on one site. Maximum interaction, maximum information (depending on your definition of “information”), minimum fuss.
Ironically, almost immediately after I wrote that post the decline that I predicted began with my own blog. The chart below shows BitB site stats (again, on a weekly basis), picking up where the above chart left off until the end of March 2013. As precipitously as site visits rose during the previous three years, they declined during the following one year. There are those who contend that “People who say blogging is dead either already have a blog that died, or they have no blog at all.” That may be true now, at least based on site stats and the now rather low frequency of comments, but it most certainly was not the case when I first voiced this opinion last year. In fact, that a Google search of “Is blogging dead” can turn up nearly 100,000 search results (with quotation marks!) shows that a whole lot of people are still asking the question.
This is not to say that blogs cannot still be successful. I suggest that the platform has matured, undergone consolidation and weeded out the weakest contributors. By weak, I don’t mean poor quality of content, but rather lack of ability or resources to frequently and consistently provide that content and target it to a relatively large audience. Early adopters who carved out a niche and built a strong brand had the best chance of surviving this maturation, and among the specialty blogs dealing with natural history and entomology it seems those who act as clearing houses for information from across the discipline, serve as an interface for commercial/educational ventures, or focus on the “bizarre” or contentious are most likely to attract and retain followers. Of course, an alternate hypothesis is that my writing suddenly got boring and my photos suck—take your pick.
As for what this means for Beetles in the Bush, I’m not really sure yet. During the past month (and for the first time since I started writing this blog in earnest), I’ve backed off on what until then had been a very consistent 2–3 posts per week schedule. Quite clearly, this will not help if my goal is to find some way to reverse the downward trend, as frequency of posts ranks almost as high as quality of content in keeping a blog successful. I used to tell myself that I would write regardless of who was reading, because it was something I needed to do (and enjoyed doing) for myself, and I truly believe that was the case when I said it. But perhaps I’ve now gotten what I needed out of the blog—my writing skills are far superior to when I started; I can sit down and pound out not only a blog post, but research reports, status updates, manuscripts, etc. in record time. I used to agonize over every word; now it seems my fingers can hardly keep up with the words as they pour out of my mind. If one of my goals when I started blogging was to make myself a better writer (and it was), then in that regard I have succeeded. I’m also now a vastly more knowledgeable entomologist, having taken the time to learn a lot more not just about beetles, but insects across many taxa, the habitats in which they live, the ecological communities they are a part of, and the landscapes that harbour them. For the first time, I consider myself not just an entomologist, but a natural historian in the truest sense of the word. Nevertheless, I can’t imagine not writing for BitB, but I think now the impulse to write a post will be based much more on inspiration and less so on the calendar. I truly hope that the reduced posting frequency doesn’t further accelerate the decline, but if it does then that is the only possible outcome.