November 5, 2012

5 years or 20,000 visits, whichever comes first....

Five years ago next month, I founded Synthetic Daisies. The name [1] is based on a merger of my interest in artificial and synthetic life (Synthetic) with my interest in systems thinking (Daisies, based on the Daisyworld experiments of James Lovelock). And yet historically at least, the blog have covered much more. The first post was a review of the book “The Complementary Nature”, followed by two sets of posts: one post on non-optimality [2] and another on YouTube videos from the grand opening of Dickinson Hall at the University of Florida [3]. Since then, I have posted on a mix of biological, computational, and innovation-related topics (broadly construed). I try to keep it balanced between these three areas, with some pop culture and geeky technology fun thrown in.

Images from the first Synthetic Daisies posts (using current template). LEFT: Complementary Nature review, CENTER: non-optimality post, RIGHT: YouTube videos of the Dickinson Hall opening.

My blogging style has evolved since starting Synthetic Daisies. For one thing, I have optimized the template design and layout towards something that is attractive to look at as it is to read (not sure I have totally succeeded at this, but I’ve tried). I have also used a number of devices to convey what is sometimes highly complicated information to a general audience. One of these is a preponderance of diagrams and images. Another is a moving a lot of technical detail to footnotes. Being true to the interactive nature of a blog, I sometimes update posts with retrospective information (after the original event or thoughts that inspired the post). This is a good way to keep your posts from becoming "archival" (and perhaps even embarrassing) in feel after a few months or years.

After posting sporadically for the first three years, I made the commitment to keep up the frequency of new posts (at least one post every 1-2 weeks). If you are starting a blog, don’t be afraid to post a large number of posts without immediate readership or feedback. If it is good and you promote them, the traffic will follow. I must also say that blogging on a regular basis has improved my writing skills. Although it takes a lot of effort, I hope that people find this blog both useful and entertaining.

An example of the previous blog template (circa May 2012).

Not bad for the first 4.917 years. However, according to the analytics, it appears that I have reached 20,000 [4] views (this includes all posts and pages). Many of these views are due to a handful of posts, as the number of views per post follows a power-law distribution [5].  One thing that helped my blog along is participating in the Carnival of Evolution (CoE) [6]. Another helper in getting readership is thinking about innovative topics to cover (e.g. thinking outside the blog template, so to speak). I also publicize my posts on Facebook, Tumblr [7], and my research website where appropriate. Finally, I have integrated the blog with my research projects and teaching activities, which helps along the topical innovation.

Power-law-distribution [8] of views per post (left) and time-series of views for all time and by week (top right, subsample) and all-time (lower right).

The ten most viewed posts and their rates of accession (data collated on 11/5/2012).
Post Title
Viewing Rate (per day)
* = featured in an edition of CoE.


[1] See the explanation page for more information.

[2] This was a very rough idea at the time. It is also quite unconventional. In engineering and economics, there are whole subfields, library stacks, and conferences devoted the notion of “optimization”. However, in a number of fields (such as Molecular Biology, Evolutionary Ecology, and Cultural Anthropology), models of optimality do not explain the data well. I eventually worked this idea into an arXiv paper called “The ‘Machinery’ of Biocomplexity: understanding non-optimal architectures in biological systems”.

[3] Dickinson Hall was opened in the 1960s as the original home of the Florida Museum of Natural History (FLMNH). It is now used as a research facility and to house the collections not on exhibition.  Link to post.

[4] To be precise, probably sometime tomorrow. Most of these visits are legitimate (e.g. not spambots or other redundant counts). What people are getting out of each visit, however, is not known.

[5] Notably, the traffic with respect to time is bursty, especially on a day-to-day basis (as expected).

[6] I hosted CoE #46 with the theme of evolutionary trees (which has earned roughly 2500 views). See it here. I plan to host again next year. CoE is the longest-running blog carnival (which is a monthly review of the blogosphere for a certain topic). Thanks to The Genealogical World of Phylogenetic Networks for this analysis.

[7] I keep a Tumblr site (Tumbld Thoughts) for some of my shorter concepts, observations, and sets of hyperlinks. This “microblogging” platform is particularly good for this purpose. Analytics are currently being collected.

[8] Rank order distribution plotted on a log-log plot. The distribution of views per post follows a power-law distribution, assuming that all traffic flow to the site over time is a Poisson know, all the good stuff.......

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