Monday, March 23, 2009

How Posts Become Time Capsules

Kia ora tātou – Hello Everyone
NASA's Voyager Golden RecordCourtesy NASA

A recent search I made on Google Reader returned, among other interesting information, a series of unrelated posts dated earlier than 2005 and that had no comments.

They reminded me of the Ashleigh Brilliant quote:

I waited and waited, and when no message
came, I knew it must have been from you.

I frequently come across posts with no comments and I often think of why this occurs. Considering the millions of potential hits these lonely posts could have had, it seems unlikely that they should be so neglected. But of course, posts don’t acquire comments the way one might expect.

Even if one remains as the most current post on a blog for several months, it is very likely that its visitor profile will look like the above Google Analytics (GA) graph of a Typical Post. There’s a shower of activity when it is first posted. That activity quickly decays, evidenced by a sharp trailing tail; then nothing. It's dead Jim. The post becomes a time capsule, rarely visited, and usually never commented on again.

When I first announced my Index Page, Sue Waters remarked that because of the way most readers interact with blogs, there is no guarantee it would be used. I think she was right in part. Even the most popular posts are visited and commented on most often when they’re newly up, but they all trail a rapidly diminishing tail of visits and comments that dwindles to nothing.

There are exceptions:

Tony Karrer’s Blog Guide for first time visitors is an exception. It was the first post I came across that evidently did not have the typical visitor profile. It had accumulated 27 comments by the time I read it, and had been posted on Tony’s blog for about 2 years. A reasonably popular post, it had a long comment tail and is still accumulating comments at the rate of 1 every 2 months or so.

My own index page has a parade of visitors that makes it one of the most popularly visited posts on the blog. At the time of writing this post, it is top of the blog's popularity poll. It has a weekly procession of between 25 and 30 visitors with a reasonable average time on the page and favourable bounce rate.

Both these regularly visited posts, Tony’s Blog Guide and Middle-earth’s Index, have their links clearly visible at the top right of their respective blog pages. They are also linked to, from time to time, in posts, so it’s easy to see why their visitor profiles are atypical.

Visitors to these special posts will come at a rate that coincides closely to the dates of new postings, as shown in the above visitor-frequency-graph of the Index Page to this blog.

Blogger's day in hell:

In Sue Waters’ post, Interlinking! Is it YOUR idea of fun?, she speaks of the time consuming practice of adding links in new posts to older posts on the blog - what Natasa describes as a Blogger’s Day In Hell.

Unless the blogger is proficient in editing links in posts, I would not recommend attempting this. I must confess to using this practice, however, and I have recorded GA evidence for it providing significant visitor access to old posts.

The ‘related posts - >>’ series of links at the base of this post is such a link system. Like the common links to popular posts in the widgets and lists on the side-bar to the right of this post, it can indeed delay the onset of time-capsule disease in older posts.

( 6 ) ( 5 ) << - related posts - >> ( 3 ) ( 2 ) ( 1 )

Ngā mihi nui – Best wishes


Janet Clarey said...

I've got a fair amount of flotsam and jetsam on my blog. I attribute it to (1) laziness, (2) purpose of writing and (3) style of writing. I rarely read blogs with a lot of interlinking. Blah, blah, I said this here and here and here. To me, it's as annoying as citations (Doe, 1995) within paragraphs (Smith, 1901) of an academic paper. I do like links to related posts at the end though - clearly because I don't like my reading to be broken up excessively (and I can't define my excessive threshold). Twitter takes this to the next level - it's really a 'moment in time' content-sharing tool. I'll bet serial interlinkers don't like it.

Claire Thompson said...

Hi Ken, I am often reluctant to comment on a post that I come across weeks or months (or more) after it was written. It seems too unfashionably late to add my 2 bits. I don't know why I feel this way as I know that the blogger will receive a notification of my comment and respond if they wish. If they really didn't want any more comments on the post they could have turned off comments (some platforms allow you to accept no more comments after a specified period of time has elapsed.) Anyway, my experience may be part of the reason for what you are seeing with 'stale' posts.

Sue Waters said...

The key to why Tony's gets quick a bit of traffic is due to its location on his blog and the fact it is quite prominent.

Your index page also stands out but I wonder if you would be better calling it something other than Index page? A term that visitors could instantly relate to?

Claire makes an interesting point about older posts and comments. The Edublogger regularly gets comments on posts that are more than a year old. My attitude is where possible I will respond to these because often it is still a case of readers asking further questions about the topic.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Kia ora Sue!

Of course, Tony's link to his Blog Guide does stand out. But the dynamics of 'the blog post' (as you previously pointed out) is that when a new post (or more) is published, the past posts become history. But more than that, as Claire pointed out, people don't comment on old posts, even if they may visit them.

Now I'd really like to take you up on your suggestion to call my Index Page something else. You suggest calling it something that visitors instantly relate to. Any suggestions?

Further to this idea, how do I know that my visitors aren't already instantly relating to the name NEW Index Page.

This month my Index Page is the most popular post on my blog, with over 130 hits to date. If I change it, what guarantee could you give me that it will relate (MORE) instantly to visitors because of that change?

I'm willing to explore all the possibilities here.

Catchya later

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tēnā kōrua

Kia ora Janet

I agree with you about links here, here and here making reading annoyingly tedious. I adjusted my links-to-posts last year. I used to have them at the top of the page until someone pointed out that they were a distraction.

Kia ora Claire

Yes it's a funny thing this idea one has that an old post shouldn't be commented on. I comment on posts for their content, and have been guilty of commenting on posts that were several years old - even posts that have never had comments.

Usually the blogger is grateful for the activity, but not all bloggers respond to old comments either.

But how old has a post to be before it's considered to be 'stale'?

Catchya later

Sue Waters said...

I'm just thinking that perhaps traffic might be higher if they could relate to the term better.

People will comment on older posts. Both my blogs get comments on old posts - I think it depends on the blog and the type of post :) . Personally I normally only comment on recent posts.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tēnā koe Sue.

It's like the old saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."

The 'button' seems to be attracting a heck-of-a-lot of attention for one that's not relating to visitors. I'll have to give this some long and considered thought.

Catchya later

Syclone0044 said...

Interesting blog you have here, it seems well thought out. I stumbled across it completely by mistake, I was searching some spam that had the word "long tail" and your post came up.

Immediately I could tell this was a "real" blog with a real author and not some spam blog (like most) so I checked it out. I like your writing, obviously you are intelligent and put thought into blogging.

My absolute #1 recommendation if you want to improve your views is to move the Top Posts to your top right corner "above the fold".

I consider myself a top 1% astute web browser/reader and I totally missed it. I saw your long blogroll and boring date-based archives and my brain automatically disregarded the rest of your sidebar as useless junk (no offense just being honest as a fresh new user with nothing invested in your blog).

Only by luck did I see something in your comments about a best posts thing, so I searched your sidebar from bottom to top until I found it (far more effort than most readers will go through - trust me!).

The Followers photos and other stuff, is all far more useless to me as a reader, compared to your two Top Posts widgets that quickly showcase the cream of your crop (your best original content) which is the very essence and cornerstone of any decent blog.

Blogger In Middle-earth said...

Tēnā koe Syclone0044!

Thank you for your words of praise about this blog. I am glad you enjoyed your visits.

I take heed your advice about the 'Top Posts' lists. I will give due consideration to what you suggest.

It is always good to get advice from a reader. After all, this blog is written for the reader, otherwise I'd keep all my posts in a folder on my desktop.

Catchya later