Shane Brady posted a quantitative analysis of web traffic for Skepchick and Freethought Blogs using Alexa’s daily reach statistics. While this data is certainly only a subset of the actual data — a sort of Nielsons ratings for the web — it’s probably pretty close to representative of the actual data we’ve collected via StatCounter. The traffic matches extremely closely to what we’ve seen ourselves on the Freethought Blogs end, though despite common misperceptions I have no access to Skepchick’s stats, not even through the hive mind uplink.
A screenshot Shane provides for Freethought Blogs’ (admittedly short) existence:
Shane says of this:
As you can see, FreethoughtBlogs is a relatively new blog network, so we don’t have the same history as with Skepchick.org. However, FreethoughtBlogs has substantially higher traffic than Skepchick.org and spikes might be harder to detect. That said, we can see some traffic increases that seem to correlate with some posts by Greta Christina that were heavily commented and cited. The trend for 2012, though, has primarily been flat. There was a slight increase during the days leading up to TAM2012, but nothing dramatic.
The spike he’s referring to is in early January of 2012, and the post he’s referring to is Greta Christina’s “Two Questions for DJ Grothe”.
I hate to steal Greta’s thunder, and I hate to say “no, people don’t care that DJ did something wrong and Greta pointed it out” — no, really, I truly hate this — but that’s not where the spike came from. See, at the same time as that was happening, a post of mine went so viral we actually had server outages because of it, and the webmaster and I implemented Varnish and modified Apache’s worker agents, while we were live, to fix the problem and serve pageviews uninterrupted.
(I’ve removed the hard numbers from the side in case other folks don’t want their hit counts extrapolated from this graph… not that I mind personally, it already looks horrid for my average page views!)
The spike I present here represents my one single post dwarfing Pharyngula and Dispatches’ traffic put together, and that’s no small feat since they easily represent 80%+ of total traffic on any given day. It was a post that I had written prior to having migrated the blog to Freethought Blogs: Santorum’s Wifes Abortion Was Different, You See. I made the bold claim that the time that Rick Santorum’s unborn child’s life had to be terminated (via inducing birth prematurely) in order to save Karen’s life actually represented an abortion — an abortion that, under Santorum’s dictum, would become illegal and the doctor would have been charged with murder.
The post went viral after the January 3rd Iowa GOP debate when Rick Santorum became the media’s newest darling for having “won” (e.g., for having not looked as bad as the others). Nobody could have predicted that a blog post that I’d written in June of 2011 would have taken the net by storm six months later.
And it had nothing to do with someone attacking someone else within our community over their perceived faults.
Considering that’s much of what the people complaining about “controversialism” do on a daily basis, I can’t believe that supposed skeptics are snookered in by the meme that intra-community controversy drives traffic. We bloggers know damn well it doesn’t. If you want to drive traffic, you POST CATS.
Or hit the blog lottery and have the target of your criticism become the media’s newest darling in an election cycle.
Update: There was another post on the network that went gangbusters that same week: on January 7th, Dan Fincke’s post Openly Bisexual and Non-theist Woman (Who Rejected Parents’ Mormonism) Runs For U.S. Congress, a significantly more timely post about social justice and politics like mine. The day it was posted, Dan got roughly 70% of the hits that my post did on its first day. Its reception, I believe, represented more traffic at least than Pharyngula that day.
Bear in mind that the traffic for both posts represents many first-time visitors to the network, who likely didn’t translate to very many if any repeat visitors. On neither days were traffic for Pharyngula or Dispatches down, so these represent gigantic increases in overall server traffic. And the hits trickled in for quite some time on both posts afterward, latecomers to the viral spread, so the one-day spikes aren’t the totality of the story.