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Friday, November 11, 2011

What are you reading? What the numbers say

by John MacBeath Watkins

When we started our rss feed, I put up a post about our most popular posts. Now I'd like you to look at a different metric, how much time people spend with our posts.

After all, sometimes people google something, and what comes up doesn't really matter to them. I suspect that many people who come to All this education, and I'm still not a drunk, may be simply Googling animal beer. I've been looking at engagement time as a better guide to the enduring value of a post than the number if reads it gets, and thought our readers might like to see if they'd missed anything that might interest them.

At the other end of the scale from the post illustrated with a picture of animal beer, this month the average engagement time for Prof. Gene Sharp and nonviolent action: The most influential book you've never heard of is 15 minutes 31 seconds, so pretty much everyone who finds that post reads it. Many people are finding it with search engines from other countries, so they probably read it more slowly than native speakers of English do.


With nearly as long an engagement time, Top 100 Sci-Fi/Fantasy books list is getting thoroughly read. And how will our minds be rewired this time has an engagement time of more than 10 minutes, so it's getting a thorough read as well. The illustration is my own photography, so unlike, say, 1860, 2008, and not accepting the legitimacy of an elected president, people aren't searching for a map and finding my post. That post gets a lot of hits, but the engagement time indicates that many people find the map they are looking for and leave without reading the entire post. Which is a shame, because I think it's rather insightful. The engagement time for the month is 49 seconds, but for all of the time it's been up, it's 3 minutes, so when I first put up the post people must have been reading the whole thing.

Jamie hasn't posted at all in the last month, so I've also set parameters to look at engagement time for the entire period we've been using Google Analytics  to count our hits. Her post, My Encounter with Huck Finn, has an engagement time of 5 minutes 33 seconds, which is probably more time than it takes to read. My post, What Huck Finn means to me, has an engagement time of 3 minutes, so although it's getting more hits, people spend less time mulling it over -- the time they spend with it on average is only the time it takes to read it. Of course, some are spending much more time with it, some are looking at it and deciding it's not what they are looking for. As is usual with our posts, mine is more cerebral, Jamie's is more personal. I suspect that mine comes up on web searches more often because it tackles the questions teachers want students to tackle, while Jamie tackles something few people consider about the novel. Her post, Volcanoes, and the unexpected benefits of their eruptions....gets more than six minutes of attention on average. The top crow post is crow affection towards this human.

With an engagement time of more than 8 minutes, Eugenics, the opposite of natural selection, beats both the posts on Huck Finn. Clocking in at better than 6 minutes, Party polarization: Ideology trumps regionalism, does as well. The Pirate with a Hook for a Heart, which is actually very few words, beats both of them as well, at 5:35. The Ideology of capitalism and the ideology of liberalism has more than an 8 minute engagement time.

When debt is sovereign and ledes are buried, which on reflection is a rather odd title, gets an average engagement time of better than 6 minutes. To Read is to become a stolen child is just under 6 minutes at 5:59, while Flight of the Euphemism is next in line, followed by The government that governs least governs Somalia: More government can mean more freedom, then A story of slutty snakes and warfare.

I should mention that I also put some longer stuff up on Scribd. There, Songbirds of the Primate Species and the Poets Who Fail to Sing has the longest engagement time, followed by A Fish who Worships Fire, after that a short story titled The Torturer's Apprentice, a humorous short story titled The Schatterman e-mails, then versions of a couple blog posts that didn't get as much attention here, Intellectual Amnesia and the American Way and He must be Wicked to Deserve Such Pain: The benevolent universe of Objectivism. The very first writing I put up on the web, Thoughts on Structuralism and the Death of Ghosts, also has one of the longer engagement times, and has been read more than a thousand times.


The most popular thing I've posted on Scibd has very few words, Canal Life In Thailand, a photo essay. 

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