Finally, someone has some sense

There have been various accusations in recent months that blogs are all about generating controversy to bring in more hits. These accusations have come, largely, from people who don’t have a clue about how to grow a blog, and have been total nonsense.

Now Shane Brady actually looks at the evidence. He looked at the Alexa (not a particularly good service, but it’s what he’s got) traffic data at Skepchick and FtB during the recent rounds of battling with the anti-feminists. The conclusion: yes, some spikes are seen in Skepchick’s traffic, not really seen at FtB (we’ve got enough diversity here that we’re pretty well buffered against transients), and none of it translates into sustained increases in traffic.

This post cannot possibly answer all the questions on this subject, but I do think it offers some perspective on the effects of controversies on website traffic. Controversy does not appear to be a valid strategy for increasing long term web traffic on skeptical websites. Furthermore, people (including myself) should put to bed the criticism that web traffic is a motive for generating controversy. Intentions are hard to know, but the results tell me that it’s not worth discussing any more. Of course, I could be way off base, and all criticism is welcome.

I could have told him that. I’ve been at it for about ten years, with my share of controversy, and none of it really contributes to long-term growth: not Expelled, not the cracker, not every little sudden surge from Reddit and Fark and Digg. Those give little bursts of attention from people who weren’t interested in your blog in the first place; they visit to see the source of all the commotion, and then they leave.

What makes a blog grow is 1) regular updates, 2) consistent themes, 3) maintaining the attention of other blogs out there, 4) cultivation of an interactive readership that adds value to your blog, and 5) time (slow steady growth is best, and it can’t by definition happen overnight). Probably also good writing, but I wouldn’t know much about that, and I’ve also seen some gloriously well-written blogs that idle along with light traffic because they ignore my top 5 suggestions.

Now can the dweebs who dismiss blogs as noise generators for traffic please shut up?

Why is this comic making me think about science?

Don’t you hate it when they do that? The latest Sci-ence is talking about your choice of avatars — those little icons we so thoughtlessly (in my case) attach to our posts. I thought Jeffrey Rowland’s cartoon of me in a diaper and angel wings was so adorable I snagged it a few years ago and have been using it ever since. But it turns out that your choice of avatar actually has an effect on naive user’s impression of you.

It’s really no surprise that your online avatar influences others’ perceptions of you. In an old UConn computer behavior study (lol IM), participants were asked rate a series of avatars that ranged from people to objects with faces. What they found was pretty obvious: when faced with an avatar in online interactions, participants relied on the characteristics of the avatar for social clues about who they were interacting with.

What’s really interesting about the Nowak/Rauh study is that participants who were more familiar with online interaction relied on the avatars less and instead looked for behavioral cues. It makes sense, given that those who are used to navigating around avatars are generally aware that they aren’t really talking to a bottle of laundry detergent, rather a person who has chosen a bottle of laundry detergent as their avatar.

I haven’t really been paying much attention to those little avatars — hey, I’m a participant who is “more familiar with online interaction” — but now I’m thinking of tweaking the display to make them twice as big and make new user’s default icon really ugly, just to be mean.

I’m not feeling any compulsion to change mine, though.

For those of you wondering how to set your avatar: go to, and upload an image under the same email address you use to log on here. That’ll do it!

Oh, gosh — I have cheesed off Sam Harris!

He is clearly quite peeved. It looks like the final straw was that I, as he claims, “gleefully endorsed” a post on The 5 Most Awful Atheists. Actually, what I did was challenge the author to write something positive about atheists, and agreed that the criticisms were valid, but not gleefully, and I also said that I do not consider any of those atheists irredeemable (except, of course, SE Cupp).

And I’ll stand by that.

Sam Harris has been a significant contributor to the atheist movement, and is far better known than I am. But that does not make him flawless. I disagree strongly with him on his position on torture, as do many others; I know he’s not a casual advocate of torture, but he does invent ridiculous, improbable scenarios (in which torture wouldn’t even work!) to justify some instances. I think his advocacy of profiling was repugnant, irrational and unjustifiable, and Bruce Schneier also found it problematic. To now dismiss Schneier’s informed discussion as a “long and rather tedious debate” and to characterize Schneier’s position as a failed argument from expediency is ridiculous.

For real fun, look at his complaints about blogs in general.

It is difficult to overlook the role that blog comments play in all this. Having a blog and building a large community of readers can destroy a person’s intellectual integrity—as appears to have happened in the case of PZ Myers. Many people who read his blog come away convinced that I am a racist who advocates the widespread use of torture and a nuclear first strike against the entire Muslim world. The most despicable claims about me appear in the comment thread, of course, but Myers is responsible for publishing them. And so I hold him responsible for circulating and amplifying some of the worst distortions of my views found on the Internet.

Hmmm. I think Harris’s reputation as an illiberal advocate for atrocious policies long preceded any of my criticisms of his positions, and I suspect that the commenters here could make a far better indictment of Harris than he can a defense. But what do I know? You guys have destroyed my integrity!

Let’s complete the total sellout. Since I am now a notorious and unscrupulous opponent of all that is Sam, I will turn it over to you: there is currently a competition to raise money for Camp Quest. I’m falling far behind. If you think I’m on the side of Goodness and Righteousness, donate to Team PZ’s Revenge. If you think I’m full of it and adore Sam Harris, donate to Team Awful Re-defeat PZ, that gang of 13 bloggers (we’re all evil!) who have teamed up to conquer sad, lonely, isolated me.

Sam could really teach me a lesson by making a big donation to Team Awful. A good trouncing would show everyone how pathetic my influence actually is.


I knew this whole network thing was a bad idea — all the great writers here sometimes make readers forget that I’m supposed to be the ☆star☆. The other day, Taslima Nasrin got more traffic that day than I did, all for this horrific post (warning, very chilling, with many photos of woman mutilated by acid). And then that odious twit, JohnTheOther, picked up on it and started ranting about how evil Taslima was, on his psycho MRA site, AVoiceForMen (nope, not linking there). Furious denunciations from demented sociopaths and lots of attention to the criminal abuse of women around the world? Good work, Taslima!

And then Ophelia Benson hit the two million page views mark (just since joining FtB). Way to grow, Ophelia!

And now Jason is bragging that he he has fans who give him free beer in my presence. I’d congratulate him too, but I’m too busy clinging to the tattered, fading fragments of my fame and weeping.

Me. James Mason. A Star is Born. And everyone else on FtB is Judy Garland.

The FtB crew also did another podcast tonight

Here we go again: this time, Ashley Miller, Chris Rodda, JT Eberhard, and I hung out to chat about the perfidy of Christian corruption of education and government.

Some other people asked to join in midway through: these are chats among the community of bloggers here at Freethoughtblogs, so they’re a little bit exclusive…but maybe in the future with some advance warning we could think about bringing in an ‘outsider’ or two to give us a different perspective. Write to one of us and ask!

I’m soon to be stuffed and mounted on the mantelpiece

Bora has put together a history of science blogging, and there I am, one of the grizzled old pioneers, chewin’ tobaccy and slapping mules around. There’s also mention of my old Tangled Bank carnival, which isn’t totally gone — I’ve got the archive stashed on my lab computer, and someday I have to figure out how to extract and resurrect an old Expression Engine blog.

Larry Moran also talks about the crucible of, and how a lot of the early science bloggers got their start on usenet (myself included). A lot of the feisty, confrontational style comes straight out of a history of prolonged combat with idiots.