Sunday, January 8, 2012

A Different Model for Writing Blog Posts


This is a blog that I have been meaning to write for some time.  I occasionally take a look at the download statistics for this blog, and recently I was prompted to do this by other bloggers who were reporting their end-of-year statistics (e.g. see Laura McLay’s review of the Punk Rock OR blog).

Unlike Laura, I do not have impressive download statistics to report about the many blogs I have written in 2011; frankly, I did not create many posts. However, an interesting pattern has emerged regarding this blog’s readership:  there are a few key blog posts that are frequently downloaded.  For example, my most frequently downloaded blog post is a survey of Python plugin software, which I wrote in 2009.  I suspect that other bloggers have seen the same thing; they have a few posts that are very popular because people do web searches on that topic.  However, it is worth stepping back and thinking about the implications of this when writing a blog.

When I first started blogging, I imagined that readers would view my blog the way that I view Laura’s blog.  They would use a RSS feeder to collect and view blog updates.  These would be read shortly after they were published, and afterwards they might be used as a reference.  This led me to create blogs that referenced each other as part of a larger conversation on a topic.  For example, after blogging about Python Plugin Frameworks, I had several follow-up blogs, including a brief description of PyUtilib Plugins that I had developed.

However, I have realized that my blogs are more likely to be found through internet searches focused on a topic.  Consequently, the Python Plugin Frameworks post gets frequently read while the PyUtilib Plugins post rarely gets read.  Readers are finding my blog posts after searching for “python plugins”. The narrower topic covered by the PyUtilib Plugins post is not frequently referenced on the internet, and consequently it is not strongly associated with the more general topic of Python plugins; for example, I did not see it in the first three pages of a google search for “python plugin”.

This suggests a different model for writing blog posts that has already begun to affect my blogging.  Since blog posts are individual artifacts that may have enduring value to readers, updating a blog post with new content makes more sense than creating a new post that continues the previous discussion.  For example, I’ve updated the Python PluginFrameworks post to include references to PyUtilib’s plugins.  This may confuse readers of RSS feeds, and I do not know that RSS feeds will automatically update their feed to capture updates like this. I would assume not.  However, this is clearly a strategy that will enhance the long-term impact of a blog post on a specific topic.

3 comments:

  1. I'm pretty sure that your assumption that RSS feeds do not reflect updates to past posts is correct. On the other hand, no need to worry about updates confusing those of us (myself included) who use an RSS feed from your blog. They won't confuse us because we won't know about them. Ignorance may not be bliss, but it's generally less stressful.

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  2. Nice post and thanks for the comments! The longer I blog, the more I realize that many people who are totally uninterested in operations research find my blog by googling for obscure terms like "composition notebook" and "plantains." I, too, am reevaluating how to write posts and perhaps how to revive really old posts I wrote before anyone read my blog. It's a challenge.

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  3. One way to help more regular readers who want the RSS feed would be to post new short entries pointing back to significant updates of older posts. Alternatively, make the update a new entry and update the old post with a forward reference so that people who find the old post via Web search get a link to the new one as well.

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