Terra Sigillata

Feel Like a Number

Yes, I owned this album when it first came out in 1978.

A recent post by Prof Matt Nisbet raised some Saturday night reflections for me as to how one measures one’s impact as a blogger if one is so inclined to do so. But does this apparent impact or “influence” actually mean anything?

I’ve got to admit: I’m a numbers guy. When I first started this blog on Blogger, I was so stoked to see when more than 10 people per day were dialing up. I was delighted when I started getting international visitors and, moreover, those international folks would actually come back.

That is the intoxication of this no-longer-unusual mode of public diary. The numbers are fun. In fact, I have a spot way way down on the left sidebar where I keep widgets to note the number of visitors to this site and my “rank” via various aggregation and attribution mechanisms that make me feel better or worse about my writing. For example, the Technorati “authority” rating of 180-something means that is how many blogs have linked to Terra Sig in the last 180 days (excluding blog rolls). In truth, though, these numbers bear little relation to what it is I do here.

These are neat little gadgets and all, but I have little explanation for the change in my writing quality when I drop 35 spots from #29 to #64 on the eDrugSearch.com HealthCare Top 100 as we have done in the last week.

As a few of my more experienced blog colleagues have noted, these organizations all have different algorithms, most of which rank one’s blog based on attribution: the number of blogs that link to your site (like Technorati, as noted above). So, if one is a controversial windbag, one might have a ranking similar to someone who provides thoughtful, high-content posts that are far less controversial. Of course, one can also provide great content and be a blogger of high attribution.

But I wonder how good these systems are when my more talented colleagues can’t even get listed on some ranking sites – reminds me of when I won my age group in a 10K road race while in graduate school: when no one competes, it’s easy to look better than you really are.

So is Framing Science really the 14th most influential science blog? I doubt it, especially since the same algorithm ranks us as 33rd. We aren’t even 33rd-ranked in traffic here in just the ScienceBlogs.com network!

I have to admit, though, that I am proud that we are about to hit 200,000 total visits at this little ol’ blog. I get a lot of pleasure from finding who links to us from around the world and why they do so – in that sense, my competition is really me and the challenge is to improve my posting frequency and quality. At one point in my career, I taught classes of 130-140 students. So, I always felt that anytime I reached more than that number of readers per day I was doing something worthwhile – so this works for me. So thank you for being among my three-digit daily traffic and checking in when you can.

But absolute numbers matter little to me nor do I find them as validation or invalidation of my mission at this blog. What matters to me is when readers write that they have found the content valuable in making life or career decisions or say that they have thought about a medical issue differently than before because of something we wrote. What matters to me is that when we have DonorsChoose.org fundraisers that Terra Sig readers rise above the rest and contribute to teachers’ causes with a frequency that exceeds that of “more popular” blogs.

While we’re on this subject, though, let me just congratulate two of my colleagues who are both superb writers but who also took the time in their own posts to recognize the readers who spend time on their blogs: Orac’s Respectful Insolence just registered his 3,000,000th visitor and Ed Brayton’s Dispatches from the Culture Wars who set a personal record of nearly 500,000 pageviews – in one month!

But to put this all in perspective: The Drudge Report has had 12,853,472 visitors in the last 24 hours.


  1. #1 Lisa Emrich
    August 3, 2008

    I too get little thrills with the stats and numbers. Often there is no explanation for some of the rankings. But know that although every post I have read of yours has not registered as a visit, I am still reading. Perhaps my Bloglines subscription to your blog has contributed to the eHealthCare100 ranking. My little blog has actually risen to the 105-115 range at eHealthCare. Pretty cool me thinks.

  2. #2 DrugMonkey
    August 4, 2008

    At one point in my career, I taught classes of 130-140 students. So, I always felt that anytime I reached more than that number of readers per day I was doing something worthwhile

    Word. A fantastic way to recenter a blogger’s notions about what s/he is up to with this blogging egotrip. You’ve made the point before and it always gives that little ding-ding-ding of tru-dat so keep yourself on a schedule to repeat this observation- every quarter or so?

  3. #3 PhysioProf
    August 4, 2008

    The most satisfying thing to me as a blogger are the e-mails I get from grateful readers of DrugMonkey and PhysioProf thanking me for doing what I do.

  4. #4 Abel Pharmboy
    August 7, 2008

    Lisa, thanks so very much. Your blog is a tremendous resource, not just for people living with MS but for anyone who wishes to gain insight on what it’s like to live with a disability. I was wondering what you had to say about the Tysabri adverse reactions.

    DM, word to the word. Yes, I know I’m repeating myself – a little tic I inherited from PharmDad that is often noticed by my wife and now my daughter. btw, have I ever told you about when I used to teach 130-140 students?

    PP, when you do something fun for yourself and people express gratitude for the advice you impart, that’s good gravy.

  5. #5 Lisa Emrich
    August 7, 2008

    Thanks for the shout-out on the Paris video. It simply cracked me up.

    Regarding Tysabri. I am puzzled with the way Biogen/Elan handled the announcement. Maybe I’m a skeptic, but it almost seems like the bad news created a huge opportunity for investors to get in at lower prices.

    I listened to the conference call they held for investors on Friday morning and was amazed at the answers they refused to give. Even more interesting was that some of the information they refused to share, such as were the two cases from the same country or different countries, Biogen/Elan did reveal later in the day through the NMSS announcement.

    PML is a known risk. Patients want to have as many treatment options available from which to choose. For some Tysabri is a last hope and for others it’s simply a drug choice. My neurologist doesn’t even want me to consider it because there are simply too many unknowns at this point, especially when looking at long-term effects.

    It’s good news that the use of plasma exchange seems to be effective in clearing out Tysabri from a patient’s system. But the fact that patient #1 underwent this procedure as much as two months ago leads to the question of how many patients stop Tysabri and undergo plasma exchange. This question is similar to ones asked during that conference call and not answered.

    I’d be interested in learning more about the number of patients who stop Tysabri and for what reasons. With the various protocols in place, Biogen/Elan should have very detailed statistics on patients’ usage. Just my opinion.

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