Sunday, January 21, 2007

Happy first birthday Tetrapod Zoology (part I)

On Saturday 21st January 2006 – that is, one year ago – I decided, entirely on a whim, to start my own blog. I’d been reading various people’s blogs for a while and it was on that night that the thought of writing one of my own occurred to me. Of course, it was just about the worse time to do this, given that I was scheduled to complete my PhD in April of that year, and I was already too busy with too many additional commitments. But I did it anyway, and while lying in bed later that night I felt the over-riding urge to get up, switch the computer on and write the first of my patented over-long, tediously detailed blog essays. It was on giant killer eagles, a favourite subject of mine, and one that I was to return to several times later on in the year. It marked the beginning of a new and highly rewarding phase in my life.

So, today is Tetrapod Zoology’s first birthday. In this post (and part II) I want to look back at a year’s blogging: given that I do not really blog ‘to a plan’ (I simply write about those subjects that I bump into, or find particularly interesting on the spur of the moment), I’m interested in seeing what I might learn about my blogging habits. It’s also worth reviewing Tetrapod Zoology’s changing fortunes, and on looking back at my own circumstances, during the year that’s past. You’ll be pleased to hear that we (as in, Toni, Will and myself) celebrated Tetrapod Zoology’s first birthday by visiting the Natural History Museum in London. Above is a photo of the robotic tyrannosaur to prove it. And sorry if you were expecting the vampire post… it will follow shortly.

A year in the life

It feels like a lot happened in 2006, though I’m not sure if it really did. I spent time in the field looking at obscure British reptiles and amphibians, wild deer, rodents, bats and birds, and I taught Will stuff about tracking and field sign. I visited the farm many times (see adjacent image), and the zoo where I was impressed by takins, peccaries, sleeping anteaters and rhinos. Feedback on the blog increased and, thanks to it, I made lots of new friends. The main event of 2006 was, of course, the completion of my PhD on Wealden theropods. By repeatedly staying up until 05-00 each morning, I managed to get the thing completed, and at the start of June I had the viva and completed the process in full. Besides being kept busy with my editorial work for Cretaceous Research, in late 2006 I began an adult-education course on the evolution and diversity of tetrapods for the WEA (Workers Educational Authority), and at the start of 2007 I am currently teaching the second such course.

Since completing the PhD I’ve been unable to get a job in academia, despite strenuous efforts, and life has been very hard. However, working on the assumption that I will somehow get back into the system, I have continued to do research when time allows. Several academic projects that have been mentioned on the blog have yet to come to fruition, including that long-delayed manuscript on British dinosaur diversity, and work on Cretaceous Spanish vertebrates, Wealden sauropods, and azhdarchid ecology. In July, Dave Martill and I finally published our paper on Tupuxuara and the affinities of azhdarchoid pterosaurs (to a flurry of media attention), and Dave, Sarah Fielding and I published a review of Kimmeridge Clay dinosaurs later in the year. I am routinely asked to do talks for local natural history and geology groups, and in 2006 I lectured on ichthyosaurs, British big cats and Wealden dinosaurs. I also did TV interviews on theropods and marine reptiles, a podcast for George Kenney’s Electric Politics site, and late in the year I was commissioned to assist in the development of a TV programme featuring computer-generated dinosaurs.

While all of this was going on, I have researched and published blog articles on… well, a lot of stuff (see part II). For me, blogging is great for two main reasons. Firstly, it’s very easy compared to conventional publishing. An article of a 1000 words can be written, illustrated, formatted and published within an hour or so. Secondly, the accessibility and popularity of blogs means that blog posts are almost certainly read by more people than are anything within conventionally published media.

Troughs, peaks and mega-peaks

Naturally, if you maintain a web site of any sort, you’re interested in how much, or how little, traffic you’re getting. Blogspot doesn’t provide a web counter for every blog of course, so the only way to check your traffic is to see how many people have viewed your profile. However, of every 2000 people that visit a blog, perhaps 1 looks at the profile, so this isn’t a reliable guide. So in September I installed a web counter (provided, free by bravenet), and by November 2006 it had counted 50,000 hits, which ain’t bad. At the time of writing, the current number of average daily hits is round about 500 (see adjacent graph, depicting traffic on 12th January 2007), though this was more like 300 prior to November 2006 or so.

Within a short length of time I learnt that certain types of posts got more hits than others, and this partly explains why – in November 2006 – I blogged about sasquatch. Thanks to the web counter, I was able to watch my traffic soar to a high of about 3000 a day. It seems that mentions of the blog on sites and result in a surge of traffic: the graph shown here shows what happened on the 18th January 2007 when PZ Myers linked to my post on Darwin’s beard. A far more remarkable peak – a mega-peak – occurred however during the Christmas holiday, when (over the space of three days) the total number of hits jumped from 50,000 to over 80,000. I initially thought this was some kind of software glitch, but it wasn’t (unfortunately, I never thought to save the bravenet counter graph generated at the time). It seems that Pekka Komi’s remarkable 2006 photos of the Golden eagle scrapping with the fox had proved incredibly popular, and after a link to my blog was listed on, things went nuts. So I learnt that neat photos make all the difference, if, that is, traffic is what you’re interested in.

Continued in part II….


Blogger Dr. Vector said...

Hi Darren,

I was thrilled to see the '0 comments' line at the bottom of this post; I hoped that I might be the first to congratulate you on an excellent year. Then I realized that it's night where you're at and the comments are surely piled up waiting for your approval.

Nevertheless. I've said it before, privately and in public, but it bears repeating. Your blog is a genuine addition to life. I look forward to new TZ posts the way I looked forward to new episodes of David Attenborough series when I was ten. Reading your blog has made me more knowledgable as a scientist, more curious as a naturalist, and, just possibly, a better person all around. Best wishes for the second year of TZ and for all the years to come.

Oh, yeah: keep 'em coming.

Your biggest fan,

Matt Wedel

2:36 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Spelling: Myers.


11:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Darren, not a comment for the blog, but an administrative one.

If you want to raise or maintain the profile of the blog, you should check out why the Firefox 2 web browser cannot subscribe to its RSS feed. The only way to read the entries is to go to the web page itself. I thought you had disappeared when the rss entries stopped loading some time ago.


12:28 PM  
Blogger Darren Naish said...

Many thanks for your comments, especially to Matt for his tear-jerking homage (go here). Thanks David for the correction, and the others you've been providing (seriously).

Greg: thanks for alerting me to a problem I didn't know about. I know jack about fixing issues like this, so don't know what to do. Does anyone else have this problem, and can they help? Firefox is my browser, but I haven't switched to Firefox 2.

9:19 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The atom feed is throwing syntax errors for some reason. I suspect this is a blogspot templating thing. The rss feed at still works fine, so FF users can subscribe through that. Except that for some other unfathomable reason, the little "subscribe to feed" button in the FF address bar doesn't allow you to choose between the two.

Probably the most convenient workaround (if playing with the feed settings doesn't work) is to put a direct link to the rss feed in the site's sidebar, so FF users can click through that to subscribe more easily.

9:18 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congratulations, Mr. Naish, and happy birthday.

I enjoy reading your blogs (though I feel I do not know enough to comment intelligently), and look forwards to more blogs to read. Hopefully this year I will know enough to be able to comment.

Have nice days, and be well.

12:39 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Congratulations Darren!
Happy bloggiversary!


3:18 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home