Unknown, but not hidden

A Joshua tree in the desert, with low cliffs in the background, and a cloud-chased sky above
(jby, Flickr)

Word is that Twitter is selling out to Elon Musk, whose (speculated) plans for the platform are not especially encouraging. On the one hand, Twitter privately owned by a “free-speech absolutist” may not be appreciably less pleasant for a person like me than Twitter as a publicly traded company with some nominal interest in the experience of users besides Elon Musk. On the other hand, this is as good an excuse as any to take a step back and see if I can, finally, log off.

I’m not deleting my account — not yet — but I’m going to see if I can’t get back to something like my online behavior from the era before Twitter was my first social login of the day. Way back in the Obama administration, I posted to this blog (actually, its incarnation on, yikes, Blogger) multiple times a week. I didn’t break my thoughts up into pithy little snippets, or plan longer discussions in strings of 280-character sentences. I just … wrote.

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#FBexit? Is that a thing?

My #FBexit statement, as posted to That Site.

Facebook is a problem. It’s become the only way I’m in contact with a lot of folks, including far-flung family and friends accumulated over a decade of the Academic Nomad life. But it’s also absolutely awful at moderating the news or stopping the spread of falsehoods, and it continues to seek new ways to do unsavory things with the data we put on its servers even as it fails to secure that data. So I’m trying to cut as much of my life out of Facebook as I can, paring my profile there to a point of contact and not much else.

I’ve downloaded my data and done my best to clear out past postings — so many old photos! — and I’m going to use the holiday season to spread the things I used to do over Facebook to a variety of other platforms, which are at least nominally separate entities. I’ve put up a list of those platforms and profiles as my last Facebook post: my Flickr account, which needs something like eight months of updating (!); my Twitter profile; my e-mail and phone number for messaging; and this very blog for longer-form stuff. None of these are perfect solutions; some of them are entangled with corporations very nearly as unlikable as Facebook. But I hope I can use them together to achieve what a Facebook profile does with more control over the negative externalities of life online.

Also, it probably wouldn’t hurt for me to do more quick writing in a space like this one. We’ll see how this goes in the new year.

Malware? Not here.

So several people (all using Chrome) have now alerted me that they’re getting this alert when they navigate to www.denimandtweed.com:

Screencap courtesy Tim Vines.

Here’s what seems to be going on. That “known malware distributor” site, www.imachordata.com is Jarrett Byrnes‘s blog — apparently it’s been hacked, and Jarrett hasn’t been able to clean it up yet.

Why does this generate an alert for Denim and Tweed? I believe it’s because somewhere (probably multiple places), D&T links to imachordata.com — both because I’ve linked to posts there, and because Jarrett has commented here. However, so far as I can tell, there’s no malware on www.denimandtweed.com. Both an independent scan of the site by Sucuri and Google’s “Safe Browsing” diagnostic give www.denimandtweed.com a clean bill of health.

If anyone has further information, or some idea what I ought to do beyond these checks, please let me know in the comments. (I haven’t been able to replicate the warning message on any browser.) If imachordata.com isn’t cleaned up soon, maybe I’ll have to find and purge the links to it.◼

State of the blog, 2012

Daily visits to www.denimandtweed.com, 2012 (blue) vs 2011 (orange). Image and data from Google Analytics.

In all of 2012:

  • 222 new posts
  • 45,636 visits, up 20% from 2011
  • 32,385 “unique” visitors, up 35%
  • 122,363 pageviews, up 66%

Top-viewed posts, in descending order:

Miscellaneous landmarks:

It’s been a busy year, but a great one! If you’re still reading at this point, you must be one of my tens of loyal readers—instead of filling out a formal survey this year, why not say hello in the comments, and tell me why on Earth you’re still hanging around this unfashionable end of the outer eastern spiral arm of the Internet.◼

Denim and Tweed, now with more Readablity

Update, 29 June 2012: After accumulating tens of thousands of dollars in subscription money that was never claimed by publishers, Readability is ending its publisher payment program. That’s a pity, because, as you can see below, I thought it was a pretty great idea.

For quite some time, I’ve been looking for a good solution to the problem of paying for online writing. I read articles from dozens of websites, by dozens upon dozens of top-notch writers from Ed Yong to Scicurious, from Dahlia Lithwick to Ta-Nehisi Coates. And I’d like all of these folks to make money from the writing and reporting they do, because it’s valuable to me, and to society more generally.

But the seamless flow of my reading list from the Awl to the New York Times to Steve Silberman’s blog to Slacktivist and the Stranger doesn’t accommodate stopping to pay for each article, or even a subscription for every website. Some sites take individual subscriptions—but then I pay for articles I’ll never read. Some take tips via PayPal or another micropayment service—but then I have to remember to tip everyone once a month. What I really want is a subscription for the entire Internet, which gets split among the writers whose work I’ve enjoyed over the last month.

Well, now there is such a service: Readability.

Readability is primarily billed as an online app for managing “long read” articles, and viewing them in a nice, clean, ad-free format. Plug a webpage address into Readability, and the article on that page (even multiple linked pages) is rendered in lovely uniform typography on a clean white background, with surreptitious links to manage a reading list of articles from all over the Web, and to share and comment via Twitter or Facebook. There are Readability mobile and tablet apps, which let you download your reading list and read them offline in the same clean format—I use the iPhone app on a daily basis, to read articles that look good, but are too long for a coffee break at my desk.

Here’s a video describing it.

But the best thing about Readability, in my opinion, is that it lets you pay for all the articles you put into it. Although you can use the online service for free, you can agree to make a recurring monthly payment to support it. And Readability splits 70% of that payment amongst the sites represented on your reading list. To claim the payments, a site owner just needs to verify her control of the website with Readability, which is a pretty simple process.

The process is so simple, in fact, that I’ve registered Denim and Tweed with Readability. I don’t write a lot of long pieces for D&T these days, but when I do, you can now use the Readability toolbar that will appear at the top of each post’s individual page (click the headline link on a post to see it as it appears in the image above), and which will let you view the post in Readability’s clean format, save it to your reading list, print it, e-mail it, or even export it to a Kindle e-reader. (For a sample, check out this post from the archive in Readability layout.)

You can do all that for free. But if you like the Readability service, and you want to chip in to recognize the work that writers put into the articles you read online—there is, as they say, an app for that.◼

Hello out there! The D&T 2011 reader survey

Hmm. Out there looks … familiar. Photo by tom jervis.

After crunching the traffic numbers yesterday, it’s time to look at the results of my reader survey. With caveats for sample size, it appears my audience looks a lot like me: male, queer, young-ish, North American, English-speaking, and white. Here’s the Google Documents graphical summary of the fifty-four responses. (Or you can inspect the spreadsheet with the raw responses here.) Let’s start with the demographic bullet points I just mentioned:

  • Male. Of the 54 respondents, 20% (11) are female and 80% (43) male; no-one identified as transgendered. My readership is less gender-diverse than the current U.S. Supreme Court!
  • Queer. Twenty-eight respondents (52%) said they are attracted to the opposite sex, which is a majority—but much less so than in the general population. Nineteen (35%) said they are gay or lesbian; seven (13%) said they are bi.
  • Young-ish. A strong majority of respondents said they were either single (23; 43%) or married without children (19; 35%). That squares with the age distribution of respondents, for which the largest group are between 26-30 (16; 30%), and 65% (35) are under age 40. (There’s an interesting bimodality to the age distribution though—there’s a second, smaller peak in the 55-60-year-old bin.)
  • North American. Sixty-one percent of respondents (33) are living in the U.S; another 9% (5) are in Canada or Mexico. I’m going to bet most of those are in Canada, based on the next point.
  • English-speaking. Eighty-nine percent (48) grew up speaking English. Which makes sense, since that’s the language I write in. This and the previous point also square with Google Analytics results, which find the overwhelming majority of site visitors are from the States, followed by England, Canada, and Australia.
  • White. Ninety percent of folks (47) identified as white/Caucasian. More people chose “other” (3) than any of the other racial/ethnic categories I provided.

The folks who answered the survey are also quite well educated—72% (39) are working on or have completed either a Master’s or a Ph.D. More than 74% (40) have some sort of “formal” involvement in science—that is, anything from an undergrad science major to a tenured professor to retired from a scientific job—and a strong plurality (37%; 20) are primarily interested in biology. Under occupations, the overwhelming majority are either currently students (35%; 19) or employed “in my field of interest” (41%; 22).

As I noted at the outset, that profile looks a lot like … me. To some extent, I guess that’s not super-surprising. This is a one-man blog, and it makes sense that it would attract an audience of people most likely to share my interests, who would be most likely to be similar to me in other ways. But, to the extent I’d like D&T to be a public education project, it’s not great that I’m mainly reaching other white, educated, young-ish folks. I shall have to give that some further thought.

The answers provided under “interactions with the site” were, to me, some of the most interesting. A plurality of respondents (35%; 19) said they’ve never shared a link to D&T, and almost two thirds (61%; 33) have never commented on the site. One one level, that looks like there’s a lot of “unengaged” readers out there, but I think it’s an encouraging result. It suggests that the folks who answered the survey are a different group than the readers I know from Facebook, Twitter, or the comments section, and that was a major goal of setting up the survey in the first place.

Although the largest single response to the sharing question was “No, I’ve never shared a link,” the others indicated a lot of link-sharing: on Twitter (30%; 16), Facebook (28%; 15), Google Plus (13%; 7), by e-mail (24%; 13), or in an in-person recommendation (17%; 9). Thanks to all of you! Folks who had commented on posts mainly said they did so to add something (90%, or 10 of those who responded to this question) or to agree with the main point of the post (55%, or 6); folks who had never commented mainly said it was because “I don’t feel I have anything to add” (46%; or 16 of those who responded to that question). That actually tracks pretty well with my own commenting philosophy—I tend to chime in when I have something additional to say or an objection to lodge, but I’m more likely to express agreement or interest in a post by sharing the link, or writing about it in a post of my own, than by commenting.

In terms of topics, an overwhelming majority (85%; 46) read D&T “primarily” for the science. Asked which topics they’d like to see more about, most (46%; 25) also chose science; a number wrote in answers under “other,” but mainly to affirm the current topic mix, which is gratifying. Similarly, there was no single strong response to the question of which topic I should cover less, unless we count “other” with no specific response. (On that one, someone wrote in “DON’T MAKE ME CHOOSE,” which made me chuckle.)

Finally, those folks who wrote in the final “any other thoughts?” box said, basically, a lot of very kind things. I thought about reproducing those comments here, then considered it’d be tooting my own horn a bit much even in the context of this post. So I’ll just wrap up by saying, thanks for reading Denim and Tweed, and thanks for taking the time to tell me what you think of it. Here’s hoping the new year brings more interesting, exciting, and maddening things to write about.

(Also, I’ve taken the suggestion to do something about the way photos display in the RSS feed. It’s been driving me nuts for ages.) ◼

State of the blog, 2011

The quantified blog. Photo by hyperboreal.

Happy New Year! Time for some quantitative navel-gazing, which now counts as a Denim and Tweed New Year’s tradition, since I’ve done it twice before. Tomorrow, I’ll take a look at the responses to my first-ever reader survey, but right now, I’m just going to go through the metrics I’ve used before.

In 2011, I wrote 198 posts for this site. According to Google Analytics, these attracted 73,899 page-views by 24,025 unique visitors. That’s an average of 373 page-views per post, and an increase in traffic of 161% over 2010, when I had 28,308 page-views. For some perspective, it’s about two orders of magnitude less than John Scalzi’s visitation rate. But not too bad, if I do say so myself.

More detail after the jump.

Weekly visitors to Denim and Tweed, for 2011 (blue line) and 2010 (green). Image by Google Analytics.

Most of that increase in traffic is attributable to a link from PZ Myers to my post taking down Jesse Bering’s ridiculous declaration that gay-bashing is adaptive. That’s the spike in the graph above. “An adaptive fairytale with no happy ending” was, accordingly, the most-visited post of the year, clocking in 4,222 page-views since publication. The next-most popular post of 2011 was a follow-up in the ensuing back-and-forth over certain evolutionary psychologists’ failure to understand basic evolutionary biology, with 3,441 page-views.

The other top posts of 2011 are less controversy-driven: my review and discussion of Joan Roughgarden’s Evolution’s Rainbow (1,188 page-views); a post on partially carnivorous plants (966 page-views, in part thanks to a nice nod from Ed Yong); and then last year’s post about whether or not female orgasm is an adaptation (836 page-views).

In fact, once you get below the top 5 posts, pieces from previous years show up pretty frequently. I guess this means D&T is increasing its visibility in Google searches? The top search phrases leading folks to the site (apart from some form of my name or the site’s name) were “herbivore,” “ant dispersal,” “mutualism,” “female orgasm,” and “what makes a species.” I’m kinda proud of that last one.

Post topics are a bit more difficult to total up. However, by my count in the Blogger post management dashboard, I published 150 posts tagged “science” in 2011. That’s compared to 21 posts tagged “politics” and 24 tagged “queer.” (Note these are not mutually exclusive categories!) Of the science posts, 47 are tagged “evolution,” 5 are tagged “ecology,” and 37 were submitted to Research Blogging, meaning they were “formal” discussions of peer-reviewed papers. An even 50 of the science posts are the weekly linkfests.

I made some pretty major career transitions this year, too: I finished my Ph.D. and started a postdoc. I’m enjoying life as a “professional” biologist, but it’s decidedly less compatible with regular blogging than grad school was. Nevertheless, I expect to keep posting at Denim and Tweed, and hopefully to continue development of the new collaborative site Nothing in Biology Makes Sense!—writing and discussion in both venues continue to be useful to my thinking about my scientific work, and (hopefully) valuable as public education, too. ◼

Stand up and be counted—take my reader survey!

Just a brief reminder: my reader survey is still open for responses! I’m going to keep it open (and probably prod you for answers) through the 31st. So please follow that link and tell me about yourselves and what you think of Denim and Tweed. It’s all quite anonymous, and you can skip any question you’d rather not answer. Thanks in advance! ◼

Take the D&T reader survey!

Surveying. Photo by danakin.

Inspired by previous efforts at other blogs, and spurred by Kevin Zenio’s recent post on the importance of reader feedback, I’ve decided it’s well past time to find out more about who’s reading Denim and Tweed. I get some sense of the size and diversity of my readership from Google Analytics, and from who decides comment on or tweet about or “like” individual posts. However, it’s pretty clear that some number of you read without responding in any medium I can see, and those are the folks about whom I’m most curious.

So if you would please take a minute or two to fill in this handy online form, I would be exceedingly grateful. None of the questions are required, but answers to all of them would be informative. This is your chance to let me know who’s out there, and what you think of what I’m doing here at D&T. ◼

Denim and Tweed blocked on Facebook?

Blocked?! Photo by jby.

Just found the following in my inbox:

This morning I noticed the Lego-Blimp post and decided some of my Facebook family would be amused. I found the post ‘blocked’ by FB, presumably because of the ‘gay’ content. Bleh. I filled out the ‘why this content should not be blocked’ form but lard knows what will happen. In anycase I’ll keep trying to link to your site.

(Hyperlink added for context, otherwise sic.) I’ve just tried to post a few links from D&T myself to the D&T Facebook page (in a separate issue, the widget I use to automatically send new posts to that page had broken) and it seems as though today’s linkfest (but only that) has indeed been blocked as “abusive.” What the deuce?

I’ve filed an appeal, as did the reader who initially found the problem, but I’m not sure what else to do. Has anyone else run across this? What more can I do?

And for the record, if whoever flagged that post and/or this blog as “abusive” is reading, no one is forcing you to read Denim and Tweed, much less follow it on Facebook.