Today marks the fourth anniversary of the first post at Hot Topic — four years since the blog’s birth, and as my mum would say, hasn’t time flown? This birthday post is number 1,080, and it will be read by many, many more people than those first brief paragraphs announcing the book and blog. I’m not one for tootling my own trumpet (at least, not loudly), so I won’t be making great claims about how far we’ve come and how much we’ve achieved, but I will take this opportunity to muse a little on what I’ve learned. A lot, but not perhaps enough…
I spent many years working in magazine publishing, and one of the key metrics for any magazine is the size and character of its readership. I approach blogging in much the same way that I used to approach running a magazine: I’m aiming to build readership, trying to inform and entertain, and at the same time do some good. The major difference is that magazines should make money. Hot Topic doesn’t[1. We cover our hosting and associated costs with income from affiliate arrangements with the book sellers in the sidebar -- mostly Fishpond and the Book Depository -- but that's about all.] — it’s a labour of love. With that in mind, here’s a look at how Hot Topic‘s readership has developed:
This data comes from my Statcounter account. In April 2007, the first full week produced the princely total of 343 unique visitors. These days, a bad week comes in well over 3,000. Ken Perrott at Open Parachute maintains a NZ blog ranking: Hot Topic was #13 in March (if you add in the figures for people who read HT at Sciblogs, we’d jump a place or two).
The graph shows how Hot Topic‘s readership has built over time, and some of the key events. The first big spike was my little run-in with The Listener in April 2008. The editor of that magazine took exception to some robust (but fair) criticism, and threatened legal action. I caved in at the first opportunity, and allowed the NZ blogosphere to reflect on the issue. You could say Hot Topic won a moral victory, and although the offending article is no longer available here, it’s pretty easy to find…
A little over a year later, my review of Ian Wishart’s climate change opus Air Con triggered a robust exchange of views that ran back and forth over several weeks. Wishart’s frothing at the mouth responses to my dissection of his understanding of the science of climate were nothing if not entertaining.
The Treadgold/CSC attack on NIWA’s compilation of the NZ temperature record in November 2009 provided the impetus for the next spike in readership. I thought it was important to get a reply on the record as soon as possible, and that has proved to be the most popular post on the site. A few months later, potty peer Christopher Monckton’s threatened legal action against John Abraham prompted me to invite comments in Abraham’s support. We received over 1,000, and that post is the second most popular to date.
Other milestones: Bryan Walker joined HT as my co-blogger back in November 2008, and has built a considerable body of work. His book reviews have become an important feature of the site — I like to claim that we offer the most comprehensive collection of climate book reviews on the web — but his views on all aspects of the climate debate command respect for their quiet moral authority. Thanks Bryan.
In September 2009, Hot Topic joined the new Sciblogs network for its launch: flattered to be invited, I remain in awe of the material produced by my fellow “Sciblings”. The NZ science community owes them a great deal for their unpaid work.
Over the last few months I’ve had fun working on The Climate Show with Glenn Williams and John Cook. It’s great to be able to chat to like-minded and knowledgeable people, and provide what I hope is proving to be an interesting and valuable perspective on climate issues.
Back to the graph: it goes up. Readership has been increasing steadily (except for the last few weeks — if I were to apply sceptical statistics™ I might claim that the last three weeks have wiped out all the readership gains of the last year!) — but I do expect the unique visitors metric to plateau at some point. Hot Topic is a New Zealand-focussed blog, and I suspect that by now most New Zealanders interested in climate issues and active on the web will have found us. That’s confirmed by information from another stats service I use (Woopra): over the first few months of this year, 49% of visits have come from New Zealand, 15% from the USA, 10% from Australia, 7% from the UK and 5% from Canada. Unless there’s a large reservoir of potential NZ readers we haven’t reached, it looks very much like future growth can only come from overseas visitors. HT has become a part (if only a small part) of the international climate blogosphere, and readership here will therefore tend to reflect activity on that wider stage. When we cover material of global interest (Don Easterbrook, say, or the fate of the Arctic sea ice), visitor numbers will rise.
The trick (not Mike’s Nature trick ) will be to maintain good coverage of NZ issues — science, policy and politics — and at same the time cover stories with a wider appeal. In one sense, that’s easy. Climate is a truly global issue, and the fascinating new science that’s being done is of global interest — as indeed are political and policy developments wherever they happen. That’s what I’ll be aiming for over the coming year, but do please let Bryan and I know if you think we’re getting the balance wrong.
At some point however, my desire to provide a comprehensive service runs foul of the need to make a living. Blogging doesn’t pay the bills. Would that it did — at least, enough to justify the time I spend hacking at this keyboard. But then where else would an ageing journalist be? After all, climate change and how we deal with it (or not) is the big story of the coming century. I hope you’ll stick with us for the ride.