Tag Archives: General

Confessions of a Stats Geek

I never would have thought I’d write a post with this title. In my scholarship, I tend to veer toward qualitative cultural analysis. I avoid numbers whenever possible. Though I’m a big fan of maps, I detest charts– they take forever to make and half your readers won’t even give them a glance.

That said, I’m addicted to reading my web statistics, monitoring my online presence. I’m obsessive about it. Every night, I check my flickr stats, go to Google Analytics to track how this page is doing, and since joining Yelp last month, I’ve begun checking that almost daily, to see how many page views my profile’s gotten, and how my reviews have been rated. Once a week, on Sunday evening, I go to last.fm to find out what music I’ve been listening to, and see what people with similar musical tastes might have uncovered that I haven’t. I’m awash in statistics.

It’s not that I do much with them. I mean, I’d definitely argue that these stats, along with frequent self-googling, keep me aware of who’s seeing me online, and how. But that, to be completely honest, is a second-order perk.

The main reason I do it is… I don’t know. It’s visceral, it’s almost a form of introspection. (Although it’s outwardly-focused introspection…) The net, now that we’re in the “Web 2.0” days, is an intensely performative medium. From the initial hypertextual concept of infinitely linked texts, we’ve moved on, to an internet that’s all about the (multiple, contingent, intertextual) construction of the self. And stats let us know how we’re constructing ourselves, to a certain extent. They’re a mirror to our online identities, that allow us to do a bit of reader-response criticism on ourselves…

Because as much as we all know that it’s “just the internet” and that “on the internet nobody knows you’re a dog,” as much as it’s widely reiterated that online virtual personae are separate from actual identity, that’s only half the truth. In a world where people spend as much time as many of us do in refining and crafting our identities online, these things get fuzzy. You invest your selfhood into these projects. The work of molding a performative identity can never be alienated labor. Which we all know– that’s why everyone gets into a tizzy when, say, LiveJournal changes hands again or Rupert Murdoch buys MySpace. Because when users switch from “people using a service” to “people creating content,” there’s an investment made, and a bit of your identity is intermingled with that of the platform you use.

When I migrated this blog from Typepad to my own WordPress blog last month, I was changing camps– making an identity shift. And part of that identity shift involved having to find a way to track my stats. The stats provided by Typepad were quite good. Those provided by Google Analytics, however, are far richer.

…This entire post has been a protracted lead-up to this: given that it’s been a month since I’ve migrated my blog, I decided to share some figures, here. Let’s look at who’s been reading, and how.

  • So far, my numbers are down, but barely. My average number of pageviews per day has gone down from 7.5 to 6.7. I’m frankly surprised that the damage hasn’t been worse, although since moving, I’ve been doing more things consciously to boost my google juice, like using trackback urls, pinging sites like Technocrati, and (simplest of all) posting more frequently.
  • Here in the states, the majority of people who visit my sites seem to be in Northern Virginia, Southern California, and Texas. Besides Texas and one hit each from New Mexico and Kansas, I haven’t had a single person visit my site from the area West of the Mississippi and east of the Pacific Coast States. Maybe I need to post more things of interest to the Plains States and Rocky Mountain Region.
  • While the vast majority of people viewing my site are in the US, (with Aglophone nations like the UK, New Zealand, Ireland, and Canada filling in a large number of the other unique users) I’ve also, somewhat surprisingly, had hits from: Switzerland, the Netherlands, India, Romania, the Czech Republic, Spain, South Korea, and Malaysia.
  • 70% of you are NOT using Internet Explorer. Good on ya! And most of you use Firefox. This makes me happy.
  • Far and away, my most popular post this month has been my review of Tom Smith’s site, “Let’s Play Ukulele.” At this rate, it’ll quickly out pace my all-time most-viewed post, a mini-essay on the china and china cabinet in John Lewis Krimmel’s “The Quilting Frolic”. This has gotten me thinking. I’m shocked that an ukulele post generated such interest– although the post also related to my notions of the potential uses of Web 2.0 technology for digital pedagogy, let’s face it… Digital Pedagogy and Cultural History are pretty limited-interest topics. I wonder if expanding the scope of this blog would encourage readership by making a bigger umbrella, or discourage readers by being a bit scattershot. If everyone and their mother is now engaging in Friday Cat Blogging, I figure a semi-weekly ukulele post might not hurt me. And plus, it’d be fun, and my roommates are getting sick of hearing me talk about ukes.

Well, this may be just of interest to me, but it gave me some things to think about.

Now if someone could just explain my flickr stats to me: I understand why this picture of Barak Obama is my most popular:

Barack Obama Speaks @ GMU

But why on earth is this picture (of my roommate’s friend Ron, when we went on a ski trip) my second-most popular?

Ron Standing

Aparently a lot of people click on it when they do a Yahoo Image search for “jeans and blazer”…

Welcome to the New Home of the Leisurely Historian…

I’ve migrated from TypePad to hosting my own blog, on a unique URL, using WordPress.

You see, I’ve started an assistantship at the Center for History and New Media, and as a part of that, I’m having to set up blogs and pages on WordPress, and to install it. Since I had this URL and a hosting account sitting around basically unused for the last six months, I thought I’d take the opportunity to learn by doing, and set up a WordPress blog over here. I always learn a hundred percent more by playing in the sandbox instead of just reading about process.

The current theme and layout I’m not too attached to, so expect that to change in the next few weeks.

Also, expect to see a bit more frequent posting. I’ve merged a few less active blogs into one mega-blog here, so entries will likely be coming quicker. I’m also wanting to get into the habit of passing on more links to other blogs, news articles, etc. with a little less commentary. One of my weaknesses as a blogger is that I feel the need to write small essays. And don’t get me wrong, there’s still going to be the too-frequent 2000-word post here. I’m just verbose. But I’d like to also do more bite-size “bloggy” posts, as well. Something to reward readers, and something that makes me part of the exchange that makes blogging so vital.

If I was the sort to make New Year’s Resolutions– or the sort to be productive at all around New Years– I’d have made that my New Year’s Resolution. I guess, given the date, I’ll call that my Chinese New Year’s Resolution.

Anyway, yeah– welcome!

What I'm up to lately…

I’m working on a lot of different things right now.

I gave up on the rubber sheeting project, basically because I’m realizing I have the basic understanding, and that it’s probably not going to be helpful for my final project. I’ve decided on doing the autobiographical mapping idea, mostly because it doesn’t involve a) too too much extra research, so I can put my time into the actual map-making, and b) it also doesn’t involve technology that is beyond the scope of this class– which I’m afraid most of my Boston Common ideas did. I also like the idea of being a bit introspective, making myself– and how to represent myself– the "problem" of the class. I was a lit and creative writing person in college, and to be honest, I miss some of the introspection and self-investigation that was required there… it’s just so easy to get swept up in the tides of history, and to lose site of yourself in that.

I toyed with the idea of doing more of a family history thing, but to be honest, it’s just not feasible. I have one surviving grandparent, no great aunts or uncles, no uncles, aunts, or cousins. My family is cut off and small, and there’s just been a lot of ambiguity and uncertainty uncovered whenever I try to learn too much about my family’s past. It’s a shame, too– if I’d done a family history project and it looked good, I bet my parents would have loved that as a Christmas present, if it was put in a nice frame.

Anyway, I’m excited to say I’ve  found a way to make my Sketchup map relevant to that final project– When I was at the LC, I was able to get a copy of the Sanborn Map for the block I grew up on. It’s been fascinating to look at those maps.

First off, I found that Tipp City, my home town, has hardly changed at all in the last eighty years or so. The 1926 map of my neighborhood is basically identical to the neighborhood I grew up in. There was a small grocer built since then, a block away, and there was a tiny creamery company that’s been converted into a two-and-a-half-car garage. But other than that, it’s the same. The same houses, the levee in my back yard had been built by then (it was built in the aftermath of the Great Dayton Flood of 1913, a pretty devastating flood that resulted in one of the largest and most innovative flood control efforts of its time.) My parent’s old house is there, as is my grandmother’s, next door. The houses of my childhood friends… Even the tomato canning plant on the next block, and the adjoining sewage pump house– which lets me know that by 1926, whomever lived in that house had to put up with the strange, sickly-sweet smell of tomatoes and sewage that my family dealt with every summer.

Everything’s pretty much as it would be in the 1980s.

Although there were some surprises– a block or so from my house, there was the old flour mill and the old buggy whip company. When I was growing up, the mill was abandoned, and later turned into a performing-arts center by the man who took it upon himself to attempt to turn our struggling little town into a town that tourists go to for crafts and antiques– it worked, by the way, and the place looks better than it ever did when I was growing up. The old buggy whip factory was a workshop for a family friend who restored antiques. I was surprised to learn that the mill was still a functioning flour mill as late as 1926, while the buggy whip factory had been converted into an auto dealership.

One thing that perplexed me was that certain sections of the town have been blacked out on the main map, including my neighborhood. The map’s key is of little help in figuring out why this is. The best guess I have is that these are the industrial areas of the town, and may for this reason be uninsurable.

Which leads me to another issue– when I went to look at some of the other years, I discovered that my block, which is actually one of the second set of lots laid out after the town was founded in 1840, was actually left off of the maps all together. Moreover, the house I grew up in, if memory serves, was built in 1907, but was absent from the 1916 map, not appearing until 1926. Could this be a function of my house being on the "bad side of town"?

Speaking of "bad sides of town," something in the above-linked wikipedia article caught my eye, and I want to now go back to the LC and look into it:

The early city was a popular stopping-off point for the boatmen [from the Miami-Erie Canal, which it was built along]. The
original downtown included a large number of bars and a red light

Now, the fact that the town was a stop on the canal is pretty widely known. And the number of bars makes sense, given the architecture of a lot of the buildings downtown. But I never heard of Tipp City having a red light district, and that sort of fascinates me.

I want to look and see what I can find, see what I can tell from Sanborn maps and maybe some newspapers. I love the idea of the quiet, Mayberry-type town I grew up in as some sort of den of sin. It does make sense given one piece of local history that always stuck with me from childhood. Where the Eagles building now stands, there was a great wooden building– thinking back, it looked a bit like a giant saloon– on the corner of First and Main, a block or so from my house. First and Main was maybe 100, 200 feet from the Canal Lock. Anyway, a book on Tipp City history had a picture of the building, and a brief description. Aparently, it was burnt down in the early 1900s after a fight between the two brothers that owned it.

I’d love to learn a bit more about that, and look for the old Red Light district.

Online MPD… some thoughts on anonymity…

I responded to a post on The History Enthusiast‘s blog, dealing with her almost being "outed" as a blogger in class, which led her to write a rather lengthy reply post.

I started to write a comment in reply, but realized that mine had turned into a rather lengthy reply post as well, so here it is:

I struggle with some of the same issues, balancing the desire for privacy and a place to vent with my desire to make this blog as transparent as possible. I want privacy, and I want publicity– or at least I want hits. I want comments. I want readership and feedback.

My solution thus far has been to establish two (or more accurately, several) online "selves." One that’s pretty public and not too personal, and the other that’s small, secretive, much more personal, and highly screened. That latter "self" (on a friends-only LiveJournal account) is the one that only a handful of even my friends have access to, and that’s where my personal life, my joys and my angst tend to go. I keep that persona on a tight leash. I don’t connect it to other parts of my more public persona. It’s filtered, it’s under a pseudonym (or pseudonyms) that even my best friends wouldn’t necessarily guess was me.

My more public self is this blog, it’s my del.icio.us account, my flickr account. The places where I let myself be traceable, and try to control a bit more the content. And when it comes to this blog, it’s obviously less personal than the History Enthusiast’s blog, and more purely historical. And I’m sure it has less readership because of that. But I’m constantly thinking about how to strike a balance with that respect.

I think the real advantage of the "two selves principle" that I’m TRYING to make work is that it keeps me in the habit of blogging, either way. It keeps me writing and processing my life in that way, for things that won’t necessarily get turned in to anyone or published anywhere. And it also keeps me on my toes and hyper-conscious of my online profile. I make sure that my public face has a hundred times more Google Juice than my "private persona." It keeps me in the business of managing my online presence, which keeps me mindful, and (I hope) decreases the possibility of having one of those famous incidents where your internet slip is showing at the wrong time.

Personally, I’m doing this for several reasons. One is simply that I’m in a program where maintaining an internet presence is pretty much a requirement. Blogs and electronic journals and projects are some of the highest-profile things coming out of George Mason. So in one way, I’m just riding the wave here. But I also feel that there needs to be greater transparency in academia, and more immediacy.  Academics who blog openly promote these causes.

I think that this new publishing option– because that’s what blogging and the like are– is an exciting new development for academics. It’s almost like a conference that never stops, where there’s panels on any topic you can imagine. Of course there’s still a place for traditional publication and peer review, but this is an opportunity to share your work and get feedback among interested peers before all that– just like a conference, except you don’t have to wait all year to go, and you never get that 8am slot that nobody shows up for.

I’ve worried myself about the possibility of getting "scooped’ by over-sharing, as well, but honestly, I’ve been convinced by people who keep claiming that if anything, blogging increases your public presence, and gives you something to point to if somebody steals your research– you’ve already published it online. I don’t know of anyone who’s done this successfully, yet, but I DO know of several people who’ve been scooped after presenting at a conference. But we keep doing those.

I don’t know. I guess I’ll find out if this experiment is a good one or a foolhardy one in a several years, when I go on the market. But I’m hoping that even if there are some programs out there who won’t want someone who’s been blogging, there might be other programs out there who’ll like the idea of someone who’s been writing to be read– putting themselves out there– as much as possible.

Blogs are usually half-formed, often half-baked, and many are completely thoughtless and narcissistic. They’ve earned their bad name, as much as they’ve been maligned by self-appointed gatekeepers and culture guardians. But they have a lot of potential.

Academics, I feel, would be best served striving to achieve that potential, honestly and openly. When enough people do that, when there’s a critical mass, some of that bias will go away. But I feel that it’s important for people to be open about who they are. Blogging anonymously… there really is a similarity to the closet. You can either "come out," or you have to constantly fear being outed.

And look at Larry Craig… when you get outed after doing stuff in secret for a long, long time, you have a lot more difficult explaining to do.

That said, I intend to hold onto my secret "other personas" as long as possible, ’cause there’s certain parts of all our lives that we’d rather keep on the DL.

Cartography can be fun…

  • One of my favorite quotes about cartography, from Tom Stoppard’s Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead
  • Guildenstern: What a shambles! We’re just not getting anywhere.
    Rosencrantz: Not even England. I don’t believe in it anyway.
    Guildenstern: What?
    Rosencrantz: England.
    Guildenstern: Just a conspiracy of cartographers,  you mean?

  • From Deputydog’s blog, a collection of AMAZING holes.