I’m devoting my 100th blog post to a look back over the previous 99, and over the 20 months or so since my first post. It is a chance for me to think about the process of blogging – and an invitation to you to check out some material that you may have missed.
I’ll start with some numbers. Here are my top five posts, by number of page views:
Curiously, my most popular post was not even written by me. Its popularity is partly, I suspect, because it is such a simple, clear account of a common, yet under-recognised problem: the impact of sprawling neighbourhood design on children and families. Its chart-topping status also shows the power of social media. It was quickly picked up by influential urbanist Richard Florida via his twitter feed, and then hotly debated on an American tech website.
Second on the list is a kind of manifesto statement about playground safety: a topic that has been a focus of my work for at least 13 years. It makes greater use of images than many of my posts. Perhaps this is reflected in its staying power (it still gets 3-400 views a month, a year after it was first posted).
The bronze medal post is on children’s independent mobility (to use the research term). As I said in that post, my thinking on childhood has been hugely influenced by the work of researcher, policy analyst and environmental campaigner Mayer Hillman. I like to think that its reach is in part in recognition of the significance of Mayer’s work.
My fourth most popular post is also a manifesto of sorts, this time on risk: a theme that (according to my tag list) is my most popular topic. It is another post with staying power, getting over 400 views a month.
Fifth on the list is my takedown of parent-blaming. It is one of the few posts where I have experimented with form, using a couple of handwritten diagrams to show my argument.
The post also made a point of being based on hard evidence. I have a bee in my bonnet about the importance of sound evidence. It’s so easy to slip into armchair nostalgia, lazy generalizations and dodgy assumptions when thinking about childhood and how it has changed. But if the debate about children’s everyday lives is to step outside the bar-room – as it must – then it has to square up to the facts.
I have had a website for nearly a decade. For much of that time, the content was largely static – a kind of online business card and CV. Here are a couple of warts-and-all screengrabs, from 2004 and 2010:
Two reasons for starting to blog were to reach a wider audience with my writing, and to have more conversations with those interested in my work. I’ve no real idea about what the page view figures mean in terms of audience – though I do know that my book No Fear has sold around 5,000 copies, so my most popular posts are reaching significantly more people than are likely to have read it. (I also know that a tumblr post by my teenage daughter – an anecdote about a star from the cult TV show Supernatural – attracted 40,000 views in 24 hours!) As the chart below shows, monthly trends for viewing figures seem to be upward, though with some peaks and troughs.
As for conversations, on average my posts get around ten comments (not counting my own). My sense is that this is a high level of audience engagement (are there benchmarks for ‘comments per page view’, I wonder?) Some posts have gotten a lot of comments – here are my ‘top 5’ by number of comments:
Thanks to all who have taken the time to comment… and hat-tips to the most frequent contributors, Arthur Battram (aka plexity), Peter Clinch, Bernard Poulin (oldnp), Robin Sutcliffe (grumpysutcliffe) and Juliet Robertson.
Sometimes I worry about singing to the choir – most of those commenting are offering support or endorsement – but I suspect that a degree of preaching to the converted is hard to avoid. Having said this, there have been some lively exchanges (for instance on my twin posts on playground design and children’s participation). Moreover, I am grateful that my website has seen none of the aggressive attacks and exchanges that can make online activity an unpleasant experience.
Finally, a word on how people arrive. Aside from Google, Facebook tops the list of referrers with nearly 25,000 referrals (over 10 per cent of the total page views). Twitter is next, but with only around 5,000. I must confess I was a reluctant joiner of Facebook, and still have mixed feelings about it (in my personal life I pretty much lurk). But it is clearly central to the way that many of us get information these days.
I thought carefully before starting this blog. I knew it was unlikely to generate much direct income (it generates none, in fact – though it has lead to some paid work such as speaking engagements and commissions – and as a freelancer, this is of course important). I also knew it would take time and effort. My guess is it takes about a day a week all told, including time on Facebook and Twitter and following other blogs and news feeds. And it took a while to get the hang of WordPress (with some help in the early days from Guerilla Geographer Daniel Raven-Ellison – thanks Dan!)
Has it been worth it? Perhaps the best answer I can give is that I can hardly imagine working without blogging now. It is simply the most effective way of sharing my work and engaging with others in the connected, digital world that so many of us now live in.