A few evenings ago I was responding to two comments on my blog post, “6 recommendations for teaching with the flip video camera,” when I noticed that today would be exactly a year since I posted it (June 10, 2009, 3:32pm) and announced it with a tweet (June 10, 2009, 3:34 pm; if you haven’t already, check out Backtype, which archives and provides stats for URLs that have been shortened with bit.ly). I can’t recall why, but when I was viewing the blog post I clicked on my j.mp toolbar button and what saw took me aback: 355 links to the post, 85 from a shortened URL that I provided, and 40 tweets about the post:
Intrigued, this morning I went to my domain stats to see how often the URL was being viewed. What I saw made my jaw drop: 1227 page views and 392 feed views in the first 10 days of June 2010. Here are the stats for the post over the last year (with apologies to Edward Tufte; please don’t kill a kitten):
For many bloggers these kinds of viewing statistics are nothing to be proud of. But, for someone who is at a teaching institution and who blogs primarily about teaching and learning (when I have time to blog at all anymore) having over 10,500 views of content is pretty darn exciting. I’ll get to that in a bit.
First, I want to consider what is responsible for the spike in May and the beginning of June. There really is no short answer. It could have to do with: Hacking the Academy, the #edtech hashtag, and/or someone finding the page and tweeting (in your face, NY Times) about it. Edited by Tom Scheinfeldt and Dan Cohen, Hacking the Academy is a reimagined edited volume designed to leverage social media and crowd sourcing to challenge institutional scholarly conventions: “Any blog post, video response, or other media created for the volume and tweeted (or tagged) with the hashtag #hackacad will be aggregated at hackingtheacademy.org.” Just before the deadline on May 28 I tweeted:
The tweet was then retweeted by a series of people who don’t follow me. I suspect they saw the tweet because they were: following Dan Cohen, following the #hackacad hashtag, following the #edtech hashtag, or just through the sharing of information. Though there is no data (or none that I know how to obtain) to help know if Dan Cohen’s followers clicked on the link (other than the drastic increase in views in May), Backtype does help me see how word spread of the post on Twitter in June:
The evolution of the post through the Twittersphere is fascinating. First, proximalzone (who doesn’t follow me and I don’t follow) retweeted my exact tweet. Two other tweets appear, but they have little in common with my original tweet (and are from an allusive “willrich”). Then, Kyle Pace, a K-12 IT specialist and as of today has over 2900 followers, tweeted it, adding the #edtech hashtag, but without adding my name to the tweet. The URLs in our tweets are different, so I doubt that he saw the tweet via the #edtech hashtag. Steven W. Anderson (web20classroom), with his 11,000+ followers, retweeted Kype Pace’s tweet and the rest, as they say, is history. A view of the Backtype tweet stream shows 30+ tweets retweeting kylepace and/or web20classroom all through the beginning of the month of June, ending on June 6. I suspect that the tweets have run their course, and as Amanda French lamented to Brian Croxall after his MLA blog post explosion, life will go on as normal.
So, why does all this matter? There are a few reasons:
1. 10,500 views. I have no idea how often my journal articles have been viewed, but it is certain that they haven’t been viewed over 10,000 times. In “An Anthropological Introduction to YouTube” Michael Wesch describes the the days after he uploaded his video “The Machine is Us/ing Us” to YouTube. On Superbowl Sunday he and his wife watched the video clime up the Technorati charts until it was number 1. Earlier that week, however, when he saw the video had 253 views he took a screen shot of it and then sent it to his department chair because “as an anthropologist if your work reached more than 200 it’s a really big deal.” (As of today, it has 1,261,306 views. In other words, a really really big deal.)
What do we do with this viewership information? With the RT data? (How about all those wonderful friends writing wonderful articles for ProfHacker?) For academics, especially, do we treat it as a mere curiosity, a statistical “that’s interesting” and go on trying to figure out the next scholarly article to write? I don’t think so. There has to be a way to make the argument that viewership and RTs are as or even more important than peer review. RTs are, of course, a form of peer review combined with a form of citation: your peers read a post or an idea, they like what they see, consider it valid, and then, through the use of the RT, make the announcement that the work is valid, important, and should be considered by others.
There needs to be a place for this kind of information in our tenure files–especially for those of us at teaching universities who do not have the time, ability, or responsibility, to write multiple journal articles per year or a book every few years regardless of that is something they, like myself, would like to be able to do. Influence should be measured from multiple vantage points. Hacking the Academy, by endeavoring to include blog posts and tweets in the collection is challenging us to think along these lines, as well.
2. Information moves rapidly online and we need to have a better understanding of how and why it moves. I discussed this at great length in my 2010 Computers & Writing deliverator talk, “When Understanding Hypertext isn’t Enough: Thoughts on Writing in the Age of Web 2.0.” James Shirmer gives an overview of it in a recent blog post, and I will be discussing it more in a variety of settings this summer (I’ve been trying to find an effective way to get the Keynote slides online but the animations and videos embedded in them are making it difficult). The point, however, is that if we are going to be try to make claims about the influence of our writing in extra-institutional communities we need to have a better understanding of how, where, and why that influence is spreading. URL shorteners and sites like Backtype help us track that influence, but the tools need to be more robust.
3. Citation and attribution. We need to have a greater understanding of the linking associations of citation and attribution in a Web 2.0 environment. Bit.ly understands this fact by providing aggregated data for many shorted URLs pointing to the same base URL. But this must extend to how we attribute people in blogs and tweets so they know that their work is being cited. Above, for example, I link to Anderson’s and Pace’s blogs and not Twitter accounts because if they have trackbacks enabled on their blog they will see the incoming link. The courtesy should also be extended to tweets; if Pace had included “@billwolff” in his tweet about my blog post my name would have been included in the RTs and I would have been more aware that people were reading the post. This could have led to engagements with them, made me aware of people who I might want to follow, and so on. This, I think, can extend to more traditional publication outlets, with, for example, twitter ids being included in author bios and Works Cited lists. It’s starting to happen with newspapers; most people now include twitter ids on their business cards; it will only be a matter of time for journal articles catch up.
As always, I look forward to your ideas.