Four More Years?

by Kieran Healy on May 26, 2006

A “comment by Bitch PhD”: reminded me that this week I’ll have been blogging for four years. I’m not sure what to think about that, so let’s look at some data. Here is a time-series of the number of posts per month on “my blog”: from its “inauspicious beginning”: in May 2002 to the present. (Since CT started, I’ve just posted the same material to my own blog, so the trend represents all my posts.)

*Update*: More trendline goodness added below.

It’s clear that after a quiet start things rapidly got out of control, reaching a frankly unsustainable level of more than two posts per day in the first half of 2003. What caused the radical drop from more than 40 posts a month to less than half of that in June and July of 2003? You’re looking at it: “Crooked Timber launched”: then, and so I got to share the responsibility of sustaining an audience with a bunch of other people. Clearly it took the pressure off. After that came about two years of gradual decline (in every sense, I’m sure), getting down to less than ten posts a month in mid-2005. Things may have picked up again a little recently.

A common pattern is for posts to decline in frequency but increase in length. I think something like this may have happened, but I haven’t been able to extract monthly word-counts from WordPress in a convenient way (I don’t know enough PHP). Word counts vary quite a bit depending on which plugins you use, but the most conservative estimate is that I’ve written 289,324 words, for an average of about 311 words per post in 928 posts over the past four years. (The upper-range estimate was 335,053 words, or just shy of the median “Tim Burke”: post.)

For academic bloggers, there is a pessimistic and an optimistic theory of the relationship between writing, blogging and academic productivity. The optimistic version says that writing is like a physical capacity, and if you practice you get better at it — so regularly writing in your blog means you’re in the habit of getting stuff down on paper, and will find it easier to write other things. The pessimistic version says that you have _n_ words in you per day (for some low value of _n_), and you can either write them in your blog or write them somewhere more useful. These data don’t strongly support either theory. The slow but consistent decline in posting frequency is quite marked (especially if you decompose the time series, which I haven’t shown here). So I may not be doing this in four years time if present trends continue. Or perhaps I’m circling a stable equilibrium of verbiage, and becoming very good at punching out 300 to a thousand words, without it amounting to all that much.

*Update*: Thanks to some helpful SQL from Norman David Gerre below, I can now calculate the average length of posts each month over the time period. It looks like this:

This offers some support to the less-frequent/more-verbose hypothesis outlined above. I think some of the spikes are a consequence of us doing Book Seminars. If we run the post frequency and average post length time series through a standard decomposition and look at the trend components of each, we get the following. (Average Post Length is divided by 100 to make the trends comparable on a single graph.)

So post frequency rises sharply and then declines sharply in the first 18 months, and continues to decline slowly or perhaps level out. Meanwhile the average length of posts climbs consistently over the period, growing more rapidly in 2005 and then falling off again. Maybe I’m entering another pithy period.



Bitch | Lab 05.26.06 at 1:09 am

Hell, I figure I’ve written the broad outlines of a couple of books by now. The trick would mostly be in footnoting, which would take up the bulk of time since I usually bust it out from memory.

I think writing for a living, with deadlines, helped. But my undergrad education was one that required a great deal of writing. I’m continually shocked to read students who complain about writing 20 pp papers. All that writing, well, it makes it easier to write.


almostinfamous 05.26.06 at 3:03 am

re: the title of this post: no, four more beers!

and congratulations on the soon-to-be 4 y/o blog. that makes it one older than this guy’s


Norman David Gerre 05.26.06 at 4:33 am

WRT monthly counts, you can get a ghetto count with some SQL like:

SELECT COUNT(`ID`) AS `count` , DATE_FORMAT( `post_date`, '%Y-%c' ) AS `month`, AVG( CHAR_LENGTH( `post_content` ) ) AS `characters`
FROM `wp_posts`
WHERE `post_author` = '1'
GROUP BY `month`
ORDER BY `post_date` ASC

(Where `wp_posts` is the correct WordPress table, `post_author` is your user ID etc.) Only gives the average number of *characters*, but unless you’ve started using smaller words then it’s a reasonable indicator.


Kelly 05.26.06 at 5:41 am

Hrm. I’ve had my LiveJournal (which I use for reading friends’ LJs and silly things like quizes) since 2001, which is as long as my blog has been up and running (in some form or other – switched servers, like everyone). I’ve definitely noticed productivity trends… lately it being mining said blog for journalistic articles. Resources, eh?

Seems to go in fits and spurts, although sometimes I think William Gibson might have the right idea – blog, or write. Not both.


Kelly 05.26.06 at 6:46 am

Blargh – insomnia for four nights running, and I can’t even keep a coherant thought in mind long enough to make a post. What I was intending to get to, was that in the next few years there’ll be at least one very interesting election happening, and I suspect that will rejuvenate any flagging bloggers.


Roaming while burning fiddles 05.26.06 at 7:36 am

Sociologists make for poor bloggers. Not many out there, those that do blog don’t communicate much of interest to an audience that aren’t careerists, and consequently blog in fits and spurts and ultimately fizzle. So Kieran, congrats for bucking the pattern.

However, I wish you might reflect on your concern over productivity. Output isn’t typing. And so much of the typying that is published is careerist-induced flatulence.

But I fear sociologists really have so little to say that they would seriously entertain the notion that they’ll spill whatever they have to say in a blog. Like an accountan’ts account of masturbation.


luci 05.26.06 at 12:37 pm

there is a pessimistic and an optimistic theory of the relationship between writing, blogging and academic productivity

Was there a change in academic productivity between the first year (mid-02 to mid-03) and subsequent years? (Though it’s not a lot of data to go on, other factors, etc.)


eudoxis 05.26.06 at 5:44 pm

Maybe I’m entering another pithy period.

I hope so. Keep up the great blogging!


Kenny Easwaran 05.29.06 at 6:59 pm

I’d like to see statistics like this of myself, and other bloggers! I guess I could compile it myself for myself, but that would be hard. (Well, it would either take a while, or require me to know more programming than I do.)

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