After 2+ years: 530+ posts, 520+ subscribers

Jeremy Burman in January 2009

This will be my last post as Editor of AHP. Jacy Young, who joined the team in May, will soon replace me as editorial head and take charge of daily newsgathering.  I will continue to contribute occasionally, but — after more than two years, almost 200 individual posts, and over 100,000 words — I have decided that it’s time to refocus my energies on finishing my doctorate and publishing the results of my research.  Before I sign off as Editor, however, I feel as though I ought to write one last progress report.  (The others can all be found here.)

First, some history: AHP launched in May 2007 as a collaboration between a TV/Web Producer (Burman) and a Professor (Dr Green).  Its purpose, initially, was to examine the challenges faced by the resurgence in interest in “citizen journalism,” but targeted at a specific niche audience: those interested in topics covered within the historical psychological scholarly literature.  The result, after two years and more than 530 posts, is that we are now averaging around one useful comment per post.  While these “community contributions” have not on their own been sufficient to justify the cost of the project, they have often clarified and expanded upon the literature in some significant ways.  This has definitely added value.  Yet without the software to separate the wheat (these ~430 useful comments) from the chaff (~43000 spam comments), even this would not have been possible.  And, indeed, it has taken a considerable investment to get to this point.

Has it been worth it?  Yes, but not yet as “citizen journalism.”  There is very little incentive for experts to post substantive comments at a blog when their insights could themselves be published in a scholarly journal. With this realization, the project instead became a way to experiment with methods of knowledge mobilization: a way to expand the world constructed at the intersection of history and psychology, while at the same time pushing its news, notes, and resources to those interested.

Where post-publication interaction does add value (i.e., through short user comments), the blog seems like a possible candidate technology to replace the listserv.  It retains the flow of discussion among interested participants without inflicting the occasionally cacophonous results on those who would rather not participate.  In this way, a blog is like “listserv on demand.”  In addition, the results are searchable and can remain active for years.  But asking for more from this technology would push the limits of what is presently possible: for example, the WordPress platform is perhaps not ready to be used out-of-the-box for open peer review.  This progress report — my last — will review the work that has led to this conclusion, as well as providing the standard lists of “best of” and “most popular.”

From the start, it was clear that AHP had two different audiences: those who chose to subscribe, and those who chose not to subscribe.  The earliest progress reports show that there was an important difference between the types of stories preferred by these “subscribers” and “non-subscribers.” For example: at AHP, subscribers are typically interested in inside-information about conferences, journals, and books.  Non-subscribers, by contrast, are typically interested in ready-to-use resources.  And although both are interested in news, subscribers tend to read more frequently than non-subscribers.  As a result, I began to think of subscribers as professionals and graduate students (serious users), while I thought of non-subscribers as random surfers and undergraduates (casual readers).

In the beginning, this division guided my editorial decisions.  In addition to posting items I knew would be of interest to the scholarly community, I chose also to invest a considerable amount of time in bibliographies and Wikipedia-friendly resources. And, indeed, these early student-friendly postings have almost always been among our most popular non-subscriber pages (e.g., bibliographies outlining recent scholarship on schizophrenia, Canada’s lead internationally in marijuana use, the use of LSD in psychiatry, the use of psychedelics in psychology, the use of psychoactive drugs in psychology, and a more general list of readings in the history of psychopharmacology).  But as I was able to gather more information about who was reading, and what they liked, we were able to change and focus our coverage.

The most dramatic technological change I’ve made over the past few years is only just now starting to have an impact.  After I switched our statistical services from Feedburner to Google Analytics at the end of February 2009, we became much better able to track the interests of readers.  The results can be summarized in a snapshot of the top 10 most popular postings from the last six months:

  1. Rorschach Day (published June 2008, by Green: 1662 Unique Visitors, 1922 Page Views, 47.5 hours spent reading)
  2. The First Modern Battle for Consciousness (November 2007, Burman: 1601 UV, 2445 PV, 51.6 hours)
  3. Darwin Feature in Guardian (February 2008, Green: 1047 UV, 1294 PV, 30.9 hours)
  4. Canada’s lead internationally in marijuana use (July 2007, Burman: 368 UV, 388 PV, 27.7 hours)
  5. APA: Ludy Benjamin resigns over AHAP, torture (August 2009, Burman: 365 UV, 415 PV, 23.7 hours)
  6. LSD use in psychiatry (August 2007, Burman: 338 UV, 355 PV, 25.6 hours)
  7. Conceptions of Giftedness, in light of DVD finding (August 2007, Burman: 308 UV, 326 PV, 36.3 hours)
  8. Interview with author of Beyond the Box (May 2009, Jacy Young: 294 UV, 331 PV, 19.2 hours)
  9. 64 Years Since Wundt’s Lab Destroyed (December 2007, Green: 260 UV, 435 PV, 10.4 hours)
  10. Freud’s Visit to New England (August 2009, Green: 238 UV, 288 PV, 27.5 hours)

Some of these postings go back to the very founding of the blog, which suggests two things: 1) some topics are timeless and 2) it can sometimes take quite a while for the world to notice what you’re doing.

This second lesson has now been well learned.  For example: Stumble Upon, a technological innovation which has recently become popular, pushed 1500 unique visitors to the nearly 2-year-old “The First Modern Battle for Consciousness” over only four days in 24-25 April 2009 and 13-14 July 2009. And that this was entirely community-driven (i.e., I had nothing to do with it) makes its impact so much more impressive.  Indeed, in the six months that Google Analytics has been running, Stumble accounted for 4.7% of the site’s total traffic (compared to 24.4% for Google and only 2.8% for Wikipedia).

More important, perhaps, is our new ability to report figures such as these: in the past six months alone, AHP has served 54,271 page views to 37,015 uniquely-identified non-subscribing visitors.

Most of these visitors come from the US (where 50.3% of the site’s traffic originates), but AHP is also widely read in Canada (13.6%) and the UK (6.7%).  Casting a wider net, we see that the non-subscribing audience is primarily in North America (63.9%), but with large numbers also reading from Europe (20.2%) and Asia (9%).

Among AHP‘s subscribers, some of our early “hits” included The role of history in Kuhn’s philosophy, The History and Future of Bell-curve thinking, and Darwin and early American psychology.  When I turned on Feedburner’s advanced tracking tools in April 2008, however, we began to receive a great deal more information about what it was that our subscribers were looking for.  In the sixteen months since, AHP‘s servers at York University have served 91,485 page views. Depending on which metric is used to sort these results (“views” or “clicks”), this gives two additional “top 5” lists. The first uses the number of “views” by individual subscribers:

  1. Interview with Milgram’s participants (published May 2009, by Young: received 448 subscriber views, with 42 clicks following links)
  2. Tropical Neurasthenia and Leprosy Asylums (June 2009, Young: 436 views, 45 clicks)
  3. APA “Regrets” Torture (June 2009, Green: 416 views, 62 clicks)
  4. Cheiron Opens at Penn State (June 2009, Green: 404 views, 45 clicks)
  5. Ongoing Debate About APA & Torture (June 2009, Green: 395 views, 54 clicks)

 The second uses the number of “clicks” back to the site or following a link:

  1. SHP Facebook page (published June 2009, by Young: 232 views, 234 clicks)
  2. More On the Hawthorne Effect (June 2009, Green: 271 views, 223 clicks)
  3. Podcast interview with Beyond the Box’s author (May 2009, Young: 288 views, 211 clicks)
  4. Who Prevails When Academic Freedom Threatens the Bottom Line? (June 2009, Green: 242 views, 200 clicks)
  5. Brainwashing British-Style (April 2009, Green: 302 views, 157 clicks)

That these ten postings are all relatively recent is a reflection of the technology: subscribers use RSS-readers, which typically only keep the newest postings. (Subscribe by adding this link to your RSS-reader.)

Another “top 5,” spanning the entire history of the blog, can also be constructed by examining the number of comments received by each post.  Since this metric combines the interactions of subscribers and non-subscribers, it serves as a good high-level overview of what we’ve been doing for the past few years.  The resulting list combines news and commentary with links and resources from near and afar in the history of psychology.

  1. Presentism in the Service of Diversity? (published February 2008, by Green: 28 comments)
  2. Freud’s Visit to New England (August 2009, Green: 9 comments)
  3. Common Errors in History of Psychology Textbooks (March 2008, Green: 8 comments)
    Does an education in science need history? (September 2008, Burman: 8 comments)
  4. Chris Green on podcasting (and TWitHoP) (September 2007, Burman: 7 comments)
  5. Read Till You’re Crazy (March 2009, Green: 6 comments)
    Alfred Binet in The Psychologist (February 2009, Green: 6 comments)
    Petition to Save Historic Weyburn Asylum (December 2008, Green: 6 comments)
    Visualizing the History of Neuroscience (September 2008, Burman: 6 comments)

I think, looking back, that this is a good legacy.  And in terms of how it has all been received, and whether the project was worth doing, I think the numbers speak for themselves.

AHP is now linked-to by almost 800 websites.  We’ve been mentioned several thousand times by the community of bloggers.  And we have won several awards, with AHP even being included on several “Best Blogs” lists (most recently on PsyBlog’s “40 Superb Psychology Blogs“). I think my favourite accolade, however, was being named “the best historical psychological blog” on the web.  Thank you for that.

Thank you also to my doctoral supervisor and collaborator for this project, Dr Chris Green, as well as to my lab mates Jenn Bazar and Jacy Young.  Of course, the project would have been impossible without the support of York University (and especially Sarah Chun from the CNS Faculty Support Centre).

If you would like to sponsor the blog as it continues under Jacy’s leadership, or if you would like to donate some money to help defray some of the costs associated with producing it, please write to Chris Green: christo _AT_ yorku _DOT_ ca.

In addition: if you like AHP, you will probably also like the This Week in the History of Psychology podcast and the Classics in the History of Psychology archive.

Thank you.  And goodnight.

About Jeremy Burman

Jeremy Trevelyan Burman is a senior doctoral student in York University’s Department of Psychology, specializing in the history of developmental psychology and its theory (especially that pertaining to Jean Piaget). Prior to returning to academia, he was a producer at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

5 thoughts on “After 2+ years: 530+ posts, 520+ subscribers

  1. Jeremy — Thanks for a great job. I check the site for postings each day. Best wishes as you wrap up your studies at York. I look forward to a future of innovative contributions from you. Ben

  2. I would also like to say thank you from the students who have found your postings invaluable on our journey into historical study.

    As a fellow web developer, I know there are few tasks as frustrating as trying to develop a site that people will want to return to with regular frequency. You have done that and done it well. Your postings and weird/wonderful tracking reports will be missed!

  3. Thank you for all of your hard work, Jeremy! I found both your account of your oft changing intentions for the blog and your analysis of the blog’s visitors to be most interesting. A worthy last post!

Comments are closed.