August 5, 2009
Top 10 Speedy Law Prof Blog Readership Ranking (Why Does It Take Readers of This Blog So Long to Read a Post?)
We all know that number-crunchers like tax professionals are brainiacs because they work with math-'ma-tiks and complicated operations like addition, subtraction, multiplication, division and the like. Mathematical brainiacs can do magical things with numbers. My tax accountant, for example, reminds me that he can make one plus one equal any number his client wants. (I remind him that I don't want to get audited.) Bean-counters, like some tax professors, can also become so obsessed with "numerical realism" that they fail to see hidden truths within the numbers they hold close to their hearts. Take for example, the absurd metrics of blog visits and page views. Over on TaxProf Blog, you will find from time to time some sort of mouse click ranking of law prof blogs by these metrics compiled by Paul Caron (Cincinnati), including, most recently, his July 15, 2009 Top 35 Law Prof Blogs for the 12-month period ending June 30, 2009. Note what one commentator has to say: "The higher-ranked blogs on this list have almost nothing to do with law. They're merely lumped into the "law blogs" category to boost the supposed visitors' stats to all law blogs. Caron does this regularly, it's quite a fraud." Hey now, numbers don't lie but status-obsessed people can make whatever they want to out of mouse click counts. They can even include in their rankings traffic stats for law prof blogs that have ceased publication.
Caron's latest law prof blog ranking prompted several law prof responses to this transparent obsession with "numerical realism" in the practice of blog metrics. In an aptly tagged "Navel-Gazing" post, Since you really wanted to know which blogs by law professors had the most traffic, Brian Leiter (Chicago) wrote, "[Caron] omits the key statistic: average visit length! Could it be because mine is generally one minute thirty seconds, and his is only thirty seconds? Eat your heart out, Paul!" Following up on Leiter's observation a week later, Roger Alford (Pepperdine) commented on Opinio Jurist, "I bet you have no idea which [Caron-ranked] law blogs are the best read, that is, the ones that have “sticky” readership." Indeed we don't.
"If you take Paul Caron’s Top Law Prof Blog rankings and rank the blogs based on the 'average visit length' rather than based on traffic, you get noticeably different results," writes Alford and that's what Alford did in his July 22 post. Alford's sticky readership ranking post was duly noted by Caron because it was based on his scholarly work product but without comment about TaxProf Blog being ranked 5th in page views and 5th in visits but 27th out of 35 law prof blogs by average visit duration. Perhaps Caron did so because he knew that Alford's reported visit duration for his blog was twice as long as it usually is and he did not want to lend credibility to the abnormally high ranking for TaxProf Blog. Alford reported it at 71 seconds but Leiter had it right; TaxProf Blog's average visit duration is usually in the 30 to 40 second range. But for the vulgarity of Sitemeter's snapshot stats, TaxProf Blog would have dropped down to 30th place in Alford's sticky readership ranking, one position higher than the Law Professor Blogs Network's CrimProf Blog, a blog that ceased publishing posts on May 6, 2009, ten weeks after Alford compiled his data .
One would expect a short visit duration for a dead blog because no fresh content is being published but should dead blogs be included in any ranking study? Alford included CrimProf Blog because Caron listed it in his ranking. CrimProf Blog ranked 25th in visitors and 29th in page views for the 12 months ending June 20, 2009. As co-founder of the Law Professor Blogs Network, Caron's comments about Network blogs requires clarification: "Members of our Law Professor Blogs Network comprise, by visitors, two of the Top 10, four of the Top 20, and
ten one dead and nine live blogs of the Top 35 [live and dead] blogs; and by page views, two of the Top 10, four of the Top 20, and ten one dead and nine live blogs of the Top 35 [live and dead] blogs."
Average visit duration, however, doesn't tell the whole story because blog visitors usually view more than one page per visit. If you take that stat and apply it to average visit duration, you can rank blogs by duration per viewed page. I don't know how Caron missed this opportunity to craft another blog ranking but if he had he would have discovered that readers of his blog are some of the speediest speed readers in the law prof blogosphere.
I haven't re-ranked all 35 listed law prof blogs in Caron's ranking by this speedy readership metric to prove this point because, well, I may be bored right now but I'm not that bored. I have ranked some blogs in the Law Professor Blogs Network listed there and added this blog which is not listed because LLB is not a "law prof" blog in Caron's world even though many of LLB's editors and contributing editors have faculty status, graduated from law school, and teach courses in law schools just like, well, "law profs."
This is probably the first ever speedy law prof blog reader ranking so it must be an important "navel-gazing" contribution to blog metrics. Because this is very serious business, a note on data collection. My selection criterion was Network blogs with at least 250,000 total page views written by editors who take blogging seriously enough to post regularly by which I mean daily or damn near close to daily Monday through Friday. There are 10 such live Network blogs, hence we have an all-important "Top 10" ranking. Snapshot data for average visit duration and average page views per visit was taken on August 1. I've included the obligatory but asinine raw mouse click counts for each blog's total number of visits and total page views as of July 31, 2009.
So here's the product of waiting for my long-suffering wife to give me my list of weekend errands, The Top 10 Speedy Law Prof Blog Readership Ranking:
As you can see from the above table, the average duration per viewed page ranges from 88.57 seconds for 10th-ranked White Collar Crime Prof Blog to 31.67 seconds for top ranked TaxProf Blog. Now I do not want to imply that readers of criminal law blogs are slow readers, though the 84.71 second average duration per viewed page for 9th-ranked Sentencing Law & Policy might support the conclusion that they have to sound out the words they are reading. Note also that the readers of the these highly visited criminal law prof blogs take between 2.7 and 2.8 times as long to read a post compared to TaxProf Blog's readers. At just over half a minute, TaxProf Blog's topped ranked duration per viewed page clearly indicated that readers of TaxProf Blog are really, really fast readers and may belong to an elite group of uber speed readers in the law prof blogoshere.
Now one might say that not all pages are created equally because "pages" include blog homepages that display more than one post on the homepage but all of the listed blogs are similarly configured. And one might say that not all ranked blogs publish posts similar in length but the variety of post lengths published in the above blogs is close enough for this blog post about blog info-antics, not metrics. Finally one might say that while the ranked blogs publish posts daily, they do not all publish a similar number of posts daily and that might be some sort of intervening variable that makes the use of snapshot averages questionable. Ah...not being a mathematical brainiac and because my wife who is one happens to be napping right now, I'll move on by recognizing as factually accurate that some of the listed blogs do not publish more than 1 or 2 stories per weekday expect for the editors of TaxProf Blog and Law Librarian Blog who spit out posts as though the Internet might cease to exist tomorrow. So if it boils down to a speedy readership ranking of TaxProf Blog and Law Librarian Blog, readers of this blog come in last place because they take twice as long as TaxProf Blog readers to read a post. How can we let the tax professionals who read TaxProf Blog beat us this badly; aren't we librarians supposed to be readers by profession?
Oh wait, taking longer to read something might actually be a good thing by saying something positive about content. [JH]
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Great post and perfectly timed for me as we redesign our library's website. It would also be interesting to measure how many social bookmarks a site/post garners - is that possible?
Posted by: Wendy Reynolds | Aug 5, 2009 7:56:42 AM
Does "Duration" mean anything? I kill trees and print almost everything of note for later reading...
Posted by: Al | Aug 5, 2009 5:48:57 AM