On Expanding the Audience

As you might know, generating a growing audience online is hard work. Writing the content has little to do with that hard work, and is in fact probably a distraction from the thousand and one tasks, trades and optimizations needed to involve more people in reading your work. If you're the sort of person who cares deeply about the content, you're also probably not cut out for the sausage-making details and compromise involved in building an audience. There are always exceptions, often very successful exceptions, but this seems to be the way it goes for the most part.

Needless to say, I'm not cut out for sausage-making and compromise, and have never more than dabbled on the optimization side of things. I'm more interested in building an ongoing conversation and repository of information to better engage those folk who have sparked an interest in healthy life extension, in directing advocacy and volunteerism to the best present ends, and in providing an example for others to follow.

However, it's hard to argue that there would be any net loss if the audience were much larger. Traffic to Fight Aging! has been roughly static for a year or two now, and I can't see it growing further through what little time I have to be proactive. With the ebb and flow of ourside events, sure, but that's no way to build a readership. So, a few axioms, which you can take or leave as you like:

  • Breadth of readership will help to grow the healthy life extension community
  • Breadth of readership will bring more support for initiatives like the Methuselah Foundation
  • Breadth of readership will not happen through my efforts
  • I'm certainly not going to change the way I write to gain readership
  • Breadth of readership is more important than control over content

Or I should say the illusion of control over content. No-one really controls text that is placed online; intellectual property is more a set of narrowly observed manners in this environment. As I see it, I have a few choices here:

1) Join a well-trafficked, established syndicate

For example, Seed's ScienceBlogs, which I passed on back when they started up. The downside there is that they own your content completely, putting their copyright on it, or such was the case when they were trying to recruit me. It's more of a newspaper-columnist relationship than anything else. The inability to change your mind later about your writing, or engage other efforts in parallel to gain readership, is a big disincentive.

2) Open source your content

Remove any copyright or copyleft and let anyone do as they will with it. I suspect the net effect here would be zero. Those who were going to use my content already are, and they are largely a collection of spam machinery that provide zero value to my goals. It takes work to obtain readers, or indeed to make the world aware of your existence - it's far from the case that simply opening up the gates will do anything.

3) Deal with the Devil

The few entities who would be easily approached to take on the sausage-making are in the "anti-aging" marketplace. While the nature of digital media means that someone, somewhere is at this very moment selling magic potions and faery dust by reworking my posts on legitimate longevity science, I don't wish to be proactively helping that cause.

4) Find a better syndicator

The ideal for me would be to hand off content, but not ownership of that content, to a non-devilish third party who simply goes ahead and uses the content for profit in the traditional audience-growing fashion. Meanwhile, I'll sit back here as I've always done, writing on the topic of longevity science, aging research, and the work needed to make it a reality. All very hands off.

Now, of course the issue with #4 above is that it requires many of the same skills and initiatives as does growing your readership in the first place. If you're the sort to have easy access to syndication offers, odds are you're not the sort to need them.

These are all things I'm chewing over as I look at the past years and contemplate the years ahead. Comments are welcome.

Comments

I think that using social bookmarking sites effectively could help you quite a bit and get you discovered by readers and other blogs who could then link to you, creating a virtuous cycle.

I suggest you get familiar with reddit.com, digg.com, and maybe stumbleupon.com.

When you have a post that you think would interest a larger audience, or something that has an obvious hook, submit it to these sites with a catchy title (something that tells enough, but not everything so they click to find out).

Most people nowadays almost only discover blogs via links in more established blogs and via social bookmarking. If you are mostly absent from both, that can explain the stagnation.

I suspect you would get a better hit rate on reddit.com, especially on the "science" and "technology" sub-reddits.

Adding pictures to your posts would also help get you a bigger audience, but that might not be your style.

Another option would be to write for a group blog like Scienceblogs, but not exclusively. Keep the real thing going here, and write over there once a week, with links back to posts from your archives here.

Posted by: Michael G.R. at May 12th, 2008 7:33 PM

I'd go for the ScienceBlogs option, if that's still available. I really wish that network had a blog that dealt with transhumanist issues, and I think that would do more for your readership than other realistic options.

Posted by: Ben_Wraith at May 12th, 2008 7:40 PM

Well, you're easy to find for anyone interested in aging, so I think you're probably getting the traffic which an anti-aging blog currently can support.

Also you may be experiencing competition from KurzweilAI. They do a pretty good job sifting through the recent developments...partly because they get them from blogs like yours and BioSingularity.

I'm not sure how you could grow really big without becoming a public figure like de Grey or Kurzweil.

Posted by: will nelson at May 13th, 2008 9:08 AM

Out of curiosity, and only if you're happy to share, what exactly are your numbers like? I expect that this is probably the most well known blog online talking consistently about life extension, so it seems to me that if we know your numbers we're close to knowing how many people are seriously interested in this issue.

If there is a way to make the scienceblog thing work I say go for it. Digg is great if you can get the hits, but you'll need preety sizable traffic even to start with before you'll see an item making it to the front page.

Anyway, from those of us who do visit all the time, thanks man. It's a great resource.

Posted by: Ben at May 13th, 2008 8:34 PM

Very hard to say. There's the base 2-3000 visits per day at fightaging.org, excluding search engines, etc, with short spikes above that for odd events or link from popular destinations. It's questionable as to how much of that is readership versus drive-bys from hot search topics (e.g. inflammation, visceral fat, etc) and StumbleUpon.

A great deal of the readership is probably off in RSS space, with a component over at the Methuselah Foundation via Google News, and I have no reliable way of estimating their numbers.

Posted by: Reason at May 13th, 2008 10:16 PM

"generating a growing audience online is hard work. Writing the content has little to do with that hard work"

Yes, I know - from my own experience it seems I spend so much time writing there's no time to do anything to increase my readers, which I'm really not that good at even when I do have the time.

For what its worth - you write very well about this topic. I have thought about starting a blog about longevity, but there is no way I could write like you do about it. Instead I have a blog that reaches a more mainstream audience of women. I write a lot about health and try to add in a little here and there about longevity, I figure maybe I'm doing my part by helping to bring the idea into the minds of the average person.

If my blog ever gets really popular with lots of readers I'll try to bring up the topic even more - and send people in your direction.

I've been using social media sites myself lately - if you ever want a post dugg or stumbled or whatever, let me know - I'd be glad to help out. And I've got the links to my profile pages on my blog - if you want to add me as a friend.

Posted by: Trisha at May 14th, 2008 12:57 PM

I recommend that you install Google Analytics to better understand your audience (where it's coming from, how many pages do they read each on average, how many returning visitors vs. new, etc).

You could also get RSS stats with a feedburner.com account (free, as is google analytics).

My day job involves writing for a blog that gets about 250-300k pageviews per day. I'm pretty sure your blog could easily do more than 2-3k/day.

Now that I've had more time to think about it, I realize that one of your handicaps is that there isn't a well-developed "longevity ecosystem" on the web, so until it becomes reality, you are at a disadvantage because you have fewer potential other blogs to link to you and help spread your content.

Trying to join the bigger "science blogging" community is probably a good idea. As I mentioned, maybe something part-time with Scienceblog would work, if the conditions they put on your are not acceptable (copyright, etc). If you can get a good deal, moving over completely might work (though I would miss this place, the change would probably be worth it by helping furthering the cause).

Posted by: Michael G.R. at May 14th, 2008 5:26 PM

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