Input on the Next Round of Fight Aging! Site Changes

Updates to the Fight Aging! site tend to come in waves, as and when my time frees up sufficiently between the ebb and flow of other projects. The next wave isn't here yet, but will be, so I thought I'd solicit opinions. By all means add yours in the comments to this post.

One thing I hear a lot of is the request for like/share buttons for Facebook, Twitter, and so on - that won't be happening. I've performed this experiment already (you might recall that the previous design included sharing buttons) and the difference between having them and not having them in terms of engagement, new visitors, and overall traffic was minimal. On the other hand, they definitely slowed down page load time and made the site that little bit more ugly into the bargain. More importantly, they tracked visitors, adding to the growing databases that will be used for whatever purposes that the social sites will come up with the future; I'm not of the mindset to help them with the construction of their panopticon foundations at the expense of visitors to my little corner of the web. So on the whole I'm happy to force on you the modest make-work of cutting and pasting the URL you wish to share with your friends - and for a little more make-work you could even arrange matters for your browser to insert a share button regardless of what I do. Ultimately the web page transmitted to you by a server is no more than a suggestion as to what you should actually view: with the proper tools you can rearrange web pages on the fly before they are presented to you.

Another reason to skip the share buttons is that many of them deliver what I would regard as worthless traffic. StumbleUpon is particularly bad in this respect: my logs are full of people turning up from that site, arriving at a long and interesting post, and leaving after a few seconds. Hundreds upon hundreds of them, every day. StumbleUpon is, in some of its incarnations, a channel-surfing engine with infinite channels; people click the button and only stop if something catches their eye in a faction of a second. Next to nothing here will do that, and these are not people likely to be engaged by the Fight Aging! message. I lose nothing by failing to cultivate that traffic.

(The Google Analytics script that still runs on the site will no doubt eventually succumb to the frame of mind outlined in the paragraphs above, but for now it at least somewhat anonymizes your IP address and is fairly easily blocked).

Other suggestions fall into the bucket of fleshing out the functionality: making the site more portal-like at their grandest, such as by adding forums, most popular or most commented lists in the sidebar, more and more varied content, and so on. The less grand suggestions are tweaks to functionality to provide features seen on other tech news and essay sites, or minor additions to content, such as to stop displaying the full text of each post on the home page, enabling visitors to post links to relevant content more easily, adding a list of journals to the resources section, make the comment section more apparent. Thing of that ilk.

Some of these I agree with, some of them I don't. I should explain that Fight Aging! is something of a hybrid of two functions in its present structure. Firstly, it has some pretensions to being a stream of fresh content: a news and opinions site that is relevant to aging research and longevity science. In this it is little different from most blogs and newsletters: we all understand roughly how these things work. They care about the traffic of the now, and comparatively little for their archives, so they tend to become involved in a race for the bottom in gathering attention and being first - quality and correctness come a distant second, and they measure success by page views because that's what drives their revenues. I've never been particularly interested in playing that game. It's useful and, I think, necessary to have a modest flow of new content in order to continue to be relevant as an item of interest in your community, but that's all that's needed: enough to remain relevant so that people will listen when you have something to say.

So much of what you see on revenue-generating news and blog sites is inappropriate or not terribly useful for Fight Aging! The share buttons are a good example: if an item is there for the purposes of accelerating the race to the bottom of the pool of shallow attention, then I don't need it. I'd argue that shallow attention doesn't get you anywhere in the business of advocacy to grow a small community with big, complex ideas, such as the present longevity science community. What you need is engaged, quality attention. It is my belief that shallow attention only becomes useful, or at least convertible into results such as funding or labor, when you have a massive community and you're trying to gain a popular consensus of some sort among the public at large.

The second function of Fight Aging! is to act as a beacon and resource for people who are on the verge: interested enough to look into life extension, aging, and rejuvenation biotechnology, but neither connected nor particularly aware of the community. When they stumble over Fight Aging! in searches, I see that as a chance to inform and educate. So I place a great deal more value on the Fight Aging! archives than I would if this were only a standard issue blog or news site, and the fact that pages in those archives are littered with links to more general and introductory content is important.

So when I think about what should be done in the next wave of alterations to Fight Aging!, I am thinking in terms of advocacy and growth, which may map in some way to the web traffic I see here, but which is definitely not the same as a straight measure of traffic or engagement or any other metric easily chased. In terms of expansion versus focus, I'm presently more in favor of focus: it would be good to narrow down to look at the things that work and see about how to make them more useful, more functional, more widely used, more influential. For example, it's been a while since I've seriously looked at how I might improve the Fight Aging! newsletter or broaden its reach, despite the fact that it has thousands of subscribers. The same goes for the RSS feeds, which have a presently unknown reach and utilization.

On the expansion side, it's not that I'm not in favor of big glittering longevity science web portals, but that I don't think the community is large enough to support such a thing at this point in time. It's my impression that the present longevity science community - people who are interested enough to be a part of the discussion, or who are in the research community, or who are donating funds, and so forth - is at the size sufficient for an active web forum or two and a couple of mailing lists and newsletters. I think that because that number of forums, mailing lists, and newsletters is pretty much what has emerged organically. If there was the interest and the headcount for more than that, then it would already exist; there are any number of people out there whose business is to sniff out new communities and launch websites to serve them news before anyone else does, and they are largely absent - or worse than absent, off servicing the "anti-aging" marketplace instead, as there's real money over there. This is unfortunate, and we'd all like matters to be further along, but it is what it is, or at least until we help it bootstrap into something more.

In any case, to return to the original point, there will be time for some updates and change ahead - make your preferences known now or forever hold your peace.

Comments

Definitely put a limit on the visible length of the news, with or w/o a 'read more' button of some sorts. Not only will it look more professional when all news are of the same length, but it'll also allow you to have more news per page.
Also add a shoutbox. It'll facilitate the contact between the readers and you and between the readers themselves.
That's all. For now, at least :)

Posted by: Nick at September 28th, 2011 12:14 PM

@Nick: I am surprised at requests for a limit on the visible length of articles. I've always seen that as an anti-feature, making it harder for people to get at what they want to read by putting extra clicks in the way.

Posted by: Reason at September 28th, 2011 12:26 PM

> StumbleUpon is particularly bad in this respect: my logs are full of people turning up from that site, arriving at a long and interesting post, and leaving after a few seconds.

I wonder how one would use SU right? My site is full of even longer (but hopefully still interesting) pages, but when I look in Google Analytics at SU traffic going back to February, it tells me they spend 30 seconds on average, which implies a lot of people are stopping to read the whole page, I think.

Posted by: gwern at September 28th, 2011 5:41 PM

I like that the whole articles are posted on the main page. I also like that the small data size of the webside. I read a lot by smartphone and tablet. So please leave the data size small. RSS feeds would be great. Besides, I would appreciate direct links to the research papers if possible

Posted by: Arthur at September 28th, 2011 11:55 PM

I am subscribed to your RSS feed and hardly ever visit the site itself. What I love about the feed is that it contains complete posts - please keep that! It makes it possible to read the posts on my phone while I am not connected to the Internet, which is great.

Other than that, I would appreciate some new stuff in the articles section. Not being terribly familiar with the longevity stuff, I find such articles useful, but since they are all at least six years old, they are probably a bit outdated.

Posted by: Mitja at September 28th, 2011 11:59 PM

When you say something extends lifespan, you need to clarify whether you mean average or maximum lifespan. A great many things extend average lifespan, but VERY few extend maximum lifespan.

Posted by: Tom Blalock at October 2nd, 2011 6:18 PM

I'm just now catching up with 2 weeks of Fight Aging. The lack of full posts in the monthly archives is painful. I don't understand Nick's concern about page length. Who cares? It's 1 page no matter what. More professional looking? Puh-lease!

Posted by: Dave Lefkowitz at October 9th, 2011 7:47 PM

@Dave Lefkowitz: I'm reverting the monthly archives back to full posts; you're probably right about that being better for the use-cases under which people are actually reading them.

Posted by: Reason at October 9th, 2011 8:37 PM

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