Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Follower Number is Poor Predictor of Blog Popularity

I have sometimes wondered about whether older blogs with large, established reader bases gain new readers faster than newer blogs. This is an important question because it gets to the heart of the issue about whether current post quality is more important than the momentum provided by historical post quality. Ideally, a good blog will attract readers based simply on the quantity and quality of its latest posts.

To make a long story short, the good news is that initial follower number is a poor predictor of how many followers will be gained over a subsequent period of time. This implies that a blog's current popularity is not determined by how many readers it has amassed in the past; readers will be gained based primarily on how good a blog is, not how big a blog is.

I came to this conclusion by looking at a dataset of 216 old school roleplaying game blogs. I plotted follower numbers as of 30 Sep 2010 against gain-of-follower numbers over the period between 30 Sep 2010 and 31 Jan 2011. While a simple linear regression shows a weak trend for larger blogs to gain followers faster, the r-squared value for the trend is very low (0.3575). If we remove the juggernaut blogs GROGNARDIA and Playing D&D With Porn Stars the r-squared value drops down to 0.2087. An r-squared value of 1 is a strong association; the low values we see here suggest a very very weak association. This is good news! Keep on blogging!

Note that if you don't look at the (weak) trendline, the plot is basically a cloud...


  1. How many people actually unsubscribe from a blog if they were to stop reading it? It seems like follower numbers will ultimately trend upwards until the blog becomes dead. Plus, there is a ceiling on how many people will follow an OSR/Old-school/whatever D&D blog, so at some point, regardless of the quality of the content, you will max out your follower numbers.

    I have a feeling that blog followers has very little correlation with anything...

  2. @Anthony

    I've unsubscribed a couple of blogs in the past, basically in piques of privates protest (say that 10 times really fast and you'll sound like Daffy Duck).

    My own view on garnering followers is that while it's gratifying and even a bit flattering to see readership grow, there is to my mind no point chasing a higher follower count unless one plans to begin using the OSR to make a little scratch on the side, which I don't. For that and for other personal reasons (such as extreme laziness) I don't play the "follow you/follow me back" reciprocal tag game.

    Although I do need to reciprocate some followers today, now that I think about it.

    An ideal is one thing, but this is one I'm willing to let be trumped by politeness.

  3. @Anthony - from my experience, my followers correlate pretty closely to my activity. 64% increase in my followers from 11/1 - 1/31 is at least a 50% increase in my traffic according to goolgle analytics (I'll have to check the actual number tonight from home) so there is a correlation of sorts, at least from my view.

  4. "the plot is basically a cloud...:

    This purple vapor slowly detaches the victim's imagination glands from their lobal connectors, resulting in violent displays of gross creative output.

  5. Stop posting on your blog for 2 or 3 weeks. Your follower numbers won't move much at all, but your traffic will drop significantly.

  6. there is a ceiling on how many people will follow an OSR/Old-school/whatever D&D blog

    I would have guessed this too, but I have yet to see any evidence of it. Look at the plots I posted - do you see any evidence of plateauing follower numbers? The numbers just keep increasing for all the active blogs.

    I have a feeling that blog followers has very little correlation with anything...

    I disagree with this. Although it's anecdotal, my average hits-per-post (especially for "returning visitors") appears to be strongly associated with my number of followers. It's interesting that this is what Tenkar is seeing as well.

    Stop posting on your blog for 2 or 3 weeks. Your follower numbers won't move much at all, but your traffic will drop significantly.

    I have more-or-less done this before. As soon as I start posting again my traffic shoots right back up to pre-hiatus levels. Most of my traffic comes in surges related to individual posts.

    My conclusion from these observations? If you want more people to read your blog posts, it is clearly better to have more followers.

  7. Frequency of posting seems to have quite a bit more effect for my blog. I'd like to think quality plays a factor, but really, it seems mostly about frequency of posts.

    If I'm posting a lot (like I was last Nov/Dec, I gained many followers. If I wasn't, like Jan, I didn't gain as many followers.

    A bit of variety in my posts (talking about books, board games, etc. in addition to all the RPG talk) has drawn in some people who likely wouldn't have found my blog otherwise.

    Not scientific in the least, but that's been my impression of my 'follower gain' trends.

  8. My guess is:

    -a blogger does one or two interesting/megawonky/previously-unexplored-issue/boobalicious posts that people notice and link to.

    -this makes more people read that one entry

    -if the blogger then posts regularly after that, then people who came for that one post will just get in the habit of checking that blog regularly--either via the little "follow" button or via their own bloglist or just by remembering to type it in.

    -After that point your popularity depends on how often you post.


    -People like pictures but don't like talking about them--what are they gonna say? "wow, Frazetta is awesome" again? People like posts where they can argue or contribute or (more likely) read posts where the comments are full of people arguing and contributing.

    -On the size of the audience:
    Once in a while I post a link to a blog entry on the "I Hit it With My Axe" facebook site. These entries always get way more hits than any other, but these people don't mostly stick around.

    The most hits I've ever got in one week (since blogger started keeping track of this shit, this summer) on a post that WASN'T linked to from a non-OSR site (that I know of) was about 3000.

  9. First of all, I'd just like to point out that, while cool, follower counts don't accurately translate to "readers." While we'd all like to think that everyone who follows our blogs are waiting with bated breath to read our next brilliant entry, the truth is far different. I have now gotten up to 42 followers on my blog, and there is no doubt in my mind that maybe 1/10th of them are reading my entries daily. I'm not complaining as 1/10th is better than 0/10th. I'm just saying, it following doesn't always mean reading.

    Sites like Grognardia have benefited greatly from other much larger blogs linking to them such as on occasion. I'm certain that those 700 followers aren't all old school gamers.

  10. Yea... I have seen a pretty big increase in my traffic since I started getting followers. Got my first one in October and my monthly traffic has gone up heavily since then. It used to be hard to get 20 hits a day, now I'm getting more like 200. I think comments are a better way to track post quality - I get a lot of readers to posts that have names which show up in Google search, but rarely have comments on them; those posts are actually the least interesting and content heavy ones as well. But the obscure topic that I post in an advice category that gets 5 comments is a pretty good sign that 1) the quality of the post is good and 2) people are taking the time to read that post, not just visit the site and leave.

  11. It is curious how this all comes together. I'll have some people who read and comment but who aren't following, but yet, have me on their blog roll.

    Really though, I just like to have fun with the blogging. I'd rather have 25 Followers who chat and I chat with them, then have 1000 people signed up that I never talk to or know.

    I like it simple and fun.

    By the way, I enjoy your blog. Keep up all the hard work. Happy Gaming. Happy Eating.

  12. I'd just like to say I'm thrilled I hit 100 page views today. I'm not sure really how all this stuff fits together, but the site is the one that sent me over the 100 views precipice, so thanks guys! As a newcomer to the D&D blogosphere, this is a pretty interesting post/discussion.

  13. This just makes me want to repost my Whoo-hoo comment from yesterday.

    I'm writing an indepth multi-part blog post on adventure design. 0 comments

    I designed a thirteen page document designed to allow dm's to produce interesting treasure that isn't just coins and magic items. Hardly anyone mentions this.

    I mention offhand a popular game and I get like three comments (Only 30 followers or so).

    I have to believe someone is reading my scholarly posts - I keep getting followers. I should probably look at tracking traffic with analytics.

    Still, in spite of that WHOOO HOOO tied for 22nd!

  14. Increased followers is nice,
    but no old school blog has peaked 1000 -
    even minor politicans have that many followers.

    I believe the biggest drag to our way of gaming is the moniker "Old School Renaissance"

    I appreciate the ground work of others, but I believe it is time for rebranding

    “Old” = not cool
    “School” = boring
    “Renaissance” = bad clothes or
    something that died and was rediscovered.
    Our style of gaming has never died, it just lost its popularity.

  15. My pet theory is that while followers don't necessarily mean readers, getting on someones blog-roll, or being linked to from another blog, does.

    That said, over the last two days, I've had a 10% increase in followers, and that's unprecedented. Where these people come from, or why now, I have no idea. Regardless of whether that means new regular readers or not, it still gives me the warm and fuzzies.

    I don't think OSR is any more of a detriment to the hobby than any other narrowly defined, and much argued over, classification. Edition wars are not good marketing tools.

  16. What I would like to see is a map of who has followed whom, and how many of the followers are other "OSR" blogs simply linking to each other, and how many have a broader audience. There is an index for scientific articles, "Web of Science", that allows some mapping of the relationships between articles, in that case of who the article cited, and who cited that article. It would be interesting to see, e.g., at what level some blogs are simply followed by other OSR blogs, and which appeal more widely.

    And in general I don't give a fuck about what OSR means as an acronym or a brand or a movement.

  17. Also, run the two distributions with power or exponential curves, just for yuks. Since communication of cool new things often is not linear (e.g., you tell 6 friends about the cool thing and they each tell 6 other friends about it) a linear fit might not be the best estimate. I don't WANT Grognardia and D&DwPS to be statistically explicable within some mundane blog sub-universe, but I'm an empiricist, so I have check.

  18. Scattered thoughts:

    Just a partially-informed guess here, but I'd say that the topic drivers tend to be the older blogs, regardless of follower count.

    Anyone with a couple of the "old" blogs on his roll will get a pointer towards whatever the extant blog storm of the week happens to be, especially since there will always be at least one blog on your roll that has a Cyclopeatron-sized blogroll. Kind of makes filling up my own blogroll redundant, which is (I assume) a fact for quite a few of us that will stymie attempt to accurately track reading patterns.

    Which is kind of funny because, in spite of that, and here I'm following Harald's point, I think the blogroll, not the "Followers" widget, is the better junction to pay attention to. I also think the blogroll goes a very long way to making us quite lazy when it comes to linking other blogs. Quite often I'll see something that's awesome and not bother to blog about since I can pretty much take it for granted that it's going to be found anyway.

    To sum up, the discussion engine is the blogroll; the facade is the Follower widget. They don't mesh particularly closely.

    And here's another thought, which is that even among the big blogs, some serve more comfortably as junctions than others. Grognardia may have the most followers, but in the last 13 months I've only used that blog once as a place from which to travel to other blogs.

    Ultimately, the OSR blogosphere is like the "5 Steps" game, where no one blogger is ever any more than five clicks away from any other topically-related blogger.

    Finally I have also noticed that many of the older bloggers will "follow" a blog pretty much as soon as they become aware of them; I've always assumed it to be a friendly way of growing the scene and welcoming new guys to the fold.

    And the scene is growing, too. Mine appears to be one of a large group of new OSR blogs riding the current wave of growth.

    Aaaaaaand that's as much as I want to think about it.

  19. Case in point: I don't have "Quickly, Quietly, Carefully" on my blogroll because it shows up on other blogs I regularly read, such as this one. I just popped over there a few seconds ago and nabbed his excellent Labyrinth Lord DM screen printouts.

    Give it a look, btw.

  20. ...the plot is basically a cloud...

    Lies and heresy! There is no plot beyond happens during play. ;)

    So the OSR is a chaotic scattering of points all over the shop from which few - if any - meaningful generalisations can be drawn? Sounds like a feature, rather than a bug.

  21. I certainly don't have many followers, but I have noticed that following seems to be a reciprocity thing—you follow me and I'll follow you.

    I should also point out that Blogger provides an RSS feed for the Blogs I Follow widget. I added that to my feed reader, so I actually read all the blogs I follow. Some days this can be a little overwhelming with 20 blogs; it might be impractical to both follow and read 200. I don't know how James from Underdark Gazette does it.

  22. Maybe not, but it is a nice ego boost.

  23. I'm curious on roughly how the number of followers to a blogger blog translates into page hits per day.

    On wordpress, since we don't use the "follower" system but instead have subscribers (and a clumsy subscription system), I've only got 23 subscribers, but draw between 800 and 1200 hits a day, with odd spikes over the 2,000 hit mark (when I've been stumbled or reddited).

  24. @Dyson, I've got about 20 "followers", and Google Analytics reports somewhere in the neighborhood of 130 "visits" per day. I'm assuming that means unique IP's making requests.

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  26. Sorry, I have to weigh in as a 10+ year veteran stats teacher.

    R-square of 1 is not a "large" association but the perfect, maximum association possible. You only see that when you have tautologies, like trying to predict height in inches from height in cm.

    An R-square of .35 in most social sciences means that one variable explains 35% of variance in the other. It corresponds to an R about .60 which is conventionally considered a "large" association.

    Even the outlier-free .20 (20% of explained variance) corresponds to an R about .45 which is also "large." To put things in perspective, that is about the correlation between a parent's and grown child's educational level in most large survey data sets. (capital R from a bivariate regression scales to Pearson r)