A recent milestone: TIR hits 100,000 page views

TIR has now had over 100,000 page views and 64,000 visitors. Here’s why I need to thank YOU.

It’s almost four years since the last update of this kind, and back then we were awaiting our 16,000th visitor. Things have moved on rather a lot since then, but a clear and continuing thread – as it has always been – is a focus on young scientists (of all ages).

It’s said that everyone has one book in them, because everyone can tell their own story – and no matter what that story is, it’s authentic because it documents part of the experience of your peer group. In that vein, I guess there’s no hiding the fact that TIR is me.

I’m one of you. I’ve had some good fortune, and I’ve also struggled a lot. I’ve experienced some of the highs that academia can bring, and plenty of the lows. I love this career, I love doing what I do, and I might not be able to continue it beyond this year. I enjoy some of the absurdities of this incredible profession we follow, I’m frequently outraged by a lot of the injustices, I’m inspired by the actions of those around me, and occasionally depressed by the antics of the more conservative members of the community. As promised on day 1, all this has been channelled into TIR. Sometimes whimsically, sometimes comically, sometimes angrily, but always – I hope – thoughtfully.

I try very hard not to obsess over the numbers and the traffic and the tweets, but they’re an unavoidable ever-present regardless of how much attention I pay them. I feel slightly awkward highlighting the 100,000 milestone but I feel it’s important as well – partly because it reveals a lot of what TIR is about, and partly because it’s why I have to thank YOU, the readers.

The fact is that this milestone has been reached with almost ZERO promotion. I don’t feel comfortable shouting about things and trying to get attention, and so each posting gets exactly one tweet from me and a cross-posting to Facebook. That’s it. I’ve gotten a bit better over the last year about highlighting older postings that are relevant to current discussions happening online, but there is not and never has been aggressive and sustained promotion of the content.

The reason why TIR has reached 100,000 views is because of YOU, the readers – the people who consume the content, like it, share it, forward it, comment on it, and do all the myriad things that are helping to turn this blog into something bigger and more significant than I had dared hoped it could be.

TIR has reached 100,000 views because of YOU, not me – because it’s YOU that’s doing the hard work of promoting it.

In the grand scheme of things, TIR is still tiny. There are plenty of blogs out there getting 100,000+ views on a monthly basis. But look into the wealth of online advice about how to grow your site and get those kind of numbers (if that’s what you’re after) and there’s invariably recommendations saying that you should spend more time promoting the content and less time creating it. Ultimately, that’s not what TIR is about.

I’m not writing to try and create some chart-topping high-traffic hub, I write because I want to write, and I’m humbled that the content apparently strikes a chord with many of you out there. There’s no adverts here. There’s no strategy. Just words. And that’s why I’m so happy about this particular milestone – because it feels like we’ve gotten to this point without overtly trying to.

I feel like we’re finding each other, and as the audience builds not in 100s or 1000s but at a steady rate of ones and twos I feel that we’re finding the right people. TIR was meant to be the start of a conversation, not the last and only word, and I’d far rather have slow growth with the sure knowledge that my contemporaries are on board and engaging with the same issues I care about. That’s why this means so much to me.

The blog has now settled into a fairly stable pattern. Our “How to…” guides aiming to improve scientists’ soft skills in topics such as asking questions in seminars, giving presentations, writing reports, reading papers, keeping on top of the literature, and writing approach letters (and much more – check out the whole category here!) generate the bulk of our traffic. I’m thrilled that they seem to be of use and there’s plenty more in the pipeline.

Interwoven with these practical bits of advice are the opinion pieces and more whimsical bits of commentary, with the occasional bit of light relief thrown in. These postings tend to get less attention and shorter half-lives (although the odd one or two catches fire), but are the most stimulating to write. A big thanks here to Graham Warren, whose conversations are a never-ending source of insight and inspiration. Our 9 types postings have proven very popular, as well as other sillier postings like lab superheroes, lab supervillains, paper diplomacy, and comparing different branches of the life sciences to alcoholic drinks. It remains a source of wonder and amazement and deep pleasure to me that all these funny thoughts that I have bouncing around inside my head are apparently of interest to many of you out there, both inside and outside my cohort. Much appreciation here too to the FEBS Network, which has given some postings that perhaps didn’t find an audience the first time around a chance to get a second airing on a different platform.

Over time, TIR has become fairly closely aligned with the Progressive movement in science publishing, although in no formal capacity. To all those at eLife, EMBO Press, ASAPbio, biorXiv, Company of Biologists, ASCB, CSH Press, PLoS and similar initiatives, please keep doing what you’re doing! Your actions are an inspiration to me and I’m wholeheartedly convinced that they are not just benefitting science, but also empowering the careers of a demographic who historically have been treated as an expendable resource. A big thanks in particular to Prachee Avasthi, who has repeatedly taken the time to answer a lot of my questions on this topic.

Lastly, a huge thanks too to all of the artists who’ve contributed original works to accompany the postings. Oliver Hoeller played a key role in shaping the early look and feel of the blog, while Mark Palfreyman has taken centre stage in the last 16 months or so. Other contributors are Aparna Baxi, Caroline Wedel, and Dorotea Fracchiolla. A driving inspiration for starting TIR was that since becoming a parent I no longer had time to do theatre, and the blog was conceived partly as a means of scratching the creative itch. Having original artwork that independently explores the same theme as the text is something very special, and I’d love to hear from any other SciArt producers out there who would be interested in contributing in either a one-off or more regular capacity.

So thanks again to all of YOU out there. You keep reading, and we can all keep reflecting.


April 2021.

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