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Saturday, 06 February 2010


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In a similar vein, don't forget the growing lack of in-depth radio programs. Phone-in, "let's hear your opinion" and replays of previously aired shows, canned news reports in the evening.

". . . whenever I post one long item like that on a given day (it was at the top of the heap all day Thursday), traffic on TOP takes a dip."

Does that mean your readers are following the general trend or have they been conditioned by it? Admittedly, reading on computer screens might not be a totally valid comparison to print.

"...whenever I post five or more small items in a given day, traffic goes up"

Well you should try to post five different long items in a day to really make a meaningful test :-)

I'm not at all surprised that five posts, hitting possibly different targets, will attract more readers

"speaking of the paucity of in-depth articles in current newsmagazines"

This is sad, but to me it reflects exactly our "modern" society. Be brief, be entertaining. Don't ask us to ingest heavy things, or to think too much about serious subjects. Oh... and if you really want to boost the traffic, find a way to talk about sports and/or celebrities. Also, any short announcement of a new camera is a sure winner: all these people who never buy anything will tell us why they will not buy this camera until the manufacturer changes this or that, or brings this specific feature they absolutely need.

Mike, do keep up the long articles. They're interesting, informative, and really, I don't suffer from any sort of Attention Deficit Disorder. You don't want to be guilty of aiding the dumbing down of the population.

I understand there's a new picture editor at Time. The Ralph Gibson cover is a good sign!

"But whenever I post one long item like that on a given day (it was at the top of the heap all day Thursday), traffic on TOP takes a dip; and whenever I post five or more small items in a given day, traffic goes up."

What about the average time on site during those two days? Does it go up?


I thoroughly enjoyed your post on "Old TIME, New TIME". Yes, it's true that on Thursday I only had time to read about three-quarters of it; but it is also true that I will make time this weekend to finish it.

Please write what you believe; not what the "polls" say you should write.

(Aside: so now you've made me curious ... how do you measure "traffic", and what are your typical traffic numbers?)

Traffic may dip when you write a long article, but boy, the quality of concentrated attention you get! Burns a hole in my screen. You could run a small town on the total energy.

I get what you're sayin', but that traffic quirk points to a big flaw in web metrics, doesn't it? As far as I know, there's no way to measure how long or how intently a visitor looks at a single non-interactive page. (Not that there aren't many other flaws in web metrics.)

This 'comment' might help you prove your point about traffic, Mike!

Traffic may take a dip, but I for one thank you for the longer articles and the work involved.

On the topic of long reads vs traffic, my own experience fits entirely with yours. I use to write, from time to time, long posts at other places, and when I do so, I try to put some meat and to be more careful with the content than when I do two-paragraph posts.

But from the begining, when I posted such kind of articles, I often received people asking for a summary, as they were "too long to read".

I'm convinced one of the problems of these days is not only the lack of content in media: it is also the lack of attention span of readers, for whom more than 30 seconds per topic is way too long.

The result is poorer content and less and less cultured people.

And worst of all: all this story is intimately linked to internet, which has ALL the potential to be a source of knowledge and cultivation.

(Yes I do realize this sounds like a depressed grandfa, but I think it is quite objective, if you look at the reality).

Yeah, well...I read all the long posts. They usually have more in depth coverage of the subject and I appreciate them. Don't be discouraged by the dip in traffic, they're either too busy or only superficial readers. When you're passionate enough to write a long piece about something just go for it. Some of us get it. I read books too...with lots of pages! ;)

Ahh... But the short posts I read once, this one three times. I would recommend it to my children but for the ad in your border.



or may be because there are more pretty pic.. Hey look! Shiny!

"But whenever I post one long item like that on a given day (it was at the top of the heap all day Thursday), traffic on TOP takes a dip; and whenever I post five or more small items in a given day, traffic goes up."

That's probably true, but traffic is measured in number of visits, not in time spent at the site (something at least I wouldn't want to be measurable either). And as someone mentioned, five short posts will definitely generate more diverse attention than one long one.

As others here have said, do write those long articles. I started reading it, discovered it was long, and then asked myself, "Is this Mike, or a guest?" When I found out it was Mike, I thought, "Oh, boy... a really long article from Mike... this is going to be good!"

And it was.

Traffic is a very coarse measure. Impact, importance, and meaning aren't so easily measured, but are what really counts. (Although I know that you derive your income from clicks.)


I don't buy that it's due to short attention spawn, at least not directly. By the time people access the site and notice the long article, a hit has already been logged.

It has probably more to do with the way links get passed around the internet. Whenever I see an article that might interest a friend, i pass it along. Having lots of short articles just increases the amount of referrals.

I'll join in the support for articles. (Mm, pour a cup of tea and settle in for a good read.)

And apropos Hans Berkhaut's comment: "In a similar vein, don't forget the growing lack of in-depth radio programs," give a listen to the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation's (C.B.C.) weeknightly program "Ideas." It's an hour long, sometimes spread over three days or a week if they're really going in-depth. Not always a topic that appeals, but almost always damned interesting. (Sort of like Michael Paul Smith's website -- it creates its own fascination.)

If you're not in range of a C.B.C. radio station, I'm pretty sure you will find it on American Public Radio or as a pod-cast from C.B.C Radio.

Without the long articles, some of us might not be around for the quickies.

Just sayin'... :)

Keep writing long articles - they're great. And to get the numbers up just publish it over 5 posts. Problem solved.

Don't worry about the longer articles continuing. One of the commentaries on this subject I remember best came from my editor at "Camera & Darkroom," Ana Jones, who was always after me to write more for the magazine--but also, when I did write, to write less. One time, I had sent her a particularly long camera review, and when I asked her on the phone what she thought of it, there was, first, a long pause. "Well," she finally answered, "You certainly said everything that can possibly be said."

I think she cut about 2000 words out of that one.

I do go on sometimes.


It was a long article, but 73 people including myself were interested enough to write a comment. Perhaps a count of the comments per day plus the number of visitors would be more telling.

Also, if that many made a comment, then many more would have read the thing but choose not to add their views. And what about repeat visitors? TOP is good enough that I've been coming here for about two years.


I read every word.

Best regards,

"Perhaps a count of the comments per day plus the number of visitors would be..." [etc.]

I'm not complaining, don't get me wrong. I get plenty of traffic. I know how good I have it. No complaints. I just think it's interesting that lots of posts make the hit count go up and long posts make it go down, is all. Surely it's related to what magazines are dealing with. I read most of "The New Yorker" every week and yet there are some times when I get to long articles about complicated policy and political matters and I roll my eyes and sigh, and sometimes I don't read them.

That's the standard wisdom, too--all the "experts" on blogging say that if you want to draw a lot of traffic, post a lot. There is one car blog I've studied that posts ten to fifteen new posts a day--sometimes as many as twenty. Sometimes, at the end of the day, their first post of that same day has already scrolled off the front page. They also work a lot harder at posting breaking news than I do, which is another standard way of bring more eyes to a site. But I'm not complaining about my traffic in the slightest.


So, "traffic" is bean-counting, and the error in your reasoning comes from you thinking it means more. I will connect more times in a day if there are updates. That I connect to this site at all is because of the longer, more elaborate and personal posts.
Stefan L

I truly enjoyed that post, but yes, sometimes I cannot devote so much time to read a long story or it is not compelling enough to me to take the time. So if you only post one long story is hit or miss.

Keep them coming though!

Perhaps the variance in traffic patterns is a result of readers (or aggregators) responding to RSS feed updates. I use RSS feeds extensively to monitor far more sources than I could (or should) possibly view on a regular basis and my desire to keep the stuff from piling up results in RSS feed checks at least a half-dozen times a day.

Yes, that's quite possible.


I found the length of the article quite refreshing, and wished you do more. The sites I visit most often are those that have long articles. I also like to see the follow ups you do to previous posts that add depth and fill out the original thought.

However, at the same time as you posted your thoughts, the BBC posted this on their website; http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/8497427.stm

I had a feeling this was true based from watching my son and daughter's net use over time. Coupled with the recent buzz over the iPad, it will be interesting to see how it impacts the long format, deep content writing.

Thanks for the long articles. They're one of the main reason I like TOP and they're the ones I point to friends the most often.

I enjoyed your article "Old Time, New Time". The standard of your writing and depth of thinking is excellent.

As for being a long post, well, you can either read it all in one go or make several visits to the site and read it piecemeal.

Also, there was enough non-photography material in your article that I felt comfortable sending a link to a number of my more literate friends. Who knows, they might take a peek at your site every now and then.

I think the attention span thing is really dependent on where you are reading the piece. If you read TOP in quiet moments at work it obviously means that you can't settle in for a long article and give it your full attention.

My morning ritual is a bit like my father's was, except I do do it with my lap top and he did it with a newspaper. I go through the interesting places on the net over breakfast. TOP is always the first point of call and it's amazing how it can set me up for the day.

"My morning ritual is a bit like my father's was, except I do do it with my lap top and he did it with a newspaper. I go through the interesting places on the net over breakfast. TOP is always the first point of call and it's amazing how it can set me up for the day."

It's always nice to hear things like this, because one of the goals for TOP in the beginning was to reliably provide new content every day, just for those who wanted to make a habit out of it. I very occasionally miss a day, but not very often. I do sometimes get complaints from people who check in every week or two that there's "too much to catch up on," but I'm pretty clear that it's not for their convenience that I'm creating content--it's really the every-day reader that I'm geared toward (even the ones who sometimes have to skip a day or three!).


I Read the Old TIME, New TIME" post from beginning to end. Please go on writing these short-essays for they are of the best one can find these days.

An old-time reader

I appreciate writers who are able make their points concisely and not insult the reader by assuming that he knows nothing. In many articles I read the author writes as if he's being paid by the word (which he probably is) instead of getting to the point and assuming that the reader is intelligent or even somewhat knowledgable. For example, here's the first four paragraphs of an article about acquiring a film scanner:

"Yes, I know. Your best and very most favorite photo is one you haven’t taken yet. The abbreviation for this Buying Smart column is “BS” for a reason. Ignoring the body of work you created before you got your first digital camera is pure BS.

"I am the only one permitted to BS on this page, so you’d better rethink your answer.

"Unless you were born after 1990 (and maybe even if you weren’t) you have a box full of negatives and slides somewhere, and some of them are pretty damn good. And you’ve thought about scanning the better ones “one of these days” but never got around to it because, well—here comes the BS again.

"For all practical purposes, you can narrow your film scanning options down to four choices. There are three types of scanners: drum, flat-bed, and dedicated film scanner. The fourth alternative is to have your film scanned by a professional lab."

If I'm interested in buying a film scanner do I really need to read that it's "BS" to ignore my negatives and slides even though I've switched to digital? After all, I wouldn't be interested in acquiring a film scanner, or even reading the article if that was the case, and I already know that I have shoeboxes stuffed with slides, that's why I'm reading the article, and so on.

I know that not all long or longish articles waste my time and insult my intelligence, but I also know that I'm suspicious when I see text stretching-out as far as the eye can see. I tend to assume, rightly or wrongly, that the writer is either longwinded, or even worse, he's getting paid by the word.

I really enjoyed the Time article and your other long articles. At work, we have limited internet time. It is calculated by how many clicks we make. Each click has a time value. I might be reading your article for a half hour but internet usage is logged as only a minute and a half. My point is that these metrics are misleading, as the other readers have already explained.
I too make it a habit to come here everyday and see what is happening.
Thanks very much for your efforts. They are edifying and enjoyable to read.

Interesting that viewing statistics on reading long articles here upholds the view of the article itself, sort of like one of those self-evident truths. Also interesting that so many have so many explanations as to why it's not so, dare I say like the 'debate' on global warming. Both are evident without straining the brain pan. It's not rocket science, err, but that would only have but one or two readers at most, right?


Mike Bailey

I don't know if it's available in all countries, but there is at least one radio programme on the BBC that aims to discuss the history of ideas seriously, and covers quite esoteric stuff in both science and the arts. It's Melvyn Bragg's 'In our time' and the archive is at

I read every word, every day, and prefer the longer articles. You are one of two bloggers that are must-reads for me. I don't note whether the articles are short 1or long before I read them. After? Who cares, other than you, I guess. Thanks for considering, researching, and writing.

I should mention that I seem to be getting an awful lot of nice compliments in this thread, and I just want to say that I appreciate them. Thanks for the kind words.


Yes, I think it's sad that we (including myself) rather read dozens of superficial emails, tweets, blog posts, etc. about nothing than 1-2 well written, in-depth stories or dare I say... books!

Tell me 'bout it. I just wrote a brief account of a literary event I attended in Denver today. I tried to submit it to Facebook and it busted their character limit by three or four-fold.

How can you say anything worth saying in less than five paragraphs? I usually can't. How appropriate that the subject was a birthday party for Neal Cassady, the Beat writers' man of legends and letters. Those guys spun their personal events into tall tales that ate up reams of paper, and I guess I carry on their tradition.

Say, have you noticed how articles in The New Yorker have gotten shorter lately? ; >

No kidding. I used to read books, but I have the attention span of a baby gnat these days.

I think, depending on how your log analysis is done, that Stefan may have nailed one key point -- I refresh more often on days you're updating frequently.

Reading your articles (and those of other writers for TOP) is one of the highlights of my day.

Keep on writing them, especially the long ones.

I really liked the reference Marius made to "short attention spawn..."
So maybe it's something to do with genetics?

Oddly enough I had a conversation with my wife yesterday that the articles that are really worth my time in my feed reader are the long ones, and they are the ones that don't get read in a timely fashion. I spend so much time reading the drivel because I'm afraid of anything that involves a 30 minute investment in time, but they tend to be the things worth reading/watching.

I wonder how many "read every word" readers you have? I certainly do - I open up TOP every time I see there's an update. If there's one update in a day, I'll probably only visit once. If there's five, that's likely five visits that day.

Plus an extra one or two to catch up on the comments - the 2nd best part of TOP.


Ralph Gibson is one of a very few photographers whose images have become a permanent part of my visual vocabulary. Since the mid-seventies, when I found his trilogy (The Somnambulist, Deja-Vu, and Days At Sea) it's been a struggle to avoid emulating or being influenced by his work. Even now, I can't look at his books without seeing as-yet-untaken Ralph Gibson photographs around me.

It's a classic love-hate relationship. Thanks a lot, Ralph. You made me question my own aesthetic early on, and reach deeper inside to find my own way of seeing the world, even though I might have been very comfortable following your lead.

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