Field of Science

Notes on a year in blogging

First, a little history about this blog - there's some comments from annual review below:

I was first exposed to world of blogging during my final year at university when a lecturer in a human genetics module suggested we took a look at one particular post regarding the sequencing of a genome belonging to an ancient human. This piece of writing was informative, entertaining and extremely relevant to what we were studying. This was a post on Ed Yong's, Not Exactly Rocket Science blog and it probably first set me off on wanting to write about science.

From now I began to dabble in writing about microbiology and other molecular topics (what I was studying at the time doing a degree in Molecular Biology) but this writing was at best non-nonsensical, probably a little factually incorrect and most importantly: boring to read. Safe to say I sadly gave up writing soon after, however the remnants of these posts could be found fossilized on the web somewhere. Like here.

When I accepted the offer to start a PhD project in virology (mid to late 2010) I realised that I was going to have to get to grips with literature and soon after this was when I started blogging regularly and with a more focused perspective (molecular virology). I started looking into what was out there re: blogging and virology and soon found a number of sites that would soon go on to influence my writing. These were in particular: Vincent Raccaniello's Virology blog, and ScienceBlogs. I now had a firm idea that I would want to talk about virology (principally on a selfish basis at first) but in particular peer-reviewed research that was open for viewing by all. These early posts were focused on getting me up to scratch with virology and microbiology and that's still what I write about.

One other thing over the last year or so has made an impact on how I write and think about science in general, this is the wide social network that exists out there in comment threads, on networked blogging sites (Discover, FieldofScience, SciAm and their like), twitter and google+, blogging carnivals and social reference manager programs like Mendeley. I have been lucky to be a part of a blogging network and also lucky to have had the chance to discuss science across these other social networks. Through writing some of these posts I have had the chance to converse with the actual scientists out there doing the work - I thank them for putting up with me.

This is now when I want to look back over the year to review what I have done but also look forward to my next year of blogging and hopefully set down some ideas on how I would like to progress.

Below are some trends from the facts and figures from my year in blogging and some of the things I have importantly learned: (this is gleamed from a combined check on Blogger's stats for my site as well as Google analytics).

First, the data + some discussion:
  • I have published 71 posts on this blog since December 2010 with my first post here being on the 12th of the month. 

  • The first five posts weren't associated with but did focus on peer-reviewed papers published around that time. Since then, 8 posts have not been about papers published per se  and so weren't published through 

  • I never use this blog to talk about things other than virology and science. I also tend not to post smaller pieces of writing like links, short descriptions of papers or other kinds of media such as videos. I use twitter and google plus for this.  My posts are therefore of 'average' size; not short and deff not 'long-reads'.

  • I average about one post a week and each post tends to take up only a few hours of background reading/fact checking and composing.  This mainly reading the copy of the paper, checking references and other sites/blogs for info, however, I think most of the time goes into writing the piece rather than the analysis.

  •  The major thing I noticed is that people are actually reading my blog - something which was quite a surprise to me when you consider the wealth of microbiology blogs, including the virology blogs out there.

  • I began with very few hits/month which were mostly through but as I became integrated into the network FieldofScience my page views began to rise. Now however they appear to have leveled off - maybe I have hit carrying capacity for my blog in it's current state. Though time will tell on this, especially if I choose to change some aspect of my blogging. Also have to remember that it is not all about the 'hits'.

  • I get the majority of hits coming  principally from google, ResearchBlogging, FieldofScience, sites like Reddit and StumbleUpon and other blogs who post links to my work, for example: virology blog and ERV over at ScienceBlogs.

  • Unsurprisingly English speakers are my main readers but there's a significant German and French component. Half of my traffic comes from the US with the rest being divided between principally the UK and Europe but with smaller sections coming from Australia, South America and South-East Asia.

  • By far, most of views come from new sources but maybe a third are from definite returning visitors week on week. The new guys don't stay long on the site (manifested in a higher 'bounce rate') while the returning ones will settle down. 

  • Although my average page/visit ratio has stayed pretty much the same for most of my time blogging, I will get bursts of activity (many page/visit and longer time spent in total) whenever I have had many new posts in a short period of time. Whenever people do visit a particular page the amount of time spent there shoots up - reflecting reading.

  • You can see the top 10 of my posts in order of page views here although this may not be the best option of rating them because my homepage features a top ten based on page views already causing positive feed-back to reinforce this decision.

  • My audience is not very engaged (I am not engaging them) - perhaps the way I engineer my posts prevents people from commenting - reflecting the low levels of commenting in comparison to other sites. I also tend to avoid rather risky areas of my subject re: XMRV, avian influenza etc, which attract strong view points. My pieces aren't very opinionated either, something which I think inhibits people discussing things. It can be difficult to argue about something which perhaps looks well researched and thought out, especially if it is based on recently published papers coming from a source (me and the journal) that looks 'legit'. In this case I may have become like a rolling virus news channel - lots of content but little analysis. Something which prevents interesting discussion. My posts are also very specific towards esoteric aspects of virology, which is something I should really change.

  • I have increasingly witnessed a rise in the number of 'shares' with other sites such as Facebook, Google Plus and twitter etc. This is obviously a good thing and probably something which drives much of my viewing and brings my posts to a much wider audience than I could have done myself. This sharing may reflect people feeling my content is 'worth' it or maybe it is based on social factors like reciprocal sharing.

What I've learnt from this - my main conclusions:

I think it's great that people have arrived here and read what's on my blog (and gone on to share that with other people) - the most important thing is the content, in particular the research that is being carried out there. I felt that it was important enough to write and communicate about. This is even true if people weren't explicitly looking for an answer to a problem in virology but were looking for a more general science topic. Thanks for coming.

I am proud that the vast majority of my writing is based upon peer-reviewed research that was recently published. This is something I will continue to focus my efforts on, perhaps gearing completely towards important papers in open-access journals. However, I feel that I should include other things - still important to virology and science. Also more analysis and in-depth experiments explained alongside making it important to the wider public to spend time reading it (and me writing it).

I feel I should be more engaging with the 'audience' out there, with posing questions in posts or explicitly asking for an answer. This may have been a problem with my blogging style and in the topic in general. On top of engaging with my audience, another priority should be engaging with the blogging ecosystem that exists around my blog.

What does the future have in store for this blog:

  1. Continue at my same blogging 'pace'
  2. Focus on primary research - in open access - on virology, molecular biology, vaccines.
  3. More focus on analysis and critical review of the paper rather than the background (although this is important).


  1. keep going, you made a french student fall in love for virology, and giving me hope that the work I got to do for my study will pay off.

    Thanks to you

  2. Keep up the good work, I regularly visit your site as a source of virology news. Cheers!

  3. Thanks guys for your comments, glad I could be of a service to you :)

  4. I find it doubtful that avian influenza plays even in the same league as XMRV, when it come to "strong view points" – not to mention retracted studies and the question whether it even infects humans. I think you do avian flu a disservice by lumping it together with XMRV. :-)

  5. @Tony, re: avian flu, I was talking about the whole publishing of - or not as the case is - sensitive details regarding transmissibility of the virus in ferrets. ALthough, I agree that the XMRV stuff was much worse, in terms of money, time and people affected by it.


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