I thought I’d share with you some observations which I’ve found interesting or amusing about how people arrive at this obscure corner of the blogosphere. People come to this blog by different paths. Some visitors have been here before and check back now and then, whether looking for something new or browsing through older posts. Some come using a link made by another blogger, and others will come via a link I’ve embedded in a comment that I’ve made on another blog. A few will come as a result of an email I’ve sent them, having noticed some overlap of interests. Some days a big majority of visitors arrive courtesy of Google search results, although other search engines play a role; and such search-initiated visits are always a substantial fraction of the total.
How do I know where people are coming from? When anyone visits a site, some information about the visit gets logged, such as the web page from which the visitor just came, if there was one. I use a WordPress plugin that tallies some of this information, and Google Feedburner does much the same, adding counts of which browsers people are using and the top few cities (but not States) people have come from. Since my total visitor count is low, most of the cities listed have only one representative on a given day, and I’m not sure what determines which ones get listed. The countries in which the cities are located are indicated by national flags, and it’s quite gratifying to see on the list a number of flags I can’t even identify. Because of ongoing worldwide interest in the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) and peoples’ fears about it, a significant percentage of the visitors Feedburner shows are from foreign countries, sometimes more than half. The US flag by a city is not sufficient to identify the State of many cities with certainty because of all the multiple examples of city names. I was recently surprised to see a U.S. city called Wasilli listed, for which I would never have been able to guess the State a short while back, but now feel pretty sure of.
The search terms people use to find their way here are generally the most interesting data collected about visits. In all the examples that follow I am keeping the original spelling (frequently misspelling) found in the search terms. Many people, evidently overestimating Google’s artificial IQ, seem not to know that it looks for word matches; they write out questions such as (one of my favorites): “why are smart people never understood in conversation[?]” Through word matching, that search naturally brought the frustrated conversationalist to my post Conversations in the Clubhouse of Truly Smart People, which comes second from the top in the Google search. I know the feeling, pal, but I’m afraid my post didn’t help you. Another visitor to the same post was searching for the answer to the question “are the smart people religious or atheist[?]”. I don’t know if he was helped or not. I’ve noted that having the word “scientist” in the very name of the blog increases the likelihood of ridiculous matches to search terms.
Sometimes the Google search terms used make it seem very likely that a visitor was either returning to see a post again or was following someone else’s recommendation to track it down. I’ve recently seen a few visitors (or perhaps the same one repeatedly) that came here as the result of a Google search on “the perfect italian woman,” which happens to be the title of one my earlier posts. Unless Richard Dawkins has decided my notion of the clubhouse of truly smart people was too good an idea not to implement for his atheist buddies, the Google search on “richard dawkins clubhouse,” which turns up the Clubhouse post referred to in the previous paragraph as number one, must fit into the category of a search made in order to return to a previously read post. I’m guessing that “scientist rest in peace,” which turns up my post Ronnie Knox, Rest in Peace in fifth Google position for obvious reasons of word matching and was used by a couple of visitors in the space of a week, also belongs to this class of returns or pass-alongs, but there’s no way to be sure. Ronnie Knox, by the way, with additional words such as “UCLA”, “quarterback”, and “football” brings in a steady trickle of visitors, so I feel the blog is providing a service to those wondering whatever happened to the guy.
I was amused to see that one visitor had arrived here due to a search for “professor otto rossler+crazy.” Now I never came right out and said Rössler (one of the LHC end-of-the-worlders) was crazy by explicitly using that word; but I did point out some evidence that his grip on reality seems quite tenuous. I see that as I write On-Screen Scientist » Otto Rössler is the third listing in Google for that particular combination of words. It ranks so high because the word “crazy” does appear in this quote from Rössler himself about his “Lampsacus” web page: “This is the most crazy homepage ever written.” It seems a source of pride to him, and he does play the role of the mad scientist—sixty-eight-year-old hippie dreamer out to save the world variety—rather well. Rössler and his co-troublemaker Rainer Plaga (though their LHC doomsday scenarios are mutually exclusive) bring in more Google-based traffic than even the hot MacBook Pro post, but they are usually of the plain “Rainer Plaga LHC” type.
Even searches based on false premises—e.g., “large hadron collider in texas cancelled due to religion,” which gives the wrong name for the Superconducting Super Collider and the wrong reason for its cancellation—can lead to a real web page through word matching, and my page referencing the LHC tag turns up fifth in Google since it mentions both the LHC and the SSC and its cancellation.
One of strangest Google searches I’ve seen to point to this blog is “example of left-bound manuscript about personality, fitness and health.” That seems such a bizarre stretch that it makes me wonder if that person doesn’t have some way of obfuscating his actual search string, or if perhaps Feedburner had a minor seizure at just the right time to misdirect someone else’s results to mine. What was the person who searched using “How to write a letter asking for a chemical as gift from a scientist?” planning to do, and where did that person get the idea that the answer could be found on the internet? Whatever link Google found to this blog must have been buried very deeply in the list; but since none of the ones above it would have had the answer either, might as well keep trying, the visitor must have thought.
Among those visitors least satisfied was probably the one who was pointed here by a Google search on “realistic ‘gender switch.’” Hoping perhaps for a detailed before-and-after display, he or she no doubt arrived here because of my discussion of Proust’s inadequate depiction of Albertine in the post Reading Proust for the Last Time—only to find no pictures at all. Another bound to have been disappointed was the visitor led to my post Times I Might Have Died by a search for “Russian scientiest hit by a car died and came back to life.” Sounds as though I must have missed something big, but I can’t keep up with everything.
The aforementioned post The Perfect Italian Woman has been a magnet for people following false leads. The post fails to answer the question “why are european women perfect[?]” posed a few weeks ago by a visitor. It sheds no light on who might be the “most beatiful scientis woman.” Nor does it offer photos of “beautiful young italian women.” Unless “where to meet women in torino” was one of those searches by someone trying to get back to the post, I’m afraid a lonely searcher found nothing of value, unless he was really starting from scratch, and a story from twenty-five years ago could help. If you haven’t read the post, then you can’t appreciate the irony of having the search on “how to approach an italian woman” lead to it.
My post Last Days of Chestnut, Guinea Pig has brought visitors via painfully sad Google searches such as “rotting guinea pig foot,” “guinea pig end of life signs,” “guinea pig whimpering meaning,” “how to put a guinea pig out of misery humanly,” and “how far down to bury dead guinea pig.” I can try to dispel the sad thoughts engendered by those search terms by contemplating the absurdity of coming to the post via the Google search on “what scientist know about the pig.”
Let me close with a Google link from a search conducted by a none-too-literate and somewhat confused student (presumably), a match probably due to my dubious use of “thank yous” as the way to convey the idea of saying “thank you” multiple times in posts in which I wanted to acknowledge other bloggers. Anyway, the search was on “how is history yous in math.” I can’t say it’s funny exactly, but solving the puzzle of what the “yous” meant and then considering the idea of history being used in math just set something ringing in a funny part of my brain. It’s at least a clear reminder that the internet cannot be a substitute for “old-fashioned” education.