[PR FAQ] Sharing readership data with Forum authors

by Aaron Gertler5 min read9th Aug 202114 comments

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Effective Altruism Forum
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The EA Forum team is sharing our project proposals publicly on the Forum, as an experiment during August. They’re written as though the product were already finished, but for now, they are only proposals. See here for a description of PR FAQs.

We appreciate hearing comments from everyone, even if they are brief opinions like “I'd be happy to see this" or "I quickly skimmed the post and it doesn’t seem like this is something I would use, but I’m not sure”.

“Post Metrics” Help Forum Users Track Impact

Newly available data lets people see how many views, clicks, and minutes of reading their EA Forum posts have generated

Summary

For years, votes and comments were the only way to see whether your Forum posts had found an audience. But from now on, you’ll be able to see data from all your posts through our “Post Metrics” feature. 

This will display how many times your post has been viewed, how much time people spent reading it, and how many of them clicked on links within the post. You’ll also be able to see total figures for these metrics across all of your posts.

Problem

When you share a post on the Forum, it can be hard to tell whether anyone read it. The average post gets about 15 votes and a few comments, but gets about 500 views. 

This means that until now, authors only saw a tiny fraction of their readers. Knowing your work has been read is a powerful motivator, but that knowledge wasn’t available.

Solution

“Post metrics” give authors more data on how people have engaged with their posts, motivating them to write more and share their writing in more places. They’ll be able to see how many times their posts have been read or viewed, but also how much time readers spent on the posts — which is a more useful metric for long posts that take a while to read. 

Getting started

You can see the metrics for all your posts already — no need to change anything! 

You can see a post’s metrics by hovering over the “data” icon, which appears next to the comment count at the top of the post. You can also see the icon next to the comment count in each post on your profile. Finally, you can hover over the icon at the top of your profile to see the total number of views and clicks your posts have gotten.

If you’d rather not see these, go to your profile editor and uncheck the “View post metrics” box.

Quotes

“We deeply appreciate the authors who use our forum, and we hope the new metrics will help them see how many people they’ve reached with their writing.” 

— Aaron Gertler, Content Specialist, CEA

“I’m looking forward to writing more on the Forum now. It’s nice to learn more about my audience, and see how well I’m holding their attention.” 

— Rachel Researcher, aspiring blogger

”I decided to share my first post on Reddit and Hacker News to see how many people would read it. I didn’t get much additional karma, but there were almost 500 new views, and two people made Forum accounts to make their first comments!”

— Avery Newauthor, Good School University

FAQs

How far back does this data go?

The data is based on engagement going back to March 30, 2020. 

(Meta: This is an arbitrary date — the actual date is "sometime in the spring of 2020".)

How does the viewership data count multiple views from the same person?

We only share unique views; if you see that your post has 100 views, that means it was viewed from 100 different (logged-in Forum accounts + unique IP addresses from readers who weren't logged in).

How does the viewership data count views from bots?

We only count users who have Javascript enabled, which should screen out most bots.

Does the reading time data include time spent reading and writing comments?

Yes, it does. 

We may take steps to exclude this in the future, though it seems plausible that spending 10 minutes engaging with comments is roughly as valuable to a user, on average, as spending 10 minutes reading a post.

Is the reading time a total across all views, or an average per view?

The “reading time” number shows the average time each viewer spent on the post, but you can multiply it by the number of views to get the total.

How often is the data updated?

The data is updated in real time. However, you’ll have to refresh a page to see new data.

Can people see this data for posts they’ve coauthored?

Not right now. This might change later if we make changes to the coauthorship feature.

How valuable do you think views and engagement time are, relative to karma and comments?

We care a lot about engagement time, because it’s a clean way to capture the breadth and depth of someone’s engagement in a way that views alone don’t. Engagement time is our primary metric when we track the Forum’s progress internally.

That said, views are still good! And we like that this metric captures people discovering Forum posts who aren’t already part of our community. Also, we share a lot of posts with wider audiences that aren’t heavy Forum users (e.g. through the EA Newsletter), and we like that authors will be able to see when those audiences encounter their work.

What other metrics have you considered?

If the initial launch goes well, we may add data on how many people clicked on links within a post (possibly even specific to each link). 

We’ve also considered adding data on engagement over time — though this would require some kind of dashboard and is a bigger project.

Why do you think this will motivate users to write more?

Several prominent people in EA, asked what might lead them to engage with the Forum more, specifically expressed interest in learning how many people were reading their posts. Additionally, I’ve been asked several times by different organizations for data on how many people have viewed their posts; it’s clear that orgs are interested in tracking this information and place some importance on it.

Why do you think this will motivate users to share more?

Sharing a post takes time and energy, and it isn’t always rewarding — especially if you share it in a community of people who aren’t Forum users, as they won’t be able to upvote it. Having a sense for how many additional readers you’ve gotten should make sharing a post more appealing; there’s a big difference between one additional upvote and 100-200 additional views.

What might people dislike about this feature?

If someone’s post has many views but very few votes or comments, they may feel as though lots of people are reading it and deciding not to engage, which could be demoralizing. This could also be true if the average reading time is very low for the post (indicating that readers are giving up quickly).

That said: What is true is already so; not being open about it doesn’t make it go away.

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14 comments, sorted by Highlighting new comments since Today at 2:34 AM
New Comment

I think I'd find this really useful

Agreed, I'd love this feature! I also frequently rely on pageview statistics to prioritize which Wikipedia articles to improve.

Same. Useful also from an org impact perspective. E.g., over x people have viewed our posts (might be combined with website views etc)

I would find this very useful. My two longest posts did well karma wise but neither received any comments, and it would be valuable to know whether people are actually reading them through to the end.

For reading time, how does this work for a page I have opened in a new tab but don't look at for several hours? Is it able to tell if I've actually got that page active?

One other thing:

How does the viewership data count multiple views from the same person?

We only share unique views; if you see that your post has 100 views, that means it was viewed from 100 different (logged-in Forum accounts + unique IP addresses from readers who weren't logged in).

Seeing the values for each of "logged in user" and "unique IP" (i.e. non logged in users) would be nice. For example, one of my posts was shared on ACX and I expect it had far more viewership from non-regular forum users than my other posts, it would be convenient to see this.

I would find this extremely motivating (though also obsessively check it in a way that is somewhat unhealthy)

Yeah one solution for this is for the dashboard to only update once a day.

Kind of agree, although I think karma-checking is more unhealthy and so I figure, if I can survive that...

Reading time is one of my favourite features from Medium, and has helped me understand which of my posts are most useful. This in turn has informed my decisions on what to focus on writing. 

I expect to get similar benefits if a feature like this is implemented in the EA Forum. 

Yeah, I'd like this. For stuff that doesn't get comments, it would be really interesting to know whether people read it or not.

I've been asking for this feature on LW. If we're not going to get it there, at least we can get it here!

This is really cool, and definitely an improvement. I already know it will finish destroying my sanity! :) I can't wait to return home, use the pc, and be utterly disintegrated. I'm especially excited about the prospect of discovering lots of views accompanied by very little engagement.

I've returned home, and my simulated self is not disintegrated, because he can't compare these metrics with other posts, so he should be fine.

I think this would be great!

In particular, I'd be most interested in "how much time people spent reading it" (to approximate how engaging and/or accessible a post was) and "how many of them clicked on links within the post" (again, as a proxy for engagement). I think comments both suggest greater engagement and have a higher bar, so I like having more proxies.