The unprecedented popularity of my recent “Cold Comfort” post was all down to StumbleUpon. For three days, I was in seventh heaven as more and more friendly Stumblers helped my page hits escalate into the thousands — and then along came a reviewer who stopped my party in its tracks.
I’ve written before about the “StumbleUpon Effect”, back in July 2007, when I noticed an increase of several hundred page hits because one of my posts was Stumbled by a handful of Stumblers. Now it’s happened again — in spades. Over the past few days, I’ve watched with mounting excitement as my Cold Comfort post racked up several thousand hits — in fact, by midnight Monday it was around 22,000 since about 5pm Saturday afternoon. This kind of thumbs-up Stumble activity on my little blog is something I’ve never experienced before and left me rather breathless. This time, however — unlike the previous occasion — I’ve also experienced what it feels like to get the thumbs-down treatment too.
Regular readers of my blog will know that I’m passionately interested in climate change — the subject dominates my posts. I usually manage around 150 page hits on days when I publish posts. On most other, non-posting, days I languish around the 50 to 60 mark. When I came across a humorous story in Private Eye magazine concerning a man in Austria who was battered on the bum by hailstones shooting out of his toilet — together with mention of freak weather conditions that led the temperature to plunge from 35 degrees centigrade to zero within a few hours, and as a result severe hail storms battered parts of the country, I decided it was material suitable for inclusion in my blog. While being light-hearted, it also highlighted one of the serious aspects of climate change we might all have to cope with in the event of rapid climate cooling: violent storms with accompanying deluges of giant hailstones.
I transcribed the item from the magazine, and while doing so I wondered if anyone else had written about it online. A quick Google search turned up several brief references to the story, including one on another blog that had accompanying pictures which, as Private Eye only had a cartoon, I used to illustrate my own post. I published it on Friday 26th September. Late in the day, Lainiep93 — an online friend of mine — gave it its first Stumble. This then allowed me to Stumble it too (I can’t be the first to Stumble my own posts, as the StumbleUpon system bars me from doing so — but I can Stumble my own posts once someone else has started the ball rolling).
The stats for my web site (provided by GoStats) show that on Thursday, my site had 60 page hits. On Friday — publication and first Stumble day — my site attracted 235 page hits. Saturday’s hit-count was 4,944. On Sunday, things really started popping, with 7,090 page hits being accumulated by the end of the day, and a big increase in hit frequency showing up at around 3pm to 4pm — the reason being that during Saturday and Sunday, more and more Stumblers had given the item the “thumbs-up” (fifty at the current count). These have not been “reviews” as such — only three have taken the time to actually write something about the post, that’s lainiep93, me, and a third reviewer whom I’ll get to in a moment — it was just Stumblers using the “I like it!” button. Once it reached a “critical mass” of Stumblers passing it on to their friends via the thumbs-up and the StumbleUpon system putting it in front of random readers via the Stumble! button, the view-rate went through the roof. There had been 12,034 page hits throughout Saturday and Sunday.
Monday began as a great day — by 1pm, I’d added a further 7,577 hits, with GoStats estimating 13,966 for the whole day. I was on target for about 26,000 total hits from Saturday up to the end of Monday. I was ecstatic — and then, during the afternoon, my hit-rate slumped, dropping from about 650 in the previous hour to around 100. (You can see the drop in the graph on the right — that sheer brick wall at the 4pm junction.) I believe the reason was empress737700, a Stumbler who gave my post a “thumbs down” and reviewed it thus: GEE, another one that was taken from somewhere else. Jesus Christ people, lets try for some original content, please? This story is bullshit anyway.
The time stamp for Empress’s review is September 29th, 12:31pm. As far as I can ascertain, StumbleUpon’s time stamps use UTC time, the equivalent of GMT — but my stats are logged in BST (i.e. GMT+1 hour), so in my local time this would have been just after 1:30 on Monday afternoon. By the time the StumbleUpon system had processed her thumbs-down and down-rated my post, the effect was being seen in my stats by 4pm BST — 3pm UTC/GMT. (OK — I honestly can’t say whether any other Stumblers had also given it a thumbs-down because, as far as I can see, this info is not provided by StumbleUpon on the review page unless the thumbs-downers also actively review the site in question; so I feel I should qualify what I’ve said by adding that the available evidence points to just this one thumbs-down being the culprit.)
I felt rather deflated. Aside from the fact that Empress had spoiled my stats fun by raining on my parade with her thumbs-down — which obviously had a very negative effect within the StumbleUpon system by drastically lowering the “rating” of my post, reducing the frequency at which it was being randomly placed in front of other Stumblers when they used the “Stumble!” button on their toolbars, and costing me about 3,500 potential hits in the process — she had also completely missed the point of my post. True, it wasn’t original material (how much stuff on the web these days really is original?), but I felt it nonetheless added value to my blog because of the way it highlighted one of the very real consequences of climate change, that of the violent storms it will bring. But of course, Empress didn’t read it in context, just in isolation. She’d obviously come across the same information presented on several other sites, had become bored by the repetition of it — and didn’t believe a word of it anyway. That’s her prerogative — but her single thumbs-down all-but killed my limited opportunity to get my little blog containing what I believe is relevant climate change news in front of a wider audience, so I hope she’ll forgive my chagrin!
Today, it looks like this particular example of the StumbleUpon Effect is wearing off. At this time of writing (mid-afternoon Tuesday), there have been about 670 page hits, with an estimate of around 1,000 for today — still amazingly high for me, but nothing like the heady rush of the past few days, which has seen me achieve more hits in the last 72 hours (22,344) than my blog managed to attract from when I started it in March 2007 to December 2007 (13,581), and more than the whole of 2008 up until a few days ago (13,021). For a little blog like mine, the effect has been nothing short of miraculous and shows what can be achieved via StumbleUpon with the right kind of material — in my case, it would appear that I’m more likely to reach more people with humorous items than I am with my serious posts! It also, however, demonstrates the savage negative effect of a single thumbs-down Stumble. It’s a power that should be wielded wisely — and, perhaps, only after considering the item in question in its context whenever possible.
Concerning The Responses My “Cold Comfort” Post Has Received So Far
I’ve mailed Empress asking her to point me to the information that convinces her the original story is bullshit, as I’d be happy to write it up and post it. [UPDATE 03 Oct 08: She's been kind enough to send a reply, which is included in my follow-up post, The Truth Behind 'Cold Comfort'.] Paul Martin commented directly on my post, saying I cry bullshit…..total……idiots (which hardly merited a considered response from me), while qwerty said I’m calling bullshit, the sewer and storm water are separate systems, and why would there be hail stones? why would they be round? (I provided him with an answer.) BenThere then ventured an opinion that This is totally shopped. (Meaning the photos were created using PhotoShop.) I can tell by the pixels and because I have seen many shops in my time. I disputed this, once again asking for more detailed information about what leads him to this conclusion — and so far, surprise surprise, there’s been no reply.
Though I’d be happy to publish anything concrete proving that the basis of the story is untrue, I’m afraid people simply crying “bullshit” and dismissing the story out of hand doesn’t wash with me. I’ll have more to say about this in my next post.
UPDATE 03 Oct 08: Read The Truth Behind ‘Cold Comfort’ for the follow-up post.