By Mike Darwin
In order to understand the significance of the results of the Cryonics Intelligence Test and the discussion of priorities in cryonics research that is to follow (and in particular the relationship of such research to the Alcor Life Extension Foundation and the cryonics community at large), it will first be necessary to provide a substantial amount of background and context.
The first part of this context is to understand the statistics of Chronosphere. Even a decade and a half ago, the data I am about to present and discuss would have been virtually impossible to obtain. Small-scale paper, and even Internet publications, were mostly black boxes in terms of feedback. Knowing how many people viewed a given article, looked at your publication (no matter how cursorily) or took the time to download specific materials was essentially impossible. Letters to the Editor and the total number of paid and gratis subscribers (e.g., basic circulation), as well as advertisers, if any, were all the data available – plus, perhaps some demographic data on subscribers, such as what part of the country and what part of the world they resided in.
Today, with powerful statistical engines, it is possible to obtain in real time a large body of data that was heretofore not only inaccessible, it was unimaginable that it would ever be available, let alone be available at virtually no cost and with almost no effort. Having said this, it still not possible to capture the core demographic data that would provide the most useful information about the scope and depth of Chronosphere’s impact; namely the detailed demographic characteristics of the individuals accessing the site, the individual articles, the identities of those individuals, which articles they actually read, and finally, what impact those articles have on their world view, or subsequent actions. To a very limited extent it is possible to track the effect that articles and ideas in Chronosphere have on others by using Google search tools to monitor the mention of discrete articles or ideas that have appeared uniquely on Chronosphere in the blogosphere and on the Internet in general. However, this is still far from satisfactory, and such data is necessarily anecdotal, rather than comprehensive.
A Preliminary Look at the Numbers
The graph below shows the total number of hits, by month, that Chronosphere has received since its inception through, 23 May, 2012, at 1307. Since the start of Chronosphere, there have been 101,929 unique visitors to the site. During 2012 the average number of unique viewers, excluding individuals who subscribe via Google Reader Subscriber Service (RSS), is approximately 300 per day. The number of RSS subscribers has increased from ~ 80 as of October 2011 to 101 as of 23 May, 2012. The average number of new posts to Chronosphere has been 2.1 per week since its inception in February of 2011. The table below shows the statistics for the top 10 articles being accessed as of 22 and 23 May, 2012. There is substantial variability on a day to day basis as to which articles achieve “top ten” status. The following table shows the ranking of all articles that have appeared, from the first one, which was posted on 06 February 2011, through 23 May, 2012. These data show the number of unique hits these articles received, independent of RSS subscribers and of individuals who may have read the article, copied or downloaded it from the “Home Page.”
To understand what this means in practical terms, the article Robert C. W. Ettinger, First Life Cycle: 1918 to 2011, shows 2,762 discrete hits.
However, any examination of the aggregate number of hits for the two week period following Ettinger’s cryopreservation (boxed in red in the top graph, above), when his obituary, and a related article on media obituaries were the articles featured on the Homepage, show that the number of hits to Chronosphere increased from ~ 1,000 per day to ~ 3,000 per day. Thus, a more realistic number for views that article received is probably in the range of ~ 4,000, total. Therefore, the total “viewership” for any given article will be some total of the number of discrete hits the article receives, plus some fraction of the number of Homepage hits it received when it was the featured (Homepage) article on Chronosphere.
Making Sense of it All
Missing from all these data is the critically important “time on page” number. This metric helps to distinguish between “accidental,” or very casual viewers, and those who have a serious interest in the content of the article. Unfortunately, all efforts to date to add this capability (a function of Google Analytics) have proved unsuccessful. Nevertheless, the absolute number of hits a given article receives after it ceases to be the Homepage feature is very likely representative of its popularity and readership.
My personal (completely arbitrary) rule of thumb has been to assume that ~ 10% of the hits to lengthily and highly technical posts represent serious readers and that ~25% of hits for shorter, topical posts are actually read and seriously considered. What the “real” number of serious readers is for any given article is, of course, unknown. I have set my numbers so low primarily because of the nearly complete lack of commentary or embedded URL actuations most of the articles generate.
As a case in point, the extensive four-part series of articles Last Aid as First Aid for Cryonicists generated a total of only 5 comments, most of which were not of a practical nature consonant with the subject matter of the articles, which dealt specifically with how to prepare for a cryonics emergency. Some of the suggestions in the articles should have proved controversial (based on past experience in discussing them in the cryonics community) and yet, there were no dissenting comments, nor any alternative or additional suggestions offered, either on Chronosphere, or in the publications, blogs, or list-serves of the various cryonics organizations (or those serving the cryonics community as a whole, such as New Cryonet). This is in striking contrast to the author’s past experience with printed periodicals serving the cryonics community and having a comparable, or smaller number of readers (e.g., 200-300).
Some of the likely reasons for these differences between print and epublications are:
a) Subscribers paid for paper publications and thus were more heavily invested in recovering the value expended.
b) Because of the time, effort and money required to gain access to paper publications, the readership was highly filtered compared to epublications.
c) Prior to the Internet era, the total volume of information being disseminated about cryonics was very small and the available technology (e.g., the printing press) further compressed and limited dissemination of that information to a very few venues.
d) Cryonics itself was far smaller and the overlap between “activists” and “customers” was more nearly complete.
e) Cryonics publications prior to the Internet were necessarily more diverse in content than is Chronosphere due to the need to cater to a broader audience.
f) The content in Chronosphere leans heavily towards the technical and historical and is lengthily; all of which are likely to discourage the casual reader. In other words it is, by definition, a niche publication.
g) Chronosphere and its author are frequently critical of how cryonics is currently practiced as well as of the major (extant) cryonics organizations, and sometimes specific individuals who are, or who have been active in cryonics.
h) Chronosphere does not (yet) offer a blog roll nor high profile links to other organizations, sites, or publications (paper or electronic). This, coupled with the hostility generated by g) above, has resulted in a near complete lack of on-line and paper publication referrals to Chronosphere.
With these considerations in mind, let’s again take a look at how Chronosphere has performed from its inception, thru 24 May, 2012, but this time in greater detail with attention to daily and weekly numbers:
But what do these metrics really mean? Is Chronosphere doing what it is supposed top do: raise awareness and change fundamental thinking about the way cryonics and interventive gerontological research is being pursued, as well as attracting other, like minded contributors to the site? The number of RSS feeds, the number of unique viewers and even the number of comments aren’t necessarily very useful metrics (certainly not in isolation) to determine if the effort being expended on Chronosphere is worth the return. Probably the best indicators are the combination of:
a) Number of comments,
b) Number of RTs,
c) Number of downloads of white-papers, pingbacks, and “critical” URL’s accessed from the site.
d) Number of people who contribute articles to Chronosphere.
Of course, context is everything, or almost everything in this case, because Chronosphere is catering to what is, both relatively and absolutely, a miniscule community of people. To put these numbers in context, the graph below shows the traffic on the Wikipedia “cryonics” page.
There are perhaps something on the order of 2,000 living cryonicists[i] in the world, the majority of them in the English speaking/reading world. Of these, optimistically, perhaps 15% are technically/scientifically/philosophically oriented “activists” with an interest in the mechanics of cryonics, as opposed to people who have chosen cryonics as a service or product “as is,” and are content to accept it without further improvement as a result of their own efforts. That would yield a number of ~ 300 people within the cryonics community who are sufficiently interested to read a publication like Chronosphere.
Even using these far more restrictive criteria, it is hard to know just how well or poorly Chronosphere is doing. Consider the cryonics self-help series of articles, Last Aid as First Aid for Cryonicists:
The overall performance of this series of articles is pretty dismal. However, interestingly, Part 4 in the series received the most hits, roughly three times the total that each of the preceding three parts received. This might be explained on the basis that the fourth part of the article contained the bulk of the practical suggestions for how to deal with an emergency (such as the equipment and supplies needed for cooling).
Articles that are likely to be of interest primarily to cryonicists, such as A Brief Pictorial History of Extracorporeal Technology in Cryonics show a viewership that is broadly similar to that seen for this five part series of article (below).
By monitoring the search engine terms (and their frequency) being used, it is possible to get some idea of how many people are accessing these articles for reasons unrelated to cryonics, such as for information on extracorporeal medicine, specific devices mentioned in the articles and for illustrations of equipment or procedures (again, unrelated to cryonics, per se). Roughly a third of all hits fall into this category of what could be fairly called “extraneous viewers.” Again, the number of likely seriously interested viewers is probably quite small, being somewhere in the rage of 50 to 100.
The intermittent spiky nature of the number of hits over time is most likely the result of referrals; one person sees an article of interest, passes the URL to others and there is a brief burst of activity until that pocket of interested people is exhausted.
Similarly, technical posts which have direct relevance to medicine or biomedical research are clearly attracting viewers who are not accessing them because of any interest in cryonics. Indeed, it can reasonably be presumed they are accessing them in spite of their cryonics orientation and content, as can be seen from the data for the articles The Pathophysiology of Ischemic Injury: Impact on the Human Cryopreservation Patient, I Know this is Going to be Shocking: A Review of Wearable Continuous Monitoring Systems to Detect and Treat Sudden Cardiac Arrest in Cryonicists, Does Personal Identity Survive Cryopreservation?, Achieving Truly Universal Health Care and Induction of Hypothermia in the Cryonics Patient: Theory and Technique.
It is possible that articles that deal solely with technical issues related to cryonics, but which do not explicitly mention it, such as Liquid Assisted Pulmonary Cooling in Cardiopulmonary Cerebral Resuscitation may provide some insight into how many of the visitors accessing the explicitly cryonics-oriented technical articles are doing so for reasons completely unrelated to any interest in cryonics:
This number is also consonant with the number of viewers that access a post which is almost exclusively of interest to cryonicists, such as the series of articles, Much Less Than Half a Chance, on using medical imaging to reduce the number of sudden and unexpected deanimations (cardiac arrests) amongst cryonicists:
and Your Picture Won’t Be Hanging Here?:
More problematic to interpret are articles which deal with technical matters of a nature, interest in which one would expect would be largely or completely confined to cryonicists, such as the (so far) three-part series, The Effects of Cryopreservation on the Cat, which has generated sustained and (relatively) substantial interest, with Parts 2 & 3, wherein the results of the study are presented, having received a total number of views of ~ 1,800:
However, it bears pointing out again that the more specifically cryonics oriented an article is, the smaller its readership will typically be, as was the case in the Cryonics: Failure Analysis Lectures, 1 & 2:
Below, I’ve presented the statistics on a range of other types of articles without comment, in large measure because it is hard to know how to interpret the data:
And finally, we come to Take the Cryonics Intelligence Test which was designed as a seminal experiment to probe both the readership of Chronosphere and the cryonics community at large. Leaving out of consideration the number of people who may have read this article during its tenure on the Homepage, 193 people accessed it as of 24, May, 2012:
and only 82 people were interested enough to view the results of the test:
Even more interesting (and telling) is metric for the number of people who downloaded the Resource Materials for the test from Yousendit, a mere 22 souls: of whom two bothered to actually take the test.
These numbers seem dismal to me, all the more so when, in the next few installments here, the issues involved (dealing with the principal subject matter in the Cryonics Intelligence Test and the Cryonics Intelligence Test Responses) are explicated and put into context and their importance (hopefully) made apparent to even the least technically inclined readers of Chronosphere.
Finally, it would be most useful to see similar performance metrics from other cryonics and life extension related blogs and websites. It is virtually impossible to evaluate the performance of this effort without any benchmarks to compare it to.
[i] Excluding the ~200 patients now cryopreserved.