If words are written on a page and no one reads them, do they really matter?

We tend to put a lot of stock into numbers, even those of us who don’t like them very much. Numbers make life seem graspable, comparable, measurable and observable.

Trees in the forest (‘The complexity of life’ by Flickr/tomsaint)

Amongst the numbers that matter most are those preceded by currency signs, especially in this digital world where each view and click can add a few cents more. So when a writer puts words to a page, whether ad-supported or not, the view counter comes sharply into focus.

Occasionally, something rather unexpected happens:

For context, here are my blog posts from Medium encapsulated in a graph (views in blue, reads in red):

It was the one post to eclipse all others! But what made that one so popular? Well, for a start it landed a retweet and Facebook share by the hugely popular This points to the role of boosters on the net. Secondly, it’s about a hugely popular topic, unlike some of the more obscure topics I addressed elsewhere. This post doesn’t, however, relate to a particularly timely event, unlike my first post on Medium.

Medium‘s Ev says:

The ratio of people who view it who read it and who read it and recommend it are important factors, not just the number.

So here are the read ratios:

They’re a little more balanced! There’s one post that sticks out on both, though. It’s had no views, no reads, no ratio.

How we’ll react to life beyond Earth’ was a fun little post to write. It was a satirical “speculation on the near future”. This fun little post is now a lonely little post, languishing in the world of lost posts with no numbers to give them meaning or value. It gave me some interesting thoughts and strecthed my writing to places I’ve rarely taken it, so there’s that.

My colleague Dr Chris Moore had these words of advice:

In that case, hand me the chainsaw, I have a few more trees to cut down and maybe there’ll be someone around to hear them this time.

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