EAS on the Downturn
The doubtful future of the site in a world of social networks
When I look at the number of visitors to EAS (which is a reliable figure because it is derived from the server logs), it is a worrying development that between 2010 and 2012 the monthly visitor count halved from about 200,000 to no more than 100,000. The decline stopped a couple of months before STID was released in 2013. The counter went up a bit again and the figures have been more or less stable since then.
I am looking for answers why EAS has lost so much ground, much more than after the end of Star Trek Enterprise in 2005, which I already addressed in the article Where Have All the Trek Sites Gone? in 2007. The reason for the more recent downturn can't lie with the content of EAS (that got updated as frequently as ever and was further consolidated), and I don't think that the campaigns against me because of my critical takes on the Abramsverse did have a lasting effect on thousands of visitors. Rather than that, I blame the radically changing usage of the internet during the past couple of years. So I was trying to find evidence of how it happened, and of how to boost the popularity of EAS again. This is not a commercial site, in which case a reduction of the audience by 50% would be a catastrophe. Still, I have a vital interest to prevent the site from slipping into total insignificance.
Popular and Unpopular Pages
In order to assess the performance of the site, it is interesting to check which content is most often accessed. It is no surprise that according to my server logs as of April 2014 the index page is requested most frequently and can be found on #1 and #3, because it is the page that people most often link to or have bookmarked. So far, so good. Positions #2 (guestbook.cgi) and #4 (signbook.cgi) are taken by the guestbook, which is unmistakable (and sad) evidence that a significant portion of the "visitors" to EAS are spambots. They access guestbook.cgi and then signbook.cgi, where they fail the anti-spam test that I set up.
The Starship Database and the Starfleet Bridge Gallery are among the most popular pages with real content. They always rank among the top ten pages. While the Starship Database has been a key section of the site ever since 1998, for which it is renowned, the bridges have been the most often shared content since about 2008 (in blogs and forums but rather not in social media). New articles can always be found near the top of the list of the most popular pages. It obviously pays to highlight new content on the index page.
Going down the list of pages, the big article on Classical Music in Star Trek by Jörg Hillebrand and me, a clear highlight of the site complete with sound files, can be found no higher than around position #40. It is currently advertised in the header of each EAS page, yet it is surpassed by many articles that are not new and that are far less visible. In anticipation of my analysis of the performance of EAS in social media, it is also worth mentioning that I have found just one link to this particular article on a conventional site, and no more than two shares in social networks.
Speaking of social media, another letdown is that my efforts to bring Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and other dynamic content to the site remains largely unnoticed. I went to great lengths to process various RSS feeds from social media and other sites, many of which include daily updates, which are shown on the pages EAS Today and Trek Feeds. But these two pages are not popular at all; they barely rank among the top 50 pages, although they are on the top of the page listing on the EAS index page.
So visibility isn't everything. I suppose that the typical visitor either has EAS bookmarked and is just looking for new content, or has followed a link and isn't really interested in the rest. In other words, guiding visitors through the site seems to be of secondary importance today, not to mention my failed attempt to offer a sort of Trek newspaper via embedded RSS feeds. Despite the repeated requests to improve the navigation of the site, this concerns only a minority of visitors who come to explore everything. Keeping everything on the site linked with each other is something that was still essential a couple of years ago and is something I will continue to do, but it isn't necessary any longer in a time where everything is found through search engines and increasingly through social networks. And indeed, many plain blogs and other types of sites (with the notable exception of wikis) don't care for intrasite links at all but are rather linked with the outside world. Rather than working on the navigation (where it would be futile to try to achieve the performance of Memory Alpha), it is important for me to have new content, and to have people who link to (new or old) content on EAS to attract new visitors. With updates at least twice a week, EAS fulfills the first requirement (there is no way I could work out still more). The problem in my view is that the updates and ultimately the very existence of the site remains totally unknown outside the realm of certain geeky blogs and forums.
My statistics software compiles a list of the referrers to EAS. A sizable portion of visitors (around 30%) arrives via search engines, Google's share being over 90% of those 30%. Most of the rest (as many as 60%) have EAS bookmarked, which I believe is an unusually high (and perhaps worryingly high) percentage. Other links make up only 10% of the referrals, and the majority is from conventional sites or forums. Regarding Facebook, Twitter and other networks, it is not possible to distinguish individual URLs, as they are not resolved completely.
I also launched a poll in April 2014, asking the visitors how they got to the website most recently. Such a poll can filter out bots, but it is clear that visitors who come to the site on a regular basis are more likely to vote than those who drop in only by chance. Hence, it is not representative and will most likely underrate the impact of search engines and overrate the option "Bookmark or directly typed in". The first five or six votes after posting the poll, however, all went to "Link posted in social media by EAS". This is no surprise, considering that there are a number of loyal followers on Facebook, Twitter and Google+, and that new content in the EAS RSS feed gets automatically posted there almost in real time (with a delay of just a couple of minutes). But after less than one hour, there were almost no new votes from visitors coming from social networks.
Most notably, almost no one chose the option "Link shared or retweeted in social media by other users". While I wouldn't expect anyone to share the link to my poll, there are always interesting topics at EAS that would be worth sharing. But as long as the poll was running (for about one week), only a negligible portion of the visitors seemed to come from a shared link, which suggests that no one bothered to share a link to EAS on social networks during that time and that practically no one clicked one of the few "old" shared links either.
Once again, it is important to keep in mind that regular visitors are more committed to take part in the poll, and this may rather apply to my own Facebook followers than to those who were referred to EAS by someone else. Anyway, the outcome of the poll is that 80% of those who voted (with increasing tendency in the course of the first few days) come to EAS through bookmarks and direct typing of the URL. More generally, including those who clicked links or used a search engine, more than 90% find their way to EAS the conventional way, far less than 10% through social media, and only around 1% through shared or retweeted links to EAS. While the impact of the latter on EAS is currently totally negligible, it has the most potential for improvement - because the visitors from networks seem to be generally more committed than those from search engines.
Various Google searches and social media searches (where possible, such as in Twitter) confirm that there are extremely few mentions of EAS in social media, except for my own posts. This is the biggest disappointment of my whole survey.
EAS in the Social Media
EAS performs extremely poorly in social media, although
- EAS does have lots of content that is definitely worth posting, "new" as well as "old" articles.
- EAS still does have around 4000 visitors every day, many of whom are probably members in social networks and could easily grab a URL and tweet or post it.
- URLs at EAS (with very few exceptions) are self-explanatory and never change, unlike those of other sites (so no one likely encounters a 404 at EAS).
- I have taken many efforts to bring EAS to the social media and vice versa.
While there are very few shares of EAS content, the Twitter , Facebook and Google+ accounts of EAS do have decent followerships. However, the Facebook page as the most important representation of EAS in the social media has eventually entered a phase of saturation. The number of likes doesn't rise since January 2014. There are just as many unlikes as new likes, and the number is stuck at 1678. It is plausible that only those people are likely to like the EAS Facebook page who also come to the site. The site obviously isn't gaining new regular visitors, and among the regular visitors all have either joined Facebook by now or have decided to stay out. Well, for reasons that lie in the structure of Facebook and in the lacking visibility of Facebook pages compared to personal profiles, most of my Facebook friends don't like the EAS Facebook page and perhaps don't even know of its existence. But I never bug people to vote for me in any fashion.
The statistics of the EAS Facebook page were initially only of secondary importance to me, also because the various figures are being compiled with focus on commercial aspects and for SEO people. I can hardly make sense of them, and I want Trek fans to come to my site in the first place anyway, for which the Facebook page is just an auxiliary platform. Yet, besides the visitor count of the site the number of likes on Facebook has become another important yardstick. The likes are visible to everyone, and because of group dynamics the more popular a page or post is, the more likely it will gain even more likes (provided, of course, that enough people see it). In this regard I am disappointed about the very few likes I receive for my posts. It is symptomatic:
- I repost a funny picture by someone else, which takes me 30 seconds and gets 30 likes.
- I work on a big article, which takes me 30 hours and gets 3 likes.
Is there something wrong with Facebook (and with other social networks), or rather with my expectations? Am I talking about two worlds that will never fit together?
The Trouble with Social Media
I think the principal reason for the demise of Star Trek sites (not only EAS), including more recent forms such as blogs, in the past few years is the radically different browsing behavior. Many people use social networks as a platform that they rarely leave at all, and they access the internet primarily with mobile devices. Everything that isn't presented as "new", that doesn't fit into a narrow column and that takes more than a minute to read is of little interest to them.
Sure, I'm talking about an extreme type of a social network user. But I believe that, in one way or another, we are all influenced by social networks and their working principles, even if we visit them only occasionally. I don't think that people are stupid today and that they wouldn't want to read good articles or enjoy good artwork. The problem is that social networks are an additional (and a seemingly "democratic") layer of interaction that produces no content but serves to rate how good or how new something is and (for some people) to find content in the first place, without a need to browse any conventional sites. This principle discriminates against traditionally presented content and niche content by its very nature, and favors any kind of "content" such as funny cat pictures or "eating a pizza" tweets by celebrities. Well, most of the visitors of EAS (>90%) find it without social networks anyway, but this way the site is effectively locked out from the mechanisms of the internet.
Unlike EAS, most companies can't afford to be locked out. They promote the development of networks, although they have almost no control over them. Companies urge their customers to visit them on Facebook, many neglect their own websites in favor of their Facebook pages, some have even abandoned their websites altogether (except for a placeholder that isn't updated any longer).
In my case, it is clear that EAS must be and will always be in the focus of my interest. EAS is all about thorough investigation of the Star Trek Universe, something that can't take place in social networks. My website is the only reason why I am in social networks in the first place. I neither want to sell anything nor be involved in someone else's business. As already mentioned, it is hard enough for any kind of traditionally programmed website to get noticed in social media. Additionally, EAS is a strictly non-commercial fan website maintained by a single person. Several people have more or less directly expressed their dislike of my work, because they think that 1) sites that sell something or are at least sponsored have to be better, 2) I'm a pitiful nerd hanging around in the basement and whatever I'm saying is irrelevant or 3) the majority is always right anyway. This is more than a simple misunderstanding; it is a way of thinking that is being fostered ever since the internet has become commercial and perhaps increasingly in social networks.
I'm sorry to say that and I may offend a couple of followers, but 90% of what the people I follow on Twitter and Facebook are posting is crap. It usually doesn't concern me in any fashion and isn't funny or interesting in any way. Much of it is even pure spam, often unwisely posted because someone forgot to uncheck something like a "Send this to all your friends" box. Whenever I visit celebrities on Twitter, I can be sure that even 100% is either inane banter or shameless advertising, and I'm likely to lose my respect for them. And although I am aware that friends following me on networks find new EAS content exactly that way (rather than by going directly to my Facebook or Twitter page), I myself avoid checking out my "personalized" feed with "news" from friends, in which messages with relevance are so rare. I have also turned off almost all e-mail notifications from networks because there are always much more important things for me to tend to than having the latest news from Twitter and Facebook. As I mentioned, I may still need to understand what other people find fascinating about social networks to be able to profit from them.
Of course, there may be also be Trek-specific reasons for the downturn. As I already mentioned a couple of years ago, Memory Alpha has made many conventional sites dispensable, but although it has the air of being "democratic" (as opposed to the the concept of EAS), I don't think the impact on EAS was as great as on database-type sites. Rather than that, there are probably Trek-specific demographic factors. Old fans continue to lose their interest for the franchise since 2005, while fans of the new Star Trek (or new fans of Star Trek) have found other places to visit, which may or may not have to do with my stance on the Abramsverse. The advent of the new Star Trek and of younger fans coincides with the aforementioned generally new understanding of the internet. My generation (meaning everyone over 35) discovered the old-style internet in the mid-90s and generally embraced all changes until a few years ago. However, few people of my age that I know in real life care for social networks (except for professional networks such as Linkedin or XING), while it is my impression that for many young people networks are the hubs of their activities.
So what can I do to regain or at least preserve the popularity of EAS?
Here is what I deem useless:
- Post even more in social media: It is impossible to popularize my Facebook or Twitter account to a point that more people come to EAS from there than vice versa.
- Rework the site structure and code to be fit for the future: I will have to work on that, because some day browsers will not display the site correctly any longer. But it doesn't really help me make or keep it popular.
Here is what I intend to do:
- Keep up my social network activities.
- Allow easy sharing of EAS content in social networks: I thought it was convenient enough without special buttons, considering that you just have to grab the URL and let the interface of your network do the rest. But I may have been mistaken, and visitors need to be motivated with buttons. I have included buttons that allow just to share content, because this is possible with simple links, while "liking" or similar actions require scripts that I can't control and that I generally don't allow at EAS.
And here is what my visitors can do:
- Please click the buttons on the bottom left of each EAS page and share the content in social networks. And keep in mind, old content becomes "news" once it gets shared somewhere (just as it happened with the starship bridges).
- Please like/follow EAS: