Evaluation of MicrobiomeDigest – feedback welcome

It’s been a year since I started this blog (Happy Anniversary, MD!), so this seems like a good time to reflect on the past and get some feedback on this blog.

I started this WordPress blog in May 2014 as a service to everyone in the microbiome field who spend too much time scanning the latest literature, or (like me) not enough time. “If I have to spend hours every day reading all my eTOC alerts and Google Scholar findings, I might as well post all the relevant papers on a blog and save other people some time, ” I thought, and several of my coworkers agreed. So I bought the domain name and hosted the blog on my hubbie’s server, with the intention to make this a completely free blog. For always.

After a slow start in May 2014, the number of views steadily went up. I tried to advertise on Twitter and by sending emails to other labs in our field.  Jonathan Eisen from UC Davis has been incredibly helpful in getting the word out as well. So far, March 2015 has been the best month for MicrobiomeDigest, with 3,355 visitors and 8,184 views (spammers and my own visits are not counted by WordPress). On a busy day, I get about 200 visitors and 400 views.

Screen Shot 2015-06-04 at 02.49PM, Jun 04

The average visitor will click on 2 links, with links from Nature, Wiley, and ScienceDirect being the most popular. Please note that I cannot see the identity of the viewers (that would be creepy), just the number of clicks and the country of origin.

The vast majority of the MD visitors are from the US, followed by Canada, the UK, Germany, Denmark, and Australia. In the map from March 2015 (the busiest month so far, see graph above), you can see that MD has been viewed from pretty much every corner of the world.

Screen Shot 2015-06-04 at 02.58PM, Jun 04

However, after a good start, it appears as if the blog’s readership has reached a plateau, and might even been going down. This makes me wonder if there is room for improvement. I’m sure there is! There have to be more than 200 people in the world who are interested in microbiome papers, so I was hoping to get some feedback on how to improve my blog and increase the readership. It takes me about 3-4 hours a day to scan all the latest literature and news articles and compile the results into this daily blog and I can only justify this big effort if the readership is large enough.

So here we go, dear reader: I’d like some feedback, please. Here are some questions that I hope you all can think about. Please post your comments below this post or email them to eliesbik at stanford dot edu. You don’t have to answer all of them, but I’l love to get some feedback. Thanks a lot!

  • Is the frequency of the blog (once a day on each work day) good?
  • Is the length of each blog post good, or too long? Should I split the up into different parts, as I did in the beginning?
  • Do you like the breadth of the topics, or should I focus more on e.g. human microbiome (no more soil/water/air microbiome), top journals only, scientific papers only (no more popular press articles), microbiome only (no more general science, publishing/career/Bik’s Picks)? Or should I even include more microbiology papers?
  • How can I improve the number of visitors, especially from non-US countries?
  • For Tweeps who follow me on @MicrobiomDigest on Twitter: is the number of tweets good, too many, too few? Too much overlap with this blog?
  • Any other suggestions, also about more automated ways of posting here, would be more than welcome.

Thanks all! And please do tell others about MicrobiomeDigest if you like it. If the readership keeps on going down, I will have to consider stopping this service and focus on my (real!) job.

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21 thoughts on “Evaluation of MicrobiomeDigest – feedback welcome

  1. I think this blog is fantastic. I couldn’t keep up with microbiome publications without your help. Thanks so much!

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  2. Hi!

    I really like your microbiome literature round-up. I have my own automated literature search (which I don’t publish) but you often find lots of things that my search misses… so between the two, I think I get good coverage 🙂

    Personally, I’d find it really useful if the paper titles were in the RSS feed so rather than just the first line. That would make it useable more quickly. At the moment, the only reason for the RSS is as a reminder that there’s a new issue to look at.

    Cheers,

    Scott (from Australia)

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  3. Love it!

    Chana sends her regards…

    I like the frequency and the breadth so don’t stop.

    I normally can’t look at it every day and read them in batches of 2s and 3s. I normally click through on at least 3 if not 5 links.

    Will send out a note to promote it on LinkedIn and Facebook later tonight.

    For me, it is the best way to keep up with what is going on in the literature.

    Thank you!

    Cheers,

    Malcolm

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  4. love it and missed it when you wee away. although don’t do human mcrobiomes the soil, water and extremophile literature round-up are keeping me up to date easily
    don’t stop
    thanks

    Liane

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  5. Hi! I’m a recent follower. I find your blog very useful – (a) for the pleasure of gaining knowledge and (b) for me as a science writer, to find topics that are either timely or quirky to write about! Great job! Thanks a lot.

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  6. Absolutely fantastic blog, and such an invaluable service you’re providing to the community. If the frequency were 2-3x per week I think I wouldn’t miss quite as much. I tend to slash-and-burn email/Twitter/RSS on Mondays and Fridays because of other stuff going on. Personally, I skip straight to the methods/bioinformatics/metagenomics sections, then skim back through the human microbiome and other special topics/picks. Please don’t get rid of those sections! I think the methods/bioinformatics sections are especially relevant, even to those potential readers who aren’t necessarily that interested in the microbiome or microbiology aspects.

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  7. Very useful blog! I do appreciate receiving daily digests that give a large overview of recently published studies and that can be quickly checked. Would ask users to advertise on linkedin to help increase the audience.
    Please keep it alive!

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  8. I appreciate this digest and read and share articles you bring to my attention frequently. I love the breadth of it and want to encourage you to keep it coming! Thank you.

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  9. Hi Elies,

    I appreciate your intentions, I agree that the field is exploding with new literature, and I feel that it’s impossible to keep up with all of the new studies that are considering the microbiome.

    However, I find that with a well-curated set of PubMed alerts, I can get weekly updates that are more informative to me than MD. There are variables at play that differ between me and others (e.g. range of interests) but most especially, the length, frequency, and breadth of MD have contributed to my viewpoint.

    Maybe if you pick your favorite microbiome (e.g. gut, environment, exotic animals), specialize in a subfield (e.g. gut-brain axis), or focus on really innovative studies (e.g. “who would have ever thought the microbiota contributes to X???”) you could reduce the time commitment. Then you might reduce readership… but you can’t make everyone happy! It may however result in a more concentrated, consistent, and meaningful readership if you narrowed your focus.

    What’s especially striking to me is the time commitment you mentioned (here and in other posts). If MD is taking time away from your science and the only motivation is to provide a free service, I would be most curious to see feedback from David Relman as to whether it should be continued.

    I would be happy to discuss this further,
    Drew

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  10. Dear Dr. Bik,

    I love the blog and it’s the primary way for me to keep up with the literature, although I’m not in the microbiome field right now. I greatly appreciate you taking time almost every day, even if you are on international travel to update us with the ever increasing literature in microbiome research. I personally don’t look at soil/water/air/bioreactor microbiome research much, mainly focusing on the human/animal microbiome research. But it would be nice if one or two sentences or phrases could accompany the titles of the posts, so we can get an initial sense of what we could be looking for. It’s definitely not necessary to be very accurate or to-the-point, just your gut feeling why this article could be cool.

    Thank you very much for your blog and it is very useful for me.

    Sincerely,

    Xin

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  11. Dear Elisabeth

    I really appreciate the blog, and have recommended it to other researchers here Ohio State. Not sure if anyone else has picked up on it as a result.

    I use the feedly app in Chrome to follow it as a RSS feed, though I always do click through as the RSS truncates the posts.

    I also use pubmed alerts but I find your blog to be more comprehensive, timelier, easier to read and I like the links directly to journals. I don’t really read the environmental stuff or news pieces that much except maybe major things like the Lokiarchaea paper.

    Anyway, thanks a lot and I hope you find a way to keep it going but I understand if you decide to stop.

    Best, Cliff

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  12. I am very grateful for the amount of work you put into this and share! Personally, I don’t look as much at the water / plant /soil stuff as much as the human and animal model stuff, but is still relevant to many in your audience. Thank you for this valuable service! I will do my best to get the word out.

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  13. Hi Elisabeth, a colleague pointed out your blog to me and I am now following it since about two months. For me it is impossible to go through them on a daily basis. So i store them hoping to do it later. Just like photocopying a Paper instead of reading it. Perhaps it would help if there were weekly posts, say each Monday, and structure them relatively strongly. So one could really follow. And it would help if You had a section for very special stuff or Highlights. But anyway, I love your blog and it has already helped me a lot.

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    • Not sure what you mean; could you clarify? Do you mean by journal? I thought grouping by topic (e.g. “soil” and “human”) makes most sense so that readers can skip the areas they are not interested in. But thanks for the comment!

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  14. I really appreciate what are you doing. I wish all the papers you mention were accessible to me but I can’t afford any journals or the fees associated with reading them online. That is one reason why I would suggest an abstract for each paper. This would be useful when pleading with the local university library for access to specific papers. The paperwork and legwork required now is very, very daunting. But I do very much appreciate being able to see the different papers broken down by categories, as that also helps at university when convincing curator to make paper available. Food microbiology papers, for example, are quite hard to get when the curator knows you are studying clinical microbiology. Thank You very much!

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  15. I started following the blog via the email alerts when it was mentioned in the Gut Microbiome course on Coursera last year. While I also have TOC and key word Google Alerts, there are always papers in MD that I otherwise would have missed. I particularly appreciate the environmental microbiome papers, but also find the human microbiome papers interesting. And I enjoy the Bik’s Picks for more random stories. I like the daily frequency since it makes it easier to keep pace – for example, I love Ed Yong’s weekly digests of links, but typically have to save them all for a weekend once a month b/c there are too so many to read. The length is fine and the breadth is great (again b/c I suspect without it I would miss some really interesting papers). As someone who follows you on Twitter, I hadn’t really noticed significant overlap, but then, I’m not on all it all the time. I have recommended the MD to people before and I’m happy to keep doing it! Thank you for doing this and looking forward to buying you drinks at a meeting in the future as symbolic compensation!

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  16. Great blog! Thanks so much for your work.
    I look at all your posts, and usually link to at least 3 to 5 articles. I really appreciate that you have the article links.
    I find the following sections especially useful: all the sections that deal with human and animal microbiomes, General microbiome, Built environment microbiome, food, Microbes in the news, and Bik’s Piks.

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  17. Thanks so much for having the Microbiome Digest, I’m sure it’s no small task to get it out every day! As a grad student I find it invaluable to find most of what I need in the digest (+ my own keyword alerts) and try to pass it along as a resource for others. I’m primarily interested in the animal microbiome, but I do find myself reading across all the categories if something looks interesting, so I say keep up the diversity. There isn’t much I’d change!

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