The Hammond Flower

My 1,000th post

According to Movable Type, this is a milestone here at Collision Detection — my 1,000th post. Every once in a while I think, ‘Hey, maybe I should dump all my posts into a text file and find out how much I’ve written!’ The only problem is … I suspect the figure would scare the living crap out of me.

It is also possible, though, that I’d find out something interesting. Recently, Tom Coates celebrated the fifth anniversary of his excellent Plastic Bag blog by collecting together his 4,175 posts, doing a word count, and realizing he’d written over 1.1 million words — 1.3 times the size of the English-language Bible. Then he put the whole word-dump online and invited anyone to parse the data in interesting ways.

The results are incredibly cool. One of Tom’s readers had recently complained that Tom was too frequently starting his postings with the word “so.” Cal Henderson, one of Tom’s friends, decided to find out whether this was true, so he crunched the numbers to produce the first graph you see above, which plots out the frequency of posts beginning with “so”. Tom was forced to admit that things were looking pretty bad:

As you can see - a startling indictment and as Cal said to me on AIM, “evidence that you’re getting worse”.

Equally as interesting was the analysis that Richard Sodenberg performed. He measured Tom’s posts against the “Flesch-Kincaid scale”, a metric that determines the reading level in the US educational system that might be necessary to read one of Tom’s posts. That’s the second graph above: As you can see, in the early years Tom was all over the place, zipping everywhere from “infantile depths” to “unintelligibility”, as he puts it. But in November of 2002, the graph starts to even out — Tom began writing in the more “ideal” middle range of intellligibility.

Why? Interestingly, that date — November 2002 — is precisely when he switched from using Blogger to using Movable Type as his blogging system. Tom says that according to some of the data analyses he’s received, his posts under Movable Type have been getting longer and less frequent. Possibly that means he’s spending more time on each posting, which could well improve intelligibility. And, as he notes, Blogger does indeed seem to encourage people to post shorter, one-or-two sentence postings than does Movable Type. I too have noticed that, though I can’t quite figure out why: Any theories out there?

As for me and my postings, without doing any data analysis I’ve noticed a few trends:

i) I, too, have begun posting fewer and longer postings. This probably also because …

ii) I started off by posting a few times every day, but now I tend to save up my blogging for enormous, sprawling, three-or-four-hour sessions twice a week. That means this blog tends to lurch forward in big spasms. That’s partly because I’ve been far busier at work in the last year; I’m also travelling ffor work more frequently, and when I’m travelling I’m almost never at a computer, and thus cannot post.

iii) The amount of giant-squid postings have risen dramatically in the last year. The amount of postings about robots and artificial intelligence have remained pretty constant. I can’t figure out if there’s a connection here.

(Thanks to Boing Boing for this one!)

blog comments powered by Disqus

Search This Site


I'm Clive Thompson, the author of Smarter Than You Think: How Technology is Changing Our Minds for the Better (Penguin Press). You can order the book now at Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Powells, Indiebound, or through your local bookstore! I'm also a contributing writer for the New York Times Magazine and a columnist for Wired magazine. Email is here or ping me via the antiquated form of AOL IM (pomeranian99).

More of Me


Recent Comments

Collision Detection: A Blog by Clive Thompson