It’s been a while since I’ve done one of my random musings pieces. I think about all sorts of shit and, sometimes, I type up such notions and present them to you, my loyal readers. In this piece, I thought I might talk a bit about this blog itself and how it performed over the past year, the various topics discussed here and then let my stream of consciousness take this piece in whatever direction the wetware points.
I had gone into my web analytics page to take a look at a few things and, as I found certain trends interesting, I thought I’d share them with you as you may find something of interest in such. As this is really musings about these numbers, I didn’t do any math with the numbers beyond calculating a few averages and lumping things together in a manner that makes sense to me. Thus, don’t draw any serious conclusions about anything from this piece as, in addition to being heavily biased by my own ideas on matters, the statistics are noisy and are in absence of any independent data from which a conclusion could be found. Thus, as it says on the programs given out at Vegas psychic shows, “for entertainment purposes only.”
I’d also like to express my sincere gratitude to all of the people who help me make this blog possible. There are a number of you out there, I appreciate the help you give me by providing answers to technical questions, advice on organizing articles and the other things you do to permit me to publish articles that are reasonably accurate and informative. Of course, I’d also like to thank all of you who visit the blog, read the articles, occasionally leave comments and so on, it’s you readers that motivate me to keep writing.
When I wrote the BlindConfidential blog, I used some hit count utility available to those of us who wrote on blogger back in those days. I’d look at the statistics now and then and occasionally feel proud of a big week or feel disappointed in a bad one. Those statistics were very raw and extraordinarily noisy and I doubt they reflected true visits in that that particular utility didn’t even filter for uniqueness.
In late November 2013, a year ago or so, I decided to install Piwik to track statistics about this blog. Piwik is profoundly more interesting than the utility I used previously, it’s UI is mostly accessible (my best experience with it was with NVDA and FireFox but quite acceptable with VoiceOver and Safari on OS X), it’s developers seem committed to improving its accessibility and it has a panoply of features for analyzing a site’s web traffic. I turned my Piwik installation live on 12/1/13, a year ago so now have twelve full months of data about this blog.
Note: I installed Piwik and started looking at our statistics purely out of curiosity and not for any business purpose. this blog and its predecessors does not accept advertising nor does it ask for donations. Hence, gathering analytics for me is a intellectual endeavor that leads me to questions like, “Why do I get a lot of hits when I write about topic A but very few if I write about topic B?”
The Big Numbers
In the twelve months ending November 30, 2014, this blog, discounting for bots and such, received something more than 26,000 hits, an unremarkable number in an era of viral Internet media but not bad for a crackpot like me. A bit unfortunate also is that, to get a truly accurate representation of my 2014 statistics, I’ll exclude nearly 6000 of those hits in my analysis as they all happened when Daring Fireball linked to an article I had written here in 2013 which alone accounts for nearly 6000 hits. Thus, I’ll be using the number 20,000 as the grand total for the year and will note otherwise when and if I use the top line number.
In total, we published 22 articles here this year which gives us a mean hit count of about 900 per article. A mean isn’t a terribly interesting statistic, though, as the distribution of hits across the articles is far from even.
The Article Popularity Curve
This year, the subject matter on this blog can be broken down in a variety of ways. Most obviously to me, however, is that I wrote about accessibility on Android and Apple products, I wrote articles about the history of screen reading on Windows and I wrote what we’ll lump together as general interest pieces, a category we’ll call “other” giving us four major topic categories.
When, in 2014, we published an article here about Android accessibility, it attracted a mean readership (excluding the article that Daring Fireball linked to) of more than 2000 hits with one, Testing Android Accessibility: I Give Up receiving just over 4500 on its own. Also interesting is that, including the article that got the mainstream link, a number of the most popular articles this year were those that I had written in 2013 about Android accessibility as well.
In second place comes the articles about screen reader and access technology history, specifically those articles I wrote about my personal experience during the days when the Windows screen reader wars were raging between FS and GW Micro. Of the top ten articles this year, three come from this category and one was a 2013 article on the subject that was also (based in the really crappy analytics thing I used then) the most popular article of that year as well, The Death Of Screen Reader Innovation. I’ve been writing articles like these since the BC days and they’ve always been popular among readers.
Articles we published critical of Apple accessibility were the third major group of pieces that I had written in 2014. These gathered a mean hit count of about 500 each and, to me, were a disappointment. I hadn’t written anything terribly critical of Apple in years, since the BC days in fact. Unlike the Android and historical pieces, these articles got few comments and little noise on Twitter as well.
The fourth and final category, the one I call “Other” as it ranges in subject matter from William Faulkner and Led Zeppelin to announcing a couple of things to preserving the history of access technology, received very few hits whatsoever. It appears that, if Gonz Blinko strays too far from his central themes, very few people take the time to click through.
I “advertise” each blog article the same way, when I first post it, I send out a tweet with the headline and the link and, when appropriate, include the #a11y and #accessibility hash tags. About five days later, I’ll tweet out the link again with an “in case you missed it” preface. When I last looked, I had just over 600 Twitter followers. If someone tweets something I especially like about an article I’ll retweet and favorite it as well. Thus, I don’t spend much time marketing this blog and I’m happy to see that the numbers on some articles must come from word of mouth as they exceed the number to whom I send links.
Analyzing These Numbers
Here’s where I find myself scratching my head. I’ve broken a number of the things we’ve published here this year into series. The series that, by far and away received the most hits was, “Testing Android Accessibility” with I Give Up getting over 4500 and The Deaf-Blind Perspective and The Programmers’ Perspective receiving around 1200 each. Historically, my articles get about three quarters of their hits in the first three days after publication and the totals tend to stop rising after an article has been live for around ten days. This series, however, as a group continues to get about 75 hits per article per month showing continued interest in our testing.
What distinguishes the three “Testing Android Accessibility” pieces from others I had written critical of Android or the much less popular articles I did on Apple? What made these three pieces so much more attractive than the more outlandish [Amish User Experience10 or Do We Get What We Pay For?,
I think the thing that made these three pieces so much more popular is that they were the most data driven articles I’ve ever written or, in the deaf-blind case, that a guest author had written. While those articles contained opinion, the conclusions were drawn from actual test results included in the articles themselves. Most of the content here is derived from my somewhat educated personal thoughts on a subject; in this series, we spent a lot of time doing a lot of work in preparation before they were written and published and I think they’re success reflects that effort.
The Statistics Appear Upside Down
The next question that I find when reading my Piwik report comes when I compare the relative success of articles on this blog with actual marketshare numbers, published and observed. As far as I can tell, Apple has an overwhelmingly large portion of the blind user market on mobile devices and Android, with published statistics at 12% but an observed share that’s even smaller, has had at best marginal uptake in this community but, if I publish an article about Android accessibility, I’ll have 500 hits in the first few hours while an Apple piece is lucky to get 500 hits in its lifetime.
Android fanboy behavior cannot account for this large a discrepancy but our friends on the Eyes Free list do feel a fierce sense of loyalty to their chosen platform and I’m certain to hear from them when I write a critical piece about the platform. At the same time, while vocal, there aren’t that many people who are actually active on Eyes Free and in other blindness and Android communities. Thus, the fanboys, my haters cannot account for the popularity alone. Digging a bit deeper into my Piwik statistics, I find that (including the article Daring Fireball linked to), only 6.8% of the 26,000 hits came from Android systems while more than 50% came from Windows, and roughly 30% from Apple products which, allowing for a reasonably large margin of error, roughly reflects the actual user distribution among blind technology consumers both published and observed.
Nothing in the Piwik reports about geography says much about who reads these articles either. One outlier here is that all three of the Testing Android Accessibility articles got a spike in hits from a specific city in South Korea where Samsung has a plant. So, maybe an actual engineering organization is paying attention. I notice a similar spike from Cupertino, California when I write about Apple and if I mentioned GW Micro, I would see a spike in hits from Fort Wayne, Indiana. But, I can’t believe that the insiders, the actual engineering sorts responsible for this technology cause such a large bump in hits either. In fact, when I drill down on these numbers, I see that we’re talking about a very small number of actual hits so, statistically, we can’t derive any conclusions from the geographical data.
By looking at my Piwik report, I learn that most of the hits I get here come via Twitter but, after that, it’s search engines. And, indeed, the top search term that leads people to this blog is, in 2014, “Android Accessibility.” This, in turn, becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, people google on that term, they find one of our articles, they click and our SEO gets better so it’s more likely that the next person who searches on that term will find us and so on.
Over the past couple of days, I have talked about these statistics and this article trying to find conclusions we can draw. Fundamentally, why do so many Windows, iOS and Macintosh users come to this blog to read articles about Android? The only solid answer we could come up with is, “we don’t know.” We all seem to suspect that people read articles about what they don’t already own as, if they use Apple devices, they already know about its defects so don’t come here to read about such. We came to a few other conclusions but none were supported by the data so I’ll leave them out.
What About The History Articles?
A whole lot of people upon meeting me for the first time tell me that they really enjoy these articles. I enjoy writing them as well as I get to talk about the days when I was actually relevant, productive and on top of the world’s most popular screen reader. I don’t just write them to massage my ego though. These articles have and have had for years a running theme, the lack of fundamental business principles, specifically the lack of real competition in the blindness sector of access technology.
I think these articles remain popular for a couple of reasons. First, a lot of you readers have been looking at my stuff for a lot of years and these articles tend to be part of a continuum of commentary. Those days were an exciting time to be around the AT biz, in JAWS, we were doing significant things with each release and, as happens during periods of irrational exuberance, we thought that run would never end.
In addition to the rapid progress in screen reading during that time, we also saw the beginning of Section 508 which, while certainly not a success even a decade later, caused an explosion in new jobs in the federal government for blind people. Not only was the JAWS marketshare growing to complete dominance, the market itself was expanding faster than ever previously observed. Those days were a lot of fun and I hope another generation of accessibility specialists gets to experience something as much fun in the future.
Lastly, a whole lot of the things I predicted on the pages of BlindConfidential came true. Readers who were rightfully skeptical of the articles I published back then (I encourage my readers to be as skeptical as possible of everything I write as well as everything else they read on a blog and in mainstream publications as well, believe nothing, not even this) have, years later, come back and agreed that my predictions about the Windows screen reading future had largely come true. The lack of competition in the space allowed JAWS to deteriorate, falling sales caused by their suicidal business plan prevented GW Micro from catching up, NVDA came along and grabbed ~22% of the Windows screen reader market but, lagging in their Office support, haven’t caught on in institutional settings and the Windows screen reading world is a quagmire of differently broken access technologies.
The Year’s Biggest Disappointment
As I’ve written in the introduction section of various other articles, I’m never certain what will and what will not be a hit on this blog. Having analyzed the Piwik reports, I suppose that I can predict that an article about Android or screen reader history will outperform something I might do about Apple and that few people will read anything I write about anything else but, on a specific article, I never really know. One such article published back in July, Preserving Our History was one such a piece.
In Preserving I present the problem that the history of access technology for people who are blind seems to remain unwritten. Products I felt were of tremendous historical importance, the Blazie Braille ’N Speak for instance and people like it’s inventor, Dean Blazie, have no Wikipedia entries and very little of merit written about them anywhere online. Wikipedia has long articles about the completely random pieces of mainstream technology but even the most groundbreaking access technologies are disappearing to history.
I thought this subject felt both important and of interest to a broad group of potential readers. I wrote the piece and, as I describe above, tweeted out a link with the two accessibility related hash tags I use. The next day, I looked at Piwik and saw that maybe 25 people had clicked through. After waiting a few days, I did my usual second tweet and was greeted with the most deafening silence I could have imagined. To date, the article has received fewer than 100 hits. People in this community, excepting those who wrote comments or sent me a note through the contact form, just don’t seem to have an interest in preserving our history. This made me sad.
What About The Future?
In preparation for this piece, I reread the twenty top articles from my statistics. This blog was really dark this year. Almost every article I wrote in 2014 has a rather negative conclusion. I’m uncertain if it will be any more cheerful moving forward.
For the first year in many, 2014 saw no new fiction written under the Gonz Blinko nom de plume. I have three such pieces in various sates of disrepair and incompletion but my inner Hunter S. Thompson has failed to inspire me to lampoon the industry and my own life lately. Some people around FS hated those pieces but, in general, they were pretty popular. I don’t like poking fun at people whom I don’t know well as I’m not sure how they’ll take it and, these days, I do try to be less of a dick than I was when I wrote BC, especially in its early days. So, to those of you who’ve asked, you can probably expect new Gonz material in the coming year.
The Gonz Blinko Predictions for 2015
I’m going to take a looked into my somewhat resin covered crystal ball, well, actually, I cannot afford an actual crystal ball so I’m using the water chamber on a glass bong that I bought up in Haight-Ashbury a few years back to observe the murky future. I’m feeling exceptionally intuitive as I stare into this bit of glass and see nothing (I can’t see, I’m blind you morons) but the sound of the diffuser clinking against the sides surrounded by the splashing of the water makes me as confident of the following predictions as I am in the dead Sylvia Brown’s ability to find a kidnapped child:
- Something important regarding accessibility for people with vision impairment will come out of Amazon. I don’t know whether this means that Peter Korn will lead an effort to fork Android accessibility and make a proprietary Amazon solution for Android, whether we’ll see tremendous improvements to the Amazon web properties accessibility or what specifically will happen but, from the sounds in the bong, I predict significance.
- Google’s accessibility will see some dramatic improvements but will probably mostly come in the second half of 2015. This prediction is based on one bit of actual data, Vic Tsaran, a blind guy who did a terrific job on accessibility at Yahoo now seems to be leading the charge at Google. Past performance does not guarantee future returns but I’ll wager a few bucks that Victor, if anyone, can start fixing the systemic problems with accessibility at Google.
- NVDA and VoiceOver will continue to see marketshare growth while JAWS, Window-Eyes and others continue to fall. One serious wildcard in this specific equation is whether or not Narrator in Windows 10 which apparently has a scripting language built-in will succeed. I don’t know anyone who has tried to use the Narrator in W10 and, obviously, I haven’t heard anyone tell me that they wrote or edited a script for such so all I can say is that this is an interesting random data point that we should keep an eye on in the coming year.
- Samsung, for reasons entirely unrelated to accessibility, will follow in Amazon’s footsteps and fork Android and give it its own brand name. Huge companies rarely like being beholden to each other and Samsung needs its own OS to optimize for features on its hardware. A major reason that iOS devices can outperform their Android cousins while having a lower powered CPU results from its software being optimized for very specific hardware components, something impossible in a generic platform like Android.
- A number of new micro businesses will launch selling NVDA technical support, making my favorite Windows screen reader considerably more attractive to institutional installations.
- I will publish at least one article that gets me slammed by the fanboy community surrounding some bit of access technology. It’s unlikely that this will be the Android peeps as, given that Google has brought on an individual like Tsaran suggests they mean business so, while I would still recommend avoiding Android if you’re blind, I’ll postpone any further analysis for a while to wait and see what Victor might accomplish there. And, on a personal note, I’m really bored with all things Android, progress in accessibility in the L release, based on scraping Eyes Free and not testing anything myself, seems to remain tragically slow so there’s nothing left for me to write about regarding it until something gets profoundly better or actually gets much worse.
- Windows tablets and very low cost micro-laptop things from Dell, HP and elsewhere will emerge as the first real competition to iOS in the blindness mobile accessibility space. I see a whole lot of hardware coming online in the under $300 price point range that, if a user tosses NVDA or their favorite screen reader onto them, they’ll have a low cost portable device with a UI they’ve been using for years.
- Something important will happen regarding accessibility to mathematics for screen reader users. Over the past 18 months, we’ve seen MathML support added to VoiceOver and in JAWS 16, we saw the impressive demo that Sina Bahram and his friends at Design Science did at CSUN 2014 in this area as well. Meanwhile, I’m hearing poor reports about the VO and JAWS solutions in their current incarnation but the trend points toward improvement in providing math to blind people.
- Sadly, I believe that accessibility on Apple devices will both remain the best thing available for blind users in the mobile space but the accessibility to such will continue to deteriorate. On any institutional sale where accessibility is a requirement, iOS can continue winning the sales in absence of any real competition on accessibility. Hence, there’s no market force pushing Apple to regain its 100% compliance policy, something I think is reflected in both iOS 8.x.x and OS X Yosemite.
Will these things come true? I don’t know, the bong likes to give hints of the future but is rarely specific. These predictions are Gonz’s first attempts at the paranormal so his intuition may not be focussed properly.
I want to thank all of you who’ve visited the blog, read the articles, posted the comments, sent me emails through the contact form, tweeted and retweeted links to the articles, connected with me on Twitter, told me that you read my work when we’ve met at a conference or participated in this blog in anyway in 2014 and, indeed, over the entire 8 years I’ve been blogging. I honestly enjoy reading all comments posted here, even those that are quite antagonistic toward me personally.
Of all of the comments we got in 2014, my favorite part of any of them came when a reader wrote describing me as an “irresponsible journalist,” because, it elevates me, a self-described stoner, crackpot and loudmouth to a level of “journalism,” something I’d never say about myself. If this guy is right, I’ve taken a step up from blogger, an author who is irresponsible almost by definition up a few notches all of the way up to journalist, albeit an irresponsible one. Those words in a comment on this blog make me smile as they suggest that, although inaccurately, some people actually think these articles have actual power to influence people and their purchasing decisions.
I’m not sure what to expect on this blog in the coming year. I’ll focus less on Android as there’s nothing left to say about it other than “I hope Victor is successful at Google.” I’ll likely explore the competition or lack thereof theme from different angles as we see events actually unfold. And, while there my least popular pieces, I’ll probably be writing more articles in the “other” category as that seems to be the ideas that I’m thinking up lately.
Thanks again for your support!