AppShopper.com, TouchArcade.com, Stats, and Stickiness

So, this blog has been relatively quiet. Not because I haven’t been keeping busy… in fact, I might have been keeping too busy. In retrospect, the quitting decision was clearly the right decision. One major perk of not being a physician is that for the first time in many many years, I have the major holidays off. I’m still online, of course… but I don’t have to be. 🙂

What’s been keeping me busy has been two relatively new sites and also maintaining MacRumors.com. My two new projects have been TouchArcade.com (cofounded with Blake) and AppShopper.com. Both are iPhone/iPod Touch related sites dealing with the many new apps that are coming out.

For anyone who is serious about their websites, you’ll find that you quickly become a stat addict. Traffic stats, referral stats, income stats… they all become the most interesting things in the world. It’s easy to waste yourself away just examining your stats. If you’ve ever sold items on eBay, it’s a bit of the same feeling.

A bit over a year ago I decided to post public numbers about my MacRumors stats. Historically, I’d been very secretive about my traffic numbers. For no particular reason except that most people are secretive about them. I changed my mind at one point, in part due to the example of Gawker’s network of sites. For whatever reason, Nick Denton has always been very transparent about his traffic numbers. In the end, I decided it can only help a site like MacRumors, which tends to get more traffic than respect. In the long run, I think the numbers have helped, in that they’ve been quoted in a number of places including my New York Times article.

So, getting into the new sites, both have been doing remarkable well — in fact, better than I had really hoped so early on.

Here’s TouchArcade.com’s running monthly pageviews:

Going up is always good. This monthly graph gives you a running 30 day total — so the last point on the graph gives you the last 30 days. The page-views per day gives you a better look at this moment in time:

By this graph, it looks like we could approach 3 million pageviews/month in the near future, if the trends hold true.

Now AppShopper’s monthly trend:

It seems less interesting until you realize that we’re talking about 7 million page views/month already. A more interesting graph I think is from when I first “launched” AppShopper back in September (graph is in pageviews/day):

The site went from very little traffic to 100,000-130,000 daily pageviews in an instant. What’s striking about that graph is not that there was a big spike — any major exposure is going to get you a spike — but the “stickiness” of the site is remarkable. Usually there’s a substantial drop off after people hit a site in a big spike like that, but AppShopper retained a remarkable percentage of those people after the first visit. (There was recently a Black Friday spike that wasn’t nearly as sticky, but still showing a solid residual traffic).

Obviously, “stickiness” is one of those factors that will determine the rate of your success or failure. If you are gaining more users than you are losing each day, your traffic is going to grow. Meanwhile, “non-sticky” sites are going to have to keep finding new users, and it will be harder to keep them around.

Posted in Business, Mac Web | 11 Comments

50% of Primary Care Doctors Planning on Cutting Hours, Retiring or Quitting

CNN reports on the results of an interesting survey of primary care doctors which found that nearly 50% of them are looking to quit or reduce hours. Many of the reasons cited dealt with too much red tape surrounding insurance and government.

Obviously an interesting statistic given my recent departure.

The breakdown is as follows (PDF):

– 11%, or more than 35,000 doctors nationwide, said they plan to retire
– 13% said they plan to seek a job in a non-clinical healthcare setting, which would remove them from active patient care
– 20% said they will cut back on patients seen
– 10% said they will work part-time

Posted in Business | 7 Comments

Citizen Journalism Follow-Up Notes

My post about the the false Steve Jobs Heart Attack rumor has gotten more traction than I expected. And while I pointed the finger at Silicon Alley Insider, it wasn’t really a personal attack. SAI is still amongst my favorite sites.

SAI just happened to be the vehicle in this very prominent example, and I can defend some of their actions. Mostly, I believe that this is a constructive conversation, and I hope SAI’s Henry Blodget realizes that.

Blodget wrote a response as to why they linked to the rumor. I don’t want to nitpick, but thought I’d write a brief followup.

So first note: I am perhaps more “defensive” in my publishing of news than most publications. The reason is that the percentage of intentionally fake stories is very high in the Mac rumor world. This means that if I take a given rumor submission, the chance of it being fake is greater than it being true.

In Defense of Publishing

In SAI’s defense, there is a point at which a story has too much momentum to ignore, regardless of its content. The exact point at which that happens, however, is up for debate.

The Steve Jobs story was climbing the ranks of Digg and already being talked about on Twitter. While I don’t think it would have made Digg’s front page, it may have only been a matter of time before the story was reported somewhere. Though, I suspect that it could have been originally reported as a debunking, or with more skepticism.

In the Future

I disagree with Blodget’s claim that they wouldn’t do anything differently in the future. So will SAI really publish another rumor from iReport of the same magnitude and say “it could be true or false. we’re working on verifying it”? If so, I can have an iReport story ready for you in a few minutes.

Clearly, if another major but unverified story is published on iReport (or similar site), people will report on it far more skeptically. This degree of skepticism is perhaps that little bit that makes the difference.

Posted in Mac Web | 3 Comments

Citizen Journalism Not a Failure, Blogs a Failure?

This morning a rumor about Steve Jobs having a heart attack started circulating. The person who started the rumor submitted it to MacRumors using an anonymous proxy IP address. I saw the report right when it was submitted and after some brief research dismissed it. The story was also posted to CNN’s iReport (citizen journalism site) and also appeared on Digg with a large number of diggs (but not yet on the front page). I tracked back and found the story was being promoted by a semi-coordinated effort by members of the 4chan message board.

So, I chose to ignore it, since we get fake rumor submissions daily.

Digg users also figured out that this was likely fake, and despite the concentrated efforts, the story was kept from appearing on the front page due to a corresponding number of Digg users burying the story. This is how it’s supposed to work. Most digg users are apparently knowledgeable enough to know that a post on a site like iReport is as legitimate as a random forum post… which is to say not that much.

But here’s where it got real. As best I can tell, Alley Insider — a site that I like and has a relatively large readership — posted the story as possibly true. Here’s an excerpt from their original report before they corrected it:

Apple’s Steve Jobs Rushed To ER After Heart Attack, Says CNN Citizen Journalist

“Citizen journalism” gets its first real test. A story of major consequence that, thus far, no one else has reported.

CNN’s iReport:

Steve Jobs was rushed to the ER just a few hours ago after suffering a major heart attack. I have an insider who tells me that paramedics were called after Steve claimed to be suffering from severe chest pains and shortness of breath. My source has opted to remain anonymous, but he is quite reliable. I haven’t seen anything about this anywhere else yet, and as of right now, I have no further information, so I thought this would be a good place to start. If anyone else has more information, please share it.

We’re making calls, but as yet we have no idea whether it’s true. Confirmation/denial the moment we get it.

Meanwhile, very interesting that this report appears on CNN’s site. If it proves correct, CNN will look great. If it is wrong, CNN’s credibility will likely be significantly damaged–and we wouldn’t be surprised if this caused them to pull back from “citizen journalism.”

From here it seems the story kept growing, and Apple PR even issued a denial. The story’s been picked up by numerous sites as a failure of citizen journalism.

It’s nothing of the sort.

Citizen journalism (which is a stupid term) works as it always has. People post random crap — much of which could be fake or made up — but you know this when you read a site like that. You know that digg submissions that make outrageous claims are likely self serving posts. You do not take these reports at face value.

But, if you run a prominent and influential site, the moment you publish something, you are giving it some credibility. You have filtered it from the mass of information on the internet as something worthy to post. You may not believe it, but just by posting it, you add credibility to it.

If you want to blame someone for dropping Apple’s stock price today, you can point fingers at the individuals on 4chan or the person that originally submitted it, but the real reason it gained traction is the reporting of it on mainstream blog sites.

I don’t expect everyone to adopt my personal approach to publishing, but those are my thoughts on today’s events.

Posted in Mac Web | 29 Comments

Ah the Irony, Tiernan Ray Misreports My Misreport

Tiernan Ray of Tech Trader Daily posted a piece the other day about what sounds like a great story: a rumor site confirming one report by using the same report!

Now, this sort of thing has probably happened over the years (though I hope not by MacRumors), and is in part the reason I generally dislike analysts reports. Analyst reports frequently seem to reflect the circulating rumors and when they consolidate and publish their reports, it frequently results in somewhat of an echo-chamber.

The MacRumors story in question cited a PCWorld article this week which described a new analyst report. The report, however, was actually not new and was a re-reporting of one published one week prior.

Without access to the reports, I took PCWorld’s word on it, which I think is a forgivable mistake, though it didn’t really change the meat of the story.

Now, Ray claims the following:

Even more hilarious, in the Macrumors post, the author says that the phantom report from today about updates to the Mac laptops and iPods is “consistent with whispers we’ve heard.” And he cites … ta da! A post from AppleInsider last week commenting on the original August six note. Oy vey.

The problem with this is that it’s clear that he followed the “consistent with whispers” link but didn’t actually read it.

I understand where the confusion might have come, as it does link back to our first reporting of the same analyst report. But that story also included an original source from us, which is what I was referencing:

While rumors have focused on new iPod nanos, we [MacRumors] have heard whispers that an iPod Touch update is also likely in the same timeframe.

So, obviously, this is a rather minor point and I initially just brushed it off, though after seeing it picked up elsewhere, I felt I had to respond.

I know some of you might think that it’s not that big a deal since these are all rumors, but I’ve said before, I take rumors very seriously. And MacRumors, as a rule, takes a particularly skeptical look at most claims.

Posted in MacRumors.com | 1 Comment

On Starting a Blog

Based on the news that I was pursuing a career in “blogging”, I naturally got a lot of emails from individuals who asked about how to start in blogging, how to build traffic, and similar plans. I promised them I’d post some thoughts here.

I guess the first thing to note is that describing what I do as “blogging” isn’t entirely accurate — in that it’s not all I do. It’s the accepted term, of course, and one that I adopted because it best describes my business.

The “blog” term has become so broad that it now encompasses a small site like this, but also applies to MacRumors.com. The act of blogging is simply writing a story and posting it to your site. Just by filling in a few blanks and clicking on a few links, you can easily set up your own blog on WordPress.com.

The trick to being profitable in blogging, of course, is a combination of finding a large enough audience and being able to make money off that audience. Trying to extend your blog into a business will require you to become familiar with ad sales and ad networks. As traffic in your site grows beyond the confines of your current web hosting account, you may have to become familiar with the intricacies of web hosting and dedicated servers.

These problems, though, are good ones to have, because it means you’ve grown large enough that they matter. Most hobby blogs won’t ever have to worry about these issues.

For those of you who are already blogging or have established sites, this advice is not for you. Once you are familiar with the markets, you can make strategic decisions to start a site on whatever topic you want.

For those of you who were inspired by the story about someone who was able to turn their hobby into their career but don’t know where to start, here’s my advice on starting a blog:

1. Pick a topic you care about. I’m not the first person to say this, but it really can’t be emphasized enough. I’ve been running MacRumors for eight years. Eight years is a long time. The first three years were immediately after the .com bust. There was no money in sight. I was doing it purely for my own enjoyment.

Things change over 8 years. I moved apartments/houses four times. I went from medical school, to residency, to fellowship to private practice. I got married. Had a child.

Few things stayed constant during those 8 years, but my interest in the site did. If you choose a topic you don’t really care about, the first time you take a break from it, you may never come back.

2. Pick a topic other people care about. This should be obvious. You need an audience. Seemingly “niche” markets are ok as long as there’s a loyal following. In many ways, I got lucky that Apple has done so well over these past years, but it was no accident I chose a topic so seemingly addictive. Apple rumors were already a phenomenon prior to MacRumors.com

3. Get a domain name. Buy a domain name. Pick a good one. You can get one for $9/year. Your domain name is your brand. It’s ridiculous to not get a name from day one. You can read my previous thoughts about it.

4. Just Start. There are always reasons not to do it. There are always bigger and better plans just on the horizon. But you may never get started if you keep planning.

I think I’ll stop there for now. I’m sorry if it seems like such a basic and obvious list, but I think those are the essentials.

I also don’t think people should be discouraged by my 8 year figure. I’d said before I think many people could and would have made the switch after 3-4 years. Recently some blogs have been able to rise to prominence over the course of only 1 or 2 years. Of course, competition can be tougher these days with the many corporate-backed blogs.

Posted in The Web | 13 Comments

New York Times and More…

By now, many people have seen the New York Times article about me and my quitting medicine to pursue a career on my websites. Overall, the response has been amazing, and generally very positive. The article itself was amongst the most emailed articles at the New York Times for that day. Besides being a surprising story (‘M.D. quits medicine to blog’), I think it struck a chord in a lot of people.

Job and career satisfaction are always hot issues and I suspect there are a lot of people have that secret career in the back-of-their-mind that they wished they had pursued.

Understandably, there was a lot of coverage in the blogs and especially from those with similar aspirations. Several people had emailed me about thoughts and advice on building a site. I don’t know if there’s a magic formula, but I’ll share some thoughts in a later post.

Finally, there were a few people who found offense to my career switch. I understand some of the issues surrounding it, but I think the best thing I can say is it was a very difficult decision for me at the time, and also a very personal one. Some people are focusing on the money, but in reality, it was a lifestyle and family choice. I suspect that given the same options, most people would have made the same decision.

Posted in The Web | 12 Comments