The Great Comment-Click Debate: A Teensy Insight?

We’ve been talking a lot lately here about commenting. Now that most sites give their authors access to stats for their stories, one of the natural first places to head in that discussion is to look at how many comments a person receives per number of clicks. I do this myself all the time. My most recent non-Silm40 stories on the SWG received one comment per thirty-seven clicks, and my five most recent stories on AO3 receive one top-level comment per seventy-three clicks. I often wave my hands at such stats and draw sweeping conclusions from them.

At which point, numerous people usually remark on what unreliable, bad data click-comment ratios are. They point out the myriad ways that one user can register multiple clicks on a single reading of a story. I’m which point I’m forced to concede that they’re right because I have no data on visitors, just clicks, and the two can be very different numbers, at least hypothetically.

However, while making a rare appearance on Fanfiction.net, looking for data for a completely different purpose, I realized that in the course of ignoring that site for years now, the data I want is actually right there. Fanfiction.net, if it has one advantage, probably collects the best data of any fanfic archive. Among the data it collects, it tells you clicks and visitors, by month and by story.

Now the main problem here is that I have not used FanFiction.net for years, and their stats only go back to July 2008. However, in 2011, partly as a dare and partly out of morbid curiosity, I did post my Tolkien-Lovecraft crossover Hastaina there, just to see what the reaction would be. So I do have one set of data for a new, single-chapter story on FanFiction.net.

Clicks per Vistor for Hastaina on Fanfiction.net

What the data shows is that, on Fanfiction.net, for this story, the average reader clicked on the story 1.3 times in the course of reading it. Or, looking at it another way, if you have three readers, one of them will click twice for whatever reason.

Now this is one story on one site. It doesn’t prove much, and data could look very different on other sites, which are set up differently and may, through the vagaries of design, send a reader more or less easily to the same story twice. (For example, when you leave a comment on a story on the SWG, you have the option of returning to the story, which if chosen, then records two clicks. Of course, that assumes that the reader is leaving a comment …)

It’s also possible that this data has changed over time. Glancing over the Silmarillion section of AO3, my sense is that, if anything, long multi-chapter stories have become more popular, and I don’t see many “ficlets,” much less the once-ubiquitous drabbles, which suggests that perhaps people are reading (and accustomed to reading) longer stories. Although, if true, this could go either way: Increased stamina could mean fewer clicks to finish a story, or a proclivity for longer stories could mean more clicks as readers develop the habit of reading a story over multiple sittings.

However, this story is also on the longer side for a short story. It is 6,049 words as counted by Fanfiction.net. The ten newest one-chapter stories in the Silmarillion section on AO3 as of writing this average 1,675 words, so this piece was definitely on the longer end of a one-chapter Silmfic. This could possibly elevate the number of clicks per visitor as visitors read it in more than one sitting.

But regardless, I think even this single example does show two things: 1) Readers do click more than once on a story in the course of reading it but 2) the number of clicks per reader is not astronomical–it is not even close to double, which is my usual “for the sake of argument” hypothetical–even on a longish story. (So the anecdotes of people who click four and five times on one-chapter story just to read it once do not appear, from this very limited data, to represent common practice.)

Now here is my request: If there is anyone out there who has posted a one-chapter Tolkienfic story to Fanfiction.net since July 2008, would you be willing to share your data with me so that I can get a better picture of this? If you are willing, please send me the number of views and the number of visitors for the first six months the story was posted on Fanfiction.net, as well as the story’s word count and the date it was posted, I’d be super grateful. I may publish the data but will not identify you or your story in any way. I can be reached at DawnFelagund@gmail.com and on all my social media. (Fanfiction.net hides this particular data under Traffic Stats -> Story Stats for your account. Select your story first, then you can look at the data month by month using that dropdown.)

And I can’t believe I’m saying this but I’m thinking as well of crossposting some of my own work to Fanfiction.net, which I’ve avoided for the better part of a decade now. For science, of course. 😉

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10 Responses to “The Great Comment-Click Debate: A Teensy Insight?”

  1. Independence1776 says:

    I know AO3 counts as a hit one click per 24-hour period per IP address. (When it counts as a new day I don’t know.)

    You’re thinking about collecting data; I’ve thought about posting there simply for comments.

    I have five one-shots there I’ve posted since 2008; I’ll email the data to you tonight.

    • Dawn says:

      Oh, that’s interesting information I did not know! (I suspect many people do not, based on conversations on this question …) Thank you!

      I posted my first story tonight. I already messed it up … *lolcry* That site has the absolute worst posting system of any archive I’ve ever used.

      I’m curious too what I’ll get as far as comments. Lots of people add my old stuff as favorites (a few, mysteriously, follow stories that are clearly complete?), but I almost never get comments there anymore. But most of what I’ve posted there is more than a decade old; they probably think I’m not involved in fandom anymore!

      Thanks in advance for the data!

      • Independence1776 says:

        I’m not sure how I learned that; maybe the site’s FAQs?

        I used ff.net between 2009-2012 because it was the only way I could get the font size to work properly on SOA. Seriously. If I posted the HTML directly from SWG to SOA, the font was giant, but if I added ff.net as an intermediate step to get their HTML to copy into SOA’s page, the font was fine.

        My profile there has a bolded “my fic can be found on SWG and AO3; I don’t post here anymore” on it. I had to mess with that a little, too, because I got a comment last year (I think it was last year? could have been the year before?) wishing I’d write more, so clearly my first attempt at that hadn’t worked. I’m honestly not sure how people have even bothered to look.

        I get a lot of favorites and yes, the follows for complete stories. The one explanation I’ve heard that makes sense is that favorites are public and follows are private, so if the story is a guilty pleasure or something, people will follow it rather than openly admit to liking it.

        Unfortunately, the last comment I got there was a negative reviewer who literally expected me to rewrite RAFA to suit her characterizations. I’m not exaggerating; I asked them outright if that’s what they wanted. I hope you’re able to avoid people like that, but knowing the site…

        • Dawn says:

          Okay, that is officially the most interesting reason I’ve ever heard for using ff.net! 😀 (I don’t belong to SoA, but does their rich-text editor–which I assume they have–have a Paste from Word or a similar function? Sometimes that will strip out the markup that causes that sort of weirdness.)

          I had explained to me once that follows on finished stories are similar to a kudos: acknowledging one enjoyed a story without commenting.

          I’ve experienced the best and worst in commenting on ff.net. I’ve met some really insightful, thoughtful, wonderful people, but also been told things like my characters hug too much and I should write all my males as though they’re interested in only playing Dance Dance Revolution. Or my personal favorite: the self-described “Tolkien scholar” who then spelled gonorrhea incorrectly in a comment. (The very fact that this word was used probably characterizes the level of discourse this person was capable of.)

          Honestly, I’m kind of looking forward to stirring the pot a bit. 😉 I totally plan to post some of my slash. I’ve wanted to post By the Light of Roses there for years, just to stir the pot, but lacked the energy to figure out if it met their ratings guidelines.

          • Independence1776 says:

            What I would do was paste my half-marked up fic onto SWG. Once that was posted, I’d grab the pure HTML supplied by the HTML button. If I dropped that into SOA, giant text. If I dropped the HTML into ff.net, grabbed their HTML, and dropped that into SOA, the text would be fine. I have zero idea why. But I stopped posting on SOA and ff.net at the same time, so I don’t remember what SOA’s upload screen is like.

            Huh. I haven’t heard that explanation before. I’m not sure I buy it for everyone because I often get both favorited and followed.

            Me, too! It’s sadly the worst of the bunch who stick out in my memory, though.

            Stirring the pot’s always an interesting past-time. :) At this point, I figure posting darkfic on AO3 is pot-stirring enough given the distaste a vocal segment of general fandom has for the genre.

  2. Himring says:

    Hi Dawn,

    You’ve got a couple of comments on the LJ feed of this post. I thought I should alert you, as you won’t be getting notifications for them, will you?

    Also, I was one of those who commented that sometimes it takes me three separate clicks on a fic to leave one comment (especially when I have been busy or tired). I’ve always been fully prepared to accept that I may be an outlier on this.

    I confess I’m quite uncomfortable at the idea of you using my AO3 stats to prove anything. I think I didn’t mention it last time, because I was feeling very self-conscious about it, but quite a number of clicks on my fics on AO3 are authorial. Not only do I often do at least one editorial tweak online, after I’ve already hit post, I also often re-read my shorter fics online before I answer a comment or even when I’ve just got a kudos for them or want to find out what I said there when I’m writing another fic.
    I find it easier than to dig the fic out of the files on my PC. I didn’t think it mattered on AO3, because I imagined that everyone was looking at the kudos and not the hits when they assess other people’s fics.
    I’ve avoided doing this so recklessly on SWG, because I do know that people look at the hit counts there, although I usually have at least one false hit on my SWG hit counts as well, due to an editing pass.
    It is quite possible, of course, that I am very much a statistical outlier in this, as well.

    I’ve not posted anything to FFnet, so I have no stats to offer there. Maybe I should, just to offer anybody who only reads there a taster. If I get around to it, I’ll let you know the numbers I get.

    BTW, I’m not sure whether it’s come up, but there also seems to be a Tolkien fandom on Wattpad. However, I know nothing about it or their comment behaviour in general, although I did hear someone got quite a lot of comments there.

    • Dawn says:

      I confess I’m quite uncomfortable at the idea of you using my AO3 stats to prove anything.

      Did I? I’m confused.

      quite a number of clicks on my fics on AO3 are authorial.

      I’m guilty of that too. Last night, while posting a story to ff.net for data-gathering purposes, I think I had to open it four times because the formatting was fine in the preview and then showed extensive, messy HTML markup on the site itself. (My first thought: “Well there goes my data!” :D)

      It would be ideal if clicks were not measured for one’s own logged-in account. I really need to learn PHP so maybe that could be a reality.

      Indy did note in the comment above that apparently AO3 only records one click per unique visitor in a 24-hour period, which is useful in curbing some of the click inflation (though not all), especially that which comes from checking one’s own story after posting it. (Although I’m also guilty of returning to my own stories to reread them if I get a late comment [since I forget my own work remarkably well] or to grab a copy because it’s easier than finding and opening it in Word.)

      there also seems to be a Tolkien fandom on Wattpad.

      That doesn’t surprise me, but I’d be interested to know what it looks like. Wattpad is used by all of my students (I think) who write fanfiction, so I always associate it with very young writers. I think when I did the survey I had one person who selected that they used Wattpad?

      • Himring says:

        Sorry,I didn’t mean to imply that you had based any arguments on my stories specifically!
        But any statistics about the Silm fandom on AO3 in general presumably do also include data from possible outliers such as myself. Probably not statistically significant, though!

        • Dawn says:

          No worries! I just wanted to make sure I hadn’t done something without your permission or that made you uncomfortable because if I had/was, I wanted to make sure I stopped! :)

          • Himring says:

            I expressed myself badly!
            I had no intention of complaining about anything.
            I was just being a bit paranoid about someone maybe thinking I had artificially been inflating my click counts (in a self-serving way, that is) if I mentioned some of those clicks were actually mine.

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