This blog gets an average of between five and 10 clicks a day. The number goes up occasionally, when someone clicks around the blog a while and looks at different pages or at the archive, or when I post a comment to a different and more popular blog on a broadly appealing topic like science fiction. It goes down during universities’ winter break and during the summer, and then eventually increases again throughout September and into October. Traffic seems to have increased slightly since I started the blog, nearly four and a half years ago.
Those statistics come from TypePad’s basic statistics function, which tells me what pages people viewed, what other page linked to those pages (if any: usually this is Google Reader, a search engine, or a comment thread on a more popular blog), and at what time. It doesn’t tell me the IP addresses of the people who clicked, or how long they continued looking at the page. I could install Google Analytics and get some more information, but I’ve never gotten around to it. I’d have to set up an account with them, I think, and poke around to see how to use the tool, and from what I’ve seen, Google Analytics can slow web page loading.
I also use FeedBurner. A couple of years ago, I switched the link at the side of the blog to allow the RSS feed to go through FeedBurner, instead of using the feed supplied by TypePad directly. FeedBurner has some additional stats, which have also gone up very slightly over time. Right now, it reports between 35 and 40 subscribers using RSS readers, plus between 15 and 25 subscribers using browsers. The split between different applications varies, and it seems unlikely that anyone is switching back and forth between Firefox and Chrome from one day to the next, so it seems reasonable to conclude that the numbers are slightly higher than that. There’s also a smattering of spiders and search engine builders. Anyone who gets at the feed before it goes through FeedBurner isn't collected in those numbers (as far as I know, there's no way to get that kind of data, the people subscribing to and reading a raw RSS feed, much less their identifying data). And it's possible that there are ways of reading the blog that bypass all these statistics-gathering mechanisms entirely, which I'd learn about if I really researched how to build and promote a blog, but which I don't know about, so conceivably a handful more. Sixty people on the entire World Wide Web who are looking at the blog isn’t really a lot, but as an increase from thirty a year ago, on a blog that’s really only a hobby (or at most an experiment), it’s mildly satisfying.
BUT. Experimenting with releasing only excerpts on my RSS feed has had exactly ZERO effect on the numbers above. (I’m currently releasing only excerpts, but I’ve switched this back and forth a few times.) This means either that nobody is actually reading the posts, or that there’s a way to get around the excerpts-only mechanism. As a matter of fact, from fooling around with a family member’s iPod Touch, I seem to remember, Google Reader (which made the blog much more readable than the default browser settings did) displayed the entire post without going into a separate browser app, regardless of the “excerpts” setting. And it occurs to me that everyone one of those subscribers could all be scripts, for all I know. There may be ways to figure out how best to use these features and how to distinguish between different users’ ways of accessing them, but finding those ways turns out to exceed the available Quality Assurance/Systems Engineering budget and personnel schedule.
MOREOVER. For a while the number of subscribers to this blog used to go up dramatically, to judge from FeedBurner’s stats, the day after I put up a new post, though it would drop back down again the next day. This was incredibly gratifying. But at some point, it stopped. In fact, at least three times, the day after I put up a new post, the number of subscribers dropped to zero, only to rise again the next day to exactly the point it had been at before. This is almost certainly a bug in FeedBurner, and not real data. In fact, it’s actually possible that FeedBurner detected a sudden increase, assumed it was “noise” or in some other way fake, and tried to compensate for it—but in compensating for what it assumed wasn’t real data, threw out all the data available. It might even be the case that the data really was fake. I used to see similarly transient, extremely high spikes in usage—up to 100 or more in a single day—from the basic TypePad statistics. In some cases these spikes were easily traceable to some script or other that seemed intended to drive up usage. In other cases they might have been legitimate attempts to randomly select new blog posts and increase their visibility. I don’t see these anymore at all. But the fact that I can no longer see subscriber statistics that might result from a new post is frustrating.
ALSO. I guess everybody knows that Google Reader is going away: Google won't be improving it or fixing bugs, and at some point won't be providing the service on their end anymore. There have been rumors that FeedBurner is going away, too. The FeedBurner API, which I think permitted more detailed stats than what’s available on the basic dashboard page, is now unsupported, and TypePad no longer offers the option I used a couple of years ago to provide the FeedBurner feed in place of the basic RSS feed. Apparently the intermittent “zero statistics” bug is one people have been seeing for a while, and at some point last fall, for some customers, FeedBurner ceased to work entirely. I’ve put the link for the vanilla feed back on the side of the page.
Upshot: For you: if you’re using FeedBurner to get an RSS feed for this blog, you might want to re-subscribe, to the RSS/Atom feed, using the link labeled Subscribe to this blog's feed that’s now on the side of the main site page.
For me: I seem to have a choice of believing there are a few dozen readers of this blog (at least potential readers of any given post), or the half dozen I actually know about. This isn’t a complaint. It’s only a hobby, after all. But it makes me feel ridiculous to be giving advice about getting an RSS feed, if the actual RSS “subscribers” are in fact bots.
The Social Network, a fictionalized account of how the website Facebook was founded and then turned into a social and financial sensation, primarily poses the question whether its founder and creator was a nice person. But it actually raises some much weirder questions. The film has two large problems: its creators’ inability to depict a plausible narrative of the creation of something like a website, and its creators’ inability to depict a plausible version of success that involves more than buying a nice house with a pool, throwing wild parties, and getting your name in the paper. The plot seems to be—oddly—Mark Zuckerberg becomes a Hollywood superstar, very much like the filmmakers themselves; there is almost nothing in the story to mark his success as being of a different kind than theirs. Everyone knows that the moral of the film is that Mark Zuckerberg is a bad guy who has been living a bad life, but if the story has the fictional Zuckerberg living the life of those who imagined him, what is it that’s supposed to be bad about it?
This is not the story of how Mark Zuckerberg struggled and worked to overcome obstacles that arose as he tried hard to accomplish a difficult goal; this is not Apollo 13, in which people were called to go above and beyond, working extra shifts for no recognition greater than a gift of a new tie from their wives. This is the story of how Mark Zuckerberg ignored every obstacle that put itself in its path: and all of those obstacles arose from the will of others’ opposing themselves to him (usually by telling him there’s something he should pay closer attention to). Actually, there are no real obstacles. He and his friends tell a few friends about “The Facebook,” and they tell a few friends, and so on and so on and so on. On campus after campus, within a couple of weeks of students’ getting access to the site, it is the biggest thing since pitchers of beer. The coding goes smoothly, and everything just falls into place. There are no technical challenges that require hard work and thinking even from a programming genius. There are no unforeseen hardware failures, no power outages that make prearranged deadlines impossible. There is nothing Mark Zuckerberg got wrong—except the rule that one should never stomp on the little people on his way up the ladder.
The only problem Zuckerberg has is that he doesn’t know an algorithm to create an absolute ranking of a large group of competitors on the basis of a limited number of real competitions between selected pairs of them. He has to ask his friend Eduardo Saverin for that information. We do see him in an Operating Systems class, in which he solves a complex calculation, involving addressing theory, on the spur of the moment (Zuckerberg’s actual Harvard OS professor has written up some of his reminiscences, with reference to The Social Network, here and here). But there is no sense, in the film, that memorizing theory and doing quick mental math is not enough to create a successful computer application, much less a distributed application. Admittedly, a focus on technical issues would be boring. But the filmmakers suggest that Zuckerberg’s accomplishment lay in finding an opportunity and making sure he was the only one who profited from it: the near equivalent of climbing onto a speeding train and pushing those already riding it over the side.
It was not necessary, moreover, to hinge the film on the bizarre personality (as portrayed in the film) of Sean Parker. (He is described in the film as the founder of Napster, though according to Wikipedia his real involvement is questionable.) Parker, as depicted, and presumably as can be shown through publicly available documentation, is a flake. He has a history, not only of being unable to work with colleagues, but of fallouts with police, over cocaine use and underage girls. He appears to be paranoid and (in the words of Saverin in the film) delusional—which is not so surprising if the allegations about cocaine are true. He does have contacts in the business world that Zuckerberg and Saverin lack. His intuition that Facebook could have an even bigger impact—on something—than Napster had, on music sales, turned out to be right. Saverin’s apparent feeling that what they had was just an ordinary dot-com business success turned out to be wrong. Yet the narrative is set up as Zuckerberg’s choice—between remaining on the East Coast, finishing college, and being ordinary—and breaking into the big time in California, turning himself into a superstar. Saverin remains committed to the first of those choices, while Parker tempts Zuckerberg towards the second one.
The problem is that the film does not successfully distinguish Parker’s way of life from his business and technical ability. There is a relentless focus on the way having lots of money gives men the wherewithal to form private all-male clubs and party, to stay out all night drinking and taking drugs and getting hot women to take off their clothes and dance with one another. At Harvard, this is the province of the final clubs, like the Porcellian, to which Zuckerberg’s nemeses the Winklevoss twins belong. Mundane fraternities like AEP only have lame-looking mixers, and people like Mark Zuckerberg—because of their aggressively ambitious personalities, the film suggests—will never be accepted into those people’s clubs. In California, on the contrary, a smart guy with lots of ambition has the chance to become Sean Parker. You can write code in your rented house and party with college girls at the same time. You can get hot women who wouldn’t have looked at you twice before you were rich. There is no real sense of irony in the film’s idea, expressed by the Beatles’ song that plays over the film’s final shot, that Mark Zuckerberg is now “one of the beautiful people.”
And Parker’s personality is certainly typical California. The drugs, the partying, the contempt for the East Coast as old and stodgy, the idea that nothing of any importance is going on anyplace else. The identification of expertise with knowing the right people and being willing to play them, of creativity and intelligence with business sense and aggression. Parker is Zuckerberg’s Paul Simon to Saverin’s Woody Allen (with Mark Zuckerberg, then, as Annie Hall, if rather more successful than she will ever be). And he behaves, and talks, in a manner more frequently associated with Simon’s and Allen’s generation (or with Sorkin’s) than with that of today’s young people. There is no apparent irony in this, either. The idea seems to be that California tech executives and Hollywood stars are the same—and better than everybody else—and, not least, just because they are free enough and rich enough to party. At least the filmmakers don’t seem to have cared to do some research and find out whether they and their subjects are different.
Which raises the question: Are the filmmakers capable of understanding success as anything deeper than money, fame, and personality, as anything more important than the ability to gain access to a kind of secret society where drugs and free love are the rule? Is joining a men’s club (a gentlemen’s club in the real meaning of the phrase) what “making it” means? Are rich people better than the rest of us, really, only because they know how to party? It’s as strange as if “the music of the night,” promised by the phantom of the opera in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical of that name, were only what could be heard from a ladies’ room stall at Studio 54.
(For more, here is an interesting story about Mark Zuckerberg and the origins of Facebook, by Zuckerberg’s Harvard classmate Rebecca Davis O’Brien.)
 It’s interesting that the MP3 format used by Napster is, technically, a very poor format. Its great advantage is its simplicity. It is easy to program to. I’ve wondered whether this is an example of technical lock-in as a result of nontechnical path dependence, something that is far from rare (Sony Betamax is widely regarded as superior to VHS), but in this case arose because the only broadly available application for downloadable audio files was created not only by amateurs, but by student amateurs.
 At Columbia, for what it’s worth, AEP renamed itself as TEP when it decided to become coed and admit women, not just as “little sisters.” Does Harvard have any coeducational fraternities?
 Was the racist garbage about how perfect Asian women are for Jewish men really necessary? And while the male characters were cast to resemble more or less plausible college students (as opposed to, say, characters on The Practice), the women looked like Victoria Secret models more than like Boston undergraduates. There are plenty of good-looking women in Harvard Yard. Couldn’t a little effort have been made to find out how they dress?
And what was up with the BU girlfriend, Erica’s, beret? Did dating Zuckerberg upset her so much she decided to become Orthodox?
 Aaron Sorkin’s dialogue, as usual, goes by too quickly, but especially in the first scene, he definitely nails a certain sort of man and the way he talks to women. Believe me, they are not all geniuses.
 Do they think poor people don’t party?
P.S.: It's been pointed out to me--by my husband, who has a Facebook account, which he signed up for initially for distributing baby pictures--that it's ironic I would be writing a post about The Social Network when I don't use Facebook myself (except when he shows me his account, so I can see my relatives' pictures, or updates from female acquaintances of his who cook much fancier than I do).