Five Years of Home: Free Sociology!

I started this blog back in January of 2016, which makes five years ago this month. So obviously it’s time for an anniversary post!

First a very short history. Home: Free Sociology followed a now-defunct earlier blog (meant to be multi-author in support of the now-defunct Department of Social Work & Family Studies at UBC – but mostly me) and, if you want to go back far enough, my old Geocities page from my graduate school days (also now-defunct). Hahaha! I’m Geocities old.

In 2016, I decided I wanted to give it a go again, coinciding with both my adventures as faculty lead in supporting the Sociology Department at UBC’s website and social media outreach and my attempt to roll out my book. What really appealed to me with the blog was the chance to make contributions to broader public and policy discourse, with more thoughtfulness, data exploration, and transparency than could fit in twitter (where I also became more active), but less work and gatekeeping than papers in academic journals. I played around with names before choosing Home: Free Sociology as an attempt to allude to my housing focus and open-access commitment while also allowing me to wander a bit. My goal quickly became to contribute at least one post a month. I’ll be the first to admit that they haven’t all been bangers, but I did it!

How did I do in terms of public engagement? I’m not sure I fully trust the metrics WordPress provides, but my posts have apparently received some 40,000 views over five years (or roughly sixty times the number of students I’ve taught and nearly one hundred times my google scholar citations over that time). To that can be added the viewers of some of my cross-posts with Jens von Bergmann (whom I suspect has a deservedly much larger readership!), but I don’t know much about the folks visiting Jens’ blog. Below is an example of some of the information I get about my readership from WordPress (here just across the first three weeks of January 2021).

Over here most viewers appear to be Canadian, with the USA a distant second. Other countries in the top five have varied over the years, with the UK, Australia, and Hong Kong (SAR), occasionally swapping places with Germany, the Netherlands, India, and China. Referrers have also varied, but Twitter (where I tweet out my posts under the hashtag #homefreesociology) has generally led. People have also come to the blog through Reddit and Facebook, where I’m not active, but others have linked to my posts. Increasingly search engines and Android’s WordPress app seem to be directing traffic my way, displacing the above, which probably arises both from my blog’s longevity at this point and from new apps. I could also talk about other indicators of policy-making engagement and impact with greater meaning for me (as when my posts show up in media reporting or government working papers, invite collaborations, and direct policymakers, NGOs, and other inquiring minds my way), but for the rest of this anniversary piece, I think it will probably be more fun if I just quickly run through what the metrics from WordPress have tagged as my most viewed posts for each year so far.

Drumroll…

2016 Top Posts

(The blog mostly took off with me attempting to correct rampant media narratives about young people leaving Vancouver, but also some forays into re-thinking metrics and my book! Also, like anyone paying attention, I predicted bad things from Trump and that prediction held up pretty well)

2017 Top Posts

(Lots of response to a piece misusing census data to suggest housing supply didn’t matter – see also Jens’ work – plus book follow-ups on how housing in Vancouver has changed and a piece critically examining the notion that educational gradients in the US election were indicative of a left-behind working class)

2018 Top Posts

(Lots of posts critiquing the ever-popular “foreign buyer” narrative in Vancouver, one co-authored with Jens, but also fun explorations of the 2018 Civic election in Vancouver and the surrounding IMBY narratives)

2019 Top Posts

(Doing public sociology comes with risks of public attacks and my account of one – tied to the wind-up and sale of my former condo complex to a developer – led off the year’s most viewed posts. Next up came a bunch of co-authored pieces, exploring the prevalence of empty dwellings across North America, looking at condo use, and speculating about what BC’s new taxes would find. Also more net migration analyses!)

2020 Top Posts

(It’s been… a year. Top posts included de-bunkings of the “pandemic crime wave” and “the homeless are all moving to Vancouver” media narratives, often being pushed by opportunistic politicians and police departments. But I also attempted to explore who lives in new housing and how the new BC rent benefit was targeted at specific household types. One of my beloved historical posts also did well, mapping the progress of an 1907 early movie through Vancouver streets using old insurance maps (in conjunction with a pre-COVID tour I provided for my Urban Sociology class)

Recent also-rans that didn’t quite make the top ten cut-offs, but still got respectable viewings include…

Overall, I’m pretty pleased with the blog so far, and after five years I’ve no plan to quit. I even began paying WordPress a small annual fee for hosting so they’d drop their advertisements directed at readers (for academics, I’ll just note that it’s significantly cheaper than most journal submission fees – especially for Open-Access). Aside from public engagement and opening up exciting new partnerships (as with the UBC Sociology of Zoning project I began with Jens), I frequently return to my own posts to track down links and resources I want to use. Summing up five years of blogging experience so far: four stars, would do it again.

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