By now nobody could have missed the fun and games associated with Amatya's xkcd question. The 100+k pageviews and huge vote count was extraordinary. There was another spike related to Viktor's question about finding objects on the Mars surface.

What you might not know is that the result was:

  • Three days already with traffic well above average (averaging >30,000 visits/day on a site that has just cracked a 2000 visits/day median)
  • Over 400 new users in three days - we usually get 8-15 new users a day.
  • More than double the previous average number of upvotes in the past three days
  • More questions (29) on 3 October (two days after the question) than on any other day since we got out of private beta

new users
days since last visit
drive-by users new users traffic Q and A

A lot of those users were “drive-by” users who will never come back because they were interested in xkcd, not in Mathematica. But at least some of them are showing genuine interest, if the increased question rate is anything to go by. And some quite well-known members of the Mathematica community have registered in the past couple of days. Presumably some of them saw the links to the post on Hacker News or reddit.

How do we keep some of those users coming back, and contributing good quality content?

A few ideas occur to me, including:

  • keeping the blog posts coming
  • making sure there are some good quality questions flowing in
  • leaving some room for the new users to answer simpler questions
  • plain being welcoming

But we are already doing all that. Is there something else we can do to take advantage of the traffic surge to promote the site in ways that will keep quality high?

EDIT PS: At cormullion’s request, I've updated the graphs to include the days since both spikes. Question activity remains higher than before the xkcd question. Traffic is also still about 50% higher on weekdays than it was beforehand. New users kept trickling in for a few days but as of 18/10 seems to have returned to the prior level.

  • Don't tell me S.Wolfram has joined‽ I liked your blog posts a lot - I think three or four per week isn't too many, personally. People like seeing code doing cool things.
    – cormullion
    Oct 4, 2012 at 14:22
  • 1
    @cormullion 3 to 4 a week is a bit on the high side. Every week, or every other week, may be more sustainable.
    – rcollyer
    Oct 4, 2012 at 18:51
  • I have found I can knock out blog posts pretty quickly given the right inspiration, but I can't sustain even a weekly schedule. Others need to kick in. Also, I'll be away for all November and December.
    – Verbeia
    Oct 4, 2012 at 20:06
  • Is the weekly cycle a cycloid? Oct 5, 2012 at 15:21
  • Could you please update those graphs once more? I want to see the decay rate. Oct 17, 2012 at 13:38
  • @cormullion - done. There was another spike from the Mars question.
    – Verbeia
    Oct 18, 2012 at 11:02
  • cool - belisarius will also be happy... :)
    – cormullion
    Oct 18, 2012 at 11:38
  • I gave a 5min pep talk on 2010-10-17 at the Tech Conference and was wondering if any new users were attracted?
    – Yves Klett
    Oct 19, 2012 at 21:43
  • @YvesKlett there doesn't seem to have been a spike then. The base level flow of new users is no about 15/day. It used to be about 7.
    – Verbeia
    Oct 19, 2012 at 21:46
  • If there was a spike following the Mars question, which also showed up on HN, the it supports my theory that HN postings create traffic. Oct 20, 2012 at 14:57
  • @George: "HN postings create traffic." - they always do, not just here. Posting links to an SE question on reddit or HN are often a source of those "Announcer" badges (and the silver/gold analogs). Oct 20, 2012 at 15:29
  • What do the red, blue, green colors indicate? Oct 20, 2012 at 18:58

2 Answers 2


I have a couple of ideas. I'm not sure how to implement them, but I'm confident that I am right.

Programmers that don't use MMa think it's a special purpose language, and that it's slow at number crunching. They have no idea about it's breadth and depth. That's the most basic reason why we don't get more traffic - not enough people are interested in MMa. We got so much traffic for the xkcd post becuse everybody knows about xkcd, the capability was cool, and it was mentioned in BoingBoing and HackerNews. The people who read HN are interested in code, new ideas, and how to do cool things, so if we get links on HN that show those things we will get HN traffic. Better yet, some of the visitors will decide to give MMa a try. Consider some of the recent HN links:

  1. I made a 'search engine' for fun
  2. Naming Things with Hashes
  3. Error handling in R
  4. Faster than C? Parsing binary data in JavaScript
  5. Stack Overflow Data Visualization Contest

Mathematia can do things like this. We should figure out how to make use of this.

If it's ok, I would like to find out what people think about this idea before I continue.

  • 6
    I think this is a good idea, +1. However, I also think that the major bias against Mathematica for folks who post and read HN is in its proprietary nature. For most of them, language being an open source is a first and major prerequisite to even start looking at it, and I can see a number of reasons why this makes sense for them. Oct 10, 2012 at 14:51
  • And you guys were on HN again with the shiny things on Mars question :)
    – Ivo Flipse
    Oct 11, 2012 at 17:46
  • SW's blog post Latest Perspectives on the Computation Age is there too. I was going to add it, and found someone had already done so. I did add a comment to the post. Oct 11, 2012 at 17:51
  • Anyone can add a comment with with a HN login id. Oct 11, 2012 at 18:00
  • Here is a blog post about getting high scores on hacker news. Oct 11, 2012 at 18:03
  • @GeorgeWolfe "The faster than C" thingy got me visiting the intergoogles and I found an interesing blog post on complied Mathematica vs C. Read here
    – dearN
    Oct 14, 2012 at 20:11
  • @LeonidShifrin: I'm not sure if the "proprietary-ness" is the real problem. Languages like C#, D, Eiffel, VB get their share of attention, and Java became open source long after the initial hype. But with all of these languages, you can write and deploy royalty free applications, not just lobotomized CDFs. I love Mathematica, but as a software-development platform, the lack of deployment options makes it pretty much useless. Nov 5, 2012 at 15:38
  • @nikie Fair enough, but in the case of Mathematica, the language also includes a huge standard library, and the amount of the third-party libs is comparatively small. Nov 5, 2012 at 17:32

Another HN idea, requiring a bit of stagecraft. Once every month or so, one of us takes a guaranteed to go platinum Mathematica item and posts it as a question. Another of us provides the awesome answer. A third puts it on HN and tells everybody here. Finally, we all go to HN and follow the post (activity), and add comments at HN about the post. Like a talk show: host, guest, other guests - hilarity ensues.

Or is this too manipulative? The cause is good, from every perspecive.

  • "guaranteed to go platinum" - just how is this determined, then? :) Oct 20, 2012 at 15:30
  • Reverse engineered from the highest voted HN questions! Oct 20, 2012 at 15:31
  • Well, this is such a poor idea I had to downvote it... :) There's a difference between promoting cool material that may have been inexplicably overlooked, and cynically manipulating the system just to get additional page views. There must be better and more scrupulous ways of reaching potential Mathematica users and stack-exchangers than this...?
    – cormullion
    Oct 21, 2012 at 14:43
  • @cormullion I understand your downvote - a "more page views" goal would be juvenile. I take our goal to be the promotion of interest in, knowledge of, and the wider acceptance of Mathematica. If that's our motivation, there is nothing cynical about my suggestion. I admit to trying to be funny, even when I'm serious - perhaps that made my suggestion seem superficial. Oct 21, 2012 at 17:08

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