Yesterday, somewhat unexpectedly, this blog had more visitors than it's ever had in one day since it started thirteen years ago. Visitor numbers reached a five-digit total, the first time I've ever breached that ceiling, indeed only the twentieth time I've topped 3000. You might think this blog was popular, and for a blog relatively speaking it is. But my average readership is fairly lowly, a couple of trainfuls a day, apart from on days when something special happens. So I thought I'd look back through those something specials, which are generally times that someone more important has noticed one thing I've written, and then drawn in curious folk to see what's what. Here's a Top Twenty.
1) 13th May 2015(10265 visitors)
Monday's post about the election results, based on a tweet, has proven to be the most widely-shared thing I've ever written. People have been surprised/shocked/annoyed by the revelation that a mere 901 electors decided the outcome of the election, and felt the need to share this observation with their friends. It's the kind of statistic that anybody else could have come up with, but it seems nobody else did until I cobbled together the numbers from a newspaper supplement on the tube heading to the Boring Conference. Interest continued to bubble away over the weekend so I wrote up a a proper post, and was chuffed when the Daily Mirror noticed it on Tuesday, but it was a late tweet from a New Statesman journalist yesterday lunchtime that really gained traction. This reverberated around Twitter like a pinball, including mentions from Armando Iannucci and Billy Bragg, and has currently accumulated more than 600 retweets. It won't change the political system, and the thousands of one-off visitors who surfed in yesterday won't be back, but it's nice to have fed the political zeitgeist just this once.
2) 6th July 2011(8363 visitors)
This one shows the power of delayed reaction. Three years earlier I'd written a post entitled "109 journeys between Central London Tube stations that are quicker by foot than Tube", based on a map in a TfL publication, and thought it would be interesting to turn the map into a list. Roll forward to 2011 and the QI Elves linked to my list as proof that "There are 109 journeys between London’s Tube stations that are quicker to walk", and in the visitors flooded. It turned out that there actually many more than 109, and that to attempt to give a precise figure is doomed to fail, but never let the truth get in the way of a top tube statistic.
3) 3rd September 2011(6220 visitors)
A few days after TfL silently launched its bus countdown scheme online, I had lots of nice things to say about it. I also appeared to be the only blogger who'd noticed, so the BBC News website grabbed a quote from my review and linked to me. Sometimes it pays to be transparently positive, rather than critically negative.
4/5/6) 11th - 13th February 2006(5538/5614/5029 visitors)
Back in the day, when Blogger was a burgeoning force to be reckoned with, they featured a different blogspot blog on their homepage each day. I got my turn on 11th February 2006, after a shortlisting in the Bloggies (remember them?). I'm not sure what middle America made of my report on a day trip to Dover, but several new readers actually chose to keep coming back.
7) 28th July 2008(4610 visitors)
Ah yes, the day that Diamond Geezer (the jewellery company) appeared on Dragon's Den. A significant proportion of their pitch referred to its website, so thousands of TV viewers on laptops tried to Google their way in and ended up on my blog instead. I got 2500 accidental visitors in 15 minutes, but the diamond merchants got far more because their website promptly collapsed under the strain. Even years later, I could still tell when Dave was repeating this particular episode on TV by the sudden concentrated spike in visitor numbers.
8) 9th April 2013(4467 visitors)
Like all the best media outlets, I had a Margaret Thatcher obituary ready to publish the day she pegged it. Unlike theirs, mine was three obituaries in one, so appealed to whatever bias you were looking for. Twitter gold, it turned out.
9) 15th November 2012(4259 visitors)
The good folk at Reddit sometimes get very excited about things I've written, especially if they involve the Underground. They got terribly excited to discover that a Circle line train runs from Barking through Bow Road before dawn, and that I'd taken a ride on it.
10/11/12) 15th August/30th July/31st July 2012(3689/3539/4242 visitors)
Yes, obviously the Olympics make an appearance in this chart. By an accident of geography I was the local blogger on the spot, and August 2012 remains the busiest month my blog has ever had. Oddly the top day was after the Closing Ceremony, when Reddit picked up on the magenta Rio de Janeirosign TfL had hung for a laugh at Stratford station. My July peak came amid all the advice I posted for potential datrippers, with the BBC's Tom Edwards linking to my analysis of which gate was the best way in, or best way out. Thanks Tom.
13) 18th May 2012(3523 visitors)
Back to Reddit again, this time when Redditors came to read a post on trains but got sidetracked by my blog's ghastly template design. "What a terrible looking site" said one, and "not very readable" said another, topped off by "why bother publishing it online at all?" When I then blogged about their comments they came back in even greater numbers, but blimey they were well ahead of the curve with all their comments on "responsive design", which three years later has pretty much taken over how we view the web. Except here, that is, where the ghastly template lingers on.
14) 27th October 2011(3485 visitors)
Remember when the Olympics was going to be the event that ground our city to a screaming halt? At the height of the pre-hysteria, precisely nine months before the Opening Ceremony, I posted a spoof press release warning couples not to conceive their baby today. And I got the tone almost spot on, so an insider within 2012 Towers later told me.
15) 25th February 2013(3423 visitors)
I assembled all the facts I could find about London's postcodes, how they came about and why they're numbered like they are. And that went down well.
16) 6th July 2014(3418 visitors)
On the day of introduction I wrote a factual but relentlessly snarky piece about TfL's transition to cashless operation on London's buses. By exposing some of the potential iniquities of the new system in an amusing way, and hitting a nerve, the post got shared a lot. And now almost a year later obviously all those worries about passengers not being able to cope have been borne out... oh.
17) 22nd February 2015(3339 visitors)
A weekend post about the seven and a half metre difference between central London's highest and lowest tides, with pictures, brought those Redditors back again. A travelogue with a good dose of geeky science usually goes down well.
18) 29th July 2008(3117 visitors)
The day after the Dragon's Den Diamond Geezer debacle, fresh visitors were still pouring in. The same phenomenon'll probably happen today, with late fallout from that election tweet sufficient to propel 14th May 2015 somewhere into the Top Twenty too.
19) 13th January 2010(3097 visitors)
The day after we buried my Mum, a New York uber-blog quite liked the poem read out at her funeral.
20) 6th August 2012(3084 visitors)
And finally, perhaps unsurprisingly, back to the Olympics again. This was the day of the marathon that didn't come to Bow, and the day after I'd offered some advice to visitors in a useful Q&A. Numbers 21 and 22 in my Most Popular list are also from this one-off Games-time period, when East London ruled.
I hope that my Top 20 hasn't come across as over-smug, that wasn't the intention. What the list does appear to prove is that you can't control popularity, it simply sometimes happens, or more likely doesn't. But if you can write interesting, original, relevant and accessible stuff, your chances of an externally-focused visitor bonanza are occasionally greatly increased. I shall keep trying.