Happy Birthday Serendipity35

android birhday

Serendipity35 - they/he/him/we - is/are now 18 years old.

In the United States, 18-year-olds are considered adults and can legally do many things. So, I suppose this blog can now:

  1. 18-year-olds can vote in elections, which influences who becomes president
  2. Create a legal will
  3. Healthy people 18 and older can donate blood.
  4. Legally enter into binding contracts, including opening a checking account, taking out a loan, or purchasing a car.
  5. Apply for a credit card, but whether they are accepted depends on the lender's criteria.
  6. 18 is the upper age range for getting a driver's license in all states.
  7. Play the lottery: 18-year-olds are considered adults in the U.S. and can legally play the lottery.
  8. Get married
  9. Get a tattoo

What should we do first?


groundhog dayI love the movie Groundhog Day in which Phil wakes up at 6 AM every day to discover that it is February 2 all over again. His days run the same over and over though he tries hard to change it. We see him repeat the day more than 35 times. 

Today is Groundhog Day and what is repeating - for the 5840th time - is Serendipty35. Today is the 16th birthday of this blog. (Hence the "Serendipity16" title for this post.) 

Of course, the blog is not the same every day, but it is here/there every day. My calculator tells me that the blog changes every 2.7 days. In the early years, I was much more ambitious with 3-5 posts per week. Over the years, I started other blogs and left my university job where all this started and now, I try to post here once a week. 

The more you post, the more hits you get. Currently, the site averages about 7000 hits a day, but that number was double that back in the years when there were multiple posts each week. Then again, this is still a "non-profit" production - not that we would object to profits. The "we" is me and Tim Kellers who used to post here too in the first years but is now keeping the gears turning in the background. 

And Serendipity35 keeps rolling on... 

Sponsored Posts

broadcastI received another query today about whether I accept sponsored posts on this blog. These are posts when a blogger gets paid to talk about a product or brand on their blog. I don't accept them.

It is not so different from the spokesperson advertising we have seen for the past century in print and then on radio and TV. Now, you see lots of posts on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and even in Google search results that are labeled "sponsored" - as they should be labeled.

Why don't I accept sponsored posts? It's not that I am opposed to making money. Tim and I have some ads on this blog for Amazon and Google ads, but they don't get much attention or make very much for us. That surprised me because this blog does get a good number of hits. Part of it is that on mobile devices those ads are kind of lost. Part of it might be that our readership is just not into shopping.

It's not that I have such high moral values (though I do hope they are reasonably high!). When I see sponsored posts on a blog, I question the other posts a bit. I also wonder when I see a rave review of a product/service on a blog that is not labeled as sponsored whether or not it is sponsored.

Ideally, a sponsored post is an endorsement of a product or service that you actually use and like. That might be true for some but I have to believe that a lot of sponsored content is just there for the money.

I have a Facebook group about edtech and I was hesitant to allow vendors to join. Sometimes it is difficult to distinguish a vendor from a user. I ask when they join if they are a vendor, staff, faculty or student, but I allow all of them. But sometimes I wonder that when a vendor posts there does it look like I am endorsing (or getting paid) for that product placement.

Am I being foolishly moral about this? 

The Reading Level of Your Readers


Writing online, I am kind of guessing about who are my readers. I know where they come from geographically and I know how they find me in a search and what articles they read and other analytics. I don't know what their reading level might be and every writing course will tell you that you "need to know your audience."

I make some assumptions that readers of a blog about technology and learning are mostly educators and so I further assume that they have a high school and above reading level. But how do you determine the reading level of what you are writing?

If you write in Microsoft Word, it is simple to use two major readability tests that are built-in: the Flesch Reading Ease and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level.

For the Flesch Reading Ease and Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level statistics to come be part of the “Spelling & Grammar” review of your content, you will need to enable those statistics. To do this select “File” then “Options” next go to the “Proofing” tab and check the box that says “Show readability statistics.”

Flesch-Kincaid scores are readability tests designed to show how easy or difficult a text is to read. This score is given in two different ways. First is the “Flesch Reading Ease” number which ranges from 0 to 100. With a score of 90-100, your writing could be understood by an average 11-year old and a score of 60-70 could be understood by average 13 to 15-year olds. A score of zero to 30 means your writing could be understood by a university graduate.  A bit counterintuitively, the higher the score the easier the writing is to read and comprehend.

For comparison, Time magazine averages at a score of 52 and the Harvard Law Review falls somewhere in the low 30s.

The Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level applies a reading grade level to your writing. I learned many years ago that most general news articles in The New York Times have a tenth-grade reading level. Romance novels have about a fifth-grade reading level. 

I ran a recent article here through the test and got the results shown below. The Reading Ease score is about 55 and a Grade Level a tenth-grader in the middle of sophomore year. 

readability statsYou might think that score seems to be low for a post I am aiming at educators, but many sources will recommend that ease of reading in order to boost your numbers and even in your emails and communications. I know that some researchers have said that your response rate varies by reading level. The article linked here claims that emails written at a 3rd-grade reading level were optimal with a 36% boost over emails written at a college reading level and a 17% higher response rate than emails written even at a high school reading level.

When Microsoft Outlook and Word finish checking the spelling and grammar, you can choose to display information about the reading level of the document using the Flesch Reading Ease test and the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level test. You can also set your proofreading settings to flag things like jargon, which is often what pushes ease aside and pushes readers to leave.

This may sound like advice to "dumb down" your writing. I don't think it is that. The English major part of me is reminded of Ernest Hemingway's journalistic simplicity. You can still get across deep ideas in simple language. I like the Einstein quote “Everything should be made as simple as possible,
but not simpler.”