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The Overflow Blog, April 20, 2020

How the pandemic changed traffic trends from 400M visitors across 172 Stack Exchange sites.

I have a problem with one of the prepositions used in that statement, most noticeably "from". It feels that the sentence should end something like this: "traffic trends from 400M to 550M" Instead, the announcement is about the change in visitors' interests and participation across the SE network. Biology.SE and Puzzle.SE, to name but two, owing to the recent pandemic have witnessed a significant surge in numbers of posts and visits.

My quibble is with "from", would "by" have been incorrect?

How the pandemic changed traffic trends by 400M visitors across 172 Stack…

Chrome's online dictionary seems to confirm my impression: by “identifying the agent performing an action.”

Or would the following be clearer; stylistically better?

How 400M visitors from 172 Stack Exchange sites changed traffic trends during the pandemic…


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I have a problem with [...] the preposition [...] "from"

How the pandemic changed traffic trends from 400M visitors across 172 Stack Exchange sites.

I tend to agree with you. I had to read it twice to see what the author intended, and I too expected "to 500M...".

The preposition “from” is basically concerned with the locative origins of something:

I went from France to Italy. My original location was France…

I’m from France My original location is France…

It was made from gold mined in this valley. The material used to make it was gold that originated in mines in this valley

You can’t get blood from a stone Blood cannot originate in a stone

I caught the disease from a cow. A cow was the origin of my disease

The prepositional phrase in question modifies “traffic trends”

How the pandemic changed traffic trends from 400M visitors across 172 sites = How the pandemic changed traffic trends that originated in the 400M visitors across 172 sites(?) - This suggests that the traffic trends had their origins in 400M visitors whereas it is the change in the traffic trends that is the real subject and the pandemic that is the cause.

The immediate idiomatic alternatives are “by” which, as you point out is adverbially instrumental, and “of” which creates a contextual adjectival association.

How the pandemic changed traffic trends by 400M visitors across 172 sites = How the pandemic changed traffic trends by the use of 400M visitors across 172 sites– here there is an implied “an increased 400M visitors”

How the pandemic changed traffic trends of 400M visitors across 172 Stack – this implies that there are regularly 400M visitors (traffic) and they have trends and the trends have changed. I assume that this is what was meant.

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Users aren't the agent of traffic trends. They are simply too far removed from all the slicing and dicing analytics implied by traffic trends. Traffic, originally and still today, focuses on the commoditization of the transport process itself, not on the content being transported. And like the content, the source of the content is irrelevant.

How the pandemic changed traffic trends needs a full stop or a colon or em-dash, you can't hang a PP phrase with causal implications, because traffic doesn't work that way.

So I can't really make sense of either the original or your alternative.

How the pandemic changed traffic trends: an analysis culled from 400M visitors spanning 172 sites.

Traffic does accept geospacial PPs, as in traffic from Michigan, but not PPs which refer to the things trafficked.

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  • I proposed two alternatives, and this post doesn't answer whether "from" is used correctly or not in the original announcement. – Mari-Lou A Apr 25 '20 at 6:12
  • @Mari-LouA I don't know how to be any clearer than to say no, you can't do that because traffic doesn't work that way. It's the original meta-data, and you can't address attributes of the content such as authorship because traffic doesn't admit to content. The only attribute traffic has is volume. "Traffic from/by users doesn't make sense. – Phil Sweet Apr 25 '20 at 12:05
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This my interpretation where the words in bold are implied.

How the pandemic changed traffic trends from (data generated by the) 400M visitors across 172 Stack Exchange sites.

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