The Internet Is Surprising

This blog is only a month old, and I write it as a hobby. At the moment, I have two friends who check in on it regularly, and I can expect five to ten more hits whenever I remind people about my blog on Twitter. That’s fine, especially since I know that most of the things I write about wouldn’t be interesting to all of my friends. It would be cool if I could gain a small group of followers over the next year or so, but I don’t have any illusions about getting big.

Technically, this blog is publicly available to the whole world. In reality, though, I expected it to be lost in the noise of millions of other low-traffic sites. I’ve been shocked that, in only one month and 18 posts, I’ve already been reminded of the internet’s potential three times.

When I wrote my post about censoring Huckleberry Finn, I just thought that since my unfinished thoughts were too long for a tweet, I’d write it up and see if it spurred any conversation among my friends. Had I known that my blog would appear on the third page of Google hits for that topic, I would have spent a little more time fleshing out my point. But even more surprising than my blog appearing in the first thirty results for a hot issue was the fact that people actually read Google’s third page and follow those links! That article brought in one or two readers per day for a couple weeks.

(I was also proud to note that of those first thirty articles, I appeared to be one of the few that was bold enough to say “nigger” when discussing the controversy about the word itself.)

By now, the hits have stopped coming in and I’ve dropped low enough in the Google ranking that even I get bored before I find myself. I’m a little curious about how everyone found me, though, and very curious about what they thought after they read my thoughts. Not a single person commented on it. My first theory was that some people were passionate enough about this issue to read through dozens of discussions about it. I doubt that, though, because if so, I think that at least a couple of them would have wanted to comment on the first article that actually took a contrary view. That leaves my second theory: That high school students assigned to write about the issue have figured out that if they copy from obscure enough sites, their teachers won’t be able to tell that their essay was plagiarized. I like to imagine my blog has already achieved a dubious sort of immortality, with my words destined to sit in a moldering box in an attic, adorned with red ink saying, “Interesting viewpoint, but remember to back up your assertions. B-

The second surprise came a few days later, when author Diane Duane found me mentioning her books in my 2010 catch-up post. In a world of Twitter and niche fanbases, I’ve gotten used to the idea that celebrities can be only a click away. Still, it was unexpected to have my blog’s very first comment (that wasn’t from me or a spammer) come from someone I was writing about. I assumed I’d get comments only from people I knew for at least a few months.

In fact, Duane probably had more of an effect than any other commenter could have, because I was already planning to do an in-depth review of five of her books later that month. As I wrote it, I was aware of the fact that she’d probably find me again, and that not everything I had to say was positive. In fact, some of my complaints obviously came from differences of opinion. Did I want to defend that C- review to the author?

Just as that Huckleberry Finn article taught me that I should write my articles with the expectation that they could be anyone’s introduction to me, this article reminded me that my opinions weren’t going to be hidden from the creators who inspired them. I’m happy to say that I still wrote about my thoughts: The C- review is appropriately harsh, and the book that got an A- earned it honestly. I plan to keep sharing my good and bad opinions, but now I remember to be prepared to back up any negative things I say.

This morning, I woke up to find that my webcomics article had been linked to by the comic Bucko. Even stranger, I’m the first of the four articles they mentioned. The other ones were a newspaper and two well-known comics websites! Sharing company with them feels more strange than flattering, but it’s a good reminder of the internet’s democratizing effect.

The new traffic isn’t earth-shattering: I’ve gotten eighteen hits on that article so far today. Still, this link was more surprising than my Huckleberry Finn Google ranking. I assume that when two known comics creators launch a new work, there are going to be a lot of people out there talking about it. Why was I hand-picked to represent the response?

I think I can draw a few lessons from this:

  • It helps to be organized. I am thorough about tagging and categorizing all my posts, and I suspect that that helped me stand out from the other people who were discussing the topic. I just put the tags on there thinking that it would be useful once I had multiple reviews of things from the same person, but it turns out that WordPress is doing more to promote my site than I am.
  • It’s not about me. I’ve only gotten one hit on the rest of my blog today, so that means that, at most, one of those eighteen Bucko fans bothered to check out who I was. And I’d be surprised if I have an even 1/18 chance that that person will come back later.
  • That doesn’t mean I’m being ignored. Not many people may have clicked around my site, but I can see that several people followed the links I provided to other webcomics. People actually paid attention to what I had to say, and maybe I even introduced them to something they will like! Part of my motivation for this blog was to share my interests with others, so I’m going to call this my most successful post yet.

So what do I do now? Well, I can see why some people become obsessed with whoring out their site. One out of six posts I write attract attention without me even trying! If I put a little effort into it, I might be able to turn those 20 hits into 200, and tune my topics so I succeed with every other post instead of every sixth. I could even look for ways to keep readers coming back.

I’m not going to do that, though. I’ve spent one month writing on the internet, and over fifteen years reading on it. I’m well aware of how annoying people can get when they try to promote their site, and I never want my hit count to rise at that cost. I don’t even tweet at my friends every time I finish a new article, because I figure anyone who really cares will be able to subscribe.

I should probably work on my site’s design and About page, so that people who actually are interested can learn about me and decide if this is worth coming back to. Every now and then, I’ll mention to people (once) that I have a blog. That’s about the extent of my plans.

This blog is mainly for me. Attention from unexpected sources is interesting, and occasionally amusing, but it’s not my goal. If you want to keep reading my opinions, I’m flattered (especially if you’ve read to the end of this self-indulgent post!), but it only matters to me because I didn’t force you to come here.

  1. Hey! I’m the lady who linked your blog on the Bucko site, so I can answer your question regarding why it was chosen 🙂 Since we’re both WordPress sites, I get a pingback with a link to your article, so that’s how I found it in the first place. The reason why I linked back to it was because you actually wrote a section about our comic! We had a handful of other sites give us a much appreciated announcement, but it would only include a panel from the comic with a link saying ‘go check it out!’ You actually wrote your personal thoughts and theories, something to sink a reader’s teeth into– so I directed them your way.

    Thanks again for taking the time to write about our comic!

    • Thanks for the explanation. When I started this, I didn’t realize how much WordPress does to network its different sites together, so it’s still a little surprising to see it in action.
      I also didn’t realize that it would be hard to find actual opinions. My mental image of the internet is mainly articles and opinions, but I guess there are a lot of links-only pages out there. (And, to be fair, it was difficult to say much with only four pages to go on. Maybe I’m the crazy one.)

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