The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

16 March 2007

Tails of mystery and imagination

Adam Gurri is working up an essay on the Internet as Attention Economy, and somewhere in mid-research he found Mister Snitch's late-2005 overview of blogging styles, in which yours truly loomed large (and, I contend, undeservingly so). Mr Gurri's examination of the Long Tail, a fairly flexible term for those of us who are household words in only a few discriminating households, merits some comment here.

On the one hand, there are people who value blogging more than they value the other activities they could spend that time on. On the other hand, the longer that they post, on any subject, the more likely that their blog will be found through search engines.

So even if a blog is relatively unnoticed or attracts no substantial amount of regular readers, it will in all likelihood experience a steady increase in traffic over the extreme long term.

Only 24 hours are available in any given day (with two exceptions, one in the spring, one in the fall, which nonetheless average out to 24), obviously something has to be given up to make room for all this bloggage, and in my case, that something was television: my viewing is down from a not-especially-high ten hours a week in 2000, when I started doing daily updates to this site, to — well, I have yet to accumulate ten hours this year, and we're halfway through March already.

Traffic has dropped off slightly here since Snitch declared I was "approaching 1000 unique visits a day"; it's currently closer to 700. Still, this is a fairly substantial number, especially since 700 was a good monthly figure here as late as 2001.

Then again, I am persistent, a characteristic which doesn't describe everyone in blogdom:

Not all of the returns one gets from investing one's time in blogging can be summarized by a desire for readers. Yet it is highly likely that there exists people for whom blogging is only valuable enough to spend time on if their readership is above a certain minimum. The fact that the proportion of blogs to the proportion of time people are willing to spend reading is huge means that most blogs will only get a tiny fraction of the overall readership. Considering these two ideas — the fact that most blogs will have a small readership, and that many people may have a minimum level of readership to give enough value to their blogging — and we may have isolated an important cause for the large number of abandoned [blogs].

In April of 2006, for instance, Technorati stated that 55% of all blogs were still active 3 months after they were created. Flipping that around, it means that 45% of blogs at that point in time were not even making it past their third month.

We may fancy ourselves voices crying in the wilderness; but if no one hears us, do we make a sound? The dynamic of blogdom pretty much assures that most of us will never get anywhere near the audience of a Kos, an Atrios, an Instapundit; but it also assures that a few of us will — though probably not within three months.

Of course, subject matter does matter:

What you blog about is usually a function of what your interests are, which is just another way of saying what it is that you value. How much people value readers varies from person to person — for some people, getting too many readers can be undesirable, if it results either in having to pay for more bandwidth or a constant stream of reader e-mails.

The wonderful thing about the long tail of blogging is that it means that people like me, for whom large readership is only of marginal importance, I can write about as many obscure topics as I wish, as infrequently as I feel like, and if I make sure to do it continually over time, I can still look forward to an increase in readership. Yet even during those months where readership is particularly low, I come back to this blog because it I enjoy a number of things about writing through this medium.

I've said before that I'd keep up this soapbox even if no one were reading. As the saying goes, it is unwise to argue with someone who buys ink by the gallon, and while I don't go through a whole lot of ink myself, I have boatloads of pixels in reserve.

But I do have readers, with motivations of their own. Some people come here to see me turn a phrase, or fail to turn one. Some people just wonder what the heck is going through my head. A few wait for an opportunity to deliver a Gotcha! (In the terminology of Eric Berne's Games People Play, these individuals are playing a version of NIGYSOB.)

And a lot of this is Rick Blaine Syndrome: of all the sites on all the servers in all the world, somehow someone walks into mine. I still marvel at this, eleven years into my Web presence.

Posted at 2:06 PM to Blogorrhea


Long tail, indeed. I have not blogged in about a year or so (working on other projects), yet my abandoned site surprisingly gets over 200 hits a day.

It's not inexplicable. Some bloggers, such as Charles, occasionally link an old post. And there are quite a number of links to Mr. Snitch floating around out there, they get hit once in a while.

I was somewhat unusual among bloggers, I guess, in that I often wrote essays that had (possible) value beyond the moment. I guess I was a "long tail blogger" much of the time. Anyway, there's a certain kind of material that actually increases in utility once some time passes. Most stuff you see on blogs is worthwhile for about 5 minutes. Some folks, though, are out there writing for the ages. (Adam is one such.)

I think my real desire was to put things of value (to me, anyway) online and build a useful archive. When/if I go back to it, I'll look for partners, and expand the scope of materials to include small movies, games, and so on.

While I was active, I was discovered by an underserved audience for local (Hoboken) commentary. Since I took a sabbatical, I have been happily surpassed by Hoboken411, which covers the waterfront better than I ever did. (And far better than our local papers do - the one guy spinning the plates over there now outstrips the weekly local paper in weekly readership.)

Charles has found a niche here, and it is not insubstantial at 700 hits a day. How many people does the average person speak to in a day, all told? Six? Ten? How many of those exchanges are substantial ("give me a Charleston Chew" doesn't count)?

We take the ubiquitous for granted. But in fact, blogging is a minor miracle.

Posted by: Mister Snitch! at 4:08 PM on 16 March 2007

Hm, since I'm not particularly prolific/persistent or niche, most of my visitors come from places like Google. Without the all mighty search engines, I'd probably be at the very end of that long tail if I'm not there already.

Posted by: sya at 6:22 PM on 16 March 2007

Don't forget to add your syndication readers to your totals. I only click in to comment.

Posted by: Scott at 8:25 PM on 16 March 2007

I wish I knew how to keep better track of them. Analog tells me how often the feeds are accessed, but not by whom, and I know no easy way to integrate those numbers into Site Meter. (As of last night, 9325 people this month had pulled a feed from this site; that's as many as read it in actual browsers.)

Posted by: CGHill at 8:44 PM on 16 March 2007

I know no easy way to integrate those numbers into Site Meter.

Hmmmm....

I don't know about MT, but now I'm wondering: if I were to add the SiteMeter code to my ExpressionEngine RSS templates, would it work?

I shall have to find out.

Posted by: McGehee at 9:14 PM on 16 March 2007

Considering I just finished saying that I don't need readers, would it make me a hypocrite to express my irrational glee at finding people talking about stuff I said?

The dynamic of blogdom pretty much assures that most of us will never get anywhere near the audience of a Kos, an Atrios, an Instapundit

At the same time, I'd say that the Kos, Atrios, and Instapundit only have the traffic that they do because they've been linked to by so many blogs of variable readership on a regular basis. At the very least, that plays a substantial role in their prominence.

So if you're persistent (and I must admit that my two years hardly seems persistent when stacked next to your eleven) you can look forward to more readers, yes--and the nature of the blogosphere is such that you may accrue a few links from other blogs along the way, which in turn will give you a more favored status on search engines, and so on.

As you say, a few people will indeed get a lot of traffic, but it's far less likely if they don't stick around for a while.

Posted by: Adam at 12:00 AM on 17 March 2007

if I were to add the SiteMeter code to my ExpressionEngine RSS templates, would it work?

And the answer is, "No."

Posted by: McGehee at 10:08 AM on 17 March 2007

Feedburner is an excellent service for tracking blog visitors and subscribers to your feed. It has many good informative options and is easy to setup. I have found getting visitors to be a slow and steady process.
In my case I realize people do a search on "Gay and Tulsa" as often as they do "Eskimo and Tijuana" but valuable content and keeping track of the hot topics for search engines is two of the major keys for getting visitors.
Having fun is the major key to keeping up with your blogging!

Posted by: Thomas at 1:13 PM on 17 March 2007

I'm in the 500 a day range, which constantly amazes me, since I've only had my domain 2.5 years. I've had a site since 1997 and journaled in html format since, but most of those years was on a service with which I had an email account, and few of those folks followed me when I moved.

Search engines have been very good to me, but usually with bizarre phrases. Ditto for carnivals. Don't underestimate the number of readers you pick up by commenting elsewhere, too. That's how I started reading you.

Posted by: Terry at 2:31 PM on 17 March 2007

funny. i get a lot of hits every day. most come from visitors to other blogs i visit, but the vast majority come from bored (i assume men, but possibly not) at work searching for "big ass woman"

ahem.

now i can't figure out how i found you. :-)

Posted by: lynette at 8:45 PM on 20 March 2007