When I started this thing up a few months ago, I felt that I came in equipped with several things: fairly strong writing skills; a decent working knowledge of politics, current events, and associated subjects; a desire to rant; and a sense of humor. People are welcome to disagree with such a self-assessment; I couldn't possibly care less.
However, one very important thing I quickly discovered that I lacked was a solid working knowledge of Internet promotion. The 'net, of course, is an incredibly jaded place -- or rather, galaxy of places, pockets of associations networked by sometimes rather unpredictable threads. It is not a clichéd reflection or mirror of society, it is society, teeming and throbbing with snarky technophiles looking to one-up each other. Ah, home.
But how does the new kid on the blog (sorry) sufficiently penetrate the infinite subset of virtual inner circles? One person I "know" got lucky and did it incredibly quickly; one of his first posts got spotted and linked to on a major site, after which an established kindred spirit helped him establish an audience of his own. It's a great, and very organic, way to for it all to happen, almost the 'net equivalent of Lana Turner wearing the right sweater at the right time, and being spotted at the right soda shop by the right person. It's the football coach definition of "luck" -- preparation meeting opportunity; a person with talent and skill actually being fortunate enough to have a forum where he can display these things for many people.
You can't count on that, obviously. It's like knowing where lightning will strike. Supposedly it's better to be lucky than good, but you can only control the latter. So for the majority of bloggers who wish to show their goods to as wide an audience as possible, there is by necessity a contrivance somewhere along the line, a calculated attempt to manufacture luck, or at least increase the odds a bit.
The conventional method for this, of course, is to buy advertising for your site. This is problematic for a couple reasons. For one, what if your site is non-commercial? If your goal is to eventually become commercial, and sell ad space of your own, then perhaps you can consider it an investment, albeit an investment with a highly questionable rate of return. It's like trying to start up your own rock band -- there's a hell of a lot of competition, and it's definitely a buyer's market.
Which leads to your second problem, assuming you can afford to make such an investment in the first place -- where do you purchase said advertising? As wondrous an invention as the Internet is, in its pomo dynamic it has made everyone veeerrrry leery of purchasing services. Between pop-ups and spam, it's a Wild West of virtual kiosks, seemingly an endless supply of Eastern European and Levantine hucksters shilling fake opportunity after fake opportunity.
This is not a dynamic which builds confidence in the newbie investor. To the novice, it just looks like everyone wants to pick his pocket.
So perhaps the newbie starts casing the joint, as it were, combing similarly-minded sites which have a quantifiable level of popularity. He sees how they do it in Rome, and attempts to follow suit, however ham-fistedly at first. Again, the garage-band metaphor holds true -- the only way to figure out what you're really doing wrong is to play live in front of strangers. Your mom and your friends will never tell you that you suck, even if you suck on a William Hung level of suck. Which is pretty damned sucky.
(Little known fact: you can actually vacuum a shag carpet with a William Hung CD. Try it!)
Anyway, so that's the quandary I have found myself in after a whopping three months of blogging. Quitting the ol' day job and making a living from this would be nice, but then so would winning the lottery. I came into this with no illusions about making any money, so that's not the issue at hand. The issue is the two rules I set for myself right from the start:
- I'm gonna do what I wanna do, the way I wanna do it. This is so obvious, it scarcely bears mentioning, but just in case. Given the world of supposedly unvarnished opinions we live in, I am intent on making sure mine remain truly unvarnished. If that means picking on Democrats and liberals that I find to be doing something stupid, no problemo. I adhere to the Frank Zappa principle -- if people like it, great, enjoy it; if not, blow it out your ass. Maybe the next post will be more to people's liking, maybe not. Worrying about that sort of thing is counter-productive.
- I want as many people as possible to read this thing. This is also seemingly both obvious and at cross purposes with Rule #1. But as with a musician, one has to balance their own personal level of integrity with what people want to see, read, or hear. The compromise for the blogger is that you might have to harp on the Story Of The Day, even if you may personally feel that that well has been pumped dry. The key is whether or not you can find just one more angle on that story and make an honest go of it.
So, in a well-meaning, if perhaps misguided, attempt to make the most of Rule #2, I basically imitated what I saw in Atrios, Kos, AmericaBlog, The Perfect World, and a few others. I've always made sure that either the post is relevant to the given thread topic, or more often, just putting it out in declared open threads. I have no idea whether this is a breach of some arcane set of 'net protocols, but it has been a concern. Very few people have said anything at all, and even then only in limited context on one forum.
Whatever the case, I don't like doing it. I prefer to do it in the context of a forum conversation, as has generally been the pimp dynamic in The Perfect World. People have chafed and groused about it, and told me, "Look, asshole, I know you have a blog; if I want to check it out, I know where to look already." True enough, but the Site Meter does not lie -- pimping works, and quite well at that. Still, can't shake that tacky "hey look at me" vibe. But that's why we're all here, no?
The thread dynamics of blogs like Atrios and Kos are unfortunately rather unfamiliar to me, and thus rather difficult to try to even have a conversation, much less find a spot to realistically interject a relevant post to pimp. I have had some pretty fun conversations with some folks there, particularly at Atrios, where there are a lot of folks who are knowledgeable about music and politics and such.
But usually that is not the case for me; HaloScan takes a long time to load on my PC, and I have to wade through an ever-growing pile of posts just to see if I happen across a response to my post. It's an unfulfilling dynamic in that regard, and the fault is mine, for not having the patience or time to figure it out better. Worse yet, it lends itself to a distasteful "drive-by pimping" pattern, which I really am conflicted about.
The main thing I feel I am asking of people when I pimp a post is for their time. And I don't take that lightly; time is a scarce resource for me, and for everyone else. I value the notion that people are willing to give me even five minutes of their time to read what I have to say. Time, unlike money, is such a non-fungible, non-refundable resource; it can't be re-allocated once it's spent. We all have jobs, families, lives, outside the virtual world where we intersect.
Between 12 hours of work and commute, and 5-6 hours sleep on average, that leaves me 4-6 hours absolute max per day to do this thing, if I want to be a jerk and ignore my family. Consequently, at any given moment, I generally have 2 or 3 extended posts (2000-3000 words) in draft form, awaiting editing. I still have a mammoth one that I estimate to be 8000+ words as is, waiting to be edited and broken into more digestible chunks. And so on. It's remarkable just how time-consuming all the research, writing, and organizing can be for just one post, especially given the long-form style I work in.
Money is not really the problem; if I knew where I could get reliable advertising for reasonable rates, from someone I knew wasn't going to fuck me on my credit card number, I'd seriously consider just going that route, and forgoing the obnoxious pimp dynamic once and for all, just having a conversation with some interesting people just for its own sake. I miss the inherent purity of that sometimes. The fun I have in doing the blog mitigates it thus far, but even that is directly contingent on the amount of traffic it gets. If I can communicate to 200 people on a forum, versus 100 people a day on the blog, then that's 100 more people to talk to, right? So it's in the back of my mind, and all these factors weigh on each other to varying, highly subjective degrees.
And of course, my lizard brain figures that if Atrios or Wolcott or whichever kahuna just ambles along and sees that one magic post that makes them say, "Hey! What the fuck; that's pretty good!" and throw me a freakin' bone here, well, we don't have to have this conversation if that happens. I get the modest amount of traffic I seek, there's an audience to say "thumbs up" or "thumbs down", and I don't spend precious time spinning my wheels with obnoxious pimping. It's not an ego trip of affirmation, so much as the basic tenet that I believe in what I'm doing at my little Internet outpost, and I think other people will too, if they hear about it. There of course lies the proverbial rub.
Despite the tone of this post, it is not a valedictory, nor is it a complaint. I like doing this, and I only wish I had more time to put into it. I'm not gonna stop the posts, though the time has come to reconsider the current pimp dynamic. This doesn't mean it will necessarily stop, but I will try to take it down a notch or two, and not hump everyone's leg with every other post. It gets old for me, so I'm sure it got old for everyone else a long time ago. If I have stepped on anyone's toes, I apologize. It has been out of ignorance of protocol, rather than malice or general jerkiness.
But I felt it was important to explain where I was coming from, and more importantly, to express my appreciation to all the folks who have come in and checked things out. I also want to express my appreciation to the blogs where I have been freeloading on the open threads for these past ten weeks or so, and to the people that run those blogs. It is important to mention that I would never even consider pimping if this blog had so much as an Amazon wish list on it.
I want to be certain that at least that much is understood -- this is not about using other people's sites to line my pockets. It has always been about finding like-minded people milling around the marketplace of ideas and saying, "Hey, if you like that, you might also like this," and just giving them the option of checking it out. To use that shopworn music analogy one more time, to me it's the equivalent of putting up flyers in the local stores and bulletin boards, just letting people know where my band would be playing that weekend.
So, once again, thanks. Advice, comments, even brickbats (whatever those are supposed to be) are welcome.