Notes on Blogging IV

Monday, May 02, 2005

It looks like it's going to be just one quick post tonight. Got home late after a fairly busy day at work. Anyway, some of the folks I link to have posted good information about some of their recent blog improvements that I thought I'd like to have in one place. So that's what I'll do after I ruminate on blogging in general and then dispose quickly of a topic I played around with, but without much success.

"How well is my blog doing?"

That is a question I have discussed before. The answer is not as cut-and dried as one might suppose. For one thing, the answer is heavily dependent on what one wishes to accomplish by blogging. One of my main objectives, for example, is to get practice in opinion writing. Another closely-related objective is to develop familiarity with current events and a store of news stories of interest for use during column writing. "Practice" and "knowledge" would sum these up. These are independent, in many respects, of whether anyone else is reading the blog or not. To the extent that a blog serves merely as a journal, hits and links are therefore irrelevant. I am very pleased with my blog as a journal. (This is not to say that I am unhappy with readership indicators. These have been steadily improving.)

But why publish a journal on the web? To make use of two opportunities it provides: instantaneous feedback from readers and a greater exposure for one's writing to potential publishers. Both of these have happened, too. Take reader feedback. On one memorable occasion that still makes me wince to think of it, I managed to miss a crucial fact in a news story that totally undermined the central point I made in a post. My readers did not miss this point and they let me have it good. Thanks to their intelligence and their honesty with me, I learned of a mental blind spot I did not know I have. Knowing about a weakness is a great way to keep from succumbing to it later on.

When I get on a roll, I go into a strange, trance-like, hyperfocused state in which the words spew out and I become almost unaware of the passage of time. I have everything in my head already and it's being assembled there. So long as my premises are correct, what I write will be very good and not in much need of editing. But ... Anger along with a trance is a two-edged sword. When I'm good and P.O.'d, what I write is often of very high quality, but the hazard of spontaneity is that there isn't a whole lot of fact-checking going on. The post I was writing was on a topic that made me really mad. The anger made for a quick write, but it also made me a little too eager to post that sucker on the web. It went there and I was caught with my pants down. I now know to not post when I reach that particular mental state. It is far better for me to wait until I have returned to a less trance-like state and (especially if this applies) a less angry state.

In addition to having gotten some excellent negative feedback, I've gotten plenty of encouragement as well, which is just as important. Exposure to one publisher and subsequent publication have also occurred. Had I not been a blogger, the staff of The Undercurrent would not have ever heard of me. But they did and I got a column published as a result, not to mention even more exposure thanks to their newsletter.

An Unexpected, but Major Dividend

Before moving on to the links vs. traffic conundrum, I'd like to quickly mention the greatest and most unexpected benefit of blogging: All the great people I've met because of this hobby. I've gotten to meet lots of people I would have never known otherwise, and have made a few new friends as a result. For me, the blogging itself is all about writing, but writing is in fact ultimately a social activity.

Links vs. Traffic

I have been quite happy so far with these additional benefits of blogging as opposed to keeping a journal. I have already succeeded in getting published in one nationally-distributed publication. I also have a pretty loyal audience that has been building. I have no complaints but, dammit, I'm insatiably curious, and it didn't make me any less curious when I noticed several things that did not make a whole lot of sense when put together.

My blog has been slowly receiving more links and more traffic over time. This makes intuitive sense to me: hits and links both reflect demand for what your blog is offering. But one day, I did some checking around and found one blog with about five times the number of incoming links, but half my traffic. Another blog had about the same number of incoming links as mine, but about three times the traffic. I became curious about what the normal relationship, if any, between hits and links might be. So far as I recall, neither blog was part of an alliance or participated in any of the various services that direct random viewers to them based on a credit system. (I do neither: I write, and little else.)

So I began looking at that (i.e., links vs. traffic) tonight and so far have not found anything that makes sense. Using data from a quick sample of 20 blogs from the TTLB Ecosystem, I tried several linear regressions, but none were convincing. The best linear fit occurred when I took the log of both axes, but the y-intercept meant that a blog with 100 incoming links would get 1 hit/day! (The 0th power of 10 is 1.) (For comparison, over the past few weeks, I've been at 60-70 hits/day and have had around 40-45 incoming links at any given time.) I tried a couple of quick google searches, but turned up only sites that offer to help you increase these numbers rather than any previous attempts to discern a relationship.

It's a vaguely interesting topic to me in itself, but I'm not sure I'll have the time or inclination to pursue it further. If I do, (and I find anything interesting) you'll hear about it.

Blog Infrastructure

It's late and I'm fading fast. If that title sounds hokey, it's hokey-dokey with me. Here's the latest compilation of tips from other bloggers in my neighborhood and beyond.

Via InstaPundit is this good general guide on blogging at the Mudville Gazette. I've now been at this for over six months, but I still learned a few things from this post and the comments.

Felipe's credit page is an excellent resource for all aspects of setting up or improving a blog, including such goodies as a random quote generator.

The General discusses Wordpress, and Bloglines twice.

Sarah Beth discussed GreenZap as an alternative to PayPal.

Curtis Weeks discusses and tests out Gravatars.

That's it for tonight, folks!

-- CAV

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