Categories
meta

On internet obscurity: analytics be damned

At least five times in the past decade, I’ve started online projects, only to see them wither away from lack of attention.

Past abandoned blogs

Oh, I invest long hours at first: writing a mission statement, shopping for a WordPress theme, and hand-hacking the CSS. But once the actual content creation begins, I quickly lose interest. I may post sporadically for a month or two. But soon enough, I give up. Eventually, I surrender the domain name, and my “brilliant” concept vanishes from the internet.

Occasionally, these projects failed because I lacked passion for the niche. For example, I once founded a project called “The Outage”, which was dedicated to suburbanites who put down new roots in the mountains. It wasn’t a terrible website idea, but I soon realized that I was more interested in my own urban escape than in telling other people’s escape stories. The Outage died a slow death.

More frequently, I abandon my blogging efforts not because I’m disinterested but because no one else is paying attention. My posts generate nearly zero pageviews. My Twitter follower count barely budges. I put myself out there, and I’m met with dead silence in return: no engagement, no encouragement, no audience.

Obscurity kills creative drive, if you let it. Love me? That’s great! Hate me? Well, at least you’re following along. But ignore me? That’s the response that’s most difficult to accept.

Working in obscurity

Here’s what I’ve learned from these multiple abandoned efforts: when you’re starting from scratch—totally unknown—you need to find satisfaction in something other than audience engagement.

Imagine a wood worker, hand-crafting beautiful furniture on her homestead, high in the mountains. She’s miles from the nearest collector or customer, and there’s no chance of selling her handiwork—or even showing it off. No one will see the rear joint on that oaken cabinet. Nevertheless, the craftswoman spends hours sanding down its rough edges and carefully aligning the two joined pieces. She delights in the making, even when no one else will appreciate the end result.

I’m not kidding myself; this blog isn’t a work of art. But the metaphor works for me. If audience engagement were my only reward, it would be so easy to justify cutting corners. Half-ass the proofreading. Ignore that clunky paragraph. Skip posting for a day or two. Who cares, after all? No one’s paying attention.

From experience, that way lies surrender. When I stop delighting in the work for its own sake, I soon stop working altogether. When I let website analytics or podcast download stats serve as my primary motivation, discouragement festers, and I soon stop writing. It’s happened a half-dozen times before.

Analytics be damned

But it’s not going to happen this time. I’m determined to keep sanding down those joints, day after day after day. Despite feeling obscure and ignored, I’m going to keep making stuff. Rising before dawn. Posting every day.

That effort won’t be quickly rewarded with audience interest. In fact, I may never grow a sizeable following. My tiny reader and listener numbers may stay exactly where they are, and my creative efforts may never become anything more than a hobby. The analytics may never reflect my level of effort.

I’m okay with that. Screw the analytics. At least I will have made something. I will have tried. That’s pretty damned satisfying, in itself. ■

Categories
meta

Jerry Seinfeld, the tech blogger’s spirit animal

Last night, the temperature here dipped below freezing for the first time since the spring. Our furnace fired up repeatedly throughout the night, helping us keep the autumn chill at bay. I know that because it’s easy to tell when the heat kicks on; the roar can be heard from every corner of our small cabin.

Apparently, our daughter had forgotten just how loud (and scary) that noise can be. When the heater first started, her frightened cries crackled through the baby monitor. We tried to settle her down, but eventually I set up camp in her bedroom and comforted her until she fell asleep.

Sleep graph
Sleep graph from last night. The purple stretches are sleep. The large gap around midnight was when the furnace scared my daughter.

All that to say, I didn’t get much rest, and (as I type this in the predawn darkness), my body is protesting. It would rather be asleep, recovering from late-night dada duty.

And if it weren’t for Jerry Seinfeld, that might have happened today. Fortunately, I’ve found inspiration in the comedian’s productivity mantra: “Don’t break the chain”.

The basic idea is that momentum becomes its own motivation. Daily habits, once established, are a sort of perpetual motion machine; you string together a “chain” of days, and you don’t want to stop. There’s magic in the streak.

What’s my good habit of choice? As of today, I’ve blogged and podcasted for eighteen straight weekdays. That chain is long and strong enough to drag me out of bed after a sleepless night. My head may be pulsing, my eyelids may be heavy, but I’m here. I’m typing. The streak summoned me to the keyboard.

And I’m scared to loosen the chain, let alone break it. One slip-up might derail me for good. “Just one day off” becomes “two days off.” Two days off becomes a week-long lull. Before I know it, my blog sits stagnant for months. That may seem overly dramatic, but it’s happened so many times before.

Happily, it didn’t happen today—thanks to the chain. I like to think that Jerry would be proud. ■


  1. Calendar artwork courtesy of Vecteezy.

Categories
meta

Does Steve Jobs’ creative philosophy (“Make something wonderful”) apply to obscure bloggers?

Yesterday was the sixth anniversary of Steve Jobs’ untimely death. Tim Cook, Apple’s current CEO, shared this reflection on Twitter:

Here’s a longer version of the same Jobs quotation, which Apple highlighted in the prelude to its September marketing event:

“One of the ways that I believe people express their appreciation to the rest of humanity is to make something wonderful and put it out there…. Somehow, in the act of making something with a great deal of care and love, something is transmitted there.”


I don’t feel a strong sentimental connection to Apple’s co-founder, but I find him a fascinating figure: irascible and difficult, yet undeniably visionary, even prescient. At times, he was childishly petulant; at others, he demonstrated careful thinking. So it seemed worthwhile to reflect on how Jobs’ ideas might apply to my renewed blogging and podcasting efforts.

Now, “expressing my appreciation to the rest of humanity” isn’t the way I usually think about my daily writing and recording routines. But maybe it should be; too often, I get hung up on “appreciation” flowing the other way around: from readers and listeners to me. How many times did listeners download this episode? How many views did that post get? Could I ever earn enough followers to monetize this site? Is anyone out there even paying attention?

This sort of selfish obsession quickly leads to discouragement. I lose my motivation to write, and I’m tempted to quit, as I have so many times before. That’s why I haven’t enabled analytics on this site’s current incarnation; I’m terrified that knowing how few readers I have will derail my determination to rise early each morning and do the work.

The Jobs quotation above suggests a more productive approach: ignore my desperate desire for affirmation and appreciation. Instead, focus on the work itself: creating something good, genuine, and helpful. That mindset makes blogging more sustainable, more fun—almost automatic.

Now, the end result may not be “something wonderful”, in Jobs’ parlance, but if I’m investing “a great deal of care and love”, it will be rewarding—to myself, if not to anyone else. ■