I recently came across a comment about publishing in the digital age (I don’t remember where) that nicely encapsulates my experience of blogging. To paraphrase, in the digital age it’s very easy to get published, but much less easy to get people to read what you’ve published. With this blog, and its relatively short-lived predecessor (The Tomatoes Diary, also on WordPress), it’s been frustrating to me that some of my posts that I think deserved a relatively-wide readership got so few ‘hits’, and many fewer ‘comments’. If I really wanted to get my ideas out into the world, so that they might contribute to political change or at least to discussion about certain issues, or so that more people would recognize the things that I think are right with our world, it seems I might have had better results simply writing letters to the editors of print publications with relatively large circulations; in the past, I’ve had several letters published in newspapers and magazines, and I’m pretty sure more than a couple of dozen people read those letters–that is to say, each of those letters.
Even when I’ve had a fair number of ‘hits’ for certain blog posts, I usually haven’t had many ‘comments’, or just regular comments–other than from loyal family members. (That’s you, Shirley.) That’s at least as troubling as getting a paucity of ‘hits’. I inevitably wonder if those who did arrive at the post thought it was so uninteresting or inane that they quickly moved on–or maybe did read the entire piece, but hated it. The below cartoon from the current edition (Feb. 11 & 18) of the iconic The New Yorker magazine nicely sums up the self-doubt due a lack of feedback that is probably extremely prevalent among today’s bloggers (although probably not among those who write blogs for the digital edition of The New Yorker, to which I myself subscribe).
Copying the cartoon here is a violation of my own, earlier-expressed, views about blogging and copyright; but, by now, I’ve come to realize that so few people are likely to read this blog post that it probably doesn’t matter. If I do get a nasty ‘comment’ about using this cartoon here, or even a letter from someone at The New Yorker threatening a lawsuit, I’d actually be thrilled: it would mean someone other than family had actually read this post–or at least the first couple of paragraphs of it–and was paying attention.
I’ve tried drawing more readers to my blogs through the commonly recommended method of reading other blogs, and leaving ‘comments’, or at least ‘likes’, on those blogs. I’ve had a modest amount of success using this method–and also have sincerely enjoyed reading many blog posts by others who share some of my interests. (I’m itching to make a trip to Los Angeles, to check out some of the art museums and public art in that city. Los Angeles artists are strongly represented among those whose blogs I read, and who read my blog.) But the fact is that I have a limited amount of time for that kind of thing. Although I do a lot of reading, due to my age and my predilections, I’m still strongly attached to traditional media, and wouldn’t forego reading my usual newspapers and magazines, even though I now usually read them in digital form, as well as actual books, to free up time to read more blogs by bloggers of whom I’ve never heard.
I’ve also sent several short, introductory, emails to various parties who were likely to have an interest in what I had written in particular blog posts, with links to the relevant posts, but without any success. I sent out three such emails to staffers at the Globe and Mail newspaper directing them to the post I had written about the series run by the Globe in the fall about Canadian universities, that I thought was an important piece, and I didn’t get a single verifiable response–although it’s possible I had one or two more ‘hits’ due to my efforts. (Maybe I should have posted a comment in the comment section of their website after all–even if there was no place in the comment section for graphics.) About a year ago, I even managed to track down the email address for Gary Bettman, the commissioner of the National Hockey League, and sent him an email with a link to my blog post in The Tomatoes Diary about hockey, but I didn’t get a word back. (If I were Gary Bettman, I’d keep the email address I actually used private. Maybe it wasn’t really his email address.) And to think that, at one time, I’d been worried about too many people seeing my name published in the Sports section of The Vancouver Sun as a three-time winner of their hockey pool! More than likely, as I’ve come to see, these emails were immediately deleted, not based on the merit of what I had to say but, rather, because the people to whom I sent them receive so many emails these days, including from bloggers like myself, that they can’t possibly follow up on all of them.
When I didn’t get many readers for my posts in The Tomatoes Diary, even after I’d tried the above-mentioned strategies to get more readers and the blog had been running long enough to have built up a reasonable readership, if that was ever going to happen, I convinced myself that there were some fundamental, design-related, problems with the blog that were keeping my readership so low. For one, the name of the blog was misleading. Particularly during the tomato-growing season, a fair number of gardeners ended up on my blog, looking for information about tomato-growing, but not many people who were interested in the actual subject-matter of my posts. (WordPress provides bloggers with the search terms that people use to get to their blogs. I could tell from the search terms that many of my readers were looking for information about growing actual tomatoes.) Also, the diversity of the issues that I addressed in that blog seemed to impede building up a loyal readership. (The hockey fans who might have been interested in my post about hockey weren’t necessarily interested in the latest show at the Vancouver Art Gallery, and so on.) I thought that, with my current blog, that I started last fall, I had rectified these basic ‘problems’ (or what I thought were the basic problems with my earlier blog), and that I would now get more readers. But that hasn’t happened. At least not yet.
A couple of months ago, I signed up for Twitter, mainly for the purpose of publicizing posts in my blog. So far, I’ve been using a relatively passive approach with Twitter. I have only about ten Twitter ‘followers’ so far and, as I’ve learned thus far in my experiment with Twitter, simply sending out a Tweet to these few individuals announcing that there is a new post on my blog doesn’t attract many new readers. The trick seems to be to send a Tweet to somebody who already has a large number of ‘followers’, and have them Re-Tweet one’s Tweet. That’s something I plan on trying in the near future–if and when I find someone suitable to help me out. Last week, I also signed up for Vine, the new system for attaching short, six-second, videos to Tweets. I’m interested in learning more about this new technology, but I’m not very optimistic that Twitter and Vine are really going to help to bring more readers to my blog. Although it hurts to have to say it, since I enjoy the process of creating blog posts, including the graphics and the writing, I’m starting to seriously doubt that blogging is a good way for me to get my ideas out into the world.
Last weekend, I was sitting in a coffee shop, having breakfast and taking advantage of the coffee shop’s free WiFi. While I was doing my iPad business for the morning (keeping up with all the app updates and so on sometimes really does feel like ‘business’) including, that morning, checking out the dismal stats for the past couple of posts I had written about education for this blog, I overheard a couple of men at a nearby table talking about education. They seemed to be roughly the same age, probably in their mid-sixties, and seemed to be longtime friends–or at least longtime acquaintances. One of the men, the one who was doing most of the talking, was a university professor of some sort (I was curious about his discipline, but I never managed to figure this out) who mentioned various out-of-town universities, including McGill, that he’d be visiting in the near future. The other, quieter, one eventually brought up having watched a documentary on CBC television a couple of nights before that I also had watched: “Generation Jobless”. This excellent documentary is basically about the problems that recent Canadian university graduates are now having finding jobs, and suggested various solutions, including more apprenticeships for young Canadians. These were the same kinds of issues about which I’d written in my recent blog posts. The more talkative one, the professor, was dismissive of what his ‘friend’ had to say, and quickly went back to talking about his upcoming academic junkets.
Since I was sitting very close to these men, it wouldn’t have seemed odd if I had simply mentioned that I also had seen the documentary, and found it very interesting. But I did no such thing. Instead, I continued playing with my iPad, registering for and figuring out how to use Vine. By the time I was ready to shoot my first Vine video, their table was empty.