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Web site status review

Wed 25 Oct 2017 by mskala Tags used: , ,

The start of November will mark one year of my current round of living in Toronto. Slightly more than a year since I ended my 15-year stint in academic research. My main activity now is running my company, North Coast Synthesis Ltd., and I've been writing weekly Web log entries there. Writing those is one reason I've posted relatively few updates here.

It has taken me this long, this much distance of time, to reach a point of missing Denmark. I don't want to go back, on balance, but enough edges are blurred now or whatever happens with memory that now I'm remembering specific incidents, places, and things fondly.

I am also at the point now where I think I'll be more inclined to say "no" to invitations and requests from the academic community. At the time I left academia, now just over one year ago, I had several papers still in the submission and review process. I felt that I was committed, and I wanted, to see those through - deal with any necessary revisions when they eventually made it out of review, discuss any issues with my co-authors, and so on. I think those are all finished now; and although I will continue looking at each case on its own merits, now that it's pretty clear I won't be going back to academia, I feel like any obligation I might once have had to provide "service" to that community has expired.

There are a lot of things I want to write about - a steadily-growing list of topics - but it's hard to find motivation. One issue is that I don't feel like I have a good venue for my writings. Someone on Mastodon recently pointed me at this Web log item about having had a personal Web site for 20 years. I don't remember when I first put up mine - the oldest entries on here are from 1997 (which would be 20 years ago) but I think I first had a Web site with other material back in 1994 or so. So, about 23 years. And although I don't agree with everything said by that writer, a lot of it is true, and it's trends that I have written about before and which have continued. To a large extent the open Web is dead. And even if one doesn't believe that the entire Web is dead, I rolled out a bunch of self-hosted analytics for the store, set them up on this domain too just for kicks, and the results tell a story of their own.

Here are all the (content, non-error) pages that have received at least 100 hits in the almost one month since I set up the new statistics system.

That's it. Together those make up 96.6% of all the page views on this domain. The stupid paper weight page alone, gets more traffic than everything not on this list put together. I could delete everything else and hardly anyone would notice. Note this is not a "long tail" situation where very many pages get low amounts of traffic each but together they make up most of the traffic. The tail of this distribution is only 3.4%.

I also could delete all the links between pages, because people don't travel from one page to another. Someone who wants to know the weight of a sheet of paper will visit that page and then leave. The overall "bounce rate" of people just visiting one page on my site is only 59% - which would be excellent if real - but that's an artifact of the structure of the Tarot spread generator. Visitors go to that one page and then follow the internal links back and forth to deal and re-deal cards and that shows up in the stats as a long, "interested" visit to my site... but those visitors never go anywhere else! What I am running here is not really a Web log but a Tarot generator that happens to share its hosting with a couple of trivia pages and a golden-oldie essay on the intensionality of computer data.

I don't think that the traffic patterns I'm seeing are unusual or unique to my site; I think it's characteristic of the Web in 2017 that everything has been flattened out. You don't visit a Web site anymore; you visit a Web page. Search engines are surely a major cause - after doing a search and reading a page you'll click "back" to look at other results from the same search, rather than going forward to different pages on the same site. But I'm getting 43% of incoming traffic from search engines and 42% from "direct" sources (bookmarks, and Web sites that for various reasons my analytics software cannot detect as referred) and the access patterns of visitors from those two kinds of places are not a whole lot different.

This kind of traffic pattern destroys any attempt I might make to build a brand, or to attract attention to writings of my choice. For many years I have operated on the expectation that every little bit helps: every visitor who wanted to know how much a sheet of paper weighs, has some chance that they'll go read one of my short stories, or share any page of my site on social media, so there's every reason to just put up every kind of content that might be interesting or useful to people and it all helps. It appears that that is not really true. Even if I'm lucky and hit the occasional home run with something that visitors really like - such as the Tarot generator, or the bit Colour article - there is no benefit of doing so that I can transfer to my other activities.

And I can never really expect while playing in this league to build up a platform or a base of regular readers who will read all the things I post and refer them to third parties - which is what it would take to justify the effort of turning some of the drafts I have lying around, into full-scale articles. It feels funny to say that because I know I do have a few regular readers (maybe ten or so) and you reading this are probably one of them. But I want ten thousand, and the number hasn't grown in 20 years. The visitors who view one of my popular pages often do come back, but only to that same page again - not to the site as a destination apart from single pages on it.

November is coming up and I've toyed with the idea of doing a NaNoWriMo novel again - but that's a waste if it won't be read and spread, and posting it here certainly seems to be a dead end. Another thought I had was to put a similar time investment into adding more kanji to the Tsukurimashou Project. I more or less shelved it when I left for Denmark because (knowing the Danish job was my last chance) I was putting all my efforts into seeking a real non-temporary academic position; and then in the last 12 months I've been similarly throwing heavy committment into North Coast. But maybe it's time to un-shelve Tsukurimashou. I think it's possible - difficult, but in the same range as a NaNoWriMo commitment - that I could do ten characters a day on that, and if they're the right ten characters it could mean I'd complete the Grade 5 and Grade 6 kanji within November. That would be a couple of nice milestones to pass.

I feel like - after eight years - I'm close to the point of being able to write about my departure from the worship of Pele, but that's a very personal topic that I don't feel I can gear up to write about without the assurance of both a large, and the right, audience for it. Maybe I should be looking for some kind of pagan magazine to submit it to, because this Web site, again, isn't working as the kind of venue that story needs.

7 comments

owen
I send people to the What Colour link at least once a fortnight.
owen - 2017-10-25 20:18
Steven R. Baker
I realize that I'm probably one of the ten you mention, but I'm going to share my thoughts anyhow.

Your site is still very personal. You have the tarot thing, and the japanese language stuff, and other things, but your lebwog is mostly still very personal things. I like that shit: it's what I come here for. But that's just not the modern web. Unless you have a vlog. The people who seem to gain attention like that these days are the people who pick a single topic, and build a community around that. So perhaps your "online persona" is better split over several "web properties." The tarot stuff could live on its own domain, with a tarot-flavoured blog post (I'd schedule them every few weeks); the japanese font stuff can go on another domain. Same thing.

My own experiences have mirrored this: when I doubled down on my fleeting internet fame and became "the dude who can teach you to write tests for your Ruby shit", I had traffic and money and work and fame. But the minute that dude started saying "Hey, maybe you folks should consider using the GPL and not sell yourselves to Google" all of those things faded away. (It also doesn't help that I sold the domain I used to be popular at, lavalamp.ca, for like $1500 CAD because I hadn't blogged in a year.)

I don't like that the web has become this. I'm sure you don't either, and you predicted this shit. You have directly influenced what I think the net, and the web in particular, should be and I don't like it one bit. But I think there are lessons that you could take from marketing/SEO/otherwise-bullshitter types that would help you reach the goals that you've identified here.

If those are your *actual* goals, then there are ways to achieve them. But perhaps you'd just like more than you have, and that shit just doesn't fly in the "modern web." I, for one, just want you to find enough to be successful enough to be happy, and I give zero fucks if this website exists for anyone other than me. But if it's important to you to have an online presence for other people, then we should work on that.

I miss gopher.

Also, I am very aware of NaNoWriMo creeping up as well. Ever since, I think, Cross Product, I've thought I've wanted to participate. And this year is the first that I've thought I *might* be able to. But I don't have a topic in mind. So I think I'm going to make notes and journal this November, with a plan to participate next November. And you had a part in that, too.
Steven R. Baker - 2017-10-26 15:51
Matt
Thanks for the thoughts, Steven. What're your thoughts on periodical audio postings, i.e. "podcasting"? That's more appealing to me than video and seems like it might tie in well with other things I'm doing.

I'm not seeing much percentage in trying to (further) boost traffic to the tarot stuff because that traffic doesn't seem to be portable. Unless I were to somehow make it my career path, I'm not going to be gaining money or social status from it, so why bother? Indeed I almost feel like taking it down, though at the moment, it seems harmless enough to keep it hosted. That gets back to the point I made in this posting, which is what might be called portability. I want to have a platform - not necessarily on the Net but the Net seemed for a long time to be the right place for it - that allows me to attract attention to content of *my* choice. Just creating some content that attracts attention to itself, is only interesting if the attention thus attracted is portable, and in today's Net it seems attention in general is not portable.
Matt - 2017-10-26 20:03
Steven R. Baker
Maybe I'm atypical, but every time I get linked to something on someone's personal site, I always click around. It's how I've found many of the current folks I follow and subscribe to. But you really do have to be developing "a brand", and you have to be able to monetize that brand in order for it to be worthwhile.

I think podcasting would be an excellent thing to pursue. And it would give you a great place to demo your products as well.

I've looked into podcasting, but the thing that prevents me from doing it is that you have to be semi-regular. I think you should listen to Hello Internet, and Cortex, and perhaps Back to Work. Those are excellent examples of really well done podcasts.

I'm probably the wrong person to ask about this kind of thing, because I follow you as "a person who I agree with an respect the opinions of" (aside from that fact that we're friends), but I think most "normals" who would follow you would do so because you say things about *a particular topic* that they are interested in. Kind of like how I follow Cory Doctorow because I just generally love his insights on the things we agree on, but many people follow him because he has an interesting take on copyright.

My understanding of what it takes
Steven R. Baker - 2017-10-27 05:35
Algirdas Velyvis
In terms of venue, how about SSC open threads? As you probably know, nearly any topic is allowed, and there are lots of readers and commenters (some of them even intelligent). You can post entire essays, or (if you prefer not to have your content being available under Scott A's sufferance) perhaps just an introduction with a link to your site. I suspect your contributions would attract a fair amount of interest. I don't see you commenting on SSC under your own name, but if you wanted to post some serious writing there, it would certainly help if you had an established track record as a serious commenter.

Incidentally, I found your blog a decade ago due to you commenting on Bruce Schneier's blog.
Algirdas Velyvis - 2017-11-09 12:53
Matt
Interesting idea to write comments in SSC's (or some other popular Web site's) open spaces; that's one I hadn't thought of. One serious concern I'd have with it is the same portability issue that affects writings here, audio periodicals, etc.: if I write something that way that attracts a lot of attention to itself, the most I think I can hope for is that it will attract attention *to itself*. Not to me or my writings in general.
Matt - 2017-11-10 13:52
Algirdas
There will be people who focus on one article and then move on, and there will be people who go "well, this is clever, I wonder what else he has to say". I do not know what fraction the second group make up. Perhaps it is too small for you to bother.
Algirdas - 2017-11-11 17:40


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