Like you, I spend time on the internet. Time, which is becoming an ever more important resource to us. Oil wells are drying up, fiat currency is subject to the whims of a fickle market and international drama, and in a few years everybody will be living at least six hours commute from their job that pays them hourly. It’s all about the minutes and seconds now, with all the instant communication and five second videos. So it makes sense that those on the forefront of parting you with what you hold valuable are becoming – or in a lot of cases, already are – experts in the field of extracting that time from you.
Internet analysts and marketers are obsessed with how much time you spend on a page or website, and site owners that are interested in that information, earning money through clicks and product sales, bow down to their suggestions.
In typical internet fashion, however, the whole thing has become a practice in meta activity. The best marketers create sites about marketing, market those sites to other marketers and sell marketing products related to marketing in order to create and improve other marketers. These new and improved marketers see the success of the original marketing geniuses and emulate their practices, creating their own marketing material for yet other marketers, selling and marketing to them thereby creating another parallel generation of marketers and on and on, ad internetum marketus.
This meta existence bleeds into almost every aspect of writing on the internet, no more so than in the realm of blogging.
Blogging about blogging seems to be a lucrative project for the gurus and experts in the field. The problem is, for every Joel Friedlander or Jon Morrow, there are a couple hundred (thousand?) people who blog about almost the exact same content. We get it, there are rules:
- Thou shalt make lists
- Thou shalt connect with people
- Thou shalt keep the paragraphs short
- Thou shalt make the information actionable
- Thou shalt know your audience
- Thou shalt provide solutions
- Thou shalt learn your SEO
- Thou shalt use storytelling techniques
and so on and so forth.
Well, here’s a story, then.
A couple of years ago, I arrived in the south of France after a hasty exit from a fun but expensive year in Paris. After a couple of weeks, I found work in a bar, but as I wasn’t French and didn’t have the 8,000 pages of information about myself that all French landlords seem to require – including, but not limited to, tax details of everybody I ever met, a series of essays on the superiority of French culture, detailed descriptions of my dreams since the age of five, number of hairs on the heads of each of my family, and so on – I was hard pressed to find somewhere to live. Luckily, the owners of the bar had a room upstairs and provided me with a place to crash for a while. With wifi, which was nice.
Not long after, I met a young American girl, who among other things, wrote for a French music blog. She earned some coin from it too, if I remember correctly. Being an egotist who enjoyed posting long winded diatribes and anecdotes on Facebook for my long suffering friends, as well as thinking myself clever enough to write because I use twenty euro words like “diatribe” and “anecdotes” when “rant” and “story” would have sufficed, the idea of blogging intrigued me. I had been toying with the idea of writing fiction as well, and I was sure that putting it in the public eye would at least push me to improve, if not succeed. She also wanted to start her own blog, but didn’t have the courage or conviction to start one and put her ideas out there for everyone to see, likening the experience to hanging metaphorical underwear on the clothesline in view of the street. What if there was a skidmark that was missed in the wash? Quel shame, as the French would probably say.
In the spirit of keeping things interesting and Vegas-y, we made a bet. We would both have to start blogs and put out material. I can’t remember what the forfeit was, as we both managed to do it. I remember the excitement of putting up the first post, sitting up in that bare little room above the bar, while fireworks for some celebration or other were exploding over the river not fifty feet away. I recall thinking to myself, “This is it, old sport,” – because in this story I talk to myself like Gatsby – “this is the beginning of something special.”
And, to be fair, it was. Kind of. We both rented our closet space way out in the boonies of the internet, cracked out a couple hundred words apiece and slapped that stuff up there for all to see.
Except all isn’t exactly an accurate figure.
Facebook shares were the first sources of views, as we hastily forgot our own disdain for “friend-produced content” that would sometimes plague our newsfeeds. Then a slow build on Twitter, which is populated with robots and cyborg approaches to communication, such as the auto-respond and auto-tweet features. The first version of my blog was on WordPress’ free platform, which automatically puts you in a feed for people to find, so I managed to swipe a few views there. But after the initial grace period, there was just a set of tumbleweeds flying through the site, and I wanted to know why.
One of the first lessons that the multitude of meta-bloggers pastes all over their sites is that you need to connect with other people in the – ugh, I feel dirty even writing this word now – blogosphere. Which makes sense, if it was genuine connections and conversations being made. I’m sure it happens, and I’ve seen some interesting comments and debates, but in the years since I began to lurk and sift through blogs and their comment sections, the majority of the comments go something like this:
- “Hey Blog_Author, you had some really insightful things to say here. I’m a some-niche blogger and I definitely use/could use these tactics to grow my (already successful) blog. Check it out reasonable-but-ultimately-uninteresting-blog.sensible”
- “Awesumm poste, Blog_Author. Czech owt mai blogg @bliggetybloggety.comeonplease !!!#&!”
- “(some racist/sexist/other-ist rant that is only tangentially related to the post subject, if at all)“
- BONUS COMMENT: “Want to earn 98234765$ per minute at home? This parental unit learned how at malwareworsethanapornsite.pcdeath randomletterstotrickspamfilter biddi-biddi ”
As you can imagine, this is highly entertaining to read, while at the same time practically sending a gold-plated invitation to join in this riveting debate with your own views. Quick disclaimer though: I would still love to have comments on my blog, because the five or six lonely souls who pass through every so often like some Wild West wanderers don’t even go that far.
So now, I’m soured and cynical without having even debated with anyone in a comment section of a blog. How do you jump into a banal thread that’s the equivalent of a load of suits just putting business cards in each other’s pockets while they shake hands and then part ways, never to be seen again? What is the point?
Whatever I Said, Whatever I Did, I Didn’t Mean It
The point, as the next rule in the list usually states, is the content. The stuff you wanted to write about in the first place. The ideas and conclusions and knowledge that you wanted to share with the digital population. If there’s no one there to read it, though, it’s the equivalent of writing it on paper and sticking that onto a window that faces a brick wall. You know it’s there, the people who sometimes call by your house know it’s there, but nobody else gives a rat’s ass. Keep in mind, you’re competing with sites that promise to show you Kim’s latest selfies at 90 pixels, spread out over twenty ad-infested pages. Why would people click on your well constructed site that you spent hours shaping and tweaking?
Because of what’s there. You know, like the blogs out there that you would actually enjoy reading just for the sake of the content, not for what that content can do for you.
I have to believe that people out there actually want to read something other than the same regurgitated old stuff. Kudos to the foodies and the DIYS and the automobile and the rest of the niche Nietzsches out there. You know what you love, you know and speak to your audience, and some of you profit from that, both spiritually and financially. Marketing and bloggers as well, keep doing your thing, I guess, all seventeen copy-pasted million of you. I guess people will still read it.
So what’s left for the original content creator who wants to create original content? The writer who wants to express their views and viewpoints? Welcome to Tumblr. And every other free blogging platform, really. Now that the word “published” means you’ve clicked the “publish” button on your post, you can argue your writing is as valid as anything else that you can search for on the internet. An argument that is made daily, hourly, minutely(?) all over the world. Including this piece. Writers and bloggers take to their keyboards to mash out a comment about whatever came to their minds about a particular topic, and that is both fantastic and terrifying.
Fantastic, because it means that people from all over the world can write about issues that affect them, or display ideas that might not have occurred to anybody else due to a unique position. Sharing their thoughts and dreams and creations with the world, making it a richer and more interesting place.
Terrifying, because not all ideas or thoughts or opinions enrich the world at large. In fact, they can go a long way towards poisoning minds, whether through spreading bigotry, lowering the intelligence of a reader through stupidity and thoughtlessness, or just being a goddamned bore. However, in the virtual land of free speech, it’s all valid, and it’s all out there.
What can one do to fight through the noise then, and rise to the forefront of the digital collective consciousness? How do you get your good ideas, the creative creations, out there for the masses? Simple.
You go back to the marketing and blogging blogs. Who will give you another one of those lists. Which is when someone will start to think, “well, fuck it, if they’re getting by doing this and gaining a readership in the process, why can’t I do it?”
Cue X Ways To Whatever, Blogging Best Practices That Everyone Must Follow Or Be Condemned To Internetonymity Forever And Ever Amen, Ideas That You Didn’t Come Up With But Everyone Writes About So You Must Too (With Your Original Twist, You Creative Little Scamp You) and so on.
It’s a vicious circle of content stagnation. And I don’t know how to fight back. Even after a long time reading and studying and trying things out, I’m still not an “authority” on anything except being pissed off at the homogeneity of it all. The filthy, bitter lemon drop juicyness of it is, this post probably won’t make that much of a splash either.
It all just makes me go, whatever. At 0:55.
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