Feed Your Ego

I live with a man who can pretty much do anything when it comes to the Internet. It’s sort of like living with a mechanic and having a thing for old cars. He can fix and build almost anything. I’ll say, “Hey, can you build an entire Web site for me this weekend?” And he’ll do it. Or, I’ll say, “Hey, can you find out who this person is? They keep leaving retro-comments on the post about my underwear. I want their I.P. can you find it?” He’ll find their I.P. address and tell me if they’ve ever posted before and how many times. He’ll tell me how many times they hit my site each day. It’s pretty cool. Now, before anyone gets worried that we do this with just anyone, we don’t. We don’t have that much time on our hands nor do we care that much. The only time we do this is if someone becomes stalker-like or rude.

Now that we have the DVR, I tend to tape everything on television in lieu of actually watching anything live. I don’t think I watched one thing live last week, well, except for The Sopranos but that was to avoid being sideswiped by spoilers.

While not watching television, and instead sitting in front of my computer, I got an idea. I was checking out my stats. I have quite a lot of referrers, but usually I only check out the top 20. Looking through all of them makes me a little dizzy. Plus, I tend to get really angry when I find out that people are stealing my bandwidth by linking to old photographs. I used to write each and every one of them directly or I’d write things like “THIS IS NOT YOU, YOU FREAK. THIS IS MY HUSBAND! YOU’RE PROBABLY A FAT 60-YEAR-OLD PERVERT LIVING IN WISCONSIN” directly on top of the photograph being hotlinked. (That actually happen. Some guy used Toby’s picture and claimed it was him.) I’d add a “copyright mihow.com” on it and I’d walk away. I used to do that. Now, I just ignore them. And doing that the right way means not paying attention to my referrers.

But I do sift through my top 20. A lot of my visitors come by way of an RSS feed so they’re impossible to track. In fact, the majority of people who read mihow.com use an RSS feed. Which makes me wonder if a lot of people who come here don’t actually SEE the Web site at all. I’m still learning how this way of browsing works but the little bit that I have learned has even changed the way I surf. Now, I rely entirely on my Firefox RSS feed, or “Really Simple Syndication”. I don’t know how it works for everyone. I have no idea what a PC user sees when using an RSS application. In time, this will probably make more sense but there’s only so much time Tobyjoe has in order to teach me.

The blogs that represent my top 5 referrals are the ones I wanted to investigate a little further. But first I want to explain why.

Last week, I linked to Tobyjoe. While I know how many unique visitors I get a day, I have no way of knowing how many people click any of my outbound links. Now that Tobyjoe has a blog and I often link to it, I figured I’d ask him.

Eight unique visitors visited Tobyjoe’s site when I linked to a post he wrote about a man named Dr. Finger who spoke out against an HPV cancer prevention drug. Dr. Finger thinks that the life-saving drug in question will send a message to young girls telling them it’s OK to have premarital sex. Toby wrote about it. I found his post and its content very alarming. I thought I’d share what he had to say with other people. Only 8 people clicked from my Web site to his Web site that day. That pales in comparison to the number of readers I get from day to day. I was left wondering why.

That bit of information sparked a wonderful conversation about hyperlinks and the Internet, blogging, stat packages, and how things are worded in order to get someone to click a link. We talked about it for hours. It was truly fascinating.

When I had him check the number of REAL visitors I was receiving from my top 5 referrals (not including RSS feeds and Blogger pings) the number of unique visitors from all five of these Web sites came in under 10. Except for one instance, which referred 15 unique visitors to me even though my stats package led me to believe there were a whole hell of a lot more.

Let me break this down a bit. Let’s say I am linked from a site called OldManSounds. Let’s say that site is number 6 on my referral list. The number of visits my stat package reports is 108. That may sound like a lot. Based on what Tobyjoe discovered, it’s not like that at all. Let’s say that out of those 108 hits, 12 unique visitors were actually coming per week. That probably means that each unique user hits my site from that site around 9 times each. We also need to remember that some people have a computer they use at work (featuring one unique IP address) and one they use from home (featuring another unique IP address). Suddenly, your referral stats might mean something entirely different. They might not mean as much at all anymore.

Generally speaking, people probably aren’t using blogs anymore to discover new blogs. I’m not sure how that happens in this day and age. I think, for me, it’s sort of like advertising. I don’t buy a product unless someone I trust recommends it to me. The other way I might be reeled in is if it’s seemingly top of the line, above all other products. I just bought a Dyson, for example. And I didn’t know anyone who previously owned a Dyson, but their advertisements appealed to me. They are tastefully done, and they were not at all invasive or annoying. They seemed classy, which is pretty amazing considering they’re talking about a vacuum cleaner. Plus, they charge nearly 500 bucks for their machines, they must be good, right? (That last sentence was a joke.)

I think that it’s pretty safe to say that most of the time, given we’re creatures of habit and there are only so many hours in the day, we follow the same patterns. Before I began using an RSS feed, I’d visit one site, read a little, and then, using a link from that site, continue on to the next. And I would do this daily and usually I’d follow much the same pattern. I enter the same stall in the bathroom at work, too.

Now, I rely entirely on RSS. Most of the time I click the RSS reload button and find out if any of the sites listed on my feed have been updated. Then, I might visit them. Might. Then, it all depends on the title intrigues me. I no longer follow the usual patterns I once had. Sometimes, I don’t visit a site for a week or more, especially if it’s not on my RSS feed.

Do RSS feeds have us exploring less and therefore reading less? I think so. I think feeds are streamlining our daily visits. I think they’re making it so we are choosier with what we subscribe to as our time is valuable. I know my RSS feed features a lot less sites than the Elsewhere section of this Web site. When you have only so much room and time to devote to people, you tend to become pickier with who you add. Otherwise, it becomes too unwieldy and unmanageable and, like I said, time is valuable. It’s even more valuable now that there are millions of varieties to choose from.

That’s not to say, I don’t still have the days where I explore. Last night, before Tobyjoe got home, I hit the Random button over and over again on SPD and clicked around to find new sites. I discovered a few new faces. It was refreshing. The thing is, I didn’t add one of those Web sites to my RSS feed. I did, however, leave a few comments.

In this day and age, with there being so many to choose from, it’s hard to make a huge dent in the blog world. Even if you write one great post and that’s sent to hundreds of thousands of people via AIM, E-mail or by word of mouth, those people will most likely not stick around for too long. I have been sent countless entries over the years and while several of them have made me laugh out loud or hit home in some other way, I don’t remember them now. And I certainly have no recollection of their URLs. At best, I might rediscover them again using Google and searching whatever it is I can remember from the subject matter. But who really has the time to do that?

I discover new sites all the time. But I’m becoming a lot more particular about what I subscribe to. I find that I no longer have the patience for being annoyed or skimming a bunch of repetitive comments. I no longer have the patience for sifting through fluff and I no longer have the patience for trying to catch up on some existing drama and/or storyline. It’s just the way it is for me. I watch shows like CSI and Law and Order in lieu of shows like Survivor (which you have to follow from its beginning) or The O.C. (because I have no clue what dramatic events are taking place in their lives). Getting caught up mid-way through any television drama is frustrating for most people. I think the same can be said about the blog community.

This site is entering its fourth year on the Internet and I’m amazed it’s still up and running and that I still diligently update it. I’m even more amazed I have seen reader growth over the years and haven’t received an eviction notice. But, I have to say, sometimes, it feels completely thankless and, therefore, becomes frustrating. Sometimes, when you start trying to convince yourself that you’re actually out there doing something, and then moments later, you look at your worth, your stats, whatever, reality kicks in. Keeping a blog rarely has any impact in changing the world. I can only think of one personal Web site off the top of my head that has done this. And that’s The Daily Kos who raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for the DNC. Most of the time, keeping a blog is personal and self-important. As soon as we start believing otherwise, we’re fooling ourselves.

But I don’t want to end this on a negative note. That was not my intention at all, quite the contrary, actually. The goal I have set for myself, should I see this site into year five, is to keep a hold of my voice and avoid writing with any one person in mind. This has and always will be about me and it’s to be enjoyed or ignored by whoever wants to enjoy or ignore it. I will never make money off of this Web site. I will never sell it for millions of dollars or become a spoke on an otherwise larger wheel. It will never be bigger than what it is. Having a blog rarely changes the world. The people changing the world don’t sit around writing journal entries in search of more and more comments and traffic and praise. They’re out there raising money, spreading awareness, trying to find medicines for the people who need it, they’re educating our children, helping the oppressed, and working toward peace. The people who are really changing the world and who will be remembered after someone pulls out the ethernet cord aren’t sitting in front of a computer at all.

And I think it’s best to remember that.

31 Comments

  1. Yeah, I use statcounter. It shows IP addresses, etc. I have an invisible counter on my blog. It comes in handy:)

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  2. Does it show the number of times one person clicks to your Web site from a certain site? Curious. I am just now figuring out the way of the stats and how off or misleading they can be for some.

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  3. so my declining readership (according to my statcounter) can be (partially) attributed to the rise of rss feeds and not (entirely) to the fact that I post less often and rarely post something worth reading?

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  4. Closet, yes. And here is where I will let Tobyjoe dictate for me:

    “Services like stat counter and stuff—all of those services work using one or two methods. You either paste a little bit of javascript into your page and that gets run everytime somebody views that page. And when it runs, it sends a message to the stats server saying somebody viewed the page. The second way those packages work, is you’ll paste the image tag into your page. And it causes a image to load from the stats server every time someone views the page. Because RSS feeds are not rendered like a web page is, there’s no “bug” in them. So those external serves never get the messages that someone loaded the RSS.”

    Get it?

    You very well might be getting more traffic than you think.

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  5. Chris and I were just having this conversation yesterday. You articulated the point I was attempting to make better than I could at the time. Your last paragraph is especially poignant.

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  6. Thanks!
    I was a bit unsure about this whole RSS thing – I do exactly what you said you used to do: run through my list of my favourite blogs, some friends and some strangers. I didn’t know if it would be better to subscribe to RSS feeds or not, because I kind of like to ‘discover’ the new posts.
    It seems like a lot of people this week are talking about why they write on weblogs. It sure takes up time and creates a bit of guilt for me, even though I have no clue if anyone reads it… and does it matter? Who are you writing for if not yourself.
    And lastly – I enjoyed your post on New York. I haven’t ever been and hope to take a trip there at some point in the future.

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  7. Kater, if you do, please, please let us know. We will show you around and take you to our favorite eateries.

    Everyone needs to visit once. Just once.

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  8. I’m not sure I will ever get to New York! It’s awfully far from my end of Canada, but I enjoy hearing about your world there. Which I guess sums up why I read your blog. Isn’t there an element of voyeurism in reading blogs? Terrible as that makes me sound! It makes me smile often, and makes me think, and that’s why I come back!

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  9. I think you’re right. There is a huge amount of voyeurism that goes into reading a blog. I am often drawn in for this very reason.

    Toby and I love showing people around the city especially considering we get to see it as well. I haven’t even made a dent in the place.

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  10. My site stats have added “out clicks” as a feature. It saddens me (but, sadly, does not surprise me) to learn that visitors pretty much never click on the hyperlinks in a post, even if an entire post has been built around that which I am linking. It’s one thing if it’s a news story that every has heard about, quite another when it’s a well-written article or official site for whatever it is I’m talking enthusiastically about and want to share with my readers. This makes me wonder, if you don’t care about what interests me, why are you even reading my site? (‘You’ in the collective sense, I mean.)

    As for discovering new blogs, I have found it’s a lengthy cycle, despite the speed at which news and popular-things-of-the-week make their way through the blogging universe. If I suddenly have a brand new regular referral, which happens about once every two months or so, I may click on their site from my stats page here & there but not become a regular reader for months & months. Same thing goes with links to other blogs within sites I already love. Honestly, if it’s going to be a regular read for me, it better wow me with humor, top-notch writing, or fantastic photography to make me come back. Terrible to say, since I do none of those things well.

    Generally, blogs have settled into niches: the gossip blogs, the lefty blogs, the righty blogs, the this-is-my-daily-life blogs, the photography blogs, etc. And the big ones all pretty much link to each other within each niche and have roughly the same content. There’s an oversaturation. Frankly, if I want, say, a left perspective on some issue, I’m going to read Matt Yglesias instead of anyone else because I knew him when I lived in DC. If I want gossip, I’ll go to Gawker first because I’ve been reading it the longest and know its structure fairly well. In other words, it’s difficult to break into blogging and expect to be “famous” (I use that term loosely) unless you are associated with something bigger (a blog attached to a news organization, perhaps, or Nick Denton), are otherwise known for something else and have the street cred to be blogging about that which you are blogging, or have a hook that no one has pounced upon yet.

    Interia keeps me going. My blog should have folded a long time ago, but I do it instead of keeping a written journal. I first started the thing to have a way to let friends from all over know what I am up to. Now I do it to preserve memories. If the nature of my readership were my motivation, I’d be writing an entirely different blog.

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  11. I forgot to add something in my third paragraph about choosing which blogs to read: most blogs I read have been around a long time or are written by people I know or, at least, have met in person. I find that funny, since the internet and blogging initially allowed for people to interact with people they’d otherwise never meet.

    Or, the internet has allowed people to come together and actually meet. And now people are clique-ing all over again. (Not necessarily in a negative way.)

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  12. Mm hmm, very interesting … HEY LOOK OVER THERE!

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  13. Missy, thanks for sharing. I hear you about reading sites that are either run by people I know or that have been around for a while. Why do you think that is? Do you think people don’t trust new blogs? Or do you feel that you need time to get to know them a bit and figure out if they’re full of shit or not?

    I know that I judge a site immediately by how it looks, too. I can’t seem to overcome that. If I click a link and it looks like some existing template and/or there are crappy graphics all over the page, I don’t even read it. It’s true. I guess that makes sense, however, I mean, I am a graphic designer. While I might not be a great one, I still can judge.

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  14. you guys are the “man behind the curtains” with all this techno-talk compared to my world and understanding of the web, i just like when it works!…… but as an outsider in the blog thing….i find i only read blogs from people i know too….i attribute that to what you said above michele, creatures of habbit, and the fact that this trait gets ground in deeper with age. i really could care less what people think or say, the ones i don’t know….but you guys are fun to look in on and you link me physically into a world of friends and past memories that would have otherwise faded because of where i live and the fact that gravity has located me here. so, whatever this “feed your ego” entry means(i have no idea) in the world of the web?….keep up and good work, i’m glad to see you guys are “on-it!”

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  15. Yeah, about the title, it was supposed to be a play on words. Feed (as in RSS feed) and Ego (as in that’s really what a blog is all about, us/me/you/them/her/him.)

    I hate naming posts. :]

    The point of this was really to just say that I think many blogs suffer (including my own) from trying to be more than what they really are. Once you start trying to reach some new height, you kinda lose sight of what it is you’re using to get there.

    A previous title was: Zen in the Art of Blogging, but that seemed too silly. Especially if people didn’t read that book in college. hehe

    I hope that this post didn’t offend anyone or alienate anyone.

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  16. i wasn’t critcising michele, i was just noting that i love visiting your world and even though i haven’t a clue as to how it works(and don’t really want to know) i’m glad you’re doing it and i’m glad it’s here everyday when i stop by. naming stuff, it really doesn’t matter, Zen in the Art of Blogging would have been cool too.

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  17. OH, gregy, I wasn’t directing that comment to you. Sorry about that. :]

    Thanks, though! I like you too!

    Let’s hug.

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  18. Well, I sort of was. What I mean to say is I didn’t think you were criticising me or it. I guess I took it as an opportunity to say that I went back on forth as to what to call this post. Yeah, that’s it.

    I am not sure what the hell I’m talking about. OK?

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  19. Keep in mind there are a lot of different (RSS and/or Atom) feed reader applications out there, so it’s tough to generalize about what people who subscribe to your RSS feed are seeing. I subscribe to your sites’ feeds, but I always click through to your actual web site (so I can read the whole entry as well as people’s comments), so I wonder whether I fall into the category of “real” visitors. (Of course it’s complicated by the fact that my feed reader is coming from a different IP address than my “manual” clicks.) Feeds can include almost everything an entry on your website can—links, pictures, file “enclosures”, a banner-like feed image, and whatnot. I don’t totally agree with TJ that “RSS feeds are not rendered like a web page is.” For example, my feed reader renders images in feed items, so there’s no reason a web bug won’t work in a decent feed reader where the user hasn’t specifically opted not to load images.

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  20. Katie – you’re correct that some readers renders images if they are a part of the content, using a (semantically questionable) standard img tag to bug. The problem is not only that you’d be injecting bad markup into your feed content, but that those site meters don’t show up in feeds unless pasted (or compiled, server-side) into the feed.

    Remember – the topic was why feeds can be missed by popular site buggers. Buggers that use JS are still out of the picture, and those that use images require you to paste the bug into every content item. Even then, you’re only getting numbers from people whose readers are set to show full feed bodies with image rendering enabled.

    What’s POSSIBLE was never in question. I still stand fully by my statement, though, that syndication formats are not rendered the way pages are. That is, until I see one with full CSS support (for background image bugs), scripting interpreters (JS), and plug-in rendering. Of course, then you end up with remote XSL files to load and what is basically another browser…

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  21. By “real” users, I meant unique users. So, I might click on Katie’s site 50 times one day. But really, I’m only one person. That makes sense, right?

    It’d be like if you invited me to your party and I walked through your door 50 times and you counted my walk-through as a visitor each time.

    Right? Am I right?

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  22. YOU BOUGHT A DYSON!!? Did I miss that day? Congratulations! I know it’s been a dream of yours for a while… :)

    Soo… back to what y’all were saying…

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  23. I did. We had a ceremony the day it arrived. I’m now Mrs. Michele Dyson Boudreaux. I am so glad you followed my 3-year ordeal with the whole dyson yearning. Toby got it for me on VD this year. That’s romance!

    I need to still get him a Flowbee. In time. In time.

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  24. Aww! That’s one of the Valentine’s gifts ever. Like the sexiest of lingerie or the sweetest of perfumes, it was someting you’ve been longing for, that you just couldn’t pick up for yourself. Serious love points for TobyJoe!

    It is now just one very small step to the Flowbee.

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  25. sweetest. one of the sweetest VD gifts ever. is what i meant to say.

    And yes, Mihow, I’m glad to have been on the journey with you. :)

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  26. tobyjoe – I had never heard before that the img tag is semantically questionable. Wouldn’t that make pretty much every photoblog feed in existence invalid? I guess I’m not understanding what “bad markup” and “semantically questionable” mean for feeds (like this one) that pass a validator. Doesn’t replacing the < and > with &lt; and &gt; make it all okay within a feed item description?

    I’ll agree with you, though, that many elements of the experience of visiting a web site aren’t necessarily present to someone only viewing a feed from the site.

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  27. I still click around through websites because I don’t like using a reader because I don’t get to see the site…and that’s part of the fun!!!

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  28. An img tag in a photoblog, or in an article in which an image is a point of reference is entirely valid. Adding a tag to a transparent gif for tracking mixes extraneous markup into your content. Doing so is semantically questionable, as the tag has no semantic meaning. When an element is part of either presentation or functionality, mixing it into content introduces semantic issues.

    Again, though – what is POSSIBLE was never the point of my petite summary of feeds. We were discussing how feed consumption can escape being tracked by popular site buggers. Extrapolating from the specific to the general in that case not only takes my statements out of context and create straw man arguments, but leaves the pragmatic relevance of the points in the dust. Feeds skew bugged tracking because the way they function doesn’t – in any meaningful and statistically reliable way – provide useful data.

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  29. Hi! Thanks for that entry! I came here after looking for info on feeds and IP addresses. I’ve blogged for abot 4.5 years. When I started at diaryland, I was “locked/pw accessonly”, so have had mostly a small circle of loyal readers over the years. Last fall, d-land really seemed to die out and a lot of people migrated their blogs to other sites, but kept reading friends (such as myself) who still updated d-land. I wonder if what you wrote might explain something I’ve been intrigued/puzzled about for a while now. One of my most loyal readers & good (I thought?) long-time diary “friends” suddenly stopped reading me last fall after returning from a travel-related absence. It seemed out of character & strange, as I couldn’t think of anything that had offended or turned her off in my blog (more so than any others that I know she definitely still reads). Because of my small readership, I knew everyone’s IP address & hers stopped appearing. It recently occurred to me that perhaps there’s an outside chance she’s been quietly reading all along, only via a feed. Could this be? As well, we’re “friends” on Flickr and she usually has checked in regularly, sometimes leaving comments, after seemingly abandoning my blog. Hmm. The only other thing is that I once looked to see if my d-land page had a feed, via bloglines, and looked to see if I had any subscribers, and it said zero subscribers. Is that accurate, or does it only refer to bloglines members that subscribe, and not those who have my feed in their firefox or safari or google RSS? I am also very curious b/c I was passworded for a while, and don’t know whether my friend-or anyone-could access my feed despite a password? As I said to someone, I guess I’m a little behind the times, b/c blogging has been personal, and small and intimate for me, and I’ve yet to become a syndication snob. I’d love to hear your thoughts. As far as time constraints, it’s certainly possible my “friend” simply had other time constraints or issues that have made her cut my blog out of her reads. Who knows? If so, it hurts a little. I’m very interested to know what you think….

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  30. PS, sorry so long, but this topic is of interest b/c it’s new to me, the ancient old-timer blogger;-)

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