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.