In all the blogs I have ever written, I have had analytics that tells me how many visitors came to various pages. What posts were popular? Tap tap tap 🎤 is this thing on? When I moved my blog to Micro.blog after years of self-hosting, I removed my Google Analytics snippet. What little proof I have that anyone is “here” comes infrequent and primarily from strangers.
I don’t know who has subscribed via RSS.
I don’t know who is following @firstname.lastname@example.org via ActivityPub.
I don’t know who subscribed to the newsletter I briefly turned on and paid for and then turned off, though it still appears to get sent.
I don’t use Conversation.js to view WebMentions or replies of any kind.
All other forms of social media tell me not just how many people follow me, but who has followed me. Most provide me with stats on individual posts, including both views and various forms of interactions. I don’t know how many people read this site. I don’t know who reads this site. Even if I wanted to know, I’d have to somehow collect RSS subscriptions, site page hits, Micro.blog views and interactions, Twitter views and interactions, and Mastodon views and interactions– at a minimum– to get any kind of picture of “reach”.
I used to like knowing that a particular page about how I solved a problem in R continued to get a lot of search traffic. As a result, I was motivated to keep that post reasonably up to date. On social media, I liked knowing that certain friends were reading— it made it possible to make a knowing joke or let me assume that they knew about something that was going on with me because I knew they read it. I guess I don’t agree that likes, follows, replies, or audience metrics are distorting popular contests. Not all feedback is toxic.1
Maybe it’s easier for me to absorb the various metrics about posts because I’ve never had meaningful internet popularity, nor was that ever my goal. I don’t like blog comments— this site is for my words, not everyone else’s— but I do enjoy replies, which remain significantly easier on social platforms than anywhere else. I only rarely receive replies, and I get them entirely through social-like systems where I crosspost like Micro.blog, Twitter, and Mastodon. I like getting a like, because it says, “I was here, and what I found resonated with me.” I’ve had my email address on this site for years and received one email in all of that time. I can’t help to feel like there are better solutions than stripping it all away.
Some people use their blogs as a personal repository of knowledge. They talk about how their site is like a public version of their outsourced brain, letting them search for answers they already have. That’s not why I write. These are my thoughts, sometimes personal and revealing, often not. They always start as something private, but they become something I choose to make public. I want someone to read what I write. I want it to make them laugh, or smile, or think, or get angry, or just get to know who I am a little better.
Why do I write anything in public? Mostly because I would drive my friends crazy with emails and text messages if I shared each thing I thought they might like with them. I kind of already do. I would drive them crazy if I shared all the thoughts I have that I’d love a reaction to. Writing in public is an easy way for me to broadcast to a self-selected group of folks and have them grapple with and engage with me. It helps to maintain many social and para-social relationships without the pressures of direct, synchronous communication.
If a friend leaves me “on read” when I sent them an article directly with my thoughts, I’m going to feel bad. Did I interrupt them? Am I annoying? Are they interested in this conversation? Are they interested in me?
If I write 10 blog posts and I find out they read just one of them, however they let me know, on their own time, I feel great.
I have been thinking about all of this since reading Monique Judge call for a return to personal blogging. I agree with so much of that article, which is why I’ve been semi-consistently blogging for years. But there’s one thing that struck me as, if not wrong, challenging:
People built entire communities around their favorite blogs, and it was a good thing. You could find your people, build your tribe, and discuss the things your collective found important.
Creating communities around blogs remains hard. Very popular sites with authors that focus on very specific topics who also spend significant time moderating their comments sometimes ended up with an entire community. Most blogs just got loads of spam and a drive by comment from someone who landed on your page via Google and decided to be a jerk.
One of the triumphs of social media over blogs was how quickly and easily you could join or bootstrap a community. Are these communities as great as the niche internet of 2001? No. But so many more people were able to find community on social media. Web 2.0 was meant to make the niche web that felt like a community accessible to everyone. It succeeded.
Social media’s success at bringing community to everyone on the internet is mirrored in its failure to ensure those communities were healthy and safe. The real Web 3.0 shouldn’t retreat from some of the goals of Web 2.0 – replies, likes, reposts, follows, and views are all native parts of how communities are built on the web today. I don’t think they are the problem. I just don’t think they are the end point.
In truth, I think the feedback should impact what I write. If I knew that writing some R code on here got 10x the views and that they came almost entirely from people not following me, it’d be a pretty good sign that it would be worth making it easier to just follow that content from me. Not everyone needs to read the “personal” part of this blog, and I often want to “follow/subscribe” to an intersection of a person and some topics they care about and not have to read everything someone writes. That has been the best and worst part of social media consumption– you’re stuck with the whole person, every time. ↩︎