I’m approaching post 2000. As I move close to this auspicious number, it has occurred to me that this may be a good time to stop blogging. My traffic is way down and has been way down for years now, and keeps declining. But even if it were not, it’s pretty clear to me that blogging is not much of a thing anymore, at least not blogging as I have practiced it.
Successful blogs these days are not collections of essays like this one, but for the most part contain short and punchy posts. That’s not my style. I use a popular WordPress plugin called Yoast, which helps boost your traffic by basically making your post more attractive to Google. I’m sure that if I took Yoast’s advice I probably would see more traffic, but it would also violate the spirit of my blog. This is a blog of essays and it aspires to be of interest to highly literate people capable of deep thought. Yoast though wants my posts shorter. It wants me to add more headings, pictures and links. It wants me to give short excerpts of the post for search engines. It wants me to use even simpler sentences to make it optimal for people with no more than an eighth grade education.
Ironically, the same technology that elevated my blog years ago now seems intent on killing it. Search engines like Google (the only one that really counts) continually refine their algorithms, which they don’t share. What Google is looking for is relevance, an ephemeral quality. It all amounts to: is this site worthy of promoting in its search engine to advance the company’s profits? A blog of essays does nothing to help Alpha (Google’s parent company) increase it’s shareholders’ fortunes.
Basically Google wants you to spend your life in search engine optimization (SEO) hell. You are expected to work ruthlessly to promote it at your own time and expense for the tiny chance that you will have enough “relevant” content for Google to send people your way. You are expected to master the complexity of SEO, which is basically impossible without paying a lot of money to consultants, which is increasingly making blogging a privilege of the rich. The result of this “relevance” strategy is to deprecate the very things about my blog that I want to retain. So by retaining this approach, I attract fewer readers.
The really successful blogs these days are attached to successful sites, with Huffington Post coming to mind. The author is already someone of some prominence. They are broadcasting their stuff not just in a blog, but are constantly tweeting and posting to Instagram and pore through their site’s analytics to look for ways to make their site more attractive. Yoast tells me such with every post.
Frankly, this is a game I don’t like playing, so I haven’t. So sixteen years of blogging may be enough. The Internet has moved on. Blogging is still a thing, but if Google has their way relevance means it must be of topical interest and take you into an area of specialization. With essays that mostly discuss current events, I am part of a huge pool of similar bloggers. An occasional post will get a fair number of shares or likes (it’s rare to get more than ten likes for a post) but comments are virtually nil.
My first post was on December 13, 2002. My friend Lisa who beat me to it inspired me. Her blog is still around. But she is naturally more connected and sociable than I am, in spite of us both being introverted. Also, she posts a lot less frequently. Maybe I need to do something like that.
So 2000 posts may be it, or maybe even this one (post 1987). Or maybe I should close it down on December 13, 2018, which would make it exactly sixteen years. We’ll see. If it shuts down, it will probably eventually migrate to wordpress.com where at least it will persist indefinitely, but at someone else’s expense.
It’s unlikely though that I would stop putting my stuff out there in some form. I might try podcasting or nibble at vlogging (video blogging), but both take more work than I am likely to want to engage in. If so, I will assume a new persona. Perhaps by looking fresher I will attract more readers.
Sixteen years is a good long time to ride a trend, but it’s abundantly clear to me that blogging is a trend that has been petering out for a while now, being killed slowly by our search engines. And I won’t pay the price in time and treasure to be relevant the way that Google wants me to be.
I am loathe to give up my blog’s styling. But arguably my blog’s old WordPress theme, while dark grey with white letters was “cool” (IMHO) and has suited me well for more than fifteen years, wasn’t very attractive to Google. Google reports:
Top new issues found, ordered by number of affected pages:
Clickable elements too close together
Text too small to read
Content wider than screen
Viewport not set
Shame on me I guess, as I teach CSS and HTML and most things web and should have fixed this stuff years ago. I’m just strangely apathetic about fixing these things as I like things to look just the way they (mostly) always have been.
So I have reluctantly updated my blog’s style to something more traditional and pretty simple, cutting down a lot on the clutter in the sidebars. In fact, I’ve moved from two wordy sidebars to just one. So hopefully it is more usable and Google will start ranking my site a little better. My stats have been miserable for quite a while, and this may be the result. I should care more but I just don’t.
None of this makes any difference to you, I suspect, unless you visit so often that it also seems jarring. Perhaps I will get used to this one on this blog. I already use it on another site I manage.
I couldn’t give up on the Rodin’s “The Thinker” image though, something of a signature for my site. So a little hacking of the WordPress template and a couple of CSS style changes and it at least is back and consistent.
It will take me a while to get used to it, however. And I’ll miss the old style. I just couldn’t find something dark that was both acceptable and not a huge hassle to retrofit.
It’s a brand new year but it’s already looking a lot like 2016 with a terrorist incident killing dozens in Istanbul. I won’t reprise 2016 here, but I will do my annual look at my blog’s statistics and usage in 2016 to see what people were reading. I’m keeping it succinct this year. When I moved hosting I lost my web statistics, and a lot of the statistics I used to count are less trustworthy.
Overall web traffic was down modestly compared to 2015, about 10% overall. Web traffic does not include non-browser (syndicated) traffic. The vast majority of web traffic is from people who arrive via search engine queries. Considering the blog home page is the #1 most accessed page, perhaps I get a lot of readers who prefer to read the blog the old fashioned way: by coming to it using a browser. It’s hard to know.
In 2016 there were 3.66% fewer users (16,185 users), 5.33% fewer sessions (16,993 sessions) and 9.71% fewer page views compared to 2015, according to Google Analytics. A total of 20,650 pages were served, if Google Analytics is measuring traffic correctly.
I also track web traffic with StatCounter and Quantcast. Quantcast recorded about 14,800 visits and about 14,800 global views. StatCounter counted 14,190 first time visits, 14,555 unique visits and 17,026 page views.
One of the mysteries of this business is why Google tends to see more traffic than other sources.
Unsurprisingly, plenty of readers were looking for sex, as I make scanning Craigslist’s casual encounters section a monthly feature of the blog. Without doing this I suspect my traffic would have sagged more than it did. In 2015 this post became something of a hit and shows up as #2 in this list for 2016:
JonBenet Ramsey and the tip of the iceberg (506 views)
Facebook’s appallingly bad user interface (244 views)
It’s hard to know how much syndicated traffic I am getting. I use Feedcat.net to measure traffic. I assume it is reasonably accurate. Unfortunately, I can only get a graph, and I can only see statistics for the last six months. A few days ago I had a spike of 254 unique weekly readers, but overall I averaged 30-40 unique readers a week.
In general I’m getting a lot less syndicated traffic than a year ago. It’s unclear if this is due to less interest or Feedcat changing its algorithm. They are not transparent about their methods.
I tag every post with one or more tags. A tag archive contains a collection of posts with the same tag. These were my top five most popular tags in 2016 according to Google Analytics:
Taxes (188 hits)
Craigslist (133 hits)
Tarsal tunnel (101 hits)
Rose Rosetree (99 hits)
Star Trek (95 hits)
Sociology (30 views)
Chrome (55% of traffic, up 10% from last year)
Safari (20% of traffic, down from 22% from last year) – This is probably mostly hits from iPhones and iPads
Firefox (10% of traffic, down 5% from last year)
Internet Explorer (10% of traffic, down 3% last year)
Android browser (2% of traffic)
Busiest month: January (2091 sessions)
Slowest month: November (1004 sessions)
Mobile sessions in 2016: 4767 smartphone and 918 tablet sessions
% Mobile visits of Total Visits: 28%
Quantcast used to provide demographics of my readership. This year it tells me it can’t, at least not without a premium subscription. Google Analytics though think it knows. Here are some things it says about you readers:
The highest segment of readers is ages 25-34 (24%)
Men mostly read my blog (62%)
44% of traffic comes from the United States, 25% from Germany, 7% from the Netherlands, 6% from the United Kingdom and 2% from Canada
Google Analytics tracks social usage. It counts as top referrers:
It’s not the least bit obvious to you but this blog is now coming to you from the cloud. My move to cloud computing is but my latest adventure in hosting. This blog has moved around so many times in its nearly fourteen years even I don’t remember all the places it’s been hosted at. For at least the last four years or so my sites have been hosted at Hostgator on its generally inexpensive shared hosting for about $15 a month (plus an annoying $4 a month for a dedicated IP).
Today though you are being served my fresh content from the cloud. Yes, I am using cloud computing at last, rather than a server in a server farm somewhere. Actually a server farm and a cloud-computing center look pretty much the same except the cloud-computing center is likely a lot bigger. Even I have no idea exactly where my words are coming from, but rest assured they are still sent from a machine on a rack deep in a hosting center somewhere.
All I really know is my blog comes from a gridserver.com domain, which is owned by MediaTemple. “Owned” probably does not apply here. I’m using MediaTemple’s Shared Grid, which is actually Amazon Web Services. I know this from calling their support and asking the question. While MediaTemple still has hosting centers, they have outsourced their shared hosting to AWS. MediaTemple is not alone. Oddly enough most major web hosts are outsourcing a lot of their hosting to someone who will do it faster, better and cheaper in the cloud. This is probably Amazon Web Services, but they are not alone either. Google and Microsoft are the two other major cloud providers and there are a host of smaller ones.
I’m in the cloud in part for cost but also because being in the cloud I get more value. MediaTemple’s Shared Grid service uses all solid state drives, which means there is none of the latency that exists from retrieving content off a disk drive, which requires moving disk platters around. So all things being even, response is faster on this hosting. Readers should also be “closer” to my blog: six routers in my case instead of sixteen to get through between server and browser. (Static content comes from a content delivery network I pay $9 a month for.) So now it’s like going through six stoplights to get to a destination instead of sixteen. A properly managed cloud-computing center also takes care of a lot of the hard stuff, mostly through advanced engineering. Outages are far less likely; patches are less likely to incur downtime. In general readers like you should expect faster response and fewer quirks and issues.
Where vendors like MediaTemple add value is by making using the cloud quite simple. If you were to buy an Amazon EC2 service, you would be expected to manage much of it yourself, including security and upgraded to the operating system. Amazon handles the backend stuff, but MediaTemple wrote a nice friendly wrapper with its control panel so I can use it without thinking too much. It is still technical to administer my sites at times but most stuff can be done elegantly inside its control panel.
Rehosting though is still a pain, which is why I’ve avoided the hassle and waited until my Hostgator contract was ready to expire. This is one of five domains I own. Moving each to the cloud is hardly a trivial process. It means moving masses of files around and in most cases exporting and importing a database, skills not easily acquired. I also have to edit a number of files to make the integration between programs and databases work. This all takes time, attention and a certain amount of geeky skills that I happen to have.
Since I can get this for a fair price (up to 100 domains for about $20 a month, with obvious overall resource quotas I am unlikely to exceed) my hope is this will be the last time I have to rehost. I’ve been plugging away at this for more than a day and my most challenging site still has to be moved. To move that I’ll also have to integrate a certificate first so that content can be sent securely.
In general though I am following the trends. At some point traditional hosting will be obsolete. It will all move to the cloud and probably hosted by Amazon, Google or Microsoft. You won’t know or care who’s doing the heavy lifting. Vendors like MediaTemple and HostGator will distinguish themselves by writing wrappers around cloud hosts for an optimal customer experience and by working with cloud providers so that the infrastructure can be highly tuned for their customers’ needs.
For you and me, reading my blog should be a faster, less quirky and a more reliable experience.
When I started this blog in late 2002, blogging was an up and coming thing. Fourteen years later, there is plenty of evidence that while blogging is not quite dead it is dying. I can look at my own web statistics to see the trend. While I strongly suspect my web statistics were overstated in the early years due to incorrectly counting robots and search engines, according to the most accurate gauge that I have (Google Analytics), I am getting 18% of the page views in 2015 that the blog got in 2010.
I am not helped because my blog is both very personal and largely themeless. Those blogs that succeed today tend to be rooted around a much more popular website, like a blogger posting on Huffington Post. A successful blog is often extremely specialized (narrowcasting is the term I have heard used). Over the last decade or so, web marketers have learned all sorts of tricks on how to catch eyeballs. Just ask Facebook, Gawker (RIP), Twitter and Tumblr, to name a few. Mobile devices with smaller sized screens just further the trend. People want content in small and succinct bites, which bodes ill for long form blogs like mine.
My monthly foray into the Craigslist Casual Encounters section was due largely to people continually coming to my site for these postings. Making a monthly review of local postings is not so much for my own amusement as it is for yours. My hope is that having satisfied your prurient interest, you might stick around and read my other stuff too. It works somewhat and may explain that while my statistics like most blog sites are declining, I suspect I am doing better than most. You know things are bad when bloggers like Andrew Sullivan give up their blog.
I don’t feel particularly inclined to throw in the towel. This blog has been more about keeping me engaged mentally than anything else. Not that I haven’t considered giving it up. I did once drop out for a couple of weeks after Google mysteriously delisted me. Blogging may not bring in the traffic it used to, but as part of a site it’s definitely useful. If you run a small business on the web, one of the best ways to increase traffic (after convincing other sites to list your site) is to maintain a blog and regularly post relevant content on it. This helps establish that you are serious about your site by demonstrating that are willing to spend time to keep it fresh and topical, as well as offer nuggets useful to the public at large. In my case, this blog is the website. It serves no higher purpose and has not proven a way to make me independently rich.
I have noticed that web traffic is just one piece of my total traffic. A lot of people read me through the site’s feed. This week Feedcat (my blog aggregator) tells me I have 295 readers. If these readers are regular readers, that’s a whole lot more valuable to me than webpage hits. How many singers would be happy if the same 295 people came to hear them sing once a week? So while I don’t fill stadiums, I do fill a small virtual auditorium with generally the same people. I don’t know how much of my post they read, or if they read it at all. Judging from the dearth of comments I receive, most of them probably scan my content or are looking for that one special post, like the monthly Craigslist casual encounters post.
The general trend though is clear. Blogging is not dead, but it is less interesting to people on the web and it is becoming more specialized. Right now it works best as a narrowcast channel for mostly textual content. If your content is video, you are probably better off with a YouTube channel instead. It’s also quite useful for small communities where there are handfuls of content creators. The popular blogging software WordPress serves 26 percent of the content on the web, more than any other software solution. Most of that content is coming from hosted web servers. The beauty of WordPress is that it is both elegant blogging software and an elegant content management system. Obviously I like it as I have been using WordPress for at least eight years. Most likely WordPress is being used for your church’s website, but also to post the minister’s blog on it too. Small businesses find WordPress a no-brainer as well as the entry fee is small (just hosting) but the features available in WordPress and its thousands of plugins make pretty much anything possible and not too hard to do.
So perhaps it’s better to say that blogging is changing. It’s becoming a feature of a site rather than its reason for being. Blogging is probably not a way to riches, unless it is of the non-monetary kind. It does make it simple to get your content on the web and simple for you to control it. It allows you to personalize the content and make it easily available on lots of devices and media. It offers you a level of control that can’t be matched with a Facebook page, or a Tumblr or Twitter account. A blog is not easy to market. It depends mostly on friends or colleagues promoting it for you.
Blogging is still useful but it’s not a way to get lots of page views, at least not without a lot of really popular and unique content. Keep your expectations modest if you are going to blog; make the blog at least interesting to you so you will want to keep at it. This has to be enough or there’s no point in starting.
I only analyze my blog’s statistics annually, usually on January 1 for the previous year. The more I study web statistics however, the more I realize that they can lead you astray. For example, about 50% of my web hits come from referrals from search engines. This explains why my most popular web content is old, in some cases a decade or older. Just 7% of my web traffic was from a known referral (such as another website) and 4% came via social media links.
The blog’s home page is still the most hit web page, but it’s just 8% of all web page requests. This means that from the perspective of those using a browser this blog is more of an archive of potentially interesting disparate topics than someplace to go to get some insight into current issues. Increasingly those interested in current content on my blog are getting it indirectly through feeds. My stuff pops up in whatever technology they are using, perhaps a Tumblr account or in their Feedly instance. I can’t blame them. This is exactly what I do too since it is much more efficient.
So my web hits are a lot less important than they used to be and don’t measure all my traffic, which partially explains my declining web hits over the years. In 2007 when feeds were relatively unused, I started reporting web hits to Google Analytics. Mostly since then my web hits have dropped, some years precipitously, but at least some of that traffic moved toward feeds instead.
In any event, I intuitively trust Google to provide reliable web statistics. Here are my annual web statistics courtesy of Google Analytics, which shows a 9% drop in sessions in 2015 compared with 2014 and a 12% drop in page views. For 2015 there were 17,950 sessions, 16,800 users and 22,871 page views. That’s on average 49 sessions a day and about 63 page requests a day. Presumably it is all human traffic. Overall though, web traffic has been pretty flat the last three years.
Next is a chart of my daily web hits over the year, as measured by Google Analytics. I noted a major spike beginning in November that has continued into December but seems to be receding. I don’t know why as no new post registered lots of hits. But I know most of these new hits are coming from Germany. Can someone from Germany leave a comment if you know what’s going on?
I also track hits with StatCounter and Quantcast. Quantcast recorded about 16,300 visits (which is roughly equivalent to Google Analytics sessions) and about 24,000 page views. Note: statistics for December 31, 2015 are not available yet.
StatCounter counted 14,523 unique visits, 14,041 first time visits and 18,374 page views, so it’s recording a fraction of what Google and Quantcast noted. I think this is mostly due to pings getting lost or blocked on their way to their servers.
While my web hits sagged compared to previous years, I’m at least doing well with feed (syndication) hits. A year ago I had 198 readers. Today I have 643 readers. A few weeks ago I hit 2096 readers. Feedcat, my feed broadcaster, won’t give me raw numbers but it will give me a traffic graph for the last six months:
Feeds show interest in current content by measuring how many times a single client polls the feed. So these numbers are good news as it suggests that over the course of the year I tripled interest in my current content. It also shows a surge in readers starting in November, with 43% from Germany, with lots of daily spikes up and down since then. This is not unexpected, as I don’t normally post every day. Thanks again to all the Germans and others who are reading my blog. I do appreciate it.
Now I’ll delve into what people were reading in 2015. Feed hits are for current posts and tend to represent a bundle of posts (usually the most current ten posts) displayed at once. I can only count web hits here so presumably a lot of people were reading my current posts. I get few comments, probably because commenting through a feed is a hassle. (Note: this should now be much easier as I have addressed the spam comments issue with a Cleantalk subscription. So go ahead and click and comment; you should not have to go through a CAPTCHA.) From my web hits though I can see what’s hot and what’s not for those in browser-land.
Most viewed posts
If you wonder why I feature a monthly review of local Craigslist casual encounters post, you can see evidence here. Three of my top ten posts are Craigslist related. People read this stuff, albeit irregularly and mostly through web searches where a post matches some particular search term. My Google Analytics dashboard shows at least 2284 Craigslist pages viewed, and there’s much more from feed readers. I’m not sure if it’s because the web surfers are kinky, super horny or like me just find some humor in the bizarre stuff found on Craigslist. It’s for the latter reason that I also read the People of Walmart site daily.
Site home page (1779 views, #1 last year too)
Eulogy for my mother in law (1282 views, #2 last year too)
The Illusion of Time (761 views, #7 last year)
Craigslist casual encounters: now a crazily dangerous and illegal waste of time (663 views, #3 last year)
The Root of Human Conflict: Emotion vs. Reason (380 views, #4 last year)
Craigslist casual encounters: now officially a complete waste of time (366 views, #5 last year)
If Aubrey fought Hornblower, who would win? (334 views)
Looking at browser usage is interesting to me and these usually follow web trends in general. Chrome is now dominant and IE, formerly the 800-pound gorilla, is fading quickly as Microsoft has largely give up this game and is promoting its new Edge browser instead. It’s curious that my Firefox traffic actually increased, bucking the general trend.
Chrome (45% of traffic, up from 31% last year)
Safari (22% of traffic, down from 23% last year) – This is probably mostly hits from iPhones and iPads
Firefox (15% of traffic, up from 11% last year)
Internet Explorer (13% of traffic, down from 23% last year)
Android browser (2% of traffic)
Busiest month: December (3443 sessions)
Slowest month: August (969 sessions)
Mobile sessions in 2015: 3580 smartphone and 1761 tablet sessions
% Mobile visits of Total Visits: 30% (unchanged from last year)
Quantcast used to provide demographics of my readership. This year it tells me it can’t. Google Analytics though think it knows. Here are some things it says about you readers:
The highest segment of readers is ages 25-34 (23%), but these statistics are incomplete due to highly sporadic sampling
Men mostly read my blog (62%)
53% of traffic comes from the United States, 24% from Germany, 4% from the United Kingdom and 3% from Canada
Why people bother to read my blog is a mystery Google will probably never understand, as it tends to be theme-less. A general survey would help but I have no way to get a representative sample. For those who subscribe to the blog, I suspect its appeal is that its scope is wide, which makes it relatively unique. The web excels at narrowcasting and my blog has more of a broadcast flavor.
According to AddThis, which adds a tracking anchor to the end of URLs if you hit the site with a browser, there were 161 shares in 2015, with 134 sharing by copying the address bar in the browser, 6 Facebook likes, 8 Twitter tweets, 3 on Pinterest and 10 other shares. This is miniscule and nothing to brag about. It also says there were 5,508 visits, but I’m not sure what that means. The top content shared:
Facebook’s appallingly bad user interface (36 visits)
Craigslist tag (35 visits)
The root of human conflict: emotion vs. reason (32 visits)
Google Analytics tracks social media differently. It looks at the referrer (referring web site) and if it’s a social media site, it counts it. It counts as top referrers:
StumbleUpon (608 sessions). These appear to be almost entirely for my “The Illusion of Time” post.
Pinterest (78 sessions)
Twitter (44 sessions)
Facebook (34 sessions)
Tumbler (22 sessions)
Raw web log statistics
Finally, there are my raw web log statistics. Most of these hits are various search engines, not actual human beings, which means there are a whole lot of search robots regularly indexing the blog for a relatively tiny amount of human traffic. Here is my AWStats summary for 2015:
While I do a lot of blogging, I suck at marketing my blog. Oh, I do look at who’s viewing my blog and check my statistics daily, and often more than once a day. Google Analytics provides a wealth of data on my web hits, and StatCounter is useful to see what was recently read. Aside from dressing up my blog’s sidebars with marketing stuff and making sure my content is easily accessible as a newsfeed, I can’t seem to be bothered to do much else.
Part of the problem is that my blog serves principally to keep me amused and to stave off boredom. If readers find an occasional post worthy of a Facebook Like or a Share, that’s nice, but I don’t lose sleep when they don’t. You would think that as a software engineer and someone who spent ten years directing the management of the largest web site in the U.S. Department of the Interior, I might find this web marketing business pretty easy. But one thing I learned early on is if you have great content, the marketing kind of takes care of itself.
In that job I simply worked to make the content more readily accessible and to make sure that the data was easily consumed. I spent much of my ten years there leading an effort to make the site’s data accessible as a set of web services. In this sense I do know marketing. When I left these new web services constituted the third most accessed site for my agency, in spite of not having existed just a few years earlier.
On this blog though my traffic is pretty anemic, particularly during the summer. There are things I could do to get more hits: shorter posts, more topical posts, turn it into more of a stream of consciousness blog and link ruthlessly to posts in other blogs, which seems to be the way blog aggregators like Tumblr work. Doing this though would ruin blogging for me. It might be successful, but I wouldn’t care. I’d be bored with my own blog.
During one of the recent Net Neutrality debates I mentioned that the Internet was already not net neutral. If you can afford little, you may (shudder) use an Earthlink dial-up account and watch web pages slowly draw themselves like they did in 1995. If you can afford $100 a month or more for Internet, or live in a place like Kansas City where you can get Google Fiber, you can cruise the Internet at 100MB per second or more. Some people have 1GB/sec connections.
If you have your own web site you also have some factors that limit the speed of your website. That’s the case with this blog. I host the site on hostgator.com, which is a really good shared web host. What’s not optimal about Hostgator is that while it can reliably serve most content at $5 or so a month, getting the data between its servers and your computer can be like going through every traffic light in town to get home from work as opposed to taking the expressway. It typically took eight or more “hops” to get my blog posts to my computer. A “hop” in this case means a router, which is effectively a traffic light as it routes parts of web pages from one place to another. According to Google Analytics that it took about ten seconds to load one of my web pages. Most of that was due to all those routers that had to be traversed.
So it finally dawned on me that this was probably a significant reason my traffic is declining. Google is looking at the hassle factor at getting content from my site, and is probably lowering my search rankings because of it. Aware of the problem for several years I have used CloudFlare to try to speed up the serving of my content. CloudFlare is a content delivery network or CDN. It specializes in reducing the number of traffic lights and making sure that my content goes through crazily fast connections, usually one physically close to where you are. Hostgator (and a lot of web hosts) offer CloudFlare for free to its customers. CloudFlare like every CDN sells a more expansive service for those with deeper pockets.
I had outsourced my CDN to CloudFlare, but I never really went back to look to see if it was doing a good job. There are probably things I could do to cache more of my content on CloudFlare’s servers (probably for money) but mostly I stuck with its defaults and ignored it. However, when I looked at Google Analytics, my average page load time was still stuck at around ten seconds.
Ten seconds is a long time to wait for content these days. So I figured I was probably losing a lot of readers because they lose patience and go elsewhere, particularly mobile users. We want every web page to load like a Google web page: fully dress itself for our eyes in a couple of seconds or less.
But not my blog. It was like a horse-drawn milk wagon compared with a racing car. Actually, this describes a lot of sites on the web, particularly Mom and Pop affairs where the owners know little or nothing about web architecture.
I decided to put on my software engineering hat, and started researching CDNs some more. There’s a lot of competition in the market, mostly aimed at well moneyed corporations. I’m just a little blog, however. And this blog runs on WordPress. What options do I have for a swift CDN that won’t cost me an arm and a leg? CloudFlare was free but it clearly wasn’t doing the job.
After some research I settled on MaxCND.com. For about $9 a month it will serve my pages quick. Of course if traffic increases a whole lot it could get a lot more expensive. But if I am content to use principally their servers in Europe and the USA (which is most of my readers) and I expect a terabyte or less of bandwidth a month then $9 a month should be fine. I can afford that. My pages seem to load in about 3 seconds now. A lot of the sidebar stuff comes from elsewhere, so that slows things down a bit. But the main content, if it is cached, takes about a second to load. That’s pretty impressive for $9 a month. And this fast speed might draw in new readers.
So far it’s looking good. Today’s traffic is roughly double what it was two days ago. Over time Google may take notice and rank my posts higher in their search engine. Here’s hoping.
Does your blog or website need a CDN too? It can’t hurt if you can afford it, and it can’t hurt to do your research and see which CDN is best optimized for your kind of content. MaxCDN has a plug in that works with WordPress to facilitate sharing. It was a little tedious to get it configured but the instructions were clear enough. Some of it is kind of wonky (how many people know what minifying is anyhow?) but the more technical you are the more you can fine tune things.
Please note you don’t need a CDN if you are using a blogging platform like Tumblr, BlogSpot or WordPress.com. They are already effectively CDN platforms as well as blogging sites. But if you host your own site and you want to increase traffic, integrating your site with the right CDN may be the most cost effective way to go.
I’ll be watching my metrics and perhaps reporting success or failure in the months ahead. So far the signs look good.
Before I begin blogging in earnest for 2015, a look at this blog’s statistics for 2014. My web browser traffic has been on the downturn for years, but at least in 2014 that problem has been arrested, although modestly, with a 7% increase in visitors compared with 2013. According to Google Analytics:
Overall 2014 Web Usage Statistics
Total Sessions: 19,727 (54 per day), up 7% compared with 2013
Total Page Views: 26,104 (71.5 pages per day), up 5.2% compared with 2013
Percent of New Visits: 88.9% (85.4% in 2013)
Most Viewed Posts
Site home page: 2,260 page views, up 25% compared with 2013
Eulogy for my mother in law: 1,622 page views, up 66% compared with 2013
Craigslist casual encounters: now a crazily dangerous and illegal waste of time: 941 page views, up 47% compared with 2013
The root of human conflict: emotion vs. reason: 733 page views, down 2.8% compared with 2013
Craigslist casual encounters: now officially a complete waste of time: 522 page views, down 77% compared with 2013
Eulogy for my mother: 522 page views, down 44% compared with 2013
The illusion of time: 454 page views, down 62% compare with 2013
If Aubrey fought Hornblower, who would win? 313 page views, up 30% compared with 2013
Facebook’s appallingly bad user interface: 312 page views, down 8% compared with 2013
Review: What the bleep do we know? 251 page views (this was not in the top ten list last year)
It’s curious how few items on the Top Ten list change from year to year. My most popular content remains quite dated. Certain Craigslist posts though continue to score impressively, which perhaps justifies my monthly forays into my local Craigslist casual encounters section.
Tags are a way to organize content that are more discrete than the larger lumping of a category. Top tags in 2014:
Craigslist (356 page views)
Taxes (187 page views)
Tarsal tunnel (130 page views)
Mr. Spock (125 page views)
Ideal Protein (107 page views)
Sociology (54 page views)
Chrome (30.89%, 6,093 page views)
Safari (23.07%, 4,551 page views)
Internet Explorer (22.84%, 4,506 page views)
Firefox (11.12%, 2,193 page views)
Mozilla Compatible Agent (4.27%, 842 page views)
Safari is principally from iPhone browsers and indicates mostly mobile traffic.
Busiest month: January (3,001 page views)
Slowest month: December (1,622 page views)
Mobile sessions in 2014: 3,759 smartphone and 2,173 tablet sessions
% Mobile Visits of Total Visits: 30% (up from 26.3% in 2013)
In the middle of the year I gave up FeedBurner as my syndicator, since it was clear that Google was not maintaining it. I switched to feedcat.net and it routinely shows me with more than 200 subscribers. It says I currently have 198 subscribers, which are the same as unique week readers. If this describes you, thanks for reading! More is good and it indicates a trend I’ve seen for a few years now where content is being read indirectly through aggregators and newsfeeds instead of through browser views. This explains, in some part, the drop in direct web hits over the last few years but makes it impossible to know what you are reading, although presumably it is current content.
According to AddThis, which adds a tracking anchor to the end of URLs if you hit the site with a browser, there were 187 shares in 2014, with 147 via copying an address bar, 14 on Facebook and 11 on Twitter.
Google Analytics tracks social media differently. It looks at the referrer (referring web site) and if it’s a social media site, it counts it. It counts as top referrers:
StumbleUpon (372 sessions)
Facebook (164 sessions)
Twitter (12 sessions)
Pinterest (11 sessions)
Blogger (5 sessions)
Quantcast.com has a number of statistics about my readers. You are disproportionately male (68% of total), ages 45-54 (23% of total), childless and make more than $100,000 a year. I attract an overly disproportionate amount of readers with graduate degrees as well as Asians and Whites. I also tend to attract Democrats and politically active people.
Raw web log statistics
Finally, there are my raw web log statistics, which suggest the blog is overrun with visitors. Most of these are various search engines, not actual human beings, which means there are a whole lot of search robots regularly indexing the blog for a relatively tiny amount of human traffic. My web hosts provide a number of web log statistics analysis tools. I’ll use AWStats. For 2014 there were:
This blog scratches my writing itch, but most of us writers would rather be published than place our writings in a blog. Being published still means something. Today it means one or more authorities singled you out as worthy of being published, usually on paper. Publishers are not in the business of wasting money. They only publish content they believe will earn them a profit. Coincidentally, published authors earn actual money.
Being a published writer is hard and breaking into the ranks is the hardest part, which is probably why I blog. I may be a good writer, but I am not a great writer and probably will never be. I write because I must. In retirement I may have the leisure to pick up electronic pen and try writing a great novel. But I have little illusions that after it is done that it will be published.
This is because potential authors are a dime a dozen. Publishers are inundated with unsolicited manuscripts, many of them quite good, but most of them trash. At best, an author’s unsolicited manuscript will get a cursory read of the first couple pages by some low level staffer and if it doesn’t meet a niche or market or a quality standard, it is quickly rejected. Even if it meets all of these criteria, the odds are still that it will get rejected, mainly just because. Authors send out their manuscripts anyhow. A few rejection letters will crush the egos of most authors. They will assume they don’t have the “write” stuff and shuffle along disheartened toward more productive but less enthralling careers.
Writers that take the time to research what it takes to get published usually discover it’s a waste of time to send unsolicited manuscripts to publishers. Instead, they try to find a literary agent to represent them. It’s the difference between getting an automated response from a firm and talking to a human being. A literary agent is a trusted broker. If a true literary agent accepts you as a client then your manuscript is virtually certain to get published.
This means that both book publishers and literary agents get inundated with manuscripts. In both venues there are the flakes out there. Vanity publishers are glad to print your book as long as you are willing to pay for it and market it yourself. Similarly, there are literary agents that probably don’t deserve the title but may be interested in critiquing your work, for a fee, or passing it on to an editor who, for a fee, will be glad to edit it, but with little likelihood that it can actually be marketed. A real literary agent is on a first name basis with editors at key publishers and knows what they are looking for. You are not charged any fees at all until a work is published. The agent typically collects fifteen percent of the royalties.
So getting a real agent is a hard bar to reach. I did have a literary agent briefly out of college. I set my expectations low for breaking into the field. CBS Radio Mystery Theater was on the air in the 1970s. I asked an agent to submit a couple of scripts for them. She agreed but they were quickly bounced back. Apparently staff wrote all their scripts. I gave up the idea of writing a great novel or screenplay and went to work instead because I was broke.
My wife, actually a better writer than I am, also wrote all sorts of stories in the science fiction, children and fantasy genres. She sent them out to various publications to see if they might publish them. Her heart was broken time and again. She too gave up. When she chooses to write today, it is for a genre called slash that appeals to the fan fiction community. Needless to say there is no money in it, but there is the occasional fan mail and recognition at a convention.
Our daughter (almost 24 years old) took up the pen naturally. Arguably, if a budding writer had to be born anywhere, she picked good parents. We provided a nutrient-rich literary soup for her. Our house is full of books. There is a newspaper on the kitchen table every morning, and various magazines to read. In addition, we exposed her early to the arts. Just last night we took her to see Miss Saigon at Signature Theater (review to come). She saw her first musical at age six but by now has seen more theater than most people do in several lifetimes. We encouraged her writing but warned her that, like us, she probably couldn’t earn a living at it. I encouraged her toward journalism, which at least pays something resembling a living wage. But no, she set her mark impossibly high. She wanted to write fiction. Worse, she chose fantasy novels, which with the exception of J.K. Rowling is a pretty limited market. We warned her that she had set herself up for a bigger failure because it was a highly saturated but limited market. It was best, we counseled, to do it on nights and weekends. You are going to need a full time job at a desk somewhere to get by.
But still she plugged away, while we fretted over her grades and her slow but measured progress in college. She did earn her bachelor’s degree in English this spring. She is still looking for a job. We did give her credit for doggedness. She finished her book, first of a trilogy, and kept shopping it around to literary agents that seemed interested in this stuff. She endured lots of rejection, crushed spirits but also occasional notes of encouragement. And somehow she kept plunging ahead. We cheered her on while grimacing privately at the probability of the brick wall she was about to hit. It was our experience that life was unfair, and no matter how good you were, most of us writers were fated to be unpublished. We certainly were. We just gave up.
Spring turned to summer, summer headed toward autumn. She seemed doomed to the fate of Sisyphus. It hurt to watch and it felt counterproductive sometimes to encourage her perseverance but gosh, she sure was good. Both my wife and I agree her writing was far better than anything we ever wrote. Meanwhile she went on job interviews far beneath her talents and wrote into the wee hours.
On Wednesday, Lowenstein Associates, a New York literary agency, sent her a contract to sign. Look for her book, Godbinder, first part of a trilogy to be published by some lucky publisher in 2014 under the pen name of J. M. Saint.
Since retirement is on my mind, what to do next is also on my mind. Here’s what I won’t be doing:
Playing golf. I never tried, but it’s expensive and since it requires agility then I am likely to do as well at it as I dance. (I have little sense of rhythm or balance.) So I figure I would prove to be spectacularly bad at it.
Ski. See playing golf. Plus I imagine myself in casts and walking around for weeks in crutches.
Sitting around the house all day. I get cabin fever after a few days. I figure I need a dog in retirement. They always want to go outside. And while I love my spouse, too much togetherness is not good. I saw what it did to my parent’s marriage. They would have been much happier if they spent much of their days apart.
Not working. I don’t want to work full time, but I want to do something productive at least part time. Teaching at a community college, which I have done off and on for many years, is doable but it doesn’t pay much. I’ll want to supplement my retirement income by more than teaching at an adjunct’s salary.
Ideally you spend your retirement doing things you like to do, but doing it on a schedule that suits you and hopefully making some money at it. I’ve done IT management for fifteen years or so. It’s not the most interesting thing to do, but it could be worse and it pays great. In retirement I’ll be glad to put that behind me. It seems a shame to waste my IT skills, because I still think IT is fascinating. So I am thinking of writing some mobile apps, once I learn how to do it. It’s not an easy market though. You have to find a niche plus everyone and his brother is doing the same thing and selling them for ninety-nine cents on Google Play. The vast majority of apps have no buzz and languish in obscurity.
I am obviously a political creature, given the nature of this blog. So combining social action with something I enjoy sounds like a good way to spend my time. If it can be profitable, it is even better. So I am thinking of creating a comic strip.
I have noticed that being able to draw doesn’t matter much anymore. Dilbert is a great example. Scott Adams is a millionaire and he cannot draw worth a damn. What he had was a clever idea and he was fortunate enough to work it until it took off. Dilbert is an example of a comic strip that is minimalistic and this type seems to be more popular these days. The online strip xkcd is a better example. If you are creative enough and hit a new and emerging market then the ability to draw is irrelevant.
Based on my research, creating a comic is a lot like selling a first novel. Many try but few succeed. Also, the market is declining, at least for comics on newsprint. Still, there is something about being a creative force behind a comic that appeals to me. I like that, when successful, you can get paid a lot of money for doing so very little. (At least that’s the way I perceive it.) I’ve come up with two comic ideas and curiously both arrived in the middle of the night.
Going with the existential, minimalist, “I don’t need to actually be an artist to write a comic” theme, my first idea for a strip was “A Pile of Ants”. Three frames for every strip during the week of course. All you see is a pile of ants represented by a lot of dots on a surface. One ant talks to the other. It’s an ill-formed idea, but it occurred to me that ants could articulate things that humans cannot and get away with it. Like Monty Python, most people would not “get” it, but those who did would find it hilarious. That you actually never see any of the characters would make it singularly unique, sort of like radio was when you had to picture the action and characters in your mind. However, after a few days I realized I doubted I could sustain this idea for very long, and it was unlikely to be marketable. And it probably wouldn’t do much for social action.
The second idea, and one I am considering pursuing with a friend that can at least draw, is a strip about life in the retail world. It has the virtue of never being done before. Most of us have had the retail experience in our careers, and found that it sucked. So it would be a strip that most could relate to, which might make it marketable. Of course, it would be all about life in retail, probably a fictional big box chain that seems like some amalgamation of Walmart and Target. In my days it was a Montgomery Ward, now defunct. The experience though does not change much from decade to decade. Clerks and salespeople are used, more often abused and occasionally recycled. Customers frequently act pissy, managers thrive on exploitation and staff turns over so frequently you can’t keep up with who is supposed to be working on a given day. In general, in the retail business every effort is made to keep costs low primarily through the infliction of pain on retail employees. At least, that was my experience in about two years working retail after college but before landing a government job. And from reading sites like Not Always Right, which documents customer abuse in the retail world, stupid customer syndrome has not abated.
I don’t have a working title for the strip yet. I want to keep details private until I find out if this thing can fly, and given the odds it probably won’t. But I am a decent writer, and I can write good characters. While artwork is less important than it used to be, I don’t want to embarrass myself, so I am hoping I can find an artist who might take it on. My friend Tom from childhood gets first dibs, if he has time for the project. We worked on comics together as teens and he has a lot of natural talent plus he works in advertising. If I need inspiration there are plenty of places online to find it, but also plenty of material to dreg up from thirty years ago as well.
The main task right now is to flesh out the strip, sort of the way screenplays are done: with a treatment. I need to set up the whole thing, the main characters, the big box, the staff, the managers, how they interact, etc. When I find an artist, we’ll prototype the characters until we have a set that we both like. We’ll then create a month or so of strips and shop them around to various syndicates. There they will likely get ignored, but you never can tell. And if I find it doesn’t seem marketable in print but is still interesting enough to spend time on, like xkcd it may be an entirely on-line thing. Any income generated from publishing it solely online is likely to be marginal at best, with most income coming from merchandising.
In any event, the strip will be there to entertain but like M*A*S*H on TV it will have a surreptitious purpose. For the first several years the idea is to keep it light. Have characters interact and generate a lot of humor. Once it is established, or when I get to the point where there is not much to lose, I’ll give it more of a social action focus. I’ll highlight just how marginal life in the retail world actually is. I imagine a character that sleeps in his car and runs his social life from sitting in a McDonalds parking lot. He has with a flaky laptop plugged into his cigarette lighter and accesses the Internet using their free WiFi.
Dilbert has sort of plumbed this material for the tech world through characters like Asok and Tina the Tech Writer. However, their pain does not begin to match those who inhabit the retail world. We are getting a glimpse of it from the scattered strikes at fast food restaurants and Walmarts across the country. It’s clear to me that these employees have their backs to the wall and simply cannot endure it anymore. It is actually even harder today than it was when I worked retail, and it was soul crushing then, just paid marginally more. The right comic can help broadcast the injustices faced by these vital but abused workers. If I can market it, the timing seems right as well because the subject is topical.