Thank you for taking part in yesterday's experiment. You confirmed all my worst fears. And it had nothing whatsoever to do with doughnuts...
On Saturday I went on a thrilling random tour of the London Borough of Southwark. The whole visit (including valuable drinking time at the London United festival) took eight hours. Writing up the whole experience took several more hours, plus even more time to find a shedload of appropriate weblinks and still more time to upload various photos into flickr. On Tuesday I wrote an incredibly brief post about doughnuts.
The results were somewhat disappointing:
Time taken to research post
Time taken to write post
Length of post
Number of photos uploaded
Weblinks incorporated in text
Number of daily website visitors (measured in double decker busfuls)
Number of comments
There are two types of blogpost - those that take a bit of effort to compose and those that don't. And it appears from my experience of the last couple of days that short, focused, effortless posts get a much more positive response than sprawling, diffuse, effortful posts. My 12 word post about doughnuts elicited seven times more comments than my 800 word Southwark monster (that's an astonishing 3 comments per word as opposed to 40 words per comment). With absolutely no effort on my part whatsoever, you lot wrote Tuesday's blogpost for me. Thank you. On Tuesday I also got 15% more visitors than on Monday, and all for minimal outlay. Looking deeper behind the scenes, Monday's 46 weblinks received an average of less than five clicks each (most rather less, and none more than 17), whereas Tuesday's single weblink (which wasn't even very good) managed 41. And all those flickr photos of Southwark that I pleaded with you to flick through? Just 10% of you did, and less than 5% of you made it all the way through to photo number 46. Why do I bother?
But there are two types of blogpost for a reason. Weblogs started out as logs of websites, lists of bookmarks that internet users considered might be interesting to others. Blogs were never meant to be effortful, they were just meant to be useful. And then people started annotating their weblinks, and writing more, and writing more, and maybe not including any weblinks at all. Nowadays most blogs more resemble a journal, or a diary, a platform for sounding-off or just a playground for creativity. There are of course still several posts out there that take no effort at all (linking to inane quizzes such as "What breed of hamster are you?" springs to mind). But an awful lot of bloggers, even if they're not investing 4 hours per post, put a lot of effort into their blogs. And it can really suck not to get any positive feedback. Why do they bother?
A lot of bloggers bother to blog because they like to get feedback. That feedback can come from the number of visitors you receive, or the number of other blogs that link to you, or the number of comments you get. All of which can make for very dispiriting non-feedback when you first start blogging. It can take ages to get your daily number of visitors up to a respectable number, even into double figures, even when you know that what you're writing deserves a wider audience. It can take ages for other bloggers to link to you, especially when it seems all the established bloggers are just linking to other established bloggers. And it can take ages to start getting regular comments on your posts, even when you have regular visitors, because writing comments takes effort on the part of the reader. And all this perceived lack of interest can feel like a lack of validation. Why do we bother?
Well, I know why I bother. I blog for me, and if I get a positive response from you lot then it's a bonus. If you're not interested in something I'm writing about, well, bad luck. My week-long walk down the Regent's Canal, for example, attracted 25% fewer visitors than usual, and you lot wrote only a quarter of your usual number of comments. But I didn't care because I wanted to write it, and because I don't equate a lack of comments with a lack of interest. That's why I bother.
So I think that blogs would be much more functional with one additional valuable element of feedback - something more than visitor numbers, trackbacks and comments. When I read someone else's really good blogpost I'd like to be able to tick a little box at the bottom that says "Thanks, I really enjoyed reading this". It would take virtually no effort on my part to tick this particular box, but it would also allow me to give positive feedback even when I don't have a worthwhile comment to add to the debate. Individual TV programmes have a Audience Appreciation Index, so why can't blogposts have something similar? It would be really great if there was a little box like this at the bottom of your blogposts, because I'd probably tick it frequently. But, honestly, I can live happily without such a box on mine.