October 12, 2006
We have a tendency to fetishize audience metrics in the IT industry. Presenters stress out about about their feedback ratings and measure themselves by how many attendees they can attract for a presentation. Bloggers obsessively track their backlinks, pagerank, and traffic numbers. I see it a lot, and it's strange to me. I don't chase those numbers. I couldn't even tell you how many readers I have, or what my presentation ratings were. I don't mean to sound glib, but I don't care. Audience metrics aren't the reason I write, and they aren't the reason I present. They're incidental.
Conan O'Brien made an interesting observation in a recent interview when asked about his audience:
There's a temptation to overthink the whole thing. I've had a Field Of Dreams philosophy to this: If you build it, they will come. I still have no idea.
I don't look at research. I don't look at who's watching, or when they're watching. I've never been interested in any of that. I'm interested in doing what I think is funny. For the last 13 years, that seems to have worked for me. If I go to 11:30 and do what I think is funny, and someone comes and tells me it isn't getting enough people in the tent, I'd say, "Well, that's all I can do." If I'm looking at spreadsheets and time-lapse studies of viewing patterns, I think I'm wasting my time. What I should be worried about the first night I host The Tonight Show is, "How can I make this a funny show?" The second night, "All right, let's make another funny show doing some different stuff." You do it one show at a time. And if you're lucky, eight years later, you've alienated a nation.
Similarly, Rob Caron once commented:
The day I care about keeping my blog readers happy is the day I'll stop blogging. Who needs the added stress?
There's certainly value in audience metrics. But it's easy to overanalyze, too. Instead of obsessing over who does and doesn't link to you, concentrate on writing a blog entry you'd like to read. Instead of worrying about audience feedback, focus on delivering a presentation you'd like to attend.
You should trust your gut more than any metrics. Build it, and they will come.
Posted by Jeff Atwood
Here, here! I went through this switch recently. I was trying to write what I thought people would want to read and it stressed me out to the point that I stopped writing for awhile. I finally just said "to hell with it" and started writing what I want when I want. It's a liberating feeling. :)
I'd have to say that I would blog mostly for the sake of hearing somebody else's opinion (considering that readers are able to make opinions). Whatever else they think, I don't really care, and I'm not all crazy enough to "track" how many people have read my blog.
This is a good point though. Blog for yourself more than anything else. Helps get the rants out of your brain. ;)
Wow! You can track how many people read your stuff or go see your presentations? I never knew that ...
I agree with the posts here - Unless you are being paid to do otherwise, or are hoping to get paid (by selling the screen rights), write what you want to write, read what you want to read, present on things that interest you in a manner you think is interesting. When I write it is mostly to teach myself stuff - in order to write something that I don't find embarrassing to put my name to, I usually have to make sure I've learned what I am writing about.
Of course, many readers of my previous posts might think I embarrass myself all the time and never learn what I am writing about. Hey, no problem! If they are happy thinking that then I am happy for them.
Tracking audience becomes really necessary when you want to get money from ads placed. But that is blogging no more :(
I think there's a lot of evolution that goes on too. Especially with blogging, people can take some time to find their "niche" and their own voice. Most of us haven't had too much experience writing for an audience.
I don't care what you think either. I'm going to keep reading your blog anyway. :)
I dunno man. I enjoy the added stress of keeping my peeps happy. Let them eat cake, I say!
Actually, I really only write for my Adsense overloads. I know I've written well when my adsense numbers for the day hit a certain mark. When they are too low, I know the Adsense gods are angry with me and I cower over my keyboard in fear and write yet another post.
I think it's still important to have your audience in mind though. If you just write about anything left right and centre then you're going to end up with no audience. There's no need to go crazy and measure people, but you should always have who you are targeting your writing at, either on a whole blog basis or post by post. If you're struggling, like tod hilton was, to write for your audience then you've picked the wrong audience.
You have a solid focus on down to earth issues that involve/amuse developers. I really find your posts helpful professionally! And when their not, they are pretty funny... keep it up!
Steve Yegge had a good comment on this, but I wasn't able to work it into the post:
So your fear is justified: practically nobody will read your blog. Unless it's good. Even then, it'll be a very long time before lots of people have read it. Don't worry, though. If you put in the effort, and you write honestly, people will eventually find their way there.
You don't even have to advertise. Self-promotion is totally useless. In fact, I order you to stop reading my blog. That's a direct order. Stop. Now. Go away. Nothing to see here. These aren't the droids you're looking for. Move along now.
See? Doesn't work worth squat. I never advertised my blog, and to this day I have no idea how so many people found out about it, let alone why they read it. I certainly haven't made any effort to try to please people. My blog isn't "about" anything, and although there are various running themes, I haven't tried to stick to any particular subject. And I'm horribly inconsistent in my tone, posting regularity, writing quality, and so on. But I'm really just writing for fun, and even if everyone stops reading my blog, I'll still be happy with what I'm writing.
So don't worry about whether people will read it. Just write it!
I really like your blog, Jeff. You write about topics that already interest me, and about some topics that I hadn't thought of at all, but generally find interesting. It's a great combination. And you write in an entertaining way, which make it enjoyable to read.
Conan O'Brien is an interesting example. He says he doesn't look at polls or statistics to see if people think he's funny or not. But he doesn't need to. He's already really funny. Not everything he does is funny, but in general he's a funny guy. If you took 1000 people and asked them all to follow Conan's formula (do what you think is funny), maybe only 1 or 2 would be nearly as good (made up numbers).
However, if you're one of those 998 unfunny people, you might be able to get yourself into the top 20 or so (more made up numbers) for a little while by looking at polls and statistics and figuring out what other people want and giving it to them. But I don't think you'd have lasting success.
Anyway, polls and statistics are no substitute for creativity.
At the risk of sounding like an asshole, if some bloggers don't care what their readers have to say about their blog, why does it have the facility for readers to post comments? I mean, if it truly is your blog, as it should be, and not a forum for discussion, why have the discussion?
if some bloggers don't care what their readers have to say about their blog, why does it have the facility for readers to post comments?
That isn't what we're saying. Or at least it's not what I'm saying. Comments and discussion are great-- I consider comments a crucial element in what makes a blog, well, a blog:
But you should never let your audience determine what you write about. Write to satisfy yourself, not your perceived audience. If an audience organically develops around what you write, then that's a nice perk for everyone involved.
I guess what I'm saying is this: make sure your priorities are in the right order. Respect your audience for sure-- the fact that someone thought your writing was *worth* reading is huge. But always write for yourself first and foremost.
Blogs (like this one) are popular because people find the content interesting, informative, thought provoking, or whatever. You can track stats until the cows come home, and it will not make your blog more interesting. You can never look at a stat, and it will not make your blog more interesting. A blog is interesting because the person behind it has interesting things to say.
That said, I'm personally an information junkie. I love to look at stats and graphs for just about anything. I just don't believe that more information is ever bad. It's interesting to see where my readers are geographically located. It's interesting to see what search terms brought them in. It's interesting to see how many people are running IE7.
I think where we can come to agreement is that if what you personally find interesting, you're on the right track. If you're blogging solely for the sake of your stats, it's hard to imagine that you're going to have passionate and provocative posts.
Where is the orignal post?