Tuesday, October 25, 2011

The curse of having 1,000 unique visitors in one day

On June 15th, 2011, I decided the time had come to share my personal musings with an audience; that my percolating thoughts and unanswered questions deserved to be approached with a transparent intensity; and that the creative willpower governing my private journal entries would be re-purposed for the denizens of the Interwebz. I was the architect of a master plan to Internet relevance. I reasoned that, with an hour every day, a pithy, astute post could be drawn from a broth of ideas, and people (even those I didn't know) would sign up to hear what it was like, living the life of Peter Lu. That dream has ended.

The blogosphere is a dangerous beast. The accessibility of statistics -- page views, average time spent on site, location tracking -- quantifies popularity and clout. Maintaining a website becomes a game, and, as with every game, it's excessively tempting to snatch up unfair advantages when they present themselves. Solid content will always win over readers, but a few well-placed links improve the bottom-line all the same. During these four months maintaining this blog, I've spent an egregious amount of time playing by an "armchair work ethic" that served only to burnish my ego.

Here's an example. In the beginning of July, I followed the prescriptive formula for new bloggers: post my links to blog heavyweights; ask small-fish bloggers to connect; and set up Google Webmaster and Analytics to maximize SEO.

The strategy "paid off." On Wednesday, July 27th, and Thursday, July 28th, this blog received 1,018 unique visitors and 1,429 page views.

I was at work in New York when I found out baseball's biggest free agent, Carlos Beltran, with his ridiculous .280/.400/.900 split, was headed for my hometown San Francisco Giants. The San Jose Mercury New's Tim Kawakami, who writes original analysis of Bay Area sports teams on his blog, Talking Points, already had a blog post up insta-analyzing the trade. There were no comments yet.

The Talking Points comment system has no moderation and no membership. Every comment is splattered below Kawakami's original post. It's too crude a system for a blog that receives thousands of visitors a day, but newspaper websites are notorious for being behind the Internet adoption curve. So I took advantage. I wrote a post on the fly aggregating information about Zack Wheeler, the prospect traded for Beltran. Then I posted the link. It showed up as the 2nd comment.

For the next 2 hours, I furiously updated my blog post, transforming it from a barebones, 3-link collection of scouting reports to a content farm: I linked to every corner of the Internet, and added, at the end, a bit about my own experience as a fan. Every 10 minutes, I'd update and refresh the post, because I knew people were clicking through. It was piecemeal, and the cyclical refreshing was insane, but I was flowing. While alternating between adding new content and self-promotion, posting my link on Mets blogs, ESPN, and the Sports blog network, I threw in a few quick Google searches and confirmed that nobody on the Internet -- not even ESPN -- had done as thorough a job putting together this information, from interviews to obscure AAA game reports, as I had. Every time I checked my blog statistics, the page views would jump by 20.

The feeling of euphoria -- I'm an Internet celebrity! -- lasted ten minutes. Then I fell back to Earth. At the end of the workday, my blog, which had just crossed the 5,000 page view benchmark in the morning, hit 6,000 page views, ten days earlier than I expected. Instead of feeling happy, though, I felt empty. I was still at the office -- only now, everybody else was gone. I was hungry, and my eyes were tired. My life, from every relevant angle, hadn't changed at all, other than the gaudy 6,000 number bludgeoning my eyes every time I opened up peterjlu.com.

To fight the vacuity of my "accomplishment," I took a proactive measure to install AdSense, so I could commoditize my writing. After a week, Google's monetize tab showed that I had 843 page impressions, 27 clicks, a CTR of 3.2%, and earnings of $.20. I removed all my ads shortly after.

One month ago, my profile on Simple Pickup appeared in Salon. From my back of the envelope calculations, the article was viewed 50,000 times, was "liked" 293 times on Facebook, and spurred 163 comments. The blog link in my author biography was clicked 238 times; at its peak, this blog had 995 page views in one day. But those numbers barely registered with me. What mattered more were the real-world outcomes: the emails from people around the world, from authors to friends. And the blog, far from being noticed because of pure self-promotion, was there only to augment my existing legitimacy online.

That's when I resolved: I will no longer attempt to define myself with this blog. Now, what comes next is anyone's guess.

For the short-term future, I'm going offline for a week, starting 6 p.m. Tuesday PST. No nothing; it'll be a necessary "detox." After I come back online, I'm going to try something new: read as much as possible, and attempt to write between 2 to 5 hours every day, focused solely on improving my craft. The plan is still to post every day, as a means of accountability, but it'll be more for me: updates of previous entries (like this post right here) and less "new" material.

Chapter 1 in this blog experiment is now done. Looking forward to Chapter 2.


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