Roy Tang

roytang.net

Programmer, engineer, scientist, critic, gamer, dreamer, and kid-at-heart.

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Previously.

In the most recent weeknotes, I mentioned this post about bringing blogs back to the internet and the ensuing discussion on Hacker News.

Some further thoughts on blogging based on the HN discussion:

On Traffic and Engagement

Someone mentioned that one of the reasons most people stop blogging is that it feels like there's nobody reading their work. This reminds me of a convo I had with a friend a couple of years back when he saw one of my blog posts. He was getting into content creation himself via a Youtube channel and he asked me what kind of traffic or how many visitors I see on my blog, and I was like "You know what, I have no idea!" because I never really got into that.

I used to have Google Analytics on the site back when I first migrated to Hugo, because the initial theme I used supported it and why not right? But I got rid of it when I did the redesign because I didn't really use it and didn't care for the additional JavaScript and tracking and so on.

What I do have are server-side stats via AWStats, which I do look at maybe once every couple or years or so. For the purposes of this post I decided to pull the server-side stats into a page on this site. So if you check that page, I had 29292 unique visitors for the entirety of 2019. That's around 80 visitors per day. The peak was in 2017, when I had around 135 visitors per day. These are pretty weak numbers I guess? I don't really know, but obviously I haven't gone viral or gotten on the frontpage of HN/reddit or anything.

And that's fine! Traffic isn't why I write, and any visitors above 0 are kind of a bonus, since I write mostly for myself! I feel like optimizing for traffic or SEO or whatever would be a bit like selling your soul. I think the whole point of the original post was a nostalgia for the old-style blogs that were writing for the sake of writing, and not to cater to the whims of the search engine.

I do like engagement though, mostly in the form of comments, which is something I have been tracking before. (Other than the comments, you can see that most of the stats that I track are my stats, i.e. how much I post and so on.) Again, it's not a whole lot, but it's enough to feel a bit rewarding every time a new comment comes in. I recently disabled the comment form for the site (been getting too much spam), but this site can still get new comments via webmention.

It is nice to know that there are actually people out there reading my words. I do know some friends of mine follow the blog somehow (or maybe they just pick up the posts when I syndicate to Twitter), but it's actually more fun when a stranger leaves a good comment!

On Self-Censorship

Someone on HN mentioned:

Well, this is why I donโ€™t have a blog. I have a lot of strong opinions that might be interesting to some people, but I donโ€™t want to miss opportunities because some HR person googled my name and found a post they disagreed with. Or, in the future, not a real person but an algorithm.

I guess this is a result of the current climate, where people can get "cancelled" for things they've said in the past etc. And I guess that's a valid concern, if you want to live your life that way. But really, how strong are your opinions if you can't stand for them in public?

If I write something, on this blog or elsewhere on the internet, it's because I believe it to be true, at that time. (Or I may also be shitposting, but it should be obvious when I'm shitposting.) I've written some political stuff on the blog and elsewhere on the internet before, and I often criticize my country's government when the opportunity arises. This might become problematic recently, as Duterte's administration has started harassing critics by filing charges against them and so on. But even if it comes to that, I like to think that I would be willing to stand by what I write.

I like to think it's because I tend to be right all the time (LOL), but also if I've said or done or posted something before that would later turn out to be inaccurate or offensive or whatnot, I have no concerns about walking that back and saying "Hey, I made a mistake!". That's another advantage running your own blog has over something like Twitter. On Twitter you can only delete your past mistakes. Here I can preserve them, but add a note saying something like "My opinion on this has changed" or such. I have not yet had a reason to do so.

(I think it helps that I largely hold non-controversial opinions and generally try to avoid being an asshole to people, but that's probably the topic of another post entirely.)

There's also the idea that you may want to write things that you don't want associated with you IRL. I can understand that. For those kinds of things, you can make one-off posts using throwaway accounts I guess? For me, from the very beginning of my internet presence, I haven't considered anonymizing or protecting my content. My geocities URL had my full name in it for example (and so does this domain!). But I have made some throwaway posts that aren't tied to me, for example when talking about sensitive information or such. But I think for a large majority of the content a regular person would post, this isn't really necessary.

On Originality

Someone said:

I often notice when I start writing on a particular topic, I learn more about my thoughts and opinions of it and realize my thoughts are wrong or not really novel. Halfway in I give up since I feel like, "oh, this actually isn't really adding anything new to the conversation". Then I leave with a new humbleness about my beliefs but also a sense of "when am I actually going to know enough to warrant writing about it?".

I was in a blogging lull around 2010-2015 (as seen on the stats page!) and thinking of getting back into it and writing more software-related content, but I mentioned to a friend that I was worried that the internet was already oversaturated with such writers/bloggers and I would not have anything original to contribute. I don't remember his exact words, but it was one of the best pieces of writing advice I had ever gotten, something along the lines of: "No one else is going to be writing with your perspective and your point of view, so no matter what, you are bringing something to the table."

On Discoverability

Some people on the HN thread said that Google no longer surfaces older blog content. I anecdotally know this to be not true, because a Google search for the terms "killer-killer" or "pasmado" still shows posts from my blog from 2008 on the first page. I suspect this is because my blog has been continuously updated since 2002, hence my posts never fall "out of rotation"? Is that a thing? Who knows! SEO, right?

The original post was correct however in that it is difficult to find old-school blog content if you are searching specifically for that kind of thing. I've mentioned before that I want some kind of indieweb federated search focused on searching content from "indie" blogs (for lack of a better term. We need a better term?). Maybe someday I'd write down how I imagine that would work. And implement it maybe? IDK.

Until then, there are still a lot of blogs around, if you know where to look. One of my favorite avenues is Kicks Condors' monthly HrefHunt updates. And I've mentioned before, but whenever anyone posts anything remotely nostalgic about old-school blogging on Hacker News, the comments are always full of links to blogs. There's specialized subreddits like r/SpartanWeb (not many users!).

If you run a blog, you can help by having a page where you list other blogs you like! Some kind of roll call, but for blogs. Like... a blogroll? And if they make a post you like, share it on your blog, and maybe on other social media channels too! Us indie and old-school bloggers need to have each other backs!

More To Come

I am 99.9999% sure this is not the last time I'm going to blog about blogging.

Posted by under blog at #blogging #writing #tech-life

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