Friday, 20 April 2012

It's Not All About the Numbers

Imagine that you have a thought you want to share with passers-by.  You decide to take a Sharpie and write your idea out on a bed sheet.  You hang the bed sheet on the clothesline and wait for people to notice it as they walk by your yard.  

At first, people ignore your message completely but, because you enjoy sharing your thoughts in this way, you continue to write new messages on new sheets and hang them on the line.  Eventually a single passerby notices one of your messages and stops to read it.  They find it interesting and start to look for a new sheet each day while they’re out for their walk.

Your reader begins to tell others about your bed sheet messages and they start to stop by to check them out too.  Some are not interested and don’t return after the first visit.  Others come back all the time.  Soon strangers notice people standing outside your yard and they stop to find out what has caught their attention.  Some of them start returning too.

Although you enjoy writing your bed sheet messages, you begin to feel an obligation to the folks who come to your yard to read them.  Writing the messages begins to feel like a job and you spend more time thinking about and researching what you’re going to write.  Some days you experience writer’s block.  Some days your bed sheet letters are more interesting than others.  On days when you have fewer people standing in the yard, you begin to worry that the quality of your writing is diminishing, or that you’re losing your audience.

That’s what blogging is like.  Almost every blogger starts writing because they are passionately interested in something and want to communicate that interest to others.  Over time, they become connected to other people who are interested in the same things and, out of that shared interest, a community grows.   It’s one of the things I love about the blogosphere: It is an opportunity to connect and communicate with others in a way never before available to us.  It is a wonderful medium for sharing ideas.

One of the things I don’t like about blogging is its potential to make us obsessed with the number of people in our audience.  Our blog sites track the number of visitors we get, as do our social networking pages, and these numbers are always in front of us.  ;

Advertisers choose where to spend their dollars based upon the number of visits a blog receives.

As the number of blogs grows – and it is increasing exponentially – advertisers spread their dollars thinner, over a larger number of sites.

As the time you spend blogging increases,it takes away from other activities in your life and you begin to need to make some sort of income from your activity. 

So you worry.

Worrying about blogging numbers can take the joy out of writing and, if you are always imploring your readers to bring their friends to follow you, they will come to avoid your blog - disliking the needy tone it has taken on. 

We all know the messages:  “Only 75 more likes until I reach 1000.  Please spread the word,” posted over and over again throughout the day on Facebook, but here’s the thing:

 All bloggers are also readers.  We’re busy people who give a significant portion of our time to on line activity.  Although we like to support others within the blogging community, we get tired of needy “please follow me” messages. 

And yet we write them ourselves. 

Even though we know better.

I’m all for marking milestones.  I’m always happy to read a message that says “Hurray!  We have more than 1000 fans now!  Thank you so much for joining me.  I’m glad you’re here.”  That kind of message makes me smile and stop to write a note of congratulations.  If, however, a blog or Facebook page is constantly posting “I need more followers” instead of saying something of substance, I’ll stop reading it altogether. 

It’s about content; the reason we all start blogging in the first place.  If a writer wants to engage an audience, they must provide subject matter that’s worth reading.  Readers need to find a blog’s content interesting, or informative, or enjoyable.   A reader’s choice about what to read and which blogs to follow is never about the numbers.

Although it’s human nature to be competitive, I try hard not to obsess about the size of my audience.  It steals the joy from this activity and I would hate to lose the happiness I find in writing.  

Composer Gustav Theodore Von Holst once said "Never compose anything unless the not composing of it becomes a positive nuisance to you."  That seems the best sort of guideline for any sort of writing.  Write because you want to.  Write because it makes you happy.  Leave the numbers where they belong.  They’re really not important.

Thursday, 5 April 2012


A friend and I went antiquing today and spent several hours wandering through sunlit rooms filled with interesting objects.

There was some wonderful furniture, of course, like this dentist's cabinet with all its drawers fitted for specific tools and functions

and a perfect, half-size roll top desk built for a fortunate child in 1911.

We saw lots of spring and Easter themed items

and many, many dishes, both pretty

and plain.

There were even dishes that teach you how to set the table!

There were beautifully made tools

and instruments, intricate and advanced in their day, that have been rendered obsolete by the march of new technologies.

Look at this beautiful brass barometer with its curved mercury thermometer!

There were some gorgeous scales, in working order

and, for the housewife who values all the "mod cons," there was a mayonnaise mixer

and this early mix master.

(Don't you love how the china dog is looking at it?)

There were items every household needs

and if you've lost your marbles, I know where to find them!

I even found some space age toys I remember from my childhood.

It's kind of sobering to think that stuff I remember from childhood is now considered "antique." It gave me pause.  I realized that all these things, these objects that I'd been examining, handling, picking up, and walking away from had once been purchased new.  Someone had worked hard to earn the money to buy these things, and had probably saved up for quite some time to get many of them.  Yet here they were, in shops owned by strangers, no longer needed by those who had originally valued them so much.

Makes you think, doesn't it?  In our increasingly consumerist society we place tremendous stock in "things," in acquisition, in ownership.  Do we really need the things we covet so?  How much do we miss in order to buy them? Will that iPhone or tablet or KitchenAid mixer end up in an antique store one day?  Or will it just become trash?

It's easier to ask these questions when you're broke and have little choice but to resist the temptation to buy things.  Even so, they're still worth asking.

It's wonderful to admire all the beautiful things I see out there, but I don't necessarily need to own all the things I admire.  It's sufficient to appreciate them for what they are and then to put them back for someone else to enjoy.  Besides, there's less dusting that way!