Ten Years of Down the Road

The whole point of blogging today is to build community

I had dreams of being well known, maybe even famous, when I started this blog. I hoped I’d say things so interesting, even so profound, that my words and pictures would go viral.

We all see how that worked out.

Me at Crown Hill

Not famous.

WordPress says I have about 2,500 followers. But realistically I think that if you read Down the Road at least semi-regularly you number among a couple hundred people worldwide.

There are two ways to look at this.

One: This is a pretty good result. The Internet is cram packed with voices hoping to catch your attention. You have only so much attention to give. I work hard to deliver good work here and an interesting way of looking at life, but so do many thousands of others, many of whom have better skills than me.

Two: This is a terrible return on investment. I spend an average of ten hours a week in front of the WordPress editor to deliver words and photographs to you Monday through Saturday. Those hours come only after the considerable time I spend out with my cameras and just thinking about what I’ll write here. That’s an awful lot of work for, frankly, such a small audience.

But this presupposes that the point of blogging is to reach a very large audience. I think it’s not. At least not anymore. As I’ve written before, the era of hugely popular bloggers ended a long time ago. If you start a blog today, unless you’re already famous for some other reason it’s never going to find a huge readership.

To find blogging satisfaction, you have to redefine the investment.

At Down the Road, you regular readers have become a community. A loose one, anyway — it’s not like Down the Road Appreciation Societies are forming, or all of you are secretly conspiring to fly to Indianapolis to take me out for a beer. (But if you do ever show up here, I prefer whiskey.)

But your interests overlap mine, and what I say and show are interesting enough for you to keep coming back. If you have a blog, too, I check it out sometimes and perhaps even include it in my regular reading list. We have conversation, here and on your blogs. We encourage each other and share our perspectives and even sometimes offer constructive criticism of each others’ work. I am absolutely a better photographer thanks to you. I hope you learn from me as well.

Community. That’s the point and purpose of blogging today. We might search for and never find that kind of community locally; few people around us might share our interests. But the Internet opens us to a much larger portion of the world. With a little effort, even the most esoteric interest can find community online.

I’ve put in that effort over the past decade, sharing my posts on social media and seeking out your work and interacting with you over it. And now here we all are, doing what we do and sharing the results with each other.

I still harbor a faint fantasy of fame. It’s incredibly unlikely ever to happen. But that’s OK, because this community is plenty satisfying. It takes the pressure off — I don’t need to be a guru or go viral. Nor do you. We can relax and just continue to share our mutual journeys of growth and fun.

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82 thoughts on “The whole point of blogging today is to build community

  1. Fame is empty. As an ex music journalist, I’ve always looked to the niche artists who stay true to their vision. Great if they make it big doing that – but chasing an audience, be it in blogging or music or TV…

    And, as a journalist, I think there’s something to be said in staking your name on quality. The audience will come, in dribs and drabs, but they’ll come. And the ones who appreciate quality will stay.

    Here endeth the lesson, from a proud Pilsener drinker.

    Liked by 3 people

    • I can’t do empty. I’ve tried on small scale. It doesn’t work for me. If I’m involved in something, it has to be heavily meaningful for me on some level.

      That said, I have adapted this blog to appeal to the audience that has gathered. I’m still writing about things I care about, that are meaningful to me. But other things that are meaningful to me, things I used to write about here, failed to capture the audience that my current topics do. So I doubled down on those topics.

      Ok, I admit it: I like a pint of Guinness every now and again!

      Like

  2. Very well said. Somewhere between basking in the wild adulation of hundreds of thousands and sitting alone in a room is a place, and you have found it. And aren’t we all famous within our own small circles of family and friends? Blogging just makes those circles a little bigger.

    Let me be the first to offer to buy you one of those whiskeys. It’s not like there’s much travel involved, and after ten years of this kind of effort, you certainly deserve it.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Bill Bussell says:

    You are too hard on yourself. Your work is excellent! I do have a question about that Canon S95 you mentioned was a gift. It does a great job. Do you have a problem with light flare with it? I bought a Nikon P5000 Coolpix. I have to be careful with light sources, but it is a good camera. Time for an upgrade on the point and shoot. Many advances since 2007. 😎 Cheers

    Like

    • Well, thanks so much, Bill! I am pleased to see how my work has improved over these ten years. And as for that S95, never a flare problem. I’d love to upgrade — I keep drooling over the Olympus OM-D — but I have one kid in college and another going in the fall, and I am not sure where the money is coming from for that.

      Like

  4. I agree with you on this. I started my blog to keep track of my work, like what I have tried that worked or didn’t. I wasn’t really thinking about the community aspect of it, but that has been a big part of what I like about blogging.

    Like

    • I think we all naturally want to find people like us. It’s easy enough to go on externals: Hey, s/he likes to take pictures too! We share that in common!

      I’ve collected old film cameras since 1975. I was but a boy then. And I had nobody to talk with about it. The Internet changed that!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Jason Shafer says:

    Jim, you’ve nailed it. For a while now it has seemed like one of the intents of life is to find others who have just enough commonality to facilitate easy conversation but are enough different to promote growth in both parties. With what you have done here, you’ve captured the essence of that element of life.

    Like

  6. malerie1 says:

    It’s hard to follow all the bloggers I know, but every once in awhile, one of your posts will resonate with me. This is one of them. As a travel writer, when I sit down to write, I keep the audience (who seek out information) in mind. But I also write “for myself” – and find it therapeutic sometimes to sit for hours a week formulating and solidifying my ideas in a quiet, thinking space. Most of the time, that’s enough, and it sounds like you are discovering that as well. Blog on, Jim!!!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Oh sure, the amount of stuff you can read on the Internet is overwhelming and you have to have strategies for coping! But I’m glad you still check in from time to time.

      Like

  7. I’ll admit that I found your blog because I knew you – or perhaps more correctly, knew OF you – in real life. I am not a car aficionado or much of a photographer, so I most enjoy your memories of South Bend and your reminiscences about your life. In some ways, I find us to be complete opposites in our perspectives; in other ways, your words could be coming out of my mouth. And as someone who knew OF you for most of my life, it is nice getting to KNOW you.

    I am more of a lurker than a conversationalist, and maybe that does an injustice to the hard work that you put into your blog posts that I read. I will try to be more engaged in the community aspect of the blog.

    Like

    • Oh, I am in the Indianapolis area a couple of times a year, but usually tied up with family matters. However, next time I’m in town, I’ll bring you some Kentucky bourbon. Though I’m a Hoosier at heart, I have become Kentuckian enough to think that bourbon is better than whiskey any day.

      Like

    • Our circles overlapped back in the day! :-)

      There’s no shame in lurking. Lurk on.

      And as for bourbon: it’s a kind of whiskey! So’s Scotch, and Sour Mash/Tennessee, and Irish. And I suppose Canadian, which I only grudgingly admit.

      Like

      • Melissa Dieckmann says:

        In Kentucky, those are fightin’ words. We would say that bourbon is a kind of whiskey in the same way we would say a Corvette is a kind of Chevrolet. Technically true, but regular whiskey is like a Nova compared to Kentucky bourbon. (Especially compared to whiskey from… Tennessee (shudder).)

        I’m more of a wine drinker. Heck, I can barely handle one glass of wine. One bourbon and Coke does me in completely.

        Like

  8. DougD says:

    You look a bit glum about not being famous, but you definitely are famous around here.
    10 hours is a lot of time, but as I always tell Paul N, if it gets too much then scale it back before you burn out and quit.
    I’ll also offer you a whiskey should we meet again in person. Famous Grouse is my preferred utility scotch and Balvenie 12 year Double Wood is my good stuff.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was trying to look thoughtful, but I ended up looking bored.

      I’m locally famous!

      I can’t believe sometimes how much time I happily spend doing this. But I would like to reduce my time commitment to 6 or 8 hours without reducing output. I took a nonfiction writing workshop this winter that will help me write faster.

      I’m down for scotch with you one day! I adore, adore Glenlivet 12. My utility scotch is Dewar’s 12 year.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Peter says:

    Judjing by comments under “Tell me a little about you”, majority of people have found you thanks to your camera reviews, which is niche enough by itself. And then there’s life stories (that are, let’s be honest, far from chirpy and bright and optimistic and opportunistic vlogs of Casey Neistat or relatable (sort of, for some of us, I guess) Buzzfeed clickbait) and thoughts about faith… It’s just not that type of content that gets popular in our era of entertainment and instant gratification and visucentricness. What also comes with popularity is some sort of black hole that feeds off of personality and forces you to choose words more carefully and avoid uncomfortable subjects. It also forces creator to follow his audience, which is polar opposite of what I personally want when I read your blog. I consider myself apathetic towards religion, but I find your faith posts fascinating, I’m considerably younger then you but your life stories have emotional impact that is very real, I don’t drive a car and I have no intentions of ever doing it, but you road stories still have something that draws my attention. In your “Tell me a little about you”, somebody posted a comment right after mine, where they stated that they dislike your posts about cameras, and it’s sort of why I come back again and again. We are all different. And that’s what I’m looking for. Reading (very well written) musings of someone who is very different to me is something of true value, and it’s something that makes me feel more… human. And your writing style is really good. I’m a little bit jealous.

    Like

    • My camera reviews have benefited from the Internet’s long tail. Googling several cameras brings you right here. It’s why I keep reviewing cameras even though I’m actually more interested in just taking pictures now.

      I have made some choices to follow the audience that has found me. That’s one of them. Another is getting rid of some “underperforming” subjects (i.e., vintage television and my faith). But I don’t feel like I have to write on eggshells, however.

      Thanks for saying nice things about my writing! It’s been delightful to me to feel my writing improve, and dramatically, through blogging.

      Like

      • Peter says:

        There was only one mention of religious topics under “tell me a little about you”, so yeah, I guess people don’t really want it.
        I’m not saying that following your audience is inherently wrong, it just becomes wrong at some point. I don’t think you’ll reach that though.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Jim, I agree mostly with your thoughts here, that we need to focus on a niche audience, or a niche topic, and it has to be something we’re passionate about, or we won’t find the motivation to write consistently (quality or quantity).

    As someone else said, 10 hours a week is impressive and quite a commitment. I’ve had my 35hunter blog just over a year and I’m quite intermittent about posting. I would estimate I spend averaged out maybe 10 hours a month, if that.

    Your recent posts have motivated me to write more regularly though, and start to build my audience more – both in size but more so in depth with the readers I already have. I know that for me 10 hours a week isn’t feasible currently (plus I like to spend much of my “free” time exploring the countryside with cameras, not at a computer!), but that if I did commit that amount, I could probably post three or four posts weekly, which is vastly more than now, and no doubt I’d see a connected growth.

    Some years ago I created an online (Ning) community for artists and we had about 1200 members at its peak. Being a lover of stats (a maths degree is another part of background, before I discovered photography!) I used to track numbers with great interest, and was delighted to reach milestones like 1000 members and 1 million page views.

    But… I realised I needed a reality check on the relevance of those big numbers and their emptiness.

    I also read around this time a very interesting post about the dynamics and behaviours of groups (online and off). One conclusion was that with online communities, there tends to be a version of the 80/20 rule – 80% of the content is contributed by 20% of the members.

    With our artist’s community, it was more like 90/10 or even 95/5, ie 95% of the content was coming from 5% of the members. Worse than that, I would guess that a huge proportion of people who joined never contributed a single word, or even visited more than a handful of times.

    Though disheartening and frustrating at first (why join if you’re not going to contribute?), this was ultimately a very refreshing revelation, and similar to what you’ve concluded about the small proportion of your readership that are actually regular readers and contributors that you’re building a meaningful relationship with.

    From the community we had, I made probably a dozen very good online friends across the world (UK, USA, Australia, Canada, South Africa…), each amazing people in their own way. Those were memorable times.

    I don’t think we always have to assume this 80/20 percentage breakdown rule holds though, if we focus more on providing useful and interesting content, from a personal and unique viewpoint. And from that, on building relationships with those who are moved enough to comment on our blogs.

    After all, what do we really seek when writing and sharing online? Empty accolades? Or to find people who share our interests and inspire us?

    And back to the numbers, what would you rather have – a thousand anonymous “likes” or “+1″s a week or a small handful of meaningful and rewarding conversations? I know which I’d take, every time!

    Whilst I found you via a camera review, I like how you share other topics in your life, with photography being the uniting theme. It’s far more interesting to read than dry endless stats about cameras like 95% of online reviews consist of!

    I didn’t mean to say quite so much!

    Keep sharing Jim! : )

    Dan

    Liked by 1 person

    • Dan, what you wrote really helped validate what I’m doing here. Lots of people write about photography. A fairly large number write about film photography. A decent number write about old film cameras. But you’re right, there are a lot of sites that just stick with the tech details or, worse (in my book), show photo after photo with zero commentary.

      What I offer here that I think is different is a peek into my life and how photography weaves into my life. My life is at once ordinary and extraordinary, i.e., having recovered from both addiction and abuse. And I’m a veteran navel gazer. I think about my life a lot — and I’ve learned how to write about it in ways that are both interesting to the reader and, I hope, not too depressing or too long. I’ve distilled and charcoal-filtered my navelgazing, so it goes down smooth.

      Posting regularly is the best way to build audience, Dan! Google rewards authors who post frequently. My blog has had three stages: the period when I posted when I had something to say, the period when I posted thrice weekly, and this period where I post every day but Sunday. With each step up, my daily views moved to new levels — in no small part because Google rewarded my posts with higher places in search results.

      But it’s not about the numbers, as I’ve said here and as you discovered via Ning. It’s about the people you get to interact with. And interacting with you and others who comment here frequently has been an enormous reward.

      P.S. My degree is in mathematics, so: solidarity, my friend!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Jim, I think another category is bloggers who ramble on without ever getting to the point. Sometimes I’m aware I come close to that!

        It’s finding that balance between saying and sharing enough to engage people, but no so much it seems indulgent or introspective.

        I think you’ve got this balance pretty well figured out, by the way.

        There’s a blog I’m thinking of which I quite enjoy but the posts are so long and rambling, and could be summarised in a quarter of the words. I’m dropping off before I get to the end. It’s a real shame.

        Yes, my degree is mathematics and computing. If I could live that era over again I’d definitely rather pursue photography, drama or writing, almost the complete opposite!

        Like

        • I follow one photoblogger whose topics always interest me, but I almost never make it to the end of his posts because they’re so long. I feel like I could really learn from that blogger, but it seldom happens because I end up bailing on his posts before I get through them.

          I feel like the optimal blog post is 300-1000 words. WordPress tells you how many words you’ve typed, right at the bottom of the post window, so it’s never a mystery.

          So that means you have to write economically. And long topics should be broken into multiple posts. I have a three-part post coming up on all the things I do when I’m evaluating an old camera “in the field”. I wrote about 2,500 words!

          I’ve worked hard to write well. It’s a skill I’ve deliberately practiced. I just took a nonfiction writing workshop so I could improve some more.

          I don’t regret my math/CS education at all. I’d do it again. I’m an engineering director in a software company and I’ve enjoyed my career. Well, not every moment of it, but definitely the arc of it.

          Like

        • We’re probably talking about the same blogger…

          Like you I don’t often make it to the end but do get something from the comments from others (and the author).

          Which comes back to what we’ve talked about with blogging and building community of course…

          Liked by 1 person

        • I studied literature, writing, and philosophy in university and had a great interest in the arts. If I had my time back I would study engineering or carpentry. Not much of a job market for artsy-fartsies . . . . :)

          Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks so much!

      My first job professional job was for a company that made network-management software for telcos. That was in the early 90s, when the #5ESS was taking over the world. I’ve had two switch tours, one at a GTE facility in Fort Wayne and aone with RochesterTel in Rochester, NY. I learned from this that a man needs but one switch tour in his lifetime!

      Like

  11. Christopher Smith says:

    Your post are always intersting and well writen and I enjoy the community spirit here and your photography is very good. So I will keep coming back for more and more.I would love to buy you a wisky or two if I ever get over to the UK. Keep up the good work Jim but be carefull not burn yourself out 10 hrs a week is lot of time.

    Liked by 2 people

  12. What a great post!

    This line sums up my blog “even the most esoteric interest can find community online.” Having a chronic illness means that blogging gives me a focus, a community, the chance to make friendships that expand outside of my blog and huge satisfaction. Being unable to work meant a lack of these things until I started to write and publish. I could never have imagined that having a blog would expand my world and lead to so many benefits. I could never have imagined that what I post would be of interest to so many people! I could never have imagined that strangers would be so generous and involved in what I do.

    I didn’t know about being famous due to blogging until reading this post. I know some people make money from social media, but isn’t that just Instagram? See how out of touch I am? 😊

    So, yes! Community is where it is at. Looking forward to your next post, Jim.

    Like

  13. I started my blog a few years ago as a place to show the world my brilliant work* and maybe get a little of that Internet fame I saw going around. Well, you can imagine how that went. I stopped blogging and just checked my account now and then to see when it would expire. One day, several weeks before the subscription period was up, I happened to look at my stats and noticed that quite a few** people were looking at my blog even though I hadn’t posted anything for a while. I guess some of my posts were showing up in search engines. This encouraged me to renew my account and post more photos and some writing. I had no illusions about gaining Internet fame so I decided to post photos that made me happy (artsy stuff) and things about Korea that would interest my friends, pen friends, and family. Now I feel that the blog has a real purpose and it’s more enjoyable to share photos and writing there.

    * Ha ha ha ha ha
    ** Not many, but more than I expected and more or less steady over time

    Like

    • Thank heavens for the Internet’s long tail! Write about something a little obscure and Google will beat a path to your door.

      My blog is the world’s leading source of information, for example, about the Argus Instant Load 270, a surprisingly well-specified camera for 126 film.

      Anyway, keep posting!

      Liked by 1 person

    • Oh heck yes!

      My favorite bourbon of all time is Willett’s Pot Still. I also really like Blanton’s and Breckenridge.

      My favorite everyday bourbon is Buffalo Trace. Most bourbons at its price (between $20 and $25) are pretty ragged on the tongue. Buffalo Trace is smooth and delicious. It could be priced fairly at $30-35.

      Like

  14. I used to think, Jim, that like in that film about baseball, if you build they will come. Some have come and even returned. Some have commented, some liked without comment and others followed without commenting or liking. I’m on a sabbatical and not writing for a while so am focussing on visits. I visit my blogger friends and search for new experiences. Twenty five hundred followers is a lot, but meaningless unless you can visit them all and they can return the favour. That’s what blogging is about.
    because they’re hoping to be famous too. πŸ™ƒ

    Liked by 1 person

    • I should write an entire post about the WordPress follow function. Ain’t no way all 2500 of those follows back to blogs that either post anymore, or ever posted. It was a long period of time where we follow I got was a sales blog – a form of spam. What I do is focus on visiting the blogs of the people who like and comment. I may not add everyone of them to my reader, but if you like or comment here at least semi-regularly, I will click through every now and again see what you’re up to.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, I get spam followers too. I ignore them. I also ignore followers who click follow but haven’t taken the time to read one of my posts. If someone has taken the time to read and comment (even if they disagree) or read and like, I owe it to that person to return the visit.and see who they are. Sometimes they’re kindred spirits, sometimes not. But all are as interested as I am in having their children admired. :)

        Liked by 2 people

  15. I don’t blog for the purpose of being famous. I would consider myself successful in this if I’ve touched a single person somewhere on the globe and made them smile, even for a moment or if I’d made them think about something new. My reward would be the idea that I’d accomplished that and little more.

    Like

  16. It seems to me that you’ve grown a good community of people. People are reading (and reacting) to what you’ve written. That is a fantastic thing.
    My following is small, and like you, not everyone who “follows” me actually reads what I have written (some press like after reading only the two sentences they can see in the preview) but based on the reactions from the people who have taken time to contact me, I feel very pleased with the results.
    I appreciated your post.

    Like

  17. Jim, the Community of Bloggers is like the Sand People from some of the Star Wars films, some will just blow away. Many people start blogs without knowing who or what they were blogging for. It would be nice to see statistics of how many are still blogging six months later, one year, and so on.

    I retired five years ago, and since I didn’t have a hobby or sport to keep me busy, my daughter got me to start a blog. Five years later, I’m still at it. Early on, I wrote about things, but in various ways. That’s when it hit me: Just be yourself–opinionated, and fill-in what the time and word out reporters cannot, sometimes it essays, and sometimes, its from personal experiences. There’s no there, per se, just keep busy.

    That guy from Indianapolis never stopped to buy me a beer either. Like you, I have found blogging to be a form of bonding–like minds sharing ideas, frustrations. or happy times. Maybe one day, we can have a party somewhere: the Friends of Blogger United! Jim, keep on blogging’!

    Like

  18. Not only I want to build a community but also I want to encourage other people to visit foreign countries and experience amazing things.

    Life is short. We should do the best and make the most out of it. Once we are dead and gone, we get no second chance. Why not go overseas so that we can be happier, more positive, more outgoing, more sociable, etc. in life?

    Liked by 1 person

      • I feel the same way too. I am around other family members at family gatherings. I am around other employees at work. I am around total strangers at a store, restaurant, or barber shop. However, I feel little or no connection. I feel like I belong somewhere else. Maybe that place is overseas.

        Like

  19. I think you should keep blogging it’s easy to tell you enjoy it sure fame and fortune sounds great but at this point in internet history I don’t believe that will be with blogging. Just by seeing how much you care about your followers and their comments and questions I would say that you are getting a lot out of this! Keep em coming

    Like

  20. Another brilliant speach about the Blogging here, Jim.
    I’ve been doing this for a very short period of time compared to you, but there’s quite a lack of “clicks” on it compared to the investment of time for sure. But, I also have to say that you put a whole lot more into your blog than I do into mine. You actually got something to say, which I find very good over here.
    And your pictures, and camera reviews of course! Great job done, and I really hope you continue “forever” :)

    Like

  21. really engrossing to go through your writing….you nailed it perfectly….of course it is the larger community we all are fortunate to be part of…..hope the leaders of the world will understand that soon enough….we all need each other…….Nice blog you have and I have started following it from today….:)…

    Like

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