Blogosphere

Reflections on 11 years of blogging

On this day in 2007, quite on impulse, I started this blog. I was recovering from an ugly divorce and was looking for things to do that I would enjoy (as joy had been in short supply) that didn’t cost much (as I was nearly broke). I once made my living as a writer and missed it, so starting a blog seemed like a natural thing to try.

This blog has had four phases. The first was the “I’m not sure what I want this blog to be” phase, where I told stories about myself and wrote reflections on my faith that I find now to be a little too preachy. I posted sporadically, two or three times a month.

The second phase began when I started writing about my trips to explore old roads. I had always been curious about the old two-lane highways, and spending all day exploring one was a splendid distraction. I used to document my road trips extensively and exclusively over at my old-fashioned HTML Web site, but in time I stopped updating it and wrote about my road trips only here.

It’s an odd hobby, this search for truss bridges and abandoned brick road segments. But the beautiful thing about the Internet is that any odd hobby can find a following. Soon other roadfans found my writing, and they led me to an entire old-road subculture. Many other roadfans became regular readers. Buoyed by having found an audience, I committed to posting twice a week.

Have Camera, Will ShootMeanwhile, I had restarted an old hobby of collecting vintage film cameras and was happily putting film through them and learning the mechanics of photography. I started posting about my old cameras here, too, and went looking for other old-camera blogs. A film-photography community began to form around our blogs, and I wrote more and more about using those old cameras to make photographs.

And then the WordPress.com staff found my blog, featuring it an astonishing four times on its daily Freshly Pressed feature in 2010 and 2011. That brought a deluge of visits and many regular readers.

It was at about this time that my old-camera reviews started to become popular on Google search. Turns out people want to know things about the old camera they found or about where to have their film developed. Searches for such things drive a very large percentage of this blog’s page views even today.

Feeling encouraged by increasing readership, I began this blog’s third phase by posting three times a week. I also bought a custom domain name – actually, a subdomain off my preexisting jimgrey.net domain – and bought upgrades to customize the look of the blogging template I use.

I also began experimenting, writing about other things to see which subjects would stick. It seemed natural to write about software development, as that’s how I make my living, but you stayed away from those posts in droves. So I started a second blog about it (here) and promote it separately. I’ve written some opinion posts that have been well read and discussed, such as one about bullying (here) and one about standardized testing in public schools (here). A series of posts reviewing fried chicken prepared at restaurants all over Indiana (example here) was really starting to take off when I discovered that a gluten-free diet eased a pesky health issue that plagued me. So much for that! I’ve also written about old TV shows (example here) and about raising sons as a divorced dad (examples here and here). And I’ve told many, many stories from my life (like this, this, and this).

But my photography posts had become by far the most popular. And I had come to really enjoy photography. And so this blog entered a fourth phase: as a photography blog, published six days a week. But I still sometimes write about my life and about the old roads. I also started sharing my favorite blog posts from around the Internet every Saturday morning. And that’s how you find this blog today.

Sometimes the words just come. When that happens, I set aside lots of time to write them down and soon posts are scheduled four to six weeks in advance. Other times, especially when my stress is high, I find I have nothing to say. I always hope those times come when I have weeks of posts already in the can! In either situation, writing my blog keeps my mind sharp. And seeing you read, comment on, and share my work is a rush that keeps me at it.

And so on this, my 11th blogiversary, I ask you: how did you find my blog, and what topics that I write about do you enjoy most?

This is an update of a post I first ran in 2014 on this blog’s seventh anniversary.

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Blogosphere

2017’s greatest hits

It’s my tradition at year’s end to review the most visited, commented, and liked posts I published all year. It always surprises me which posts get the most attention.

Chillin'

Garrett at rest

But as usual, none of my personal favorite posts made the cut. So here are what I think are my five best posts of 2017. I hope you’ll have another look at them; I really put my heart into them.

Thanks largely to having been widely shared around the Internet, these posts were most read this year:

You had the most to say (in the comments) about these posts:

These posts found people’s itchy Like-clicking finger most often:

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Blogosphere

Recommended reading

My weekly roundup of blog posts: a sure sign of higher civilization.

Seth Godin points out that most people want to work with familiar people doing familiar tasks, and be praised for following the rules. He argues that this is why so many workplaces resist change. Perhaps, he wonders, whether we could become familiar with the feelings of the unfamiliar. Perhaps that would allow change. Read In search of familiarity

I never actually saw the photo of our President’s severed head (in effigy) that features comedian Kathy Griffin. Thank heavens. But Scott Adams has an interesting take on it: how your reaction to the photo reveals which movie of the United States of America you are currently watching. There are two, and they aren’t related. Read The Kathy Griffin Controversy

Stephen Dowling has slowly been cataloging all the films still available to film photographers, and he’s issued Part 2 of his list. Read All the 35mm films you can still buy: Part 2 – Fuji to JCH Streetpan 400

I work in the software industry, albeit in the Silicon Cornfield of Indiana, not the Silicon Valley of California. I don’t see the traits and behaviors here Aaron Renn calls out as endemic of Silicon Valley. And he paints an unflattering picture of those traits. Read The Silicon Valley Mindset

This week’s film-camera reviews:

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Blogosphere

Frustrating experience with WordAds

This blog has been in the WordAds program for nine months now, which is why you see one or two little ads at the bottom of each of my posts. I signed up to help offset the costs of running this blog, as I explained when I joined the program.

This remains a personal blog, not a bigtime commercial enterprise. I feared that if I crammed the place with ads, or if the ads were abusive (popovers, slide-ins, videos that play automatically, and the like) it would drive you away.

wordadsWordAds promised one little static ad placement at the bottom of each post. That sounded perfect. It wouldn’t generate much income (I’ve earned about 50 bucks so far), but it would protect your experience here.

It turns out I’ve had little control over ad placements and behaviors, despite the WordAds site’s original promises to the contrary. And the ads have been buggy. It’s been frustrating and occasionally infuriating. I’m losing patience with it, and if the challenges continue I’m likely to withdraw from the program.

WordAds worked as promised for a while. There were a couple strange issues: empty ad boxes, or a database error appearing instead of an ad. I dutifully reported those bugs to WordAds Support.

And then one day a second ad appeared next to the first. I inquired of support. They explained that the program didn’t actually specify the number of ads that would appear. What? I went back to the WordAds site to check, and it had been redesigned with new copy that mentioned nothing about a single ad placement. I was sure the site had been very clear about that! I felt gaslighted.

And then a large video ad appeared below the two static-ad boxes. After processing some unhappiness over how the ad pushed the comments section so far down the page, I decided to let it ride because I figured it would increase my earnings. But soon a reader contacted me to say that the video sometimes automatically played, and while he enjoys my blog, if that continued he would reluctantly stop visiting.

That’s ad abuse, and I wasn’t going to have it. I contacted support again. The support tech explained that WordAds uses dozens of ad partners. Reading between the lines, I guessed that they just pass ads through from those partners, and don’t themselves have full control of them. The WordAds software probably limits some forms of ad abuse, but an ad partner who codes around it can get by it. The WordAds team finds out only when users complain. In the end, they were not able to fix it. They offered to manually disable those video ads on my blog, and I took them right up on it.

And then the two static ad boxes started occasionally showing video. It was strange stuff: tourist scenes from Morocco, men riding lawn mowers around a field. Text at the bottom said “your ad will play in a moment” but no ad ever played. And occasionally the audio would play for a second or two, and then silence for several minutes, and then play for a second or two again. The only way to stop it is to reload the page to get new ads. I didn’t bother to report this to support. Through writing and previewing posts, I visit my blog far more than anyone, and I see this only infrequently, so I figured you probably never saw it. And conditions you can’t reproduce at will are nearly impossible to troubleshoot. And, well, a man does grow weary of support chats.

But then a couple weeks ago a banner ad appeared at the top of my blog. This infuriated me. Not only did this go against the promises I believed had been made when I signed up for the program, the ad pushed the masthead way down the page. It looked like crap. I immediately contacted support and was clear and firm: this was unacceptable. They explained that ad placement is automatic, that they have no control over where ads appear. I explained that this didn’t even match the behavior their own Web site describes: that this particular placement was supposed to be controlled by a setting on my WordAds dashboard, and I had that setting turned off. Long story short, support manually turned off the banner ads. They do have control after all, glory be.

All I wanted was to have a quiet ad placement on my blog and make a few nickels. Instead, I got a comedy of broken expectations and time lost in support chats. My patience with this is about exhausted. What keeps me hanging on is that WordAds pays only in $100 increments, and I’m only about halfway there. But one more infuriating unexpected ad placement and I’m walking.

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Blogosphere

Recommended reading

Blah blah blah blog posts from this week.

No prejudice is ever the “last acceptable prejudice,” because no prejudice is acceptable. So argues, and argues well, Emily Sullivan SanfordRead Never Call Something The Last Acceptable Prejudice

David Heinemeier Hansson (writing for Signal v. Noise) has an axe to grind about typical corporate America and its inherent paranoia. It’s really a way of promoting the way he runs his software company, Basecamp, as what he calls a “calm company.” Read Paranoia won’t save you in the end

This week’s film camera reviews:

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Blogosphere, Photography

Hard lessons learned writing for PetaPixel

Last week I posted my updated list of film-photography blogs I follow. Stephen Dowling, the force behind Zorki Photoshared a link to it on Reddit. Thanks Stephen! From there, DPReview.com linked to my post, too. Boom! My stats spiked instantly.

StatSpike

Guess which day my post appeared on Reddit

PetaPixel noticed it too, and asked if they could republish it. An honor, right? Lots of people would see my work on that well-visited site, right?

I didn’t say yes right away. On the one hand, I wanted my list of blogs to be seen far and wide, and I knew PetaPixel had giant reach. On the other, I wanted my blog to get all the visits, not somebody else’s site. Also, if PetaPixel ran my post just as I wrote it here, Google’s search algorithms would take a dim view and downrank my post in searches.

But I hoped perhaps for some new readers who clicked through from PetaPixel, so I said yes. But I rewrote the post first.

PPByline

Get out your magnifying glass to find my name

When it went live, my poor little byline was in such tiny type I doubt anybody noticed it. There were two links back to my blog, but my stats say that only four people clicked them. And while the post got a lot of shares, the ones I saw invariably went something like this: “Hey, check out PetaPixel’s list of film photography blogs!” Or: “My blog made PetaPixel’s list!” Argh! It never occurred to me that people would attribute the list to PetaPixel and not to me.

Here’s something else I didn’t see coming. My original 2014 post of film-photography blogs had long been at or near the top of Google’s results for searches like “film photography blog.” That drives a steady stream of traffic to this blog. But within two days, the PetaPixel post outranked it. Arrrrrrrgh!

Downranked

Cue the sad-trombone sound effect

I love experimenting. I’m always excited to see what happens when I try something. Well, I certainly got a faceful of “what happens” from trying this.

I’m not sure I’d start this blog today if I had it to do over. Rather, I’d seek to contribute to an established site that already has good traffic, and build my name that way. As an individual blogger who works at something else for a living, I can’t devote the time and effort it takes to build an audience as large as PetaPixel’s.

But here I am, ten years into this blog, having built a respectable audience as an individual blogger. I’m not going back now.

And so, here are my lessons learned.

  • If you want to republish my content, the answer is no.
  • However, let’s talk about something different and original I could write for you.
  • If your site is owned by a profit-making company, I expect to be paid for my work.

There is an upside to this experience: several of the blog owners from my list told me that PetaPixel sent them a ton of traffic. That’s why I wrote the list in the first place: so more people could find those blogs!

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