Numbers Game

Work: PM therapy/EVE grooming scheduled, even likely.
Report: The day to dive into our new schooling program was not today. Spring advances and retreats. As do I.

Ramblings: The delayed appearance of February’s end of the month ponderings on blogging. In order to keep up with a daily blog, I need to follow the inspiration of day and reestablish my schedule when I can.

Why Numbers Don’t Matter
First of all, which numbers? Daily hits do not take into account the kind folks who have signed up to follow by email. Since the text appears in their inbox, they never have to click over. Therefore, they are not counted in the mesmerizing bar graph that I see at the top of my blog page. In addition, what do I count these folks as? They could be avid fans, waiting with bated breath for the next appearance of my daily adventures (a dog can dream), or they could be friends or family members who listed their email out of sense of duty but who skip right past the resultant inbox-clogging messages. The world may never know.

Plus that silly graph is relative. A big spike could mean a 1000 viewers or it could mean that today you scored 7 instead of the normal 2.

Over in the right corner is an cardinal number that registers the number of new comments or likes. The dull gray background switches to orange when it is nonzero. Imagine my excitement when it read 8. Only to find I had just posted a blog with several references to past blogs and it was registering my own ping-backs.

Then there are actual hits. I try not to pull up the My Stats page too often. My bar graph resembles a mountain range. A few vertical peaks, generally on guest post days, separated by long sloping valleys. The brief excitement of a big bar of blue is quickly offset by the dramatic fall off that follows. Don’t they love me anymore? Did they take one look at the text and vow never to return? In the absence of data, the mind – at least my mind – fills in all manner of horror scenarios.

Self-styled Internet gurus will say that tracking the numbers will give you a sense of what works. First off, there are no Internet gurus. It’s all too new. No one truly has a clue what works and what doesn’t. Second, clicking on a page doesn’t mean that the reader likes what she finds. A steady upswell of hits is the best indication that folks liked your past blogs. Okay, the views by country graphic is cool. I feel so international.

The golden currency is comments. The commenter exists, gets counted, and lets you know, for good or ill. Bloggers love comments and I wallow in despair when a post doesn’t rate one. Don’t they love me anymore? Did they take one look at the text and vow never to return? (You may be sensing a trend here. This has been pointed out before.)

This is hardly unique thinking. Other bloggers have wrestled with overcoming the number fascination: Shelli Johnson, Why I Stopped Looking At The Numbers.

Let’s say I end up on Fresh Pressed and have 10,000 viewers who stay with me. What does that mean? Does it change the way I put on my pants in the morning? Does it make Rodney more ridable? The reader I really want to impress is the person who hands out article assignments at the New Yorker, but I have no idea if he or she looks at Fresh Pressed.

Numbers don’t guarantee happiness. I wish I could write a post half as funny as Hyperbole and a Half’s Dogs Don’t Understand Basic Concepts Like Moving. That post alone has 2471 comments. H&1/2 has numbers that would cause rage and jealousy in any blogger prone to those low emotions. The popularity of her blog has gotten her a book deal. Yet she doesn’t not appear to be a happy person, Adventures in Depression.

Would winning the blogging lottery change my life? Not according to John Candy in Cool Runnings: “Derice, a gold medal is a wonderful thing. But if you’re not enough without it, you’ll never be enough with it.”

Why Numbers Matter
The conviction that I will write for myself sounds all high-minded and artistic. It’s also field fertilizer. By definition, anyone who posts wants to be read. Otherwise, we’d be keeping private journals tucked in bedside table drawers or filed on hard-drives. We want to reach out.

Dr. Beverly Hofstadter would say that we, “Suffer from an external locus of identity.” We define ourselves by the way others accept us. I say this is not a bad thing or a good thing. It is simply a human thing. We do not live in vacuums. Emotionally, we are not far from the days when social acceptance meant a place closer to the fire, and ostracism meant a place on the edge, in the dark, where there is less food and more lions.

Many arguments against obsessing over numbers and the knowledge that none of those arguments will stop me from checking my hit count, envying folks with double digit comments, or fiddling with my tags to make them sexier.

Bloggers: what is your number fetish?

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