Great writers versus great posts

I do most of my on-line reading via a feed reader. For years I used Google Reader, without even really worrying about the risks. After Google ruined it, I experimented with several alternatives. I’m happy enough with a couple of the options, so I’m not so unhappy with how things have turned out (with Google having announced that it is canceling Reader). But the surge in interest has prompted me to think about how reading feeds is different from reading things via social media. Social media helps you find great posts. Feed readers are for when you’ve found a great writer.

I notice this whenever someone shares one of my pages (either here or on Wise Bread). I’ll get a surge of traffic to one post. Some of those people will read another post, or even a few. Only a few seem to become regular readers of my work—and fewer now than before.

Back in the old days—let’s say, five or six years ago—there was more of the latter, and I think it was because more people used feed readers. It was wonderful to find a great post, but it was much better to find a great writer. Then you could add their feed to your feed reader and read everything they wrote.

I still do that. Every time I find a great post via Facebook or Twitter (or whatever), I look at other stuff the guy has written, with an eye toward adding the feed to my feed reader.

I’m puzzled that more people don’t seem to do the same. Finding a great writer is way better than finding a great post.


I got email this morning from a schoolteacher who shares links to my story structure article with her young students, telling me that the links out from my sidebar under the heading “Recently popular” were going to porn sites.

Although somewhat dubious, I went and checked immediately, and discovered that it was true. Ugh.

Those links were generated by a widget that (when it hasn’t been hacked) uses site traffic statistics to identify the most visited posts and pages on my site over the past week or so and link to them. It was still doing the first part—that is, the items under the heading were names of my recent high-traffic pages—but the links no longer went to my pages. Instead, they were going to porn sites.

I immediately removed the widget from my sidebar and disabled the plugin that provided it. I looked at other links on the site and didn’t see any similar problems elsewhere, so I’m hoping that was the extent of the hacking.

I also sent email to the guy behind the plugin, telling him about the problem and asking if there was any diagnostic information I can provide.

The stats package that I use also tracks outbound clicks, so I can see that a total of 4 clicks today went to one or another of those sites. I looked at stats for the past several days and didn’t see any other outbound clicks to illegitimate sites, so I’m hoping that (with the help of that teacher) I managed to nip this thing in the bud.

Apologies to anyone who got directed to one of those pages!

I’m still investigating, and will add an update if I learn anything further.

Replacing Google Reader

In my ongoing search for a replacement for the sorely missed old Google Reader, I happened upon The Old Reader, which is pretty good. Good enough that I’ve moved my own reading and sharing activities over there, and updated the “Interesting stuff” item in my sidebar to point to the stuff I share out of the things I read via RSS.

It was the loss of an RSS feed of the stuff that I share that made me leave Google Reader, which was otherwise excellent. For a while I’d been using Tiny Tiny RSS, which was okay, but which put too much of a load on the server that my brother and I share. The Old Reader, although it’s not as quick about finding new items as they are posted, seems stable and functional.

If you’re interested in the stuff I share, feel free to follow that feed.

My shameful integer posts—and my shameless ones

You know what integer posts are—the ones where the title starts with an integer. I scorn them when I’m reading, so I tend not to write them. I’ve ended up writing a few, though. Seriously—sometimes they just pop out.

I knew I’d written three, but looking back over my list of Wise Bread posts, I see that I’ve actually written six, a fact that I’m somewhat ashamed of:

These last two are sliders. For one thing, the integer is spelled out, not written as a digit. For another, the posts are organized as a logical sequence, rather than as a lame list. I don’t know if they count or not, but the title begins with an integer, so I’m including them.

This next list, though, don’t count. They’re posts that quite legitimately include a number in the title because it’s part of what the post is about:

Those I’m not ashamed of at all. I mean, 401(k) isn’t even an integer!

Oh, and I almost missed this shameful integer post, because I’d hidden the integer in the middle:

And what about this one?

Shameful? Or shameless?

Sadly, integer posts do seem to work, if by “work” you mean “get more reads.” Perhaps the title of this post should have been “7 Shameful Integer Posts”! Hmm?

Doctor Emery’s Nightmares

If you’re a fan of anime-influenced art jam-packed with memey goodness, I’ve got a treat for you: Doctor Emery’s Nightmares.

[Update 2013-12-06: Doctor Emery’s Nightmares is back! I’d take the original link down when the site was taken over by some advertising crap. Now Doctor Emery has a new tumblr site, so I’m pointing there.]

When it comes to physical objects, I’m at least a generation behind the cool kids. (I not only still have an iPod, my iPod still has a hard drive.) But when it comes to internet memes, I figure I’m only two or three steps behind. I mean, I read BoingBoing. I have an account on Reddit! Even so, I usually have to visit Know Your Meme two or three times for every one of Emily Mongeau’s comics.

But if that’s not you—if you already know your memes—then you’ll find Emily’s comics great fun. And if, like me, you’re a few steps back on your memes, you can still enjoy the art.

Oh, and I should also mention: Emily drew the picture I’ve been using for my favicon for a while now. It’s a picture of my totemic animal: the sloth.

Here it is in slightly less faviconic form. Have you ever seen such a handsome creature?

Drew Breunig on “Content” Creep

I think of myself as a writer, not a “content creator,” so I find Drew Breunig’s warnings of doom to anyone whose business is built around “content” to be hopeful. Those same warnings ought to terrify the owners and managers of those businesses.

My writing for Wise Bread has given me a particular perspective on this. The Wise Bread admins have done a pretty good job of seeking out and paying for high-quality writing. They have fallen prey to the idea that winning in this niche is all about SEO and monetizing, but that’s not so bad.

The SEO thing tends tends to work in favor of a writer who wants his work to be read. A Google search for budget categories finds my article Refactor Your Budget Categories, despite a lot of other articles on budgeting. (I was going to say that I wouldn’t do so well if I just posted the article on my own blog, but when I tested that theory, I found a Google search for rich country finds my article How to Have a Rich Country just fine. Maybe I could do as well on my own site.) In any case, there’s nothing wrong with SEO, as long as it’s in service of good content—good writing.

The monetizing thing is more of a slippery slope. If you let your browser do so, it’ll run scripts from at least 15 other domains every time you load a page on Wise Bread. I haven’t looked at what they’re all for, but most of them either serve ads or provide some sort of analytics or tracking of who’s viewing what. As a reader, I don’t care about any of that stuff, so I generally don’t let my browser run those scripts. As a writer, I tolerate it as a way to make more money, but I don’t think it makes my posts look better. (Wise Bread does at least avoid the very worst of the interstitials and floating boxes that cover the page and so on.)

So, as I say, I hope Drew Breunig is right. I’d very much like to see the revenue potential of a content farm article fall to zero. Or, at least, low enough that there’s no point in paying some semi-literate buffoon a nickle to cobble together a few paragraphs that look like prose and are stuffed with keywords. Not that I begrudge the semi-literate buffoons their nickles; I’d just like to see the incentives in the system shift so as to make it pointless to hire writers who can’t write.

It would take a lot of those nickles to add up to a reasonable wage, but there are a lot of those nickels. A world in which we swapped 10,000 worthless articles for one worthwhile article—and paid one writer $500 instead of a thousand buffoons 50¢ each would be a better world.

Less social media, more blogging

I’m glad I have a Facebook account, so I can see what my friends are doing (or obsessing about). I enjoy reading my Twitter feed, for the occasional brilliantly pithy comment. I’m pleased with Google+, because it solves two big problems with Twitter (by letting me group the people I’m following into categories and by eliminating the arbitrary 140-character limit).

And yet . . .

Sunset out the window of the study

I’m glad I have a Facebook account, so I can see what my friends are doing (or obsessing about). I enjoy reading my Twitter feed, for the occasional brilliantly pithy comment. I’m pleased with Google+, because it solves two big problems with Twitter (by letting me group the people I’m following into categories and by eliminating the arbitrary 140-character limit).

And yet, whenever I post anything substantive in any of those venues, I end up regretting that I didn’t post it here, and just link to it there.

There are several reasons, but they’re all related: the material is harder for me to find, harder for me to link to, harder for me to relate to all the other stuff I’ve written (and am going to write). When I post it somewhere else, the material is less useful.

So, I’m going to re-center my social writing here. I’ll still use Facebook, Twitter, and Google+ to comment on what other people write, and I’m sure I’ll occasionally use them to post brief items that I think will be of interest to my readers in those places in particular (and to re-share interesting bits in the place where I find them). But my substantive social writing will be here.

New website theme

As if I didn’t have better things to do with my time, I just spent most of the morning making changes to my website, including updating to a new theme and then fiddling around making changes so that things would display right in the new theme.

I like it.