It is traffic that drives the modern Web, whether we’re talking about a commercial site or a personal social media page, but I’m gradually coming to regard the relentless pursuit of this easily measurable but sometimes quite misleading metric as something I’m keen to step as far away from as possible.
Why? Because the behaviour of the Internet hivemind — they who create the traffic — is predictable. Write something interesting and compelling — but, crucially, not controversial — that you’ve poured blood, sweat and tears into and came away from feeling yes, this is one of the best things I’ve ever written, and you’ll inevitably barely register a blip on the graphs. On the flip side, write something controversial or angry — preferably with plenty of finger-pointing — and you’ll get hundreds, thousands of hits. But are they the kind of people you want to be attracting to what you’re writing?
In the case of a commercial site, it doesn’t actually matter all that much; in the case of the biggest sites like IGN, the comments section moves so quickly with all the commenters’ vapid nonsense that there’s no time for anyone to be able to fixate on the actual people who have been reading it in most cases — unless, of course, it becomes clear that the community at large has an opinion contrary to that of the writer, in which case it usually degenerates into a battle of snark via Twitter within hours of publication. But even on smaller sites, comments sections are easily ignored; ultimately, it is those traffic figures that are totted up at the end of each week to determine how “well” things are going — the theory runs that if you lure people in with more “clickbaity” stuff, they will hopefully enjoy it and stick around to click through to some other, less controversial but much better pieces. It doesn’t necessarily work like that, sadly: bounce rates are high, and tricky to “fix”, particularly if you contemplate how your own personal browsing habits tend to go.
In the case of a personal site like this one, however, it very much does matter who you’re attracting to read the things you’ve written. I have a small group of semi-regular to regular commenters on this site, all of whom I’ve gotten to know and come to regard as friends. When someone new shows up, their first comment is important; it determines whether or not I actually want to engage with them, or whether I never want to speak to them ever again. It’s nice when the former happens; when the latter happens, however — something which is seemingly exponentially more likely on a high-traffic day — it can be anything from mildly annoying to actually quite scary, particularly for someone with anxiety issues around certain social situations.
It’s for this reason that I’ve come to dread the WordPress notification that reads “Your stats are booming!” because it means that, for whatever reason, lots of people have come to my site and are doubtless just itching to leave a comment on something and tell me how much I’m wrong. (The side effect of the aforementioned anxiety is that one negative comment counts for about 20 positive comments, making it very hard to get a nice, calming balance, and making me very anxious and nervous about the possibility of arguments, even over the smallest of things.) Today was one of those days: something I wrote a little while back — something which I stand by, but am also keen to put behind me now my life is moving forwards — got linked a whole lot. Judging by my stat reports, it seems it was linked from Twitter, Reddit and a few other places and, at the time of writing, has produced my “best” traffic day for a very long time.
I can’t say I’m particularly happy about that, though, because all it means is that I’ve written something contentious that I anticipate those who agree will stay quite and maybe give a Like, while those who disagree will jump in the comments and yell at me. (The comments on the aforementioned piece are now closed, so this makes prospective yellers’ lives at least a little bit more difficult, which is something.)
Since ditching the hustle and bustle of social media, with its constant pursuit of validation through Likes and Comments, I’ve become much more content to simply continue along on my way without interference from wider society. And while you may point your finger at me and say that I’m just trying to live in a bubble or an echo chamber, to that I simply say so what? We don’t need to open everything we say and do up to public scrutiny, and just because you publish something online for family and friends to read doesn’t mean that you particualrly want it shared with the wider world.
It’s a fact of life, however, that with this modern, connected world, if you publish anything online, whatever it is, you open yourself up to it being shared more widely, possibly well outside of your own safe place, and consequently run the risk of attracting… undesirables, shall we say. And that sort of thing is starting to make me increasingly uncomfortable — particularly after I’ve been the victim of an organised Twitter harassment campaign in the past; something I’m really not keen to repeat in any shape or form through any online medium.
Oh, don’t worry, this blog isn’t going anywhere; personally speaking, it’s been a valuable outlet and almost a form of “therapy” for me over the course of the last four and a bit years, so I can’t seem myself giving it up any time soon. I would, however, ask anyone reading any post on this site and contemplating sharing it or leaving a comment to take a step back for a moment and think about the person behind the words: a 33-year old dude who is just now finally starting to get his life moving in a vaguely normal direction after numerous years of upheaval, disappointment, upset, anger and chaos; a 33-year old dude who, after 4+ years of working “on the Internet” is now keen to have a bit of a quiet life. I’m not saying don’t share; I’m not saying don’t comment; I’m not sure what I am saying, really, if I’m perfectly honest: just please take what I’ve said above into account. That’s all I ask.