When I started blogging in the summer of 2008, Twitter was only months old, few read Mark Zuckerberg’s status updates and TikTok hadn’t ticked.
At that time, and using a now-defunct platform, I was curious as to what all the talk was about, thinking it was just publishing words on the internet. And it turns out I was right, except today there are 500 million blogs, with over 2 million posts each with words in them uploaded every day. In fact, one-third of websites in the world are blogs and the Merriam-Webster dictionary even proclaimed blog ‘Word of the Year’.
No-one is listening
But if you want your blog to have influence, then I’m afraid you are sadly deluded. Your blog is nothing but an insignificant pebble on the online beach, casting an unnoticed ripple across the face of the internet. No blog ever single-handedly overthrew a government (some have tried), spawned a successful TV series, or stopped London’s cabbies expressing their opinion. Blogs with ten thousand visitors a day or their book deal go unnoticed by the rest of the human race. My wife has never read my blog, and my next-door neighbour doesn’t even know it exists.
The one thing that most bloggers crave is recognition, even if that is from a niche audience. Write about fashion for female millennials and your name could be on the lips of the world’s media by the middle of next week. It’s all just a matter of your raw talent being noticed, your opinions heeded and your creative skill recognised, but usually only amongst your peer group.
Now, if you want your blog to be recognised, you need to provide original content. It’s no good just regurgitating funny stories from the newspapers, or linking to all the same new gadgets like everyone else, or endlessly mouthing off about your journey to work. You need something fresh, something new, something different. This is quite difficult to achieve. Virtually every blog post that could be written already has been covered. How many times have you read a post about the Noses of Soho, London’s narrowest alley or how Pall Mall got its name? But there’s always a new angle if you look hard enough, and originality always shines through.
If you want your blog to be recognised, you need to write regularly. This doesn’t necessarily mean several times a day, or even several times a week, but you do need to post new content often enough to ensure that potential readers don’t walk away. If they’re going to make the effort to come and see you, you need the dedication to communicating consistently. They’ll forgive you a fortnight’s holiday incommunicado. They won’t desert in droves if you fail to post a 1,000-word essay tomorrow morning. They’ll even come back after a month of nothing much while you concentrate on having a life, as long as the break generates a unique post. But start apologising for your long breaks, or announcing that you’re off on a ‘hiatus’ until the muse returns, and there’ll soon be nigh nobody left reading.
I try exceptionally hard to blog regularly. I like to post every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. It’s a ridiculous self-imposed target I know, but I like a challenge, regular blogging isn’t for everyone, but for me, it’s the perfect motivational tool.
You’ll need your own niche. It really helps if people can sum up your raison d’être in a single short phrase, CabbieBlog’s prosaic strapline is ‘Taxi Talk Without Tipping’. That blog about Arsenal, the one by the ambulance driver, the girl who writes about rampant sex, the outpourings of a single-minded political pedant all know and write for their often limited audience. If you have your own niche, like-minded souls will gravitate towards you. Be distinctive, and you’re more likely to get yourself noticed. It’s much harder to make a name for yourself if your blog is more of a scattergun affair – a bit of family life one day, a news review the next and then a week of holiday photos. If being popular matters to you, prepare to make a tough decision about which of your diverse interests you should focus on and which can be safely sidelined. I’m always willing to try something new. London Trivia’s embryonic life started in July 2009 as a series of tweets and found its way to Sunday’s regular post. At the start of the year, I started to whinge every Wednesday but inevitably ran out of complaints, so that post will be dropped at the end of the year.
My blog isn’t easily pigeonholed. Sure I write a lot about being a cabbie, but actually, I write about London as well.
My first blog had a ‘hit’ counter which pleased me greatly until I realised it was counting my incursions onto the site. But who was the other visitor, and why had they come, and importantly where had they come from? I was hooked already. And, you’ll not be surprised to hear, I’ve been keeping a careful eye on my daily number of blog visitors ever since. It’s yet another method of gauging feedback on what I write (never mind the comments, count the footfall), and I smile so long as the general trend remains slightly upward, which since returning to WordPress hosting has put CabbieBlog in a promising trajectory.
Tracking statistics are also an extremely useful way of discovering where one’s visitors are coming from. Maybe a direct hit from another blog that’s linked to your latest post. Maybe the occasional arrival from another blog where you’ve just been added to the sidebar, although blogrolls are regarded as rather passé these days. But most likely a random appearance via a Google search. Ah yes, how we love to see what strange combinations of words have been leading Googlers to our door. But it’s not so useful for the Googler. They’d been trying to track down Oval to Paddington by cab and unsurprisingly they ended up on CabbieBlog instead, disgruntled and unsatisfied. Search engines may bring visitors, but they rarely deliver long-term readers.
Stats trackers therefore vastly overestimate the number of readers your blog is getting. And this can be quite depressing. There you are celebrating getting 50 hits on your blog, but it turns out that 40 of them never meant to be there in the first place and didn’t hang around when they arrived. Proper readers, ones that keep coming back for more, are like gold dust.
But there’s been a change recently, and I’m left wondering whether stats tracking sites might instead be seriously underestimating the number of viewers that blogs are getting. It’s Bloglovin’, Feedly and The Old Reader, RSS feeds that’s to blame – the cunning technology whereby people can read your posts without reading your blog. My viewer numbers almost double if I add in the number of people subscribed to my blog feed and in addition, CabbieBlog has over 140 Bloglovin’ followers. Once subscribed, viewers don’t have to keep checking the blog to see if anything new they want to read has been written, they can find out remotely. It’s very convenient, but it can be a bit annoying for the blogger. Just spent ages tweaking your blog’s layout and design? RSS readers won’t notice, because they’re only reading your individual posts. Just updated your blogroll? They won’t spot that either, nor all of the incisive comments that others are making on your posts. Hell, there could even be a photo of a naked vicar in your sidebar and they’d never notice. Which is a shame. RSS brings enormous opportunities, and I’ve become a keen user of this new functionality. But reliance on blog feeds also cuts social ties and has started to diminish hard-won feelings of an online community.
Blogging is becoming a conveyor belt churning out content, which is then reassembled and reproduced elsewhere. You may have control over what you write, but you no longer have control over how it’s read. Your latest post might well reappear inside Facebook, or within some other portal. It might be shamelessly stolen by a spam blog and reproduced without credit. Much too much to read, far too little time, your blog is almost certainly being viewed, but is it actually being read?
It’s good to talk
The first blogs were one-way affairs where the webmaster wrote something and others read it. Sometimes they wrote a little and sometimes they wrote a lot, but it was always just bunged up on the screen for others to digest. If you wrote a polemical post about, say, the London Mayor, its something I find hard to resist, you’d not really have much of a clue about what people thought of it. Neither would your readers get the chance to add their voice to your thoughts.
The ability to comment has made a huge difference in blogging. Blogging need not be one-way traffic, it can be a two-way conversation. It’s content plus comment.
Every post I publish is, in some way, an experiment in feedback. Will this post get any comments at all? If I ask my readers about Facebook, will they ever shut up? And if I accidentally make a factual error, who will be the first to chip in and point it out? I love the fact that my readers might, or might not, make comments on what I write, and give constructive criticism. Often the comments are the best bit of the blog, adding depth and additional facts that I never knew, and that you probably didn’t either.
Of course, just because a blog invites comment doesn’t necessarily mean that anybody will. Lack of comments doesn’t necessarily equate with lack of interest, as I’ve found out when I wrote about Welsh dairies. At first, nobody bothered to write, now years after publishing I’m still receiving communications. Commenting requires effort on behalf of the reader, and readers aren’t always known for their effort. Commenting may require reloading the page (“can’t be bothered”). It may require typing in some nigh illegible validation script (“can’t be bothered”). It may require registering (“really can’t be bothered”). And it always relies on someone being motivated enough to think of something worth commenting about in the first place. Only a tiny proportion of a blog’s readership ever get round to commenting, which can be a bit of a problem when readership is low. There’s little more dispiriting on a brand new blog than month after month of posts reading 0 comments – because it’s the comments that will (one day) tell you what people really think.
I’ve been lucky – I’ve managed to build up a veritable army of regular and semi-regular commentators over the years (and only a very few of them have been nutters spouting irrelevant drivel). My commenting community has evolved as readers arrived, lingered and moved on, and it’s very different now to the group it was three or four years ago, they are more regular and I suspect more older. But this blog wouldn’t be half as interesting without you, so thanks, because every comment, or just hitting the ‘like’ button counts.
(And yes, I know, I really ought to comment on your blog more often. We all should.)
When I started blogging over a decade ago, I had no idea what I was letting myself in for, I thought I’d have a go at starting one of those new-fangled bogathongs, signed up to the defunct Blog platform, using the name ‘Cabbie’, which transmogrified into Cabbieblog. Later I moved to WordPress and adopted Gibson Square as my pseudonym and later the domain name CabbieBlog.com came on the market, which I snapped up.
Long term commitment
I sometimes wonder how different the last 13 years might have been if I hadn’t started a blog that day. I’d have had a heck of a lot more spare time for a start, probably adding up to thousands and thousands of hours by now. I suspect I’d just have sat at home and surfed the internet wondering why there was so much crap there. But I didn’t. I joined in, I got involved.
Blogging, done properly, enhances your life. If there’s something you desperately want to tell the world you can get it out of your system, even if nobody’s listening. It’s a particularly cathartic tool for cabbies fed up with giving their opinion to their unresponsive passengers. Blogging gives us an outlet, with the ever-present possibility of feedback. It’s also somewhere to show off one’s literary talents, such as they are, under-practised since your English teacher used to set your essays for homework many moons ago. And a blog is a useful foothold in cyberspace, an online headquarters from which to reach out to others. If they ever want to communicate with you, now they know where to come.
And there have been a few other unique experiences I’d never have had without blogging. I’ve had some articles published in Time Out, appeared on BBC2, written for an in-house cabbie magazine and am now in the process of writing a book, which hopefully will be published by Michael Joseph next year.
I’m glad I started CabbieBlog, and wish I’d started it earlier. I’ve discovered so much more about London that even The Knowledge didn’t show me. I’ve constructively filled time that I’d otherwise have frittered away. And I’ve found a way of being creative online that other people actually appear to appreciate Blogging’s not just publishing words on the internet, oh no. It’s so much more than that.
The first post I wrote was ‘Make a cuppa and do The Knowledge’ it was 442 words long and I knocked it off in a few minutes. Today I try to change the length of posts, the last – Red and Dead – was completed in under an hour and comprised 689 words. This piece by contrast amounts to 2,618 words long, changing the length of posts gives the site a kind of vibrancy.
The best blogs reflect the thoughts and interests of the author. They muse on life’s daily struggle and cultivate grand ideas. They’re written for the love of it. And they take time and effort to produce. Quite a considerable amount of time, in some cases. Never, under any circumstances, should a blogger ever tot up the total amount of time they spend blogging because it’ll be out of all proportion to any returns gained. All those hours, or even days, spent tapping away on the keyboard to produce interesting content. And for what?
Blogging isn’t worth it, materially speaking. It might get you noticed in the media, briefly, but it probably won’t. It might make you some money, but probably only peanuts. It’s something you should always do for yourself, and not for others.
I try hard to keep as much of my blog as original as possible. I research the topic, form an opinion and use my experience of driving a cab to produce an – hopefully – informed post. I don’t sit around waiting for speculative press releases to arrive in my inbox and then copy them. My voice cannot be bought, although I publish clearly marked guest posts. I enjoy being experimental, and I love playing around with the conventions of presentation and formatting. I always reply to those who have taken the time to write a comment. I could drone on and on about the problems of being a cabbie. But why bother? There are plenty of message boards out there to have a whinge.
So there you have it, CabbieBlog’s Mission Statement.