July 01, 2013

Blog over. Infothought RIP 2002 - 2013

Executive Summary ("tl;dr"): It hasn't worked. Google changes were the last straw. Blog over. [sad face image]

[Disclaimer - this is NOT a disguised beg for links. It wouldn't solve any of the structural problems outlined below.]

It's been clear for a long time I've considered blogging to have been a failure, for me. I'll skip reciting again my delusion. In sum, while I treasure the occasional indication that someone has enjoyed something I've written, the practical matter is overall, the net effect on my life is that I have much more to lose than I have to gain. I'm reaching the same tiny audience over and over, and squeaking in a basement does nothing against those who shout from the rooftops. More importantly, protesting from below has been sadly useless when being trashed from the top.

What kept me from ultimately abandoning the blog before was that it'd likely be irrevocable. Once I made such an announcement, there would be no going back. The audience would be gone, never to return. Did I really need to do that? Was it precipitous? Instead, I decided to just limp along, posting every once in a while in order to keep active status in feed readers and similar.

But the readership numbers are now going to be decimated anyway, due to the Google Reader shutdown. While there's other feed readers trying to fill the void, it's well-known that such shifts almost always lead to a big drop. Further, recent Google algorithm changes seem to be unfavorable. That's a complicated topic involving details like "over-optimization" and "negative SEO" and "[codename] Penguin update", etc. However, the key aspect is that there's now many more ways for a small blog to run afoul of Google even by mistake or just as collateral damage in the ongoing web spam-war. I even wonder if Google would _de facto_ punish my site if I continued blogging, since the constant addition of pages which have no links/tweets/likes/plusones/[attention!] might be regarded as a lowering of "quality" (remember, for the all hype, Google is not good at making human-level distinctions between thoughtful material and ad-bait - the proof of that is evident in the results of many searches. And if it's relying on social signals such as the list above, I don't do well there).

And those are the last straws. Let me re-emphasize, it would be wrong to say Google killed my blog. It's more along the lines of, after a long, protracted, lingering decline, Google finally pushed it through death's door.

Note Twitter is no answer. While I've had a Twitter account for a while, if I were to spend much time on Twitter, it strikes me that I'd be making the same mistake as with blogging (anti-strawman - this is for my circumstances, which I do not claim apply to every person categorically). I keep thinking: Not again, not another rat-race on a hamster-wheel. I don't want to get on that treadmill, of endlessly trying to find interesting and entertaining items to convey, attempting to gain "followers". I can't win at that game, and I don't want to play. Worse, it's another "power law curve" environment that structurally favors bullying, as those "high up" can broadcast personal attacks against anyone "below" them, with no way even for the target to effectively reply. It's not for me.

I've pointed out the cruelty of blog-evangelism many times in the past, how it preys on people's desire to be heard. And I don't think I'm immune from that weakness, or the "sunk costs" cognitive fallacy. But there comes a time to recognize when a project has failed. And to stop.

By Seth Finkelstein | posted in infothought | on July 01, 2013 06:47 PM (Infothought permalink)
Seth Finkelstein's Infothought blog (Wikipedia, Google, censorware, and an inside view of net-politics) - Syndicate site (subscribe, RSS)

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Well, I still think the world would be a better place with more failed projects like yours continuing just a little while longer.
Thanks, anyway.

Posted by: Lionel at July 1, 2013 07:26 PM

The secret is just to write for your own pleasure. If others enjoy it too (or dislike it enough to write a reply that teaches you something), what a bonus!

I have a lot fewer readers than when I was trying to promote my blog, but I'm a lot happier.

Posted by: Michael Froomkin at July 1, 2013 07:32 PM

Why did you stop writing for The Guardian? Surely people were reading those columns.

Posted by: Bennett Haselton at July 1, 2013 08:21 PM

Lionel: Thank you for the kind words.

Michael: But I'm not happy writing for myself. I want(ed) to make-a-difference. Moreover, the potential of being attacked with no way to effectively defend myself, is a pleasure-killer.

Bennett: They discontinued the special tech section I was writing for.

Posted by: Seth Finkelstein at July 1, 2013 09:35 PM

I have enjoyed reading your blog, Seth. Over the years I have culled a lot of blogs from my reading list, but I kept yours because of your severe allergy to bullshit.

I won't argue against your reasoning -- I find it tough to sustain interest in my own blog because of a lack of comments and feedback or attention elsewhere. But I will miss your blog, and I hope you find a platform for your thoughts that is worthy of your time.

Posted by: Rogers Cadenhead at July 1, 2013 10:36 PM

It's a personal decision. What benefit you get as opposed to what detriments you experience. Talking to people looking the other way, over a long term, leads to either not talking or moving on to other situations.

But I'm reminded of "Bilmon" who used to be a sought after source of insights on DailyKos. The now rare posts are still read, always hoping for an understanding of a situation from a known keen eye.

You are a known keen eye. Whether the accompanying voice will talk, here or elsewhere, is your choice. Hopefully it's the best choice for you.

As for google, I've had an experience with the quixotic behavior of google search results. An image I captured of an ice cream shop in Coney Island eventually appeared on the first page, top row, of google's image search for "ice cream shop." That generated 20 to 50 views a day. By far my most popular image in my flickr account. Then one day there were zero views. After a week of zero views I checked what the search results were. My image was now going to another source for it, a Coney Island based organization with a flickr page. No real problem from my view in that I have a good relationship with that organization and it promotes the area, which is near mine. But the next week the image, still on the first page of google's image search, was going to some business plan web page which was using my image to promote sales of their business plan for ice cream shops. Sweet. Oh, the image is not CC listed.

I objected to google and posted a comment on the business plan site about their unauthorized use of my image. No response all around. I did a screen capture of the business plan web page with my image and my comment objecting to its unauthorized use and posted that capture on my flickr account.

Still no response from either the web site or google.

Then I noticed that the particular image no longer appeared in google's image search. Fine. Whatever. That was the case for a year or so. But this January all of a sudden the image was getting the old 20-50 views. ?? That lasted for a couple of weeks and the image again disappeared from google's search results.

Google does what it wants and doesn't respond or explain.

But that neither reflects on the quality and relevance of my image ..

.. nor the quality and relevance of your commentary.

All the best Mr. Finkelstein.

Posted by: Silversalty at July 2, 2013 08:27 AM

Google doesn't read your blog. I read your blog. And I've been reading your blog for a long time, almost since the beginning, if you started in 2002.

It must feel like you're shouting in to the wind. With billions of people online, why don't more of them read your blog? I know how it feels, I have a blog that (almost) no-one pays any attention to either. Not even Google.

If you do decide to stop writing, Google probably won't miss you. But I and your other readers will.


Posted by: Bob Jonkman at July 3, 2013 04:14 AM

Not that it would help your short-term problem, but I've been advocating for years for a system that would solve the "gatekeeper" issue -- basically, any piece of content you produce (a song, or a blog post, or whatever) would be rated by a small random subset of users within the system (e.g. reddit). If their average rating is high enough, the content gets promoted to all the other users (e.g. listed on the front page of reddit, or at least under the political section); otherwise, not. This immediately makes all concerns about "gatekeepers" obsolete, because the exposure of a piece of content is just based on the average rating that it gets.

I think we underestimate how much this would revolutionize the promotion game -- basically, there would *be* no promotion game, since the only thing that counts is producing content that gets a high average rating from the reader.

(You'd still have the problem of "pandering" where someone tries to get a high rating by writing exactly what readers want to hear, but at least you solve the gatekeeping problem.)

Posted by: Bennett Haselton at July 3, 2013 05:35 PM