Thursday, January 8, 2009

My Balls Are Fuzzy Today

I blog about whatever I want to blog about. Some people like that; some people don't. That's fine with me. I don't care what people who don't like my blog think about my blog. I figure they shouldn't read it, and I think my logic is sound, although I know for a fact - from comments on sites like Hacker News and Reddit, and occasional inappropriate aggressive tweets - that many people who don't like my blog read it anyway. That's cool too, more pageviews to me, but at the cost of stating the obvious, if you don't like my blog, but you read it anyway, I don't want to hear your complaining. People need to realize that their time-management fail is not my concern.

This image has nothing to do with anything.

I don't really care what people who do like my blog think about my blog, either. I don't even care what I think of my blog. It's not supposed to be Gospel. My blog exists partly to channel my hypergraphia to some productive effect and partly because as a programmer my blog is one of several things which drive my personal brand.

This image has nothing to do with anything either.

Blogs are a long tail medium. Here's a page from Google Analytics. I got Reddit-ed a little one day and saw a little spike in readership. The page that got Reddit-ed accounted for only 42% of the readership spike.

My rule, derived entirely from experience, with no opinion or personal investment one way or the other: "post a lot, even if it seems random." In a long tail medium, a top ten on Reddit or Hacker News will drive traffic to your blog, but once that traffic gets to your blog, it can go in any direction, so you want to have a lot of things on your blog that people might also want to read. Sometimes people want to read some crazy shit. Why not. That's cool with me. I like crazy shit too.

For instance, this shit is crazy:

But I like it.

If you're one of the people who comes to my blog, reads it, and then gets angry at me for wasting your time, I have good news and bad news. The good news is, you're right, somebody is wasting your time, and you're right to be mad at them. The bad news is, it's you, not me, so fuck off and die. Go kick your own ass and leave me out of the equation. Better yet, just read something you like. That way we'll both be happier.

One unfortunate byproduct of the personal brand phenomenon - that it helps your career if other programmers know who you are - is that other programmers end up with opinions about you. Some of these opinions are passionate; some of them are accurate; many of them are neither. I know one entire company that worked themselves into a furious delusion of having some kind of feud with me, and I still have no idea what we were ever even supposed to be fighting about. The set of passionate opinions and accurate opinions did not intersect.

It's kind of the same problem a very successful actor faces, and given that I would love to be a very successful actor, or even a working one, I have some ambivalence about it. It's annoying, but it means that what I'm doing is working. Brad Pitt doesn't want all these legions of emotionally frustrated housewives to be so fascinated with him, it's just an unfortunate side effect of a very successful acting career. And I'm not even saying that I'm Brad Pitt, and all these Reddit muppets are emotionally frustrated housewives. DHH is Brad Pitt, maybe. I'm like Jesus Jones or "Whoomp! There It Is." Some people just care too much about shit that doesn't matter.

However, I hope you made it all the way down here, because after all the troll-baiting and finger-flipping, there is something worth thinking about. A Reddit thread voices an idea I've considered: splitting my blog into multiple blogs, one for programming, one for music, one for politics. I mentioned this on Twitter and most people who replied recommended against it. I only got one vote in favor, in this very informal election.

As I see it, there are three reasons not to. First, I'm lazy. Second, my rule is post any random thing, because people might like it. Third, people who read my blog but don't want to have a filtering problem, and I really believe this is something we should solve with technology. In fact I'm working on a Web app which solves it.

The idea behind I Just Don't Give A Shit is simple: prevent you from seeing the shit you just don't give a shit about. Development is stalled right now, but it'll launch in microapp form some time this year. The FAQ is fun to read. The answer to every question is, "I just don't give a shit." For instance, it's going to be a for-pay app; if that bothers you, well, I just don't give a shit.

The counter-argument to the technological argument is strong, however. The counter-argument goes like this: good branding is consistent and simple. By separating my blog into multiple blogs, I would make the branding better for each sub-blog. All the things that comprise the complicated brand Giles Bowkett could become simpler brands, and thereby brands which would also be easier to sell. The analogy breaks down a little there, because I'm not really doing any selling per se, but the analog would be readers. Simplify your blog, make it more consistent, and you get more readers. Certainly there are a lot of Ruby-only blogs out there with many more readers than mine. The same is true for music-only blogs and politics-only blogs.

What complicates things here is that because my blog has a lot of different topics, the more somebody reads it, the more likely they are to get along with me in person, since somebody who digs Obama and Ruby and dubstep is going to have more in common with me than somebody who loves Obama but hates Ruby (for example). Also, the person who loves Obama but hates Ruby might know me from my blog. If they knew me from a Ruby-only blog, meeting them in person wouldn't be fun. If they know me from a blog where they saw we had some common interests and some differences, then we have something to talk about.

Blogs aren't just about marketing. They're also about communication. A lot of things on the Web blur the lines between marketing and conversation, which is inevitable given the Cluetrain Manifesto idea that markets are conversations. Sometimes the results are awesome and sometimes not.

So far, by keeping my numerous subtopics all under one roof, I'm emphasizing the conversational aspect. It's mostly personal preference. I like to make money, and I like to have fun. These interests often align, but when faced with a choice, I choose fun.

There's another question as well. If I'm right, and the blog-filtering problem is a technological problem, then FriendFeed is doing it wrong. And not just wrong - exactly wrong. The FriendFeed idea is that you want to know every damn thing your friends are doing on every damn site they use. My idea is that you only want to discuss your common interests with people.

I'm basically a Taoist, so I believe the real answer here is to seek balance. For some of your friends, if they only use Twitter and Flickr and Facebook, and you're just considering the idea of keeping in touch with real-life people who don't blog about anything boring to you, FriendFeed makes a lot of sense. But for my Internet friends who blog about interesting things, and also Java, or interesting things, and also their pets, I just don't give a shit, so I Just Don't Give A Shit is going to be the way to go.

I hate to say this because in some cases my Internet friends cross over into real-life friends, and some of these pets whose pictures I don't give a shit about, I've actually met, but I don't think their feelings are going to be hurt, because they're animals, and they don't know what Flickr is. Their only opinion on the subject is probably "meow," and they say that no matter what you ask them. They probably just don't give a shit either.

For the time being, I'm keeping my blog consolidated, but I really don't know what my final answer will be. Now excuse me. I've got to go shave my balls.