What you people read (on my websites)

One of the basic problems with website ‘analytics’ is that a lot of the data is just noise. We have no real insight into cause and effect—that traffic sources section is insidious because it often amounts to little more than misdirection, knowing where people come from almost never tells you why they came.

The scary and frightening fact is that the effectiveness of our online marketing and traffic generation tactics is probably due to random chance—spending time on a particular source of traffic is no different from just buying more lottery tickets. Sure, you’ve increased your chances, but its success is still just down to random chance.

Or, even when something you do does have a significant effect, it might just be the novelty effect. It’s not what you did that mattered, just that it was new.

That said, when you have a statistically significant difference over a lengthy period of time, you probably have a piece of data there you can count on.

For example, it’s pretty certain that most of you lot only read my ebook publishing, production, and analysis posts. If we discount the statistical anomalies (like my posts debunking a few myths on the Icelandic political situation which are the most popular pieces I’ve ever written, unfortunately) an ebook post tends to get more than ten times more traffic than a post on any other subject published at a roughly similar time of day and day of week.

Now, drawing any conclusions from this is risky. Ebooks are the subject that I’ve covered rather consistently throughout my career and they are my subject of expertise, so it makes sense that other subjects haven’t attracted a regular audience.

Still, I always find it a little bit disappointing that the popularity of my blog posts is inversely proportional to how much fun I had writing them.

Intellectual terrain

Books today are for sharing, not reading

Literature is the art of writing something that will be read twice; journalism what will be read once. Cyril Connolly, Enemies of Promise

I’ve been reading Cyril Connelly’s Enemies of Promise. It is wonderful, brilliant, and meandering; analytical where complexity requires it to analyse; spiritual where the soul needs to be fed; and optimistic just when your spirit is about to break.

It also manages to make you think about what you’re doing and where you’re coming from.

Which is humbling.

Despite the wide ground it covers — style, autobiography, grammar — it maintains a steady focus on the subject of promise, what it means to be a promising writer and how it either pans out or doesn’t.

It’s meandering in the same way that a hiker meanders. Like Connelly, the hiker has a destination and they aren’t diverging from their path, but the terrain they are covering simply doesn’t lend itself to direct routes. You can’t run a marathon or sprint without a road or a track. Uneven terrain requires a wandering path.

Modern writing, the chatter that fills websites, newspapers, and short ebooks, doesn’t account for terrain. They are mental sprints — short bursts along a paved road where everything uneven and unnatural has been removed, cut away, or flattened. The longer books might qualify as marathons, but they still only track along the ready-made roads of pre-fabricated ideology and and cookie-cutter abstract arguments.

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