Examining Dabbler

The best teacher I ever had would occasionally quote Socrates at us: “The unexamined life is not worth living.” This website has been my attempt to put that advice into practice.

My original notion for a dabbler’s journal was that I’d write occasional pieces about my job, discussing the daily crises, the projects, the methods, and the interactions which make the job interesting, satisfying, and frustrating. Over the year I’ve managed to post about one of those essays each week. They’ve mostly formed an ongoing story about one project, but there’ve been odd forays into other areas when I found reason to discuss them. Since I knew I couldn’t make a daily journal of that material, I figured I’d throw in an occasional photograph, some baseball musings, and anything else which caught my eye.

That’s pretty much how it’s worked out. I’ve posted more photographs than I expected, but less baseball material; in the other stuff category I developed a couple specialties (iTunes & CDDB, Tombstone) I’d not anticipated. All in all, considered solely as a writing project, this website’s become pretty much the place I envisioned when I created it. Readership (however measured) grows every month, which is encouraging, and I get enough feedback to know I’ve got actual readers.

But take a look at some details. Yesterday there were 844 hits on the website. Of those, 196 were by agents that NetTracker recognizes as bots, and over 100 more were by spiders NetTracker doesn’t recognize. (I sometimes suspect Inktomi’s taken up residence on my server, where he’s apparently birthing baby Slurps.) You can subtract another 150 or so hits which resulted from link checking activities on the webmaster’s part, and another fifty were error hits (generally because I’ve moved the feeds; PubSub’s bot turns out to be pretty dumb.). Another 40 hits were the Picture of the Day which shows on every page, and other graphics (the photographs) seem to account for half of the raw hit count for users who open the site in a browser. Suddenly you’ve lost more than two thirds of my traffic to overhead and double counting. In return for this noise I got 21 hits which originated from Google and friends; there were also about 40 hits on the full-text RSS feeds and 20 on the excerpt feeds. About half of yesterday’s visitors had been on the site before. These are typical numbers, though the mix changes a bit from day to day. The overall picture is that I seem to be putting all this effort into writing for the search engines. I don’t mind that, since that’s where the traffic originates, but it suggests I might want to change my focus.

We need a little disclaimer at this point: The RSS feeds and the practice of putting new content on several of the index pages hides some things about my readers’ interests. The picture I just painted is justifiable, but the emphasis is pessimistic. (The next paragraph has the same character, by the way.) As I mentioned before, interpreting logs is partly science, but mostly art.

Slicing the data differently, it’s pretty clear that there’s little actual demand for the stories about my job. Few of the Bureaucratic Whimsy essays have drawn 20 page reads. Most of them draw about 10 within a week of being written and don’t attract any significant traffic after they’ve aged off the front page. Those whimsical notes which do attract readers after they move to the archive almost all have some obvious “feature” which moves them up the Google page rank, not always in expected ways.

Conclusion: The site’s a success. Bureaucratic Whimsy, on the other hand, is not a success.

Now cycle back to the top of the page and remind yourself that the essays about work are the reason for the website. I’ve quite certain that these readership levels don’t justify the effort and the risk those essays entail. While I could address this in a number of ways, I’ve decided to reclaim the time and put it into another activity.

And if I stop writing Whimsy, I’m not certain that keeping the rest of the place active is a worthwhile effort. But that’s a separate decision, and it’s not been made.

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