THAT POPULAR TOUCH

We bloggers are endlessly in search of answers. All kinds of answers. I am, in particular, forever seeking an answer to the ultimate blogger query: What makes people follow me … and why are some posts popular while others (often, in my opinion, better) … not?

Serendipity-Blogging-Map

I think I’ve got it. The answer became suddenly obvious while I was reading “Excellent demo” on Mindful Digressions site. He’s one of the bloggers I always read. One of a handful. He is like me insofar as he writes about everything, whatever is on his mind. Sometimes funny, maybe serious, frequently thought-provoking, and informative. Always well-written, entertaining, and admirably free of typos. Even if the day’s post isn’t exactly up my alley, it’s worth reading.

Excellent demo” was about a software presentation to a prospective client that goes horribly wrong. The WiFi connection doesn’t work, the hot spot tool doesn’t help. It’s humiliating. The kind of experience we have all had, in one way or another. It’s painfully universal. I can remember at least two horrible professional moments, both involving cameras. After more than 30 years, they remain cringe-worthy and painful to the touch.

Oh, his company got the contract anyhow. He wondered how that could be? I thought the answer is probably simple. Everyone in that room at some time or another had a similar experience. That the demo went badly generated a visceral empathy. It didn’t sell the product, but it didn’t UNsell the product, either.

Back on Serendipity, I noticed the last two posts that did better than usual were both about the kind of stuff that happens to everyone. THANK YOU, I THINK, about backhanded compliments and I JUST WANT TO FEEL BETTER, which talks about dealing with doctors who don’t see you as a real person.

The common thread? I looked at other popular posts. One that Garry wrote about his parents, HAPPY ANNIVERSARY, MOM AND DAD! and a similar post by me, HAPPY BIRTHDAY MOM!. A few more posts Garry wrote about me when I was sick.

I looked at the list of my all-time most popular posts. Not including camera, movie, television, and technology reviews which have a life-cycle unique to that type of post and setting aside DON’T DRINK THE KOOL AID – THE JONESTOWN MASSACRE, which has a life of its own … all Serendipity’s most popular posts have some universal theme — something anyone, everyone can relate to.

I don’t write this way on purpose. I write the way I write because I write that way. I’m betting most of you don’t design your style. It comes out of you. It is you. I can control my subject matter, but I have little control over my style. When anyone asks about my “process,” I come up blank. What’s a process?

I don’t have a process. I get an idea. I write about it. It may leap out of a conversation with Garry, a comment I make on someone else’s blog, a book I’m reading, a TV show I’ve watched. A dream I had or what the dogs did. Many are anecdotes … things that happened here and elsewhere. Often, the interesting part of the story isn’t the event, but how it affected me.

There are blogs that deal with issues. Special interest web sites which talk about current events, news, politics, religion, the power structure, education. Some are all about history or literature. Or talk only about movies. They have their audiences, people who are interested in the things these bloggers write about. Me and many of you reading this have special interests too, but mostly, we are interested in life.

That’s what we write about it. Sometimes, it’s a story with a beginning, middle, and end. Nice and tidy. As often as not, it’s a memory, a string of thoughts wrapped around something that happened. A wish, a wisp, a wistful moment. And strangely, other people enjoy reading it. Go figure, right?

USING A NEW STATISTIC – FROM THE POSTS PAGE

Posts in menuMaybe I missed it. Maybe the link has been there for some time and I just noticed it. Or maybe it was recently added and no one at WordPress felt it worth mentioning. In any case, there’s a statistical link in town I’ve not previously explored.

I like it. Of all of WordPress’s analytic tools, this is the one which tells me about specific posts. You can find it under the “Stats” column on the Posts or All Posts page. You get there using  the “Posts” or “All Posts” entry on the black menu on the left side of the dashboard.

One of the problems I’ve had with the numbers WordPress supplies is they are too general. It’s hard to get information about individual posts. But this data can tell me if I am reaching my audience, how many views on which days. I see a curve showing the life cycle of the post. Useful information for a blogger.

There are still holes in the statistics, such as how I can have a post with more than a hundred “likes” when the stats say it only has 75 views.

In the following screen capture, you can see the STATS column. Note the little bar chart symbol. If you click on the symbol, voilà. You get more information on that post.

post page with stat link

Here’s a readout on a recent, relatively popular post.

Just want to feel better stats

You’ll notice that the “views” are divided into dark and light blue. The dark blue band at the top represents “syndicated views,” the light blue “on-site” views. I think I get “on-site,” but what are “syndicated views”?

Are those views which originate from the Reader? There is no explanation, so I can only guess. Syndicated views could mean views from links on other blogs or pages elsewhere on WordPress, such as “The Daily Prompt” page. If one of you finds out, I’d appreciate your getting back to me on it.

I assume this is a relatively recent addition because I can’t get accurate information on older posts. For example, this one, from 2013, note in the final week shown, the viewing percent for the post went up by a full 2,770% — very impressive, isn’t it? But three weeks earlier, it went up by 1,100% — so in a month, it went up a solid 3,870%. Can’t beat that.

stats for gazing through 2013-now

The percentage change for the final week of this post went up a lot — 2,770%! Wowie zowie!

I couldn’t get anything at all on the oldest version of the post. They best I could get was a summary that supposedly includes everything from when I officially started blogging in February 2012:

top posts stats

“The FBI Can’t Do A Simple Google Search?” shows 10,143 hits, but the search engine can’t find that post. It can only find the one I most recently re-published. The old one was gone, buried. It is difficult to figure out if the problem is the statistical analysis or the search engine. Both?

Limitations notwithstanding, this is a useful tool if you don’t have quite as many published posts as Serendipity (more than 2600 and growing). I have to assume if you have less stuff in your files, the search engine will find it. I’m just guessing.

This little tool isn’t going to answer all your statistical questions, but it’s a good way to get a clearer picture of how a post has been received. For those of us who enjoy working the numbers, this is useful information. Have fun!

STATS AND STATS – 6,001 FOLLOWERS?

Someone just alerted me that the count displayed on my site shows 6,001 followers.

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No matter what it shows, I don’t have anywhere near that many followers, unless you count Facebook, Tumblr, and Twitter. My Facebook total is especially meaningless in this context. Most of them are people with whom I used to play Metropolis. I don’t play Metropolis anymore, but the connections I made because of the game are still officially Facebook friends. They were never real friends, just folks with whom I played a game.

For reasons unexplained (probably rivalry), Google followers are not counted.

None of the WordPress counts are reliable. Until last year, hits from the Reader were not counted. Then, for a while, WordPress provided a separate tally of Reader hits. After a few weeks, it was discontinued.

Now I have no idea how or if Reader hits count. Who is counted? Many of us use not just WordPress’s Reader, but other readers. Like Bloglovin, to name just one of many.

As far as I know, the only hits that count (for sure) are when a reader clicks on an individual post. If a readers just accesses your site, then scrolls through, reading as he or she goes, it counts as a single hit. On the other hand, if someone is looking at a photo gallery, then clicks on 6 different pictures, you will get 7 hits — 1 for selecting the post and 1 each for every picture.

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It doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

You can study the statistics all you want, but all you can extract are general trends. More or less traffic. A little analysis will show you which of your posts get the most traffic, though the count on that is also suspect. It is not unusual for the number of “Likes” on a post to exceed the supposed total number of hits on it or show 17 hits when you’ve got 75 “Likes” and 55 comments. How can that be?

The only followers I count are WordPress followers yet I know I have followers who prefer to not create a WordPress profile and never register. So they aren’t part of the “follower” count. I’m not sure whether or not they count at all.  I only know they exist because they are friends and have told me they read my posts. Since none of them comment or “Like”, are they counted?

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We want to make sense of our numbers, but it isn’t going to happen. It won’t make sense because WordPress won’t tell us how they come up with the numbers. We need a definition of “hit.” I’d like WordPress to tell me if Reader “hits” are included in the count. Until we have a realistic idea of how they come up with the numbers, we will never understand what they mean.

Does anyone besides me wonder why they won’t tell us for what are they using our numbers? How are they mining our data? To whom they are selling our personal information? I don’t worry about hackers nearly as much as I worry about being sold as part of a list.

What I can tell you with certainty, is I do not have more than 6,000 followers. No matter what it says in the little box.

And all of us are getting more hits than the hit count shows.

WORDPRESS – A GIANT STEP BACKWARDS

WordPress’s new, “new format” is bad in so many ways. It’s a classic example of “stealing defeat from the jaws of victory.” They have replaced a format that works with one that is pretty and useless. There are dozens of sayings about this kind of thing from “all that glitters is not gold” to “pretty is as pretty does.”

They all mean the same thing. Looking good is not enough. An attractive cover does not a good book make. The new format:

  • No word count
  • No proofreading
  • Confusing scheduling
  • Bad default setting for “save” ; the default  is instant publication rather than draft, which will mean a lot of accidental postings
  • No “paste as plain text” (major problem — adds a lot of bugs and bad code)
  • Very slow loading, even slower saving
  • You cannot edit photographs in this format. Galleries have no “edit” link. Individual photos are missing the functions that allow you to set their position (left, center, right, none) and size
  • You cannot change or add a caption. Even if you set it up using the “classic” mode, you cannot edit it in the new one.

I have not tried creating a photographic post using the new, “new post” function because I never liked that format anyway and it’s so very much worse now. I have heard very negative things about how it handles photographs. I can confirm you can’t edit photos … I have heard you can’t download photos either, but haven’t checked it out personally.

Did I mention the “paste as plain text” option stopped working a week ago? Pasting anything you copied from another source is perilous to your post and produces a godawful mess you can’t clean up unless you can edit code.

You will get the new format if you use “New Post” from the top right on your dashboard or if you click “Edit” from your website. One of the worst features is that it takes minutes, not seconds, to load. It takes even longer to save. And be careful because you may think you’re saving, but unless you change the default settings, you are publishing. Gonna be a lot of accidents.

It has a lot of display bugs. The old one — been around awhile — where all your spacing disappears if you preview the post. Several new ones where coding does not delete when you remove the text to which it was attached. And “view post” and/or  “preview” not working at all.

wordpress-format

As of this writing, you can still get the old format via the dashboard menu (left column), but for how long? They just (a few minutes ago) added “Classic mode” in case you don’t like the new format. Maybe someone complained.

Anyone who cares about formatting won’t like the new post format. The loss of both the word count and proofreading is serious for writers.

Is it pretty? Maybe, but you have less space to work in.  Does anyone want less work space? How could that be an improvement for anyone?

Who is making decisions at WordPress? Based on what? It certainly isn’t based on what their customers want or need.

WordPress is continuing to try to make everything look nice without regard for functionality. An elegant GUI full of glitches and bugs. It’s a terrible trade-off and it will come back to bite all of us in our collective asses. It’s already doing it. WordPress does not remember how many popular blogging platforms have disappeared.

Will the rest of you please complain to customer service? I’ve done my part. You all have to jump in. If you complain, they might change it. If you don’t, I guarantee they will assume you like it.

Don’t do it for me. Do it for yourselves.

See Also:

Here’s an idea, Word Press — Beta Testing!

A FLAT WORLD RULED BY ZEUS

When I was a relatively new blogger — by some standards, I am still relatively new — I thought it was cool to write about Big Issues. Religion. Freedom. Patriotism. The Meaning Of Life.

It put me on the blogging map and gave me my best ever statistics, way back in November 2012. More than 12,000 hits that one month. It was a great time to start serious blogging. A presidential election month and the visit of Hurricane Sandy. The Internet was boiling with energy. I got to ride the wave.

More than 125,000 hits later, I’ve learned a few things.

ZeusI would not write now what I wrote then. During the nearly two years that have passed, I’ve developed standards and guidelines for appropriate versus inappropriate material.

I avoid trying to convince anyone of anything — at least on my blog. I don’t mind a few round of fisticuffs on someone else’s site if they want to host the games, but not here. I won’t take on religion and politics. It’s not the controversy, it’s the stress. I can’t handle it. So I’ll offer you an historical perspective on the constitutional convention and a long, painfully detailed explanation of why term limits are a terrible idea. How they will only make Congress worse than it already is. That’s as close as I’ll go.

You want to spend the night talking about The Meaning of Life? Come on over. We’ll have cake, coffee, and talk till sunrise. Just not here. Not on this website.

Well, why not here?

Because I can’t say what I mean in 600 words. When I — or you — address a major issue on a blog, the result will be a pile of generalizations. Even if we know better. No one can offer a fully developed statement on anything significant in so few words. I certainly can’t. Minimally, I need room for citations and references.

Nor will I host a free-for-all in comments. I have no interest in being a referee. I have even less interest in promoting a viewpoint, especially since I’m notorious for changing my mind. I believe the right to change my mind is fundamental — as basic as freedom of speech.

I don’t marry my opinions.

So whatever you read here? Do not assume that I’m trying to win you to a point of view.

Other than an intense dislike of bigots and racists (even when they don’t realize they are), a lifetime commitment to human equality, women’s rights, and being nice to each other, you don’t have to agree with anything I say. Whatever you think I’m selling, I’m not. You, me, and everyone else has the right to believe whatever we want. As long as you aren’t trying to stuff it up my (or anyone’s) nose, it isn’t hate-speak, and you aren’t advocating violence towards anyone.

However: If you are seriously committed to belief in a flat world ruled by Zeus? Go for it. Just — forgive me if I can’t stop laughing.

AN UNBLOCKED BRAIN

Writer’s Block Party - When was the last time you experienced writer’s block? What do you think brought it about — and how did you dig your way out of it?


I suppose this is where my fellow writers heap scorn on my head, but truth sometimes hurts.

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I have never had writer’s block. I have had days, weeks, where I didn’t feel like writing because I was sick, tired, on vacation, wanted to read a book or watch television. But never have I been unable to write unless I was physically ill. I always can write something — and considering my advancing years, I figure it’s unlikely I’m going to dry up.

I’ve had times when I wasn’t happy with what I wrote, needed to rewrite it. I’ve had periods where I wrote and it was a dead-end, destined for the trash bin.

But not be able to write at all? Stare at a blank page? Never happened. Maybe the problem for some writers is a too narrow focus. Deciding in advance what they should be writing, so if they can’t write that specific thing, they don’t write at all.

I will write, even when it seems off track. Inevitably, my odd brain will wind around to put me on track. Or I’ll discover what seemed to be a completely wrong direction was the right path. That’s where I should be after all.

When I write fiction, my characters tell me where to go. They are always right. It’s exactly when characters start making decisions on their own — often to my surprise and delight — that I know what I’m working on has begun to click.

If I can’t write, you can assume I’m too sick to sit up or someone wrenched the keyboard from my clawed hands. Or I’m on a big, shiny boat sailing the Caribbean and having way too much fun to sit down and write. I wish that would happen more often!

I have never understood writer’s block and I would certainly never turn it into a party, unless each writer brings his or her own food and drinks. Okay, I’ll make a dish too, but everyone else has to bring something. Hungry writers can eat you out of house and home!

FOLLOW-UP: WORDPRESS CAME THROUGH!

I have gotten so used to customer disservice, it always surprises me when they live up to their promises.

Shortly after I posted 175,000 HITS AND A SERIOUS CHAT WITH WORD PRESS, my site became unavailable. WordPress said they were doing “routine server maintenance.”

wordpress1There’s nothing routine about having my site down in the middle of a Tuesday. Moreover, I found test files created by someone named Jason — coincidentally the name of the rep with whom I chatted at length yesterday — in my trash. When I tried to restore one (I’m nosy), it vanished. Poof. A test file. That is not part of regular maintenance. They had me offline four times for more than an hour. When I was back, my Add Media function was working the way it used to, more or less.

It doesn’t look the same. The graphical interface is new, but I can scroll and the keyword search brings up all or most of my pictures.

I would prefer the thumbnails to display data — file name, date, and maybe key words? But I’m delighted to be able to find pictures again.  I use a lot of pictures, not only as photographic posts, but as illustrations in stuff I write. Which is one reason it’s so important I be able to use stored images.

There’s a second, even more important, reason. I use 3 computers regularly and a tablet occasionally. I do not have access to all my photos on each machine. The only photographic central repository is Serendipity’s media library on WordPress.

This is why I was willing to pay for the premium package. It is customization plus bumped up storage and a domain. Other benefits include custom fonts and colors. I can customize any theme. I’ve never found a premium theme I like well enough to buy. I am too fond of changing my theme, sometimes just tweaking it, often switching templates. On a whim.

Writing is my vocation, but graphics are — always were — my hobby. To overuse an analogy, writing is dinner. Graphics are dessert. Being able to design my site, play with photos, fonts, widgets, headers — makes my day. My week.

WordPress came through. They couldn’t and probably won’t roll back the software changes, many of which I believe are misguided. They traded functionality for a prettier interface. In software, that’s always a bad trade. But I’m glad to get back most of the functionality I lost.

It’s possible my site was actually broken and needed repair. That it wasn’t software changes at the root of the problem, but something on my site had gone wrong. I’ll probably never know, but it’s okay. As long as it works, I’m happy.

I’ve invested more effort into launching and maintaining this website than I put into writing my book. I’ve refined its look, upgraded my skills as a writer and photographer. When I went to have my heart remodeled in March, I was as concerned this site be cared for as I was about the house or the bills. Serendipity has become central to my life. I would hate to lose it.

It keeps my brain from going soft by challenging me to write, take pictures, produce something creative. Every day, even when I’m tired, busy, or not feeling well. When you stop working a regular job, having something that forces you to think, create is important to good mental health. It’s a critical component of mine.

Thank you WordPress. You came through.

Thank you Jason. You kept your word.

A bit of my faith in the world has been restored. I needed that.