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What if everything we think we know about the Internet is wrong?

For several months at least, I’ve been mildly preoccupied by the nagging feeling that everything we know about the Internet is wrong.

What if:

  • SEO isn’t the most important (or among the most important) element(s) of writing a “successful” article?
  • page views are not actually an accurate measure of one’s reach as a writer?
  • comments are neither a qualitative nor a quantitative reflection on the writer’s soundness of thought or skillfulness of craft?
  • link bait is nothing more than that: bait?
  • Adsense, banner ads, pop-up ads, and almost all other types of monetization of blogs and websites are really limited in their efficacy (not to mention their creativity)?
  • the experience of “consuming” “content” online didn’t have to be primarily passive?
  • even if you knew all the preceding points were true, you refused to write generic vanilla prose on a site that looked like any other site, with banner ads and an “About” page and a blog roll that’s not a curated list but a back-scratch exchange?

I spend an inordinate amount of time online because my work on the Internet represents an inordinate amount of my income. I look at hundreds of blogs and websites each week and I can’t think of a single one I’ve seen lately that has blown my mind (or even, truthfully, really piqued my interest).


I don’t say this as a criticism of individuals. My own blogs are pathetic, suffering from neglect and inaction because of this nagging question. I know, for example, that I don’t want to monetize any of my blogs using these strategies. I don’t like visual or intellectual clutter, like columns with covers of books I’m reading, that will lead you, should you click through, to Amazon. And I don’t want to write like an automaton, even if it means low page views.

I can’t help but feel that we’re all missing something. Something big.

In our imitative gestures, so certain about the formula for “what works” online, we’re stifling our own creativity and preventing ourselves from experimenting with possibilities about alternate models for the presentation, delivery, enjoyment, and, yes, monetization, of content online.


I feel like answers are floating around me, still just beyond my reach. Here, though, are some things I’ve been reading that, in one way or another, are helping me gather my own thoughts. I can’t really explain all of these– there’s not necessarily a direct connection to the question I’m posing– but they’re all, in one way or another, helping me discern new possibilities.

  • Ari Herzog’s recent reaction to an Everett Bogue post in which Bogue allegedly claimed he was turning off comments on his blog because, well, the comments sections of blogs tend to attract the lowest common denominators (and on this point, at least, I tend to agree, though not universally, and not necessarily to the point that I think comment sections need to be deleted). Admittedly, I didn’t read Bogue’s original post… because it’s no longer available online.
  • I have, however, checked out Bogue’s new site, where he plays around with some interesting ideas about the Internet and writing and self/other promotion online.
  • Various stories about book authors on do-it-yourself tours, mostly those I’ve read in Poets & Writers over the past year. Though I don’t want to compare print and online (because I think the comparison is forced and takes us right back to a non-creative way of thinking), there are some interesting parallels.
  • A Chris Guillebeau article about monetization that I can’t find right now.
  • This article from Food and Wine, which is three parts fabulous and one part “Hmm. How does this work, money-wise?”

How about you? Do you think we’re going about the Internet all wrong… or at least not too creatively? Do you have crazy ideas for new possibilities? Ramble on in the comments (because you’re not the lowest common denominators).


24 responses »

  1. Isn’t this a universal question of life? What worth should we put on something? For blogging. people have different views on success as a blogger. Page views, comments, or content are just three options and who can say which is the best indicator. It depends on your goals, I guess.

    I am usually the proudest of comments and content but that is just me.

    • Nathan-

      Thanks for your comments.

      I guess what I’m trying to get at it in this post isn’t solely about blogs, but just about the Internet and “content delivery” online in general. I think that we’ve become accustomed to the notion that websites “work” when they possess certain static elements, and I don’t necessarily agree this is true. I feel like we haven’t even begun to tap into the creative potential of the Internet and how we can use it to share information and ideas and have conversations.

  2. Every once in awhile I briefly feel motivated to learn more about monetizing blogs, SEO, etc etc. And then I start, and then I stop because I realize I don’t care.

    I can’t bring myself to care that much about page views on my personal blog. Thanks for making me feel like that’s okay, because I usually feel guilty, like I’m “doing it wrong” or something!

    I write for plenty of generic, useless (in my opinion) content sites and more and more, when I click “Publish” I feel like I’m throwing a wrapper out the car window. And while I’ll keep doing it (because as far as I know no wildlife is suffering from my internet littering, and I need the money), this post has motivated me not only to keep my blog free of those things, but also to rethink it altogether.

    Thanks Julie! Hope I’m not attracting the lowest common denominator by leaving a comment. 😉

  3. Well, I don’t know if I know enough to have a useful opinion since I started blogging 2 weeks ago and I don’t get any money for it. I didn’t even want to write a blog. I just wanted to learn how to blog which led me to writing one. I believe that the best way to learn is to explain what you are learning to somebody and therefore my blog is about sharing what I learn. My experience so far has been great and I enjoy writing my post. I’m a little disappointed at the very low views I have had and have no idea how to increase that. However, what I really love is writing the posts for others to read. I have been more fun than expected. From this point of view, I don’t have any complaints about blogging or the internet yet.

  4. These kinds of things have been on my mind lately too. The need for instant blogging gratification drives me nuts, but sometimes I can’t help being influenced by it. Lately, I’ve often been distracted by the way others achieve blog “success” and I sometimes go through the motions just to get something posted rather than plugging away to improve my posts. Sometimes I wish I’d never heard of Alexa and the things people do to manipulate it… because really, what’s the point?

    Thanks for writing this. I really don’t have any solutions, but reading this post has been a great reminder to refocus… and I think putting your thoughts out there and inspiring people to self-reflect is good place to start coming up with a solution.

    • Ekua-

      Judging by the comments and some feedback via Twitter, I think lots of people are thinking about these ideas. Perhaps, like us, they’re not quite sure what the next steps are.

  5. It’s been on my mind lately as well as I’ve been spending too much time online.

    I heard a great interview about how SEO is garbage and it only brings tourists to your pages who will never come back again. I’m not so sure that is 100% true but it did make me realize that I don’t have a information based blog so why be stressed that I’m not some SEO guru.

    As for the stats, when I first started I was obsessed with them but now that I’m more confident I’m less concerned with the numbers.

    But I would never turn off the comments. I followed Bogue’s argument and while it may be right for him I prefer the dialog – at least for now.

    • Ayngelina-

      I think for a blog like yours, enabling comments makes sense. My interpretation of Bogue and the guy reacting to his post was that he was referring to massive sites where comments don’t add value or carry a conversation forward.

  6. Great post Julie!

    I suppose this comes down to motivation – we don’t have to monetise our blogs, we just get presented by an unrelenting torrential argument that we should do it. I can’t help but get the feeling people who just want to blog for the sake of it are labelled as failures or daft – frequently presented as before and after case studies for effective blog monetisation techniques.

    If your motivation is to provoke thought amongst your subscriber base (which it does, thank you!) then you shouldn’t beat yourself up about trying to make cash out of Cuaderno Inedito. If you really wanted to do both then I guess you would be fine with putting all the trimmings on your sidebar to generate an income and following the tricks to get loadsa money.

    I launched a travel blog about a month ago that plays with a new format for posting using postcards. For the most part I’m happy to tinker around with the writing style for the format to see if I can make it fly. This is with the motivation of writing as opposed to making money from it. I make (just about) enough elsewhere, and I don’t see the need to integrate income goals into the blog. I’d love to get good traffic to the blog eventually, but more for the conversations that will follow (which makes me an advocate of comments I guess…)

    So, the point of this ramble? I suppose that your blog is unique, so you can take or leave any expert advice depending on what you want to achieve.

    • Jon-

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment.

      Yeah, I’m not thinking so much about my own blog, as about the Internet in general. How can I both participate in the creation of a new type of Internet experience and receive/use online content differently? I just feel like there are some possibilities out there that we haven’t tapped into yet.

  7. What if the whole system is just sucking us into becoming shells of human beings by changing the make-up of our cells with the radiation shooting at us from our screen (I’m very scared for the next generation)? And making us so damn ADD that we can’t finish a sen…wait, I just noticed this great article on my Alexa toolbar about getting healthy through the power of apps.

    Wait, why is my eye twitching again?

  8. Interesting topic and I’m curious to see where the pendulum swings next with internet content. Like you, I feel small shifts but don’t know where it’s going yet. Also have been noticing changes in Twitter usage and how it feels like it’s getting away from real people to a lot of spam and bots (using profiles of people). Quite sad.

    Interestingly, in the last couple months, I’ve had conversations with two completely unrelated people (Brits) on opposite sides of Thailand about how the internet of the future will include people paying for a service that filters out spammy/seo-driven/affiliate and ad driven content out. Their arguments were much more complex than what I just presented (and there were lots of missing parts), but it did give me food for thought.

    • Audrey-

      I really hope, in a way, that the future of the Internet isn’t based on money- that will really undermine the potential reach and uses of the Internet, making it even more a tool of the privileged than it is now (I’m thinking globally here). But what if online content had better curation (the question of course is by whom and using what criteria)?

  9. What a curious question. I find it’s so hard for writers/photographers/bloggers to be creative online because there is simply too little time in the day. Most of us aren’t marketing geniuses or sales people, but its a required skill when promoting a one-man(woman) brand. Instead of one valuable email, I get 100 spam messages per day offering me an automated way to attract 1000’s of visitors. Its like we live in a robot world.

    • Jeff-

      I think your 52 weeks project is one excellent example of how to engage people in a new way, get yourself offline and more fully immersed in your own creativity, and to monetize that approach. I’m really excited to see how it shapes up for you- maybe we can make a case study of it.

  10. I totally agree that there is far too much emphasis on SEO, link bait, monetization, and statistics……for me I really only follow blogs that provide good content, whether that’s a really good story told using really great writing, or maybe an article that teaches me something new, or inspires me in some way.

    I also believe that writers should use their site or blog to promote their writing – in ways that make them desirable to an Editor or Publisher for assignments. That can be the only method of “monetizing” they may need to do. If I write something that an Editor really likes, and he or she hires me to write something for them, well there’s my monetization, link bait be damned.

    And yeah, to be honest, I don’t even like the ads on my own site (even though that is what supports keeping the site going), so I’m working on a redesign that downplays almost all of that aspect…..but I can’t even imagine removing the ability to engage with my audience – such as it is – by not letting people comment. Isn’t that the one beautiful aspect that the internet has given to writers – letting us know when we’ve reached out and actually touched someone?

    • Trisha-

      I suspect that Bogue was really referring to larger sites with general, random traffic as opposed to loyal, niche traffic. On a site like yours or this one, I definitely value comments because they *do* contribute to a conversation. People are respectful of one another and they actually seem to read what’s been written.

      On so many larger sites, though, I do see a general lack of respect for other commenters and for authors that I find troubling. I’ve got no problem if you disagree with a writer’s or commenter’s opinion or perspective, but I have a big problem when you frame your own opinion with disrespectful language. In that sense, I can see Bogue’s point. My general feeling about comments for large sites (and I spend a lot of time–too much, really–moderating comments for Matador) is that they tend to be of low quality. I’m not convinced that comments should be disabled as a result, but I found the very suggestion intriguing, leading to thoughts like, “Well, how can we improve the conversation?” and “In what other ways can we facilitate it?”

      • You’re right, and if I’d read Bogue’s original post I (probably) would have realized that 🙂

        I would likely agree with him in that case – when it comes to large websites / large companies, unless they have someone dedicated to moderating and responding to comments, they really are better off disabling them. Interactivity with visitors, customers, and potential customers can be great for business, but ignoring any comment, good or bad, question or plea for help, makes it look like a business doesn’t care and is unresponsive to consumers.

  11. Hi Julie,
    This might be a very late comment, especially after such a thought-provoking post. I’ve just cleared my google reader unread posts count of ~500, of a lot of which I just browsed through/marked read and I finally reached your post – which I found very very interesting. Says something about how the content on the internet is becoming dull/somethign we are used to/boring.

    Getting back to the point, I agree, we might be missing something. In two contexts:
    1. Blogging: When I started blogging, a couple of years back (and it wasn’t travel blogging at that time) – I blogged just because I liked to – writing posts, interesting stories etc – and I used to enjoy it. Now that I focus on travel blogging, I blog under a pressure of producing good-quality posts (which has unfortunately reduced the frequency a lot) and don’t enjoy it a lot and that too, when I haven’t even started getting bothered about adverts and SEO etc. I’d probably never do those things either.
    2. Travel: I like the idea of travel-blogging in itself, sharing thoughts, knowledge and experience – all that feels just right. But I think we’re losing our way when we try monetizing, do sponsored posts, links, SEO and all that (I don’t even know what all that is completely, to be honest). When I joined MatadorU, my intent was to just write ‘better’ – as if I’d write a travel-book myself some day. Right now, I feel, if I start blogging seriously (read as: looking for more hits, comments and being a ‘top travel blog’), I’d lose the real reason why I started blogging about travel.

    Dunno if any of above makes sense, hope I’m not being the lowest common denominator. 🙂

  12. Pingback: A new beginning, but somewhere else.. | The Corny Traveler's Chronicles

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