How a one-off rant about hair donation changed how I blog
Five years ago, I wrote what has become, by far, the most popular and most widely-read article I’ve ever written, with close to 200k unique views. My article on hair donation and why it’s not for me turns up on the first page of results for a number of Google searches related to hair donation, gets shared on social media by people I don’t even know, and stirred up the most comment section controversy this blog has ever seen.
When I wrote this article, the only people who really read this blog were friends, family, and a few colleagues. I’d get the occasional search engine visitor for some of my how-tos, and I pulled in a small readership of people I’d never met who were interested in some of my articles on politics and public policy. Also, this blog was still self-hosted off of a Dell desktop purchased in 2004 that my roommate and I had repurposed into a personal server. It was serving up pages over a home internet connection in a tiny apartment in Midtown Atlanta (and later downtown Fort Worth).
About two years after I posted my article on hair donation, a weird thing started happening: I started getting hundreds of hits per day specifically to that article. This was weird, because prior to that, a “good” day was more than 20 hits that weren’t my mom. According to my site metrics, the first waves came almost exclusively from people I didn’t even know sharing it on Facebook. How those first few strangers found it, I can only guess, but seeing as their responses were generally supportive, grateful, and understanding, I’d hazard that maybe they had been looking for a way to express many of the same things.
Then came the second wave, also mostly from Facebook, but decidedly less positive. I started getting critical, and occasionally, even downright abusive comments. And this is really where the first change occurred: I started moderating comments.
I have absolutely no problem with critical comments or commenters who disagree with me. I actually celebrated the first time someone I didn’t know commented on the post disagreeing with me. To me, it was proof that my audience was growing. However, I won’t tolerate abuse on my own blog (basically, don’t come into my house and call me a bitch), so those comments were deleted.
It was somewhere in the midst of this second wave that I wrote another (fleetingly) popular article about Georgia Tech and Atlantic Station, and the combined traffic load was just too much for the poor little Dell box (not to mention the increased attention wasn’t doing any favors for our network security, either). So Andrew (who puts the ‘disavian’ in disavian.net) moved our hosting over to nearlyfreespeech.net, which I strongly recommend as a hosting company if you’re technically savvy and you’re serious about things like security and privacy. (I should probably dedicate a whole post to talking about NFS sometime soon.)
The hype from my Atlantic Station article died down, and eventually so did the second wave of mostly-indignant Facebook users. But almost immediately, the third wave of visitors finding the article through Google appeared, and they really haven’t left. I mean, the individual people mostly have, but as a monolith, visitors from Google search make up over 80 percent of my traffic now, with visitors to my LoL article making up the vast majority of that. I mentioned this to a friend in passing a little over a year ago, and he told me that if I didn’t already have ads on my blog, that with my traffic numbers, I really should.
I agonized about the idea of putting ads on my blog for nearly a year before I finally decided to do it. I’ve never been a big fan of internet ads–they’re ugly, they’re annoying, and they’re intrusive. I use some kind of ad blocking software on every one of my devices. But ultimately, I was losing money by not monetizing my most popular content, so practicality trumped ideology, and up the ads went. I wouldn’t mind if this blog became a reliable source of secondary income. I enjoy writing, and I seem to enjoy it more when I make money doing it, so if you enjoy my content, please consider whitelisting me on your ad blocker. (Though if you see any ads that suck, please do use the options that AdSense puts on there to let them know these things.)
Practicality trumping ideology actually feels like a theme of how the growing profile of my blog has changed how I manage it. What used to be a place for me to rant into the ether and preach to the choir has become my public face that I use partly as a self-marketing tool and partly as a testing and proving ground for new skills and techniques that I’d like to offer to clients. As a result, I’ve found that I can’t always be as candid or flippant or sarcastic as I used to be. Which isn’t to say I think my writing has gotten blander, but I think it’s forced me to grow up a little bit in my tone and choose my battles a little more carefully. Also, I have Tumblr for those other things, now.
But not everything is different. I still blog about anything that strikes my fancy–I’ve long been told that I might do better if I focused my topics a little more, but that would defeat the purpose of a personal blog, in my opinion, not to mention, it would sort of harm its usefulness to me as a writing portfolio. I still try not to take things too seriously, and I’m probably always going to inject my unvarnished opinions somewhere in just about everything I write here. I like to think that’s part of my charm.