Thursday, April 28, 2011

What makes a blog popular

-C mentioned as a comment to my last blog (and his blog, by the way, is here) that posting art or free pdf files is simply a recipe for silence and small page views.

This is actually my experience as well, as strange as it seems -- but with one exception. The free module I posted (Last Priest of Sebek at this lulu storefront) was a very popular post, but it had an unusual twist to it -- it was charity related. I think charity-related posts tend to generate more attention, if for no other reason than other bloggers linking to the post to help out with the effort.

On the other hand, my next two most popular posts were both unabashed navel-gazing on the topic of the OSR. People love reading about the "OSR."

And then the next most popular one I can't quite explain. It was the one called Diaper, Helmet, ADVENTURE! It was about a piece of Erol Otus art. The only explanation for this one I can think of is that the title drew people. However, it's sort of a counter-example to the other art-related posts that bombed.

So here's a tentative conclusion about peoples' reading habits with one SIGNAL exception. Most of us apparently like to read discussions more than we actually like to read resources. Nothing wrong with that, except that most of us seem to think or claim otherwise. Odd.

The signal exception is Zak's blog. Zak is all about art and game resources, although he also tells stories. People like stories, too, although my stories are sort of in the middle range of page hits. I think the reason for this is simply the quality of Zak's art, writing, and imagination. He's in a niche that most people ignore, but he just does it well enough to be one of the most-followed blogs out there. It's the brute force of quality.

Most other bloggers out there have a lot more data about this, but the trend seems pretty strong. Since I'm all over the damn place with wildly different topics and random approaches, I've gotten to see a pretty broad set of responses.

Conclusion, and other bloggers please feel free to correct or expand on this ... we are actually drawn, as readers, to topics that we SAY aren't the ones of interest ... but that's where we go.

I suspect we know this, too, but it's just a dirty little secret. Cool.


  1. I think a lot of people are checking out and downloading the free pdf's, they just often don't have the time to actually read them, especially not in time to comment on the blog post. With pdf's, they don't have to take the time, either. Notice that Zak doesn't make pdf's. Also, his "Gygaxian Democracy" idea, actively engaging his readers in co-design. Not that that's all there is by any means. Zak's design work is fantastic.

  2. I would say posting volume has the biggest influence. The more you post, the more page hits you will typically generate, even if the post itself contains almost nothing. Indeed, I often prefer short or "nothing" posts as they take less of my time to see if there is any value in what is being presented!

    Whilst I am not that interested any more in self identifying posts about the OSR, I did follow them with some enthusiasm a few years back. Now I am most interested in cool ideas, reviews, and especially art. My own blog does not necessarily reflect that interest in terms of its own content!

  3. I find my art posts tend to generate the most traffic if not the most comments. They seem to be particularly popular when I also show/discuss process and technique.

  4. I love art posts myself. There's just not always a lot to say about them, beyond "that's ccol." If I were better educated in that area, I'd probably feel I had more to contribute.

  5. I think it depends on how you're measuring popularity (pageviews, comments, revenue generation, subscribers, links, friendships, new ideas, contributors / collaborators, feedback etc) and what you hope to get out of your blog. :)

  6. Is it a popularity contest now?

    Just do good work. The rest will follow.

  7. Well, Yes Matthew W. Schmeer it is.

    I've released everything I've done for free, and it was a terrible terrible mistake that drastically undervalued the time and effort I put into it.

    I released it for free, not out of a lack of ego investment or self-motivation, but because I wanted to contribute to the community. I do not 'need' the money, what I desired was communication, interaction, and community.

    The community's response, nearly 1000 downloads of *each* of my documents and less then a dozen comments. Barring James (who I've talked to over e-mail about this) there was *no one* who commented on the .pdf's I released /under the Alexandrian license who's only requirement is that you comment/.

    So, I am not receiving the one thing I'm seeking, partially because I am not charging money for my work - which makes other people devalue it. It's not a mistake I plan on continuing to make. This way, if they want it they can pay, and since they are using money to overcome their social obligation, I won't care if they comment or not.

    I would just think they would rather comment, but apparently not.

  8. @ -C

    The one thing to keep in mind is that you don't get many substantial comments even when you publish for money. It's simply that most people don't feel like writing comments.

    There simply aren't many rewards to publishing for free or for profit unless (a) you're simply addicted to making stuff and can't stop yourself anyway -- the completed product is its own reward, and (b) there's not really a (b), actually, I can't think of one.

    Free products get more downloads and I think more readers, but few comments.

    Paid products get fewer downloads but some cash, and still get few comments. A few more comments, I guess, but not many.

    It has to be its own reward, and if it is, and you publish stuff, you still have to be reconciled to the fact that the community as a whole is pretty quiet about products.

  9. Thanks Matt. :-)

    I know that - it's the money that replaces the comments. I won't care if anyone says anything, because they paid their cash, etc.

    In spite of the rant, I'm not upset or bitter at anything other than my own idealism. I loved doing the work, and really did them for me, and hope other people use them in their game. I also have this annoying habit of typing inflammatory text.

    I can't seem to stop making the stuff, so there you go. :-) I keep telling myself it will make my games take less time to prep, but if I spend a billion hours doing that stuff, it doesn't really save any time does it.

    I've been kicking that post idea around for the last several days. I seized the moment if you will. I'm a minimalist, and lately have been wrestling with the role of ego gratification in what I'm doing.

    The conclusion I've come to, is that American culture will gladly pay money to avoid community interaction.

    And again - I can't help myself, so in my expanded web page rant, note that there will always be lots of free stuff at the casa de Hack & Slash. Just now, there will be more complete, better, stuff for dollars. I figure if as many people pony up as comment, I'll be a hundredaire.

  10. I know it's kind of hokey to link to my own blog in a comment, but I posted some thoughts on this topic previously: BLOG READERS DON'T WANT CREATIVE CONTENT.

    I have a big fat binder filled with well-playtested creative material. I don't really bother posting any of it on my blog because these kinds of posts don't generally get much reaction. My main motivation for making this stuff to PLAY it - and it all gets played. Heavily.

    I think there's a lot more to gameblogging than creative content posts and/or OSR navel gazing, though. As Johnathan pointed out, there are art posts (some of mine consistently get tons of hits every month), there are also other topics like history, humor, reviews, related pop-culture, and musings on play methods and styles. To be brutally honest, this is all the kind of stuff that attracts my attention as a reader more than lists of new monsters and magic items or rants about what "OSR" should stand for!

  11. Hey, I always get attention when I mention Call of Cthulhu or Ron Edwards. Make of that what you will.

    We all like comments, feedback and many page visits. I found that if I post stuff about what interests me I tend to at least get some of it.

  12. @Cyclopeatron

    Oh, man, I see new spells or monsters or items and start thinking "If I could just collect all of those in one place and have a giant reference. . and add my own. . . and maybe 30 tables or so. . ."

    If you've seen my stuff, you get the idea. The thought process on my latest post (which contains no content, and has, let's see, the most comments of any post on my board ever - not exactly fair, because many of the comments are praise on the things that were not commented on. :-)) was started by the post you linked to.

    My thinking has culminated into the fact that I'm working basically a second part time job to put these supplements out and getting less then a .01% response rate in comments.

    I totally agree that there is more going on - real things, that 'put butts in seats' as chiagowiz says. My comment is less about the OSR and more about the particular place modern culture is in, in respect to community structure.