So You Want To Start An Unpopular Blog

Andrew Stephens, Monday the 10th of April, 2017 in Computing, Popular or Notable

There is a followup article : Some Additional Advice for Those Who Want to Start BloggingVery occasionally I get asked how to start blogging by people who would like to create exciting and engaging articles that will build a following by delighting an audience hungry for more. Perhaps they envision spreading their views far across the face of the web.

To which I always reply, "Have you read my blog? I don't know about any of those things!"

What I do have are 10 years of logs and some vague observations about beginning a blog.

Protip: Always include a meaningless image even if your subject matter doesn't lend itself to a visual representation
Protip: Always include a meaningless image even if your subject matter doesn't lend itself to a visual representation

Step 1 - Timing

If you want to start a blog, your first step should be to step inside your time machine and go back to 2005 when blogging was a thing. That was the era of surfing the internet where people actively clicked around looking for interesting stuff. The web has changed and people don't surf so much as float on lazy river as content comes to them via Facebook, Reddit, and YouTube. Admit it, this description applies to you as well.

These big sites have sucked a lot of the mindspace that used to be occupied by bloggers. Today you will probably not be noticed.

Don't fret, step one is optional. If you don't have a time machine you can skip it and go straight to step 2

Step 2 - Redefine Success

The way to keep blogging is not to worry about who reads your blog. Do not measure success as the number of pageviews for it is it not written that the love of pageviews leads to fear, hate, suffering, and Buzzfeed.

Frankly, nobody will read your blog. I keep a close eye on my logs and the typical post gets single digit page views. This means that not even my friends take the time to peruse my musings.

Instead you need to have an internal motivation to write that next entry. You might have a burning need to profess your love for a TV show or have some specialized knowledge or hobby that you think needs a wilder audience. Or you could be like me and admit that you are arrogant enough to think that your opinions should be recorded for posterity.

In the case of this website, I rented a virtual machine in order to learn how to run a website properly then wrote the blog to have something to host. I have to keep writing entries otherwise I have wasted the time it took to code the (admittedly kickass) Python scripts that generate the site and $5 per month hosting fee.

Step 3 - Choose a blog platform

Here I can only tell you what not to do. Do not even think about hosting the blog yourself on your own server.

There are only two exceptions to this rule:

If you fit into neither of the above categoriesI meet both criteria then just find one of the many blog hosting platforms and sign up for an account. Wordpress is a good default choicethere are plenty of others, some people swear by Tumblr. You want a site that will still be up in 5 years time and I recommend against LiveJournal, not least of all because (being the incumbent) every other blog platform can easily import from it so you can move your articles to another platform at a later date.

You might think that hosting a blog on your own server gives you a lot of flexibility. This is true but as the Bible tells us: with great power comes great responsibility.

Maintaining your own server is a Sisyphean task that must be carried out in a timely manner lest you get hacked. I used to check for updates every couple of days and apply them straight away, everyone else I knew that ran a blog eventually got hacked due to out of date softwareThe latest trend is static generators that do not use scripting on the server. This is a good idea (I run sheep.horse the same way) but you are still stuck supporting the server OS. The only completely hands-off server is a server that someone else runs..

Step 4 - Care and Feeding

A blog is like a house plant, you can leave it alone for a week just fine but it will die after a month of neglect. This can be a problem, sometimes I go for weeks at a time without being inspired to write anything.

The trick is to attend to your blog every few days. You don't need to write anything, just do something. Anything: fix a spelling mistake, check the logs, any 2 minute task will do. This will keep things fresh in your mind.

Step 5 - Getting People To Read It

You can't. As I said before, not even my friends and family read this blog regularly.

But is possible to draw readers to your site if you are prepared to hustle. You can get pageviews by joining that dark side and getting things posted to Reddit or other linking sites. Even there, your post will probably be buried unless your link was posted by a popular poster. There is an entire shadowy industry based around promoting links on Reddit which, like every transparent democracy, is filled with intrigue and backroom dealing.

If you want to play that game then good luck to you. But this is an ongoing process. The first time a post of mine got popular (10s of thousands of hits in a single day!) I was excited to have so many new readers that would return again and again. Guess how many did?

Zero.

Thats right, the next day my pageviews were back to normal and my followup post got no more hits than normal.

The moral is that you can hustle pageviews but you better be prepared hustle indefinitely.

Step 6 - Do It Anyway

This post has gotten a little negative. Ignore what I wrote above, blogging can be a very rewarding experience, especially if you receive feedback. Feel free to contact me and let me know if I have somehow inspired you to start your own project.

I probably won't actually read it.