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Further Lessons of Another Recovering Statistics-Addicted Influence Seeker

Joe Carter, of Evangelical Outpost fame, posted an article yesterday entitled “Lessons of a Recovering Statistics-Addicted Influence Seeker.” It was a very good article and if you are a blogger or spend a bit of time reading blogs, you would probably enjoy it. Go ahead and give it a read. I’ll wait.

I was drawn to this article because there are many resemblances between my blog and Joe’s. Not visual resemblances, mind you, or even content, but I think we have fairly similar profiles in terms of traffic and “influence” (as defined by Truth Laid Bear - keep reading). Joe runs one of the “prominent blog[s]” and knows the insides and outs of blogging. He has also been noticed by some of the “Higher Beings” in blogging - a “privilege” that has escaped the vast majority of bloggers.

The title of the article was drawn from a post made by Pastor David Bayley who wrote, “It’s amazing how a ranking instrument such as Truth Laid Bear or Technorati or Site Meter almost automatically turns us into statistics-addicted influence seekers.” And that is the truth. I used to follow my site statistics with near-religious fervor. When I realized just why I was doing this (to boost my own ego) I actually removed SiteMeter for several months and just got back to the basics. I had been so enthralled with my 42 visitors a day that I lost site of why I write in the first place. As for Technorati and Truth Laid Bear, they do not have the same hold on me as I’ve only just come to understand what they do and why they matter (since TTLB launched in version 2 it suddenly all makes a bit of sense).

I’d like to post a bit of commentary in response to Joe’s article. Reading Joe’s article it seemed to be very humble even while he discusses his success. Reading my article it seems rife with arrogance, but perhaps this is merely my perception. I hope you accept this article in the spirit of humility in which I wrote it. I’ve got nothing to boast about. Nor does Joe.

“Statistics — I’ve been blogging for 638 days, produced 1259 posts, and received 29,007 comments (including spam I’ve yet to clear out). That averages out to a dismal 1.97 posts per day, 23 comments per post…Some perspective on site traffic — According to Sitemeter I’ve had 654,632 total visits, an average of 1,026 per day for every day that I’ve been blogging. Compare this to last Sunday night at 10:00 p.m., when the WB network ran a rerun of Charmed and had 1.2 million viewers.”

I do not have such solid statistics because, as I said, I turned off my statistics program for a while. I also changed hosts and have changed my commenting system. But I’ve been blogging for more than 638 days, but have produced fewer posts (1025, I believe) and have probably received roughly the same number of comments. As for traffic, it fluctuates, but is probably around “a few thousand” a day. As a web designer I know that these things are ridiculously difficult to gauge.

“I blog every night, Sunday thru Thursday.”

I blog every day, Monday thru Sunday. I generally begin writing early in the morning and post a final product at lunch time. Unlike some people, I don’t go back and fix it up six or seven times throughout the day (that’s a cheap shot at Phil, Amy and Centurion). The reason I blog every day (620 consecutive days as of today) is that once I skip it for a single day I fear I’ll allow myself to get into bad habits. That is just the way my personality works. So I press on, trying not to give myself an excuse to get lazy with it.

“Last month I spent approximately 97 hours working on my blog and received $252.40 in ad revenue. I earned $2.60 per hour for blogging (minimum wage is $5.15 per hour). Needless to say, I don’t do it for the money.”

Last month I spent probably about 97 hours working on my blog (I don’t keep a timesheet) and received $0.00 in ad or other revenue. I paid $7.95 to my web host for the privilege of hosting the site. I earned -$0.08 per hour for blogging. Needless to say, I don’t do it for the money.

Don’t Believe Your Own Press Clippings

Hugh Hewitt has never made any predictions about me or my site. I’m quite sure this is a good thing. All he has ever expressed in regards to me is his antipathy towards the review I wrote of his book. That link earned me 647 visitors the day it was posted. I don’t believe I ever received another visitor once it fell off the first page. While at first I was thrilled to be linked by the granddaddy of Christian bloggers, it quickly lost its lustre. I suppose a few of the visitors probably stuck around, but I can’t say with any certainty.

On Newspapers

I don’t believe my site has ever been mentioned in a newspaper. CNN called once and wanted me to provide a miracle story about The Purpose Driven Life but when they found out I didn’t have one, they quickly lost interest in me. And then they turned on John MacArthur. But that’s a whole different story. One article I published on my site was printed in a small newspaper in Keysillve, Virginia. Circulation is probably a little bit less than the New York Times.

On the TTLB Ecosystem

As previously mentioned, I did not even begin to understand the TTLB Ecosystem until a couple of weeks ago. It seems I am a Mortal Human and have a rank of 28. That really doesn’t mean all that much to me. Joe says “From this lofty perch I can now share with you what such an honor means: Absolutely nothing. No, actually, that’s not quite true. What it means is that lots and lots of people link to my blog. I’m flattered beyond words that so many people would consider me worthy of inclusion on their blogrolls. I’m not sure why they do so, but I appreciate it nonetheless.” It may also mean that lots of aggregators link to me (and to Joe), which may inflate the numbers a little bit. I am likewise appreciative of any links people give, especially when I do not often enough reciprocate. And with Joe, I assure you that being a Mortal Human has no real perks. Not even a t-shirt or a mouse pad.

So What?

The reason Joe wrote all of this was to indicate that he has done well with blogging. He has risen through the ranks and become one of the more successful Christian bloggers. He has lots of people linking to him and quite a few readers. I suppose the same could be said of me. But like Joe, I’ve found that it all comes down to a “so what?” Or like Solomon said, “all is vanity and a chasing after wind.”

The Good Stuff

Joe goes on to mention several good things that have come from his blog. This is really where I wanted to post some of my thoughts. Blogging has given me some incredible opportunities, and free books are just one of these (even though Justin Taylor hasn’t done a thing for me!).

The single biggest blessing has been in meeting so many of you, the people sitting on the other side of a monitor, somewhere far across the span of cyberspace. Our relationships have primarily been through email and instant messaging, but I’ve met a few face-to-face. I have met so many wonderful, godly brothers and sisters whom I never would have encountered had I not owned this blog. I have been continually uplifted when people tell me they are praying for me (one person says he remembers me when he shaves so prays for me while he goes about that task) and when people encourage me. I have been humbled by the humility of others in addressing what is at times awfully poor theology. You have challenged me to be a better man and a better follower of Christ.

But that is not all. I have had the opportunity to interact with men and women I much admire - authors, speakers and some of my heroes of the faith. I have been asked to submit articles for publication in magazines and newspapers. In all the work of researching and writing articles I have had to dig deeply into Scripture, church history and ultimately into my heart. I have said it many times, but there is a sense in which my blog is all about me! It is an aspect of my spiritual disciplines, as the only way I can maintain it is to ensure that I continue to grow spiritually. When I stop, becoming lax in my study of Scripture, there is an immediate decline in quality of the posts.

And I trust that I have been able to be a blessing to others. It seems a terribly arrogant thing to say, but if I did not feel that was true, I could simply write my thoughts in a journal and keep it under my bed. Every blogger has to feel that he has something to contribute to others or he simply would not bother. As we have established, the cost otherwise is simply not worth the reward.

So like Joe, I’ll continue to put in too many hours per week churning out my 1 (and a bit) post a day, hoping that I’ll be able to get a couple thousand hits, 20-some comments, keep my inbound links, and earn -$0.08 per hour. “But I’ll do so knowing that those numbers don’t really matter. What I’ve gained from blogging - friendship, community, education - can’t be quantified. The best things in the blogosphere are the connections you make, the relationships you form, and the posts that amuse, inform, and surprise - and those are things that can’t be measured by Sitemeter or Technorati.”

Amen. When I did blogging out of false motives, lo and behold, there were not many compelling reasons to read the site. But when I reevaluated and saw that if I was going to do this I needed to do it for God’s glory, it became not a burden but a great delight. And people began to read, and (I trust) enjoy it.

So if you are a blogger, especially one who is just starting out, my encouragment to you is to keep on keeping on. Press on, worrying more about the quality of information you post than the number of people who read it. Be selfish, posting for your benefit as much as for anyone else’s. Chances are, you need to learn what’s in your head and your heart even more than the rest of us do. And you know what? The people will come, and the great benefit will come to. Not in money or in influence, but in spirtual blessings that just cannot be measured.

And now a brief reflection.

Blogs are beginning to gain ground in influencing the wider culture (ask Dan Rather if you don’t believe me). I have recently been challenged (by Joe, actually) to think about why so many Christian blogs are at the top of the ecosystem in terms of links, but none of us rank in the top 250 in traffic. Clearly we are influencing each other more than we are influencing our culture. While I do not wish to downplay the importance of blogs in edifying other believers, any success seems to dim a little when we consider our ingrown Christian blogosphere.

So there is some food for thought. How we can, as Christian bloggers, begin to influence the wider culture rather than simply passing links around among the 4500 who are part of the Blogdom of God? If we do this, I think we’ll experience “success” so much greater than any we feel we have right now.