Despite my evoision of international, national, and local news, I am aware of the east coast getting a ton of snow last weekend. This picture showed up in CarbonNYC’s photostream [via Curbed]. That’s Peter Rojas, Editor-in-Chief of Engadget, on the cover of New York Magazine. My brother was living in Boston in 2003 when they got 27 inches of snow. You can see his pictures here.
…and that is where the original post ended, but then my mouse died, so I’ll keep typing while it recharges. The New York Magazine article is excellent and I ordered the issue after reading it. It covers the current state of blogging and a lot of things that wouldn’t be apparent to the casual observer.
The commercial viability of blogs is entirely dependent on traffic. If you can’t get page views there is no way you can make money. I never really thought too much about traffic when I first started working at Hack-A-Day. I was happy doing my job and knowing that people were reading. That’s the nice thing about working for Weblogs, inc., someone else takes care of the ads and the hosting, all you have to do is do a good job. It was only since the AOL buy that I started watching our traffic. Why? We went independent and no longer had a big network to carry us. It turns out that we are actually #4 for traffic in a network of over 80 blogs. Last month we got approximately 3 million hits. That’s 50% growth since going indie in October.
My favorite part of being this high up on the traffic list is that Hack-A-Day guarantees one post every day. Not the high volume 15-25 news posts per day of the other high traffic sites. Last month I averaged 76,000 hits per post, while the site in the #3 slot averaged 7,300 hits per post.
This runs contrary to most site’s more posts=more traffic. I do believe we are an exception though and not some magical blog model that has yet to be exploited by the main stream. It does reinforce something that I find very important to maintaining an interesting blog: you must blog every day (of course RobotSkirts fell off the stove when I started working for HAD). Before I started this blog last March, I read Tony Pierce’s how to blog, which features that bit of advice as #1. The goal is to make your site part of the reader’s daily habit, putting it mentally next to tying their shoes in the morning or doing the crossword. I like to think of HAD as a daily newspaper column.
One of the interesting topics covered by the NYM article is the power curve of blog links. A very small number of blogs get the majority of inbound links, which is an 80% predictor of traffic. There are outliers like Fleshbot, the porn blog that is carrying the Gawker Media network. You want to start reading blogs, but where to start? How about the links you see everyday: BoingBoing, Engadget, Slashdot show up everywhere. I think this is where a lot of Hack-A-Day’s recent growth has come from. Every couple days we have one of our stories picked up by a network site. If you’re surfing the web and keep seeing links “via Hack-A-Day” you’re going to think “damn, I should be really reading that site, since they seem to always dig up these cool links”. This is a weak point in some of the larger sites that depend too much on feeder blogs. Good blogs always credit the blogs they get their tips from, but if your original content starts to dwindle, your blog begins to look like a clone of your feed reader.
Original content 0wns on the Internet. If your page is constantly the end point of a link chain and not the middle man, your rise to to blog stardom will be far quicker. One of my favorite sites, Lifehacker, posts how-tos and tips constantly and became a favorite among fans because of this. (side note: Lifehacker has reached such a high volume of content heavy posts that I find it almost impossible to read now) In some cases it isn’t even original content that keeps you on top, it’s just being original. Another favorite site of mine, We-make-money-not-art seems to draw from some magical pool of sources and Regine’s posts show up everywhere.
I track approx. 130 websites using my RSS aggregator and almost never use the material for a Hack-A-Day daily feature. I save some posts for inclusion in a weekly links post, but other than that I’m using all of my reading to keep track of the Internet’s pulse and to keep HAD fresh by not carrying stories that have been seen on other sites already. Another traffic plus for Hack-A-Day comes from being a modification confluence; we cover everything from modifying game controllers to building turbine powered motorcycles which attracts a lot of related sites. We’ve even been linked to by food blogs. Reaching out of the niche can gain you readers that weren’t looking for you.
Can an independent launch a blog and be successful against networks rolling out blogs with venture capital backing? Yes, but it requires all the dedication of starting a home business. Peter Rojas still spends 11-hours a day blogging. I spend that much time at work too (part of that is not setting an end point).
I’ve had an interesting time being a professional blogger. My first post went up last May as I was receiving my mechanical engineering diploma and in September blogging became my sole source of income. I’m not making a lot of money, but limiting my lifestyle has kept me well within my means. I pay a portion of my roommate’s rent and sleep on the couch so that we can use the second bedroom as an office. I’m still looking for, and want, an engineering job. No matter what, I can see myself in five years with blogging as my only source of income (far greater than my current) for the rest of my life. Still, from time to time, I look towards retirement and wonder “can I get there from here?”.