The misconception of traffic

Yesterday I wrote a post explaining my disagreement with Andy Ihnatko’s assertion that “every important and game-changing product Apple has introduced in the past ten years (beginning with the first iMac) started on the Tuesday morning keynote address at Macworld Expo.”

By the end of the day John Gruber of Daring Fireball fame linked to it, giving me a big surge of traffic. This morning I woke up to find a couple messages on my phone congratulating me on being “Fireballed”, as the expression goes. This struck me as somewhat silly, and it led me to think a bit about what traffic really means.

In the music industry, bands or artists that have only one highly successful song are called one-hit wonders, a moniker that in some cases gets slapped on them only to unjustly doom their every next release. In the world of blogging, being Fireballed can be seen as somewhat similar to having made such a one-time hit: you get a big surge of traffic which lasts for a while, until your songarticle is old news and you’re back to where you were: an unknown.

Of course, with music there will be a good bunch of people who enjoy the artist’s other songs as well and become devoted fans; with blogs, some of that surge of traffic will subscribe to your RSS feed. In both worlds, if you can manage to squeeze out a couple more hits you’re likely to receive a couple more bouts of attention and do this long and well enough and you’ll no longer be that one-hit wonder.

Getting back to the subject of my blog and aforementioned article: while it’s certainly nice to receive a lot of new visitors (Hi mom!), I feel that to congratulate on traffic is to have the wrong goal in mind. I write not for the sake of getting traffic—although there’s a point to be made about getting traffic, more on that in a future post though—but instead I write to try and become a better writer, to express my opinion and to hopefully inform or educate or inspire others who happen to come across my writing.

I took a moment yesterday to check my traffic stats of my old site, KuraFire.net. It still receives about 6,500 visitors a month even though I haven’t really touched the site in two and a half years, and even had it offline completely due to domain registration and hosting issues for about four months this year. What’s getting it persistent traffic is not something like being linked to on sites like Daring Fireball, but a moderately sized archive full of useful (and plenty of not-so-useful) articles and posts.

By the end of this month, this particular site will probably have reached about the same number of visitors as, if not more than, my old one that I’ve not updated in years. But unless I write another useful article here, traffic to this site will drop down to pre-Fireball levels. Should I, then, feel ashamed or sad about the “lack of traffic”? After all, I am being congratulated for the surge of traffic, right?

Wrong.

Implicitly, of course, the congratulations are about having written an article that was linked to by a high profile, high traffic website. Implicitly, they say “congratulations on a well-written article” — but implicitly is not how humans absorb things most of the time. We take things at face value a lot more often than we do any other way.

So while I appreciated the kind messages of the morning, I did so with a tingle of regret. Instead, it would’ve been so much nicer to receive some kind words on what I actually wrote, and not where it gained traction.

But I guess that just makes it a challenge for me to write even that much better.

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