We have been fucked by the federation and syndication of our content.
I miss comment threads, and I miss blogging. The age of transitory content, of content discovery, has happened, and it turns out that the winners are the content aggregators, and the losers are the content producers. Web 2.0, where the users take back the web, won, and the price of our winning was our names. Hurrah.
A step back.
Ten years ago, at the high-point of this site, there were debates in the comment threads. Now, when I post something it goes here, where some spambots will comment on it, it goes to Facebook, where some people might like or comment it, it goes to Tumblr where someone might reblog it, and it goes to twitter where someone might retweet it. All these interactions flow away from the blog.
Last week, I posted a stupid damn pun to Tumblr. It’s running at 49,000 “notes”, which is an accumulation of reposts and “like”s, which dwarfs my previous high point for interactions by more than quadruple (another stupid pun, last year). This is all very nice, and affirming, and such, but the net gain for my “personal brand”, for the tumbleblog itself, or any of my other things is close to zero. Out of those 40k, I’ve gained forty followers, most of which appear to be lurkers or spambots, and hardly any of which have reblogged or liked the post in question. Empty numbers, nearly fifty thousand people who pushed “reblog” on a thing they like, with no thought as to who posted it. (Tumblr communicates in tags, a lot of the time, and the number of tags of “I’m stealing this” “Where do these come from?” etc. indicates a lack of interest in authorship that I find less surprising than distressing). At one point someone removed the “via (my blog)” auto generated citation, and now that’s blown up too. The high point was when a screenshot of the original post, stripped of all attribution, started doing the local rounds of Facebook.
I also run a series of readings of The Secret World’s lore, which go up on Soundcloud. The first got featured on the front page of the game’s forums, and was briefly on the website, and in the twitter feed, and on the facebook page… It got me a couple of thousand listens, and a few dozen bits of feedback. Subsequent episodes get more positive feedback from fewer and fewer people, until eventually a dedicated request for feedback and suggestions – something I hate doing – for the last episode resulted in a single response. I’m not going to be doing much more of that, I think.
It’s nothing new, really. Content runs on feedback, a lot of the time, and the more there is out there to consume the less feedback you’ll be getting. I had the same problems posting sequential stories to usenet, the short-lived Sund.ac.uk scifi soc anthology. Familiarity breeds acceptance, and response dwindles.
Facebook’s made it worse, though. The last regular content-drop thing I run is Idle Speculation, a satire of UK Fest Larp and community on Facebook. I’ve run experiments on regular posting, and timed posting, posting often, posting rarely. There’s no way to communicate with the people who have opted-in to Like your page reliably. I posted a new thing to IS today, and it’s done fairly well, but Facebook are offering to sell me the ability to “boost” my post, which will – by their own graphs – mean that another 50% of the people who have already expressed an interest in the page might see it. This is broken. I’m having to work to models designed for PepsiCo not to spam hundreds of thousands of people who clicked “Like”, instead of the barely 300 who would volentarily read Idle Speculation.
At least when I was posting to Livejournal people would see it within a day or two, when they next caught up. Facebook’s priority algorithms mean that the chances of everybody seeing my update, unless it involves whatever keywords are on fire today, are unpredictable.
Nothing I do has large community outreach. The maximum for the UK larp stuff is a few thousand, the outer reaches of TSW fandom (as opposed to merely players) is similar, and the most people I ever want to reach with a personal facebook article is 445. Even here, where the top regular readership never really hit over 200, I can’t reliably see anymore. Feedburner says 80 people subscribe, and click-throughs to my recent articles haven’t exceeded 5.
We’ve levelled the playing field, small content providers now get to fight with the same rules as PepsiCo, McDonalds and Nike, fight for the same places on the same incoming information feeds. All its cost us is our audience.
Apparently the best way to pick up an audience would be to get featured on Buzzfeed or something, but that doesn’t seem likely, and seems to result in a lot of people seeing your content, and nobody ever getting as far as the tiny credit link at the bottom.