Like everyone, I love the bounteous repository of knowledge and pornography that is the Internet. But, as with the oil-and-gas industry and the Republican Party it controls, the web and its oozing social media tendrils are also viral spreaders of ignorance.
Consider the not-so-recent blog “NO ICE WATER FOR DOGS … PLEASE READ ASAP” that recently sent human companions of man’s best friend into a tizzy on Facebook, in Circles and in the Twitterverse, the latter of which just made my soul die a little in the typing. The blog in question was actually written nearly a decade ago and has long since been debunked by veterinarians, but with the dog days of summer approaching it was resuscitated and recirculated, facts be damned.
The furious reposting on social media led to coverage by the actual media, particularly lazy TV news entities desperate to fill air time between stories about car crashes, fires and the latest mass shooting with a legally purchased assault rifle. To cover this trending rumor, the nation’s most vapid television reporters were dispatched to interview exasperated local veterinarians, who explained through gritted teeth that it is just fine to provide your dog ice water and implied that after seven years of annually addressing this matter they would really like people to get the message that ICE WATER IS OK FOR DOGS (also PLEASE DON’T LEAVE YOUR DOG IN THE CAR ON A HOT DAY, and while we’re at it BE SURE TO HAVE YOUR PET SPAYED OR NEUTERED).
All of this begs (baddum-ching) the question: How and why in the name of Google does this crap end up being read, liked, plused, forwarded, thumbsed up, shared, dugg, reddited, stumbledupon, tweeted and tumbld by a gazillion people while some folks who routinely turn out thoughtful content are read by three people not including their mothers? (This may be a good time to plug my other blog, which does not feature pictures of charming dogs, but is about movies, and everybody loves movies right? Besides, what else are you going to do with your time?)
The subject of what makes a successful blog was thoughtfully addressed by the author of Isobel and Cat, a fellow and favorite WordPress blogger, and someone who has been kind enough to champion this blog. “Is successful blogging really just about numbers?” she asks.
For some, sadly, it is. And while clicks and quality don’t have to be mutually exclusive, numbers alone should not be viewed as an endorsement. In a matter of days, the blog about dogs and ice water was shared hundreds of thousands of times, despite being inaccurate and, frankly, poorly written. Does that make it a success?
Defining a successful blog requires determining what you want to get out of it. “I consider my blog a success because I wanted to write about people, places and situations that matter to me,” writes the author of Isobel and Cat. “That others read and enjoy what I write and post is an added bonus. The fact that they read makes me try to express myself more clearly, and their comments help me to understand my feelings and, especially when things have been tough, to know that mine is an experience others recognize and empathize with.”
For the past few years, I have made a living writing SEO-geared web content—including blogs—for various businesses. Based on consumer research and keyword analysis, my work has successfully generated leads and revenue for clients, though it often leaves me feeling as hollow as if I had chugged a bottle of Drano; it’s the type of recycled nonsense that is scientifically engineered to produce search engine results, is churned out ad infinitum by web marketing factories, and ends up with pi-thousand likes and shares and pluses thanks to the unblinking clicks of social media buttons by those within the industry.
One of the great successes of the Internet is that it offers an outlet to those whose voices previously lacked a forum. One of its great failures is that it relies on numbers and algorithms to assess the merits of language, and those with something worthwhile to share are often drowned out by the mindlessly chattering masses (in this regard, the Internet is a perfect reflection of our society).
My personal blogs are my release, and I am free to write them without regard for metadata, backlinks, view-lobbying and the latest animal-named Google update. They are an opportunity to explore my passions, vent, and, at their most gratifying, engage with others; I am appreciative and humbled when others take the time to read my ramblings, let alone respond.
“If we only validate our posts by the number of people who access them we could end up only writing to please an audience,” concludes the author of Isobel and Cat, whose appraisal of why we blog is as refreshing as a bowl of ice water to a dog on a summer day. “That sounds like work to me, and if my blog becomes work I shall need something else for downtime.”