Fortunately people do not ask what I do with most of my time these days. Itâ€™s one of the benefits of being over fifty-five. You get a senior discount in the grocery stores, and people assume you do not do anything worthy of much attention.
If they did ask, I would have to say that I spend a lot of time writing without getting paid for doing it. It seems strange when I actually say it, but I have become an active participant in the great online experiment of posting articles about whatever comes to mind on a given day. Writing about my interests for the web has defined much of my life over the last couple of years since I left Apple Computer.
It seems like only yesterday when I had little idea of what constituted a blog or weblog. Certainly I was not a technophobe, but even twenty years in the middle of the technology world did not prepare me for the rapid way that communication is changing today. Yet I have taken to this new online world like a duck to water.
Two years have rolled by since I wrote my first post at â€œView from the Mountain,â€ my home blog, I have done over one thousand posts, and earlier last month I hit another homerun. I define a homerun as a post that draws more than ten thousand visitors to one of my sites in less than twenty-four hours.
Web articles are a viral form of communication. They often take on a life of their own after you have loosed them on the world. All it takes for tens of thousands of eyes to see you, is for a site like Digg to pick up your post and have a number of people vote that what you have written is interesting. Then you are off to the races. It is not unusual to have a really popular post picked up by other writers in several countries.
My latest successful piece, â€œLessons learned from nearly twenty years at Apple,â€ even brought referrals from a Greek blog and ended up attracting enough attention that Wired Magazineâ€™s â€œCult of the Mac Blog,â€ did a profile with a picture of me. All of that happened in less than twenty-four hours. Four days later there were still over six thousand people a day reading my posts.
Not only is the success sometimes instant, but the feedback can also be quick with direct comments from all over the world. The blogging service that I use, Typepad, lets me see what sites are referring others to my site. Visiting them to see what they have had to say about what I have written is an interesting way of getting feedback. Seeing how others use your words is often just as enlightening as the comments left on my own site.
I also use a company called Feedburner which lets people subscribe to my posts and see them automatically without having to go to my website for each new article. Though it varies from day to day, I have nearly fourteen hundred people subscribed to my two main sites. It is an interesting feeling knowing that well over a thousand people will likely read any good post that I write. Usually within five minutes of putting an article on line, I can see people starting to read it.
Using Feedburner I can actually watch to see where the hits come in from around the world. I keep thinking they should have a graphical representation of how a particular post spreads around the world in real time.
Having become technologically adept at this, I also use Technorati tags to make it easier for people to search topics among the posts I have written. I am particularly interested in people finding my photos and prints for which I do occasionally receive some money. Actually many of my readers come to me from Google searches. Thinking of Google brings me to why I believe writing about my interests is of value in a world where millions of others are doing the same thing.
Itâ€™s not that most of us new online writers are bringing particularly brilliant commentary to the web on critical issues. More likely than not, we are providing a more personal look at many very ordinary things. In a larger sense what we are doing is filling in the web of local connections that have somehow been broken by the modern world.
We have become such a mobile and wired society that the default source of information is the web and Google, not your neighbor. Google by indexing content like mine is providing very important glue for our increasingly impersonal and fractured world.
I have had people moving to the areas that I call home write me and offer thanks for all the local information that I provide. We have called some restaurants that I have reviewed to be told that we can have our choice of reservations since my posts have sent them so many customers. There are dangers. Once a host at a restaurant recognized me and brought me a free deep fried Oreo for dessert. I would have rather passed on that.
The interaction with small businesses and local people brings a degree of responsibility with it. I try really hard to be right about what I say so that I do not become just another local booster who can see no wrong. After all my credibility is at stake. I have found it is better to say nothing at all, than write a post that will not stand the test of time.
My free writing has given me a new identity along with lots of new friends, who live in places around the world that I will likely never visit except through their written words.
Now that my Fortune 500 business card is gone, it is also nice to have an identity on which to fall back. The good thing is that my web presence is really me, and not just an adjunct to a carefully controlled corporate image. I am up there on the web for everyone to see and to try to pick apart if they so choose.
Just surviving that trial by fire has made me a better writer, hopefully a stronger person, and something of an authority in my chosen areas. If you type a Google search of â€œTravel Guide, Swansboro, NC,â€ or â€œTravel Guide, Beaufort, NC,â€ you see that Iâ€™m top ranked. If enough of you do a search on â€œDippy Eggâ€ and click on my link, Google just might move me ahead of Wikipedia to the number one spot. I donâ€™t suppose anyone is interested in my article on â€œThe Menhaden saga and limits to growth?â€ Itâ€™s nice being the authority on something even if it is somewhat obscure.