Engagement metrics do not make you a good person

Why I rarely publicised bensinterests when I was publishing it.

A post for #WeblogPoMo2024.

Updating bensinterests wasn’t a daily task. Quite the opposite - new posts would only be added whenever something new or interesting came my way. Months would pass without anything being added at all; sometimes there’d be two or three posts a week. Nevertheless, I loved posting the fun things I’d found and diligently made sure that everything looked nice and clean and correct to prospective visitors…

…but what prospective visitors? I had no metrics and didn’t really promote the site in any meaningful way. I considered the site a success because it was gratifying to me, the writer. As the old cliché goes, a writer writes for themselves.

It’s fascinating looking at some of the content I posted with the benefit of hindsight. At that time I was working for a market research company and professionally doing pretty well. I had a good wage, was starting to manage people, was by all accounts ‘successful’, but I felt that something was missing. I posted cartoon memes that declared that your salary doesn’t determine how good a person you are and quotes about having to write ‘hackney for bread’. And I maintained this little website which was mostly about positivity and fun.

One post really stands out from that time. Writing during the early days of Medium, Ev Williams' blogged about user metrics and how they measure success:

Numbers are important. Number of users is important. So are lots of other things. Different services create value in different ways. Trust your gut as much (or more) than the numbers. Figure out what matters and build something good.

I saw friends on Twitter who paid careful attention to their follower count, who pleaded for retweets to gain a few more fans in order to hit some arbitrary number. I saw screenshots of blog metrics along with smug comments about hits, engagement, time on site. I saw their writing change to something mechanical, something looking for an audience. I saw a joyless constant update where they were looking for growth and the dopamine hit of number-go-up.

“Here’s this week’s 1,500 word post and I still have nothing to say.”

There I was, anxious that following anything over about 150 accounts on Twitter would make it difficult to keep up with the conversation while maintaining a little blog that I seldom tweeted about let alone pushed onto the world.

Figure out what matters and build something good.

In retrospect, that’s what I was doing. What mattered was me, my joy, the selfish writer who wasn’t even writing but listing joyful content made by others. The value was to me. I passively shared the content to the yawning maw of the web. While I was figuring out whether it was “ok” to be some kind of middle manager, I was looking for and sharing things that showed me beauty in the world beyond spreadsheets and meeting rooms.

And on reflection in 2024 this is a key learning: not only do I not share my blogging much to a wider audience, but whatever I do share is rarely if ever related to my professional career.

bensinterests, like this current blog, was an outlet for me and me alone. It wasn’t there to build an audience or win me new friends.

It was a mental health exercise.