Monday, February 7, 2011


This is the sort of post that could lose me followers.

Last week, Cyclopeatron came out with his list of top RPG blog performers for February, and followed that up with a post arguing that follower number is a poor predictor of blog popularity. I don't dispute the arguments made in that post, nor even in the comments afterwards. Many people brought up the point that many followers are obtained by the tit-for-tat method (I'll follow your blog if you'll follow mine), and that many followers are themselves creators of blogs. That got me thinking about my own blog list, and the sociological implications thereof.

But before I can start with the numbers, I have to make a confession. I don't "follow" anyone's blog. I have blogs in my links list, yes. And I update that list regularly. But I have not yet hit the follower button on anyone's blog, ever. I really don't know if anyone has noticed this. I assumed somebody would before now ... I'm quite surprised that, with all the things I've been accused of, this hasn't come up.

There's no particular reason I don't follow. At the beginning of the feature I just couldn't think of a reason to follow anyone's site since I regularly went there off my own list or from punching up the address from memory. I'd be bored, I'd remember I hadn't been to such-and-such a blog for a few days, and I'd go there. I always figured that if I didn't remember to go to a blog, it was probably because I really didn't like what I'd been reading there. I don't have to be reminded to go to every Monday, Wednesday and Friday. I live for that shit.

Later on, as the number of followers began to become a kind of cachet, I began to recognize that following was more than just having a convenience for me, it was a statement of my approval. This was a problem - I don't approve of things all that easily. The gentle reader might have noticed. For me, stamping a blog with my name and picture was tantamount to giving a testimonial ... and while others might not think it's much of a testimonial, it means a lot to me.

As I thought about it, my feelings were that the better kind of testimonial I could offer was to talk about other people's blogs on my blog - in addition to the blog list. When someone says something there that I like, I'll sit and write an entire post about it. If this drives people to the other person's blog, so much the better. Driving people to smart blogs is a more useful testimonial, I think, than my little stamp on their blog that can only be read by others who have already found their way there.

All this may seem very trite and supercilious, but that's the way I roll.

Thinking about it in reverse, I tend to presume that people who want to follow my blog do so because they approve of me; I think virtually everyone thinks of it this way. In my particular case, I think its harder for people to approve of me because I'm such a fucking asshole. If you consign your pic onto my blog, you're not just telling me that you like the blog, you're telling other people. Some of those out there who did follow me for a long time, through many firefights, have since dropped away ... out of boredom, possibly, or disgust. I'm not an easy fellow to like. I'm blunt. I'm inconsiderate of people who say things I think are stupid. I hold myself to a high standard. Those are three things that are very much contrary to the behavior of most everyone I meet.

Right now, if the gentle reader is reading this, and the gentle reader is a follower, the gentle reader ought to be reconsidering the decision to do so. Good. We are all far too apathetic about the commitments we make to things. We are too willing to let things slide, to leave things the way they are because its too much trouble to change them. How much the better that the gentle reader remakes the decision today, and everyday they read this blog? Better for me, since I know then that every person who does follow is a true reader, and not just flotsam and jetsam that has drifted into the present from three years ago, without the slightest inclination to read anything I'm writing today.

For now, I want to put all that aside. If it loses me followers, so be it. This is probably the most polite I've been for several months - it would be ironic if I lost more followers with honey than with vinegar.

And now with some numbers. Cyclopeatron's post and comments section got me wondering: how many of my followers did have blogs?

Up front, out of 168 followers that I have as of writing this post (I can identify two of the 170 followers shown as duplicates), 42 do not have any image. None of these non-image followers have a blog, with the exception of one individual - and the blog that individual possesses does not have a single post on it. So there's a pattern there.

Of the remaining 126 followers, 65 have blogs listed on their profiles. Although some of the profiles do not have blogs shown, though I know that follower to have a blog. I can't tell which is which, so if your profile does not have your blog on it, I'm not counting it among the 65.

52 of those followers with blogs have blogs that are "fantasy-based." This is a wider judgment on my part than Cyclopeatron's old school gaming base, so I have far less followers who would fit on Cyclopeatron's list. With that list in mind, I'd guess I'm followed by about 25% of blog-possessors who write about OD&D. A very telling statistic. Of the 52, six haven't posted anything since September 1st, and one blog has no posts whatsoever. But it has a fantasy gamer type name.

I didn't read all the blogs in depth, but very, very few of them mentioned 4e in any capacity. Most of those who are following me seem to play a wide variety of games, and more than half are in the process of producing some new world/rule system. Where the hell are you people with regards to the Wiki?

10 of the fantasy bloggers also have a blog which is not related to D&D. 23 of my followers altogether have non-fantasy blogs. A lot of them seem to be about cooking. I should write something about cooking in a D&D world.

7 of my followers possess private blogs of some kind. Obviously, I have no idea what those blogs cover.

And I have three followers who write blogs which are not written in English. One appears to be Finnish (possibly someone connected to Jim of LotFP), one appears to be Spanish, and one I think is Polish and not Czech ... but that's a guess.

Finally, this leaves 61 followers with no identifiable on-line presence at all. On top of them, there are quite a number of regular commenter's who are not followers of mine, but who somehow manage to find their way here on a regular basis regardless.

Bully for them. The whole follower mystique has been created by Blogger for their own purposes. I don't measure this blog's success by the number it generates. It is too easy for an individual to hit the button, follow and then never show any sign of interest again. Going through my own list, I found a lot of people I haven't heard from in a long time, and quite a few I've never heard from. I have no idea if I'm reaching any of these people. If they really cared about what I was saying, they'd have said something. They'd have disagreed with something I'd written by now.

I can't learn anything from mimes. A thousand mimes provide me no value at all. If the dialectic is to work at all, people have to tell me when I'm wrong.


Zak S said...

I'm not sure why you thought this post would upset anybody.

And if the sentence right above this one offends you, let me preemptively say I don't know why that is either. Like, honestly, I don't.

Oddbit said...

When I have something better and more cohesive than 'I have this awesome system in mind' I will gladly add it to your wiki. I will also be happy to talk about it on other blogs and talk in a very pretentious form about the superiority of my system and inferiority of everyone elses. (That last part is sarcasm)

I had to check to verify I didn't have a pic and that I was actually following you. Is my blog showing up blank?

Anyhow, my 'following people' means that I took 10m to look at their blog, thought about it, and decided that they have enough posts I'd like to be alerted if they put anything else up. (With exception of one comic writer who's comic I've been following for 7 years.) I in no way guarantee approval with this method. In fact, because I could be accessing the internet from one of any four computers, it's just plain easier for me to go to my own blog and jump from there. Apologies if this is misconstrued as validating others as a person in the future I shall follow anonymously (I think that's an option).

Roger the GS said...

Not sure he thinks the post will be upsetting; it's just, he's suggesting a higher standard for follower-dom, so people who take that seriously will drop off and he will lose followers.

The real gold standard is page views, and for me, followerdom is irrelevant to updating as I keep track of new posts via a blogroll. It's fun to track your followers, but ultimately that's only one measure of influence. I get a bigger charge out of people using my ideas or referring back to my posts, actually.

James C. said...

I can tell you you're wrong about following. At least in part. Beyond being a sort of quid pro quo method of jacking up numbers, there's a pragmatic aspect to it. I read most blogs via Google Reader or my iGoogle homepage (I suddenly feel like a Google whore) and "following" them puts them right in my reading queue. I actually "visit" only a handful of blogs I read, usually to comment.

That the followers number creates a sort of Facebook mentality I do recognize. That's primarily why I haven't gone out of my way to try to appear on Cyclopetron's list, though I follow him as well. I have no ambitions to be the 298th ranked OSR blog. Or the 20th or the 1st for that matter. Like you, I just want people to read and comment for the sake of an exchange of idea.

I'm also puzzled about the Wiki. Setting aside those with publishing ambitions I can't believe you've alienated or cowed into silence everybody besides me with an idea worthy of posting up. Perhaps now that you're done with the maps, focus on your rules. Are the henchman rules up there? What about your XP rules? I use both of those in my game and will likely never use your maps, though I find them instructive and interesting.

Porky said...

I think Oddbit and James C. explain why I and presumably many others do it. Following need not be a stamp of 100% approval, or even any approval, but might show only that the follower want to read what the blogger writes.

I read this blog on and off for a while before I followed, and thought more deeply about it than I might have in other cases..!

Roger the GS said...

My reason for not contributing to the Wiki is as follows: 1. I don't have a lot of material in electronic-ready format to put up there; 2. If I do take the time to format my material from its inchoate notes I have my own blog and platform to release it under 3. A lot of my old RP material is not that inspirational, and I feel that our community for the most part prefers inspirations to straight-up copy and paste.

cyclopeatron said...

Interesting post - I was thinking about addressing the "tit-for-tat" hypothesis with just such a similar analysis. I'm not surprised by what you found. I don't think tit-for-tat following has a large effect because a lot of the highest-profile bloggers (including yourself) do not publicly follow other blogs and they do just fine.

There are certainly different emotions mixed up in the whole following thing depending on who you talk to. I must say, though, that like Oddbit and James C. I actually use the Blogger follower system as a convenient way to browse posts from blogs I like. I also get a large number of my page hits from followers who link to me from their blogger follower page. Ultimately, though, it's hard to assess how much of this whole follower thing is ego/validation/tit-for-tat vs. practicality.

N. Wright said...

I think that it's nice to have an identifiable number attached to your blog, both as a means to say "I am well-liked" and to say to yourself "see, I'm not doing nothing uselessly- people ARE reading me." Nothing's worse than writing an insightful post and seeing that nobody cared to comment, after all.

I think it's telling that you, in your dismissal of followers, also proudly sport your own number of followers above what it is that you're reading. That's not a criticism, mind you. I do the same thing.

-C said...

"I tend to presume that people who want to follow my blog do so because they approve of me"

I follow your blog precisely because I don't approve of you.

Cygnus said...

I follow it because I enjoy reading it. Simple as that! :-) You've got interesting stuff to say, and you often make me chuckle by the politically incorrect ways in which you say it. (And I mean, usually, a chuckle of truth-recognition, not a chuckle of condescension!)

The fact that, very occasionally, you post things that I find useful or mine-able for my own in-development game is icing on the cake. Of course, if I'm inspired enough to use a specific idea from this or any other blog, I'll definitely cite the source in the game rules.

migellito said...

to -C: thanks for the first genuine out-loud laugh I've had in days! It makes me glad I follow this blog so it shows up in my google reader.

Greg Christopher said...

Rofl at -C

I find that I agree or disagree with you on many issues Alexis. What I like is that I feel strongly about what you post, regardless of the direction. You are interesting in a sea of blandness that saturates our culture.

I generally don't comment because you have provacatively declared your willingness to delete comments, so I don't emotionally invest in putting my own opinion in front of you so that I don't have to deal with wondering if you will delete it or not.

Alexis said...

There are large numbers of people here whose comments are never, ever deleted.

The trick is to be "not stupid."

Greg Christopher said...

I didn't think I was being stupid the first time my comment was deleted.

But I don't want to get into a fight about it. I am just pointing out my reasons. I figure there must be other people like me out there, so you should know the chilling effect that occurs with a proactive stance of comment deletion / strong moderation (and yes, I am familiar with your argument in favor of it)

James C. said...

Based on this discussion I've changed the title for "Followers" to "Interested Parties" on my blog. I know that's somewhat beside the original point, but I do feel it fits at least my inclinations when clicking that button.

Andreas Davour said...

You know what? It will never cease to amaze my how few people seem to know about feed readers.

You don't have to remember the address to blog for visiting them!

If you use Google Reader you will easily get all the news from blog you Follow.

Personally I don't Follow blogs, since I don't use Google Reader. But, since I have many of them subscribed in my feed reader, bloglines, I "approve" of them by commenting on on. Followers are an artifact of Google's attempt to have all of use your their tools, and nobody else's. Considering how popular Blogger is I guess they have succeeded quite well.