I was planning to post this 2 days ago, on the 5th anniversary of my first post, but I was so busy with other things that I couldn’t finish it in time.
Rather than looking back on the issues I’ve covered, I’m going to make this is a look back at the blog itself.
When I started Windypundit, it was the early days of blogging when Glenn Reynolds at Instapundit was the king of the bloggers and it wasn’t totally uncool to call yourself something-pundit. It took me a while to get used to calling myself “Windypundit” when commenting in forums or on other blogs because it sounded so pretentious, but I forced myself to do it as part of my marketing effort for this blog. By now, I’ve been Windy for so long now that I’m used to it.
There was a time when I wished I had picked a classier name for the blog, but I’m stuck with it now. Other than a few unfortunate fart jokes, I have no complaints.
I found the early blogging technology frustrating, and I spent some time trying to write some small bits of blogging software to improve the process. Several times, I caught myself starting fairly large software projects, and I forced myself to stop so I could focus on the writing and not get caught up in the technology.
I decided I needed more capabilities than Blogger offered, so I switched to the MovableType blogging engine, which comes with full source code. Now I had a tool that was good enough for all I wanted to do, but which was still customizable enough to allow me to fiddle with it now and then.
Probably the most prominent bit of fiddling is the MovableType extension tag I wrote to post photographs with titles, drop shadows, and links to larger images.
Windypundit started on Blogger, and was originally hosted on Blogspot, but I soon had Blogger publishing everything to the Windows box that hosted my corporate web site because Blogger didn’t have photo hosting.
When I switched to MovableType I quickly found out that the Perl programming language under Windows didn’t support everything I needed to do, so I switched to Linux hosting. I started with a dirt-cheap account at Loose Foot Computing. Later, I upgraded to 2MHost, which was a MovableType hosting partner, meaning they set up MovableType for me and upgraded it whenever necessary.
Eventually, I started to do more behind-the-scenes programming, and I needed a host that supported that better. I tried Hosting Matters for a while, but found them slightly too restrictive for my needs. Now I’m at Downtown Host which is a little more accomodating.
Photography is a recently-acquired hobby, so when I started Windypundit I never imagined I’d be photoblogging. Once I started taking pictures, however, I found that it worked well for the blog. If nothing else, I could always post one of my photos to keep the blog going when I was too busy to write anything.
More importantly, instead of commenting on someone else’s work, I’m creating original source material. As much as I hope people are interested in my commentary, I know I’m just one of many people who has an opinion. On the other hand, my original photojournalism is exclusive to Windpundit.
In order to integrate more photography into the blog, I needed to find an issue that was both interesting and photogenic. My favorite subjects wouldn’t really work: Economics is too abstract to photograph, and the War on Drugs is too dangerous. I finally settled on eminent domain abuse, and I’ve gotten a few photo spreads out of it.
My MovableType blogging software does some simple photo uploading, but it has no way to display photo galleries. I was tempted to build my own photo galleries, but I decided instead to get an account at Smugmug.
All original photos on Windypundit are served from Smugmug’s very fast servers, where I have stored about 9000 photographs (many of them unrelated to the blog).
Web traffic to the site has grown a lot less quickly than I hoped when I started. I wasn’t expecting to be famous, but I was hoping to do better than I actually have. I suppose one possible explanation for the poor traffic is that my blog sucks, but now that I understand more about the blogosphere works, I think there are some pretty straightforward reasons for the low traffic.
To start with, my traffic stats were absolutely dismal during the first couple of years, which was both a result and a cause of my sparse and sporadic blogging. When I started posting more regularly around the beginning of 2005, my stats began to improve, which encouraged me to post even more. The word on the street is that it’s important to post something every day, and three times a day would be even better.
I’m not a fast writer, and my day job keeps me pretty busy, so three-a-day is more than I can manage. That’s why multi-author blogs tend to do better than single-author blogs like Windypundit. I took on Gary as a co-blogger this year, but neither of us expected him to post often enough to make a big difference.
Another reason why Windypundit doesn’t get lots of traffic is that it’s a multi-topic blog. Except for the blockbuster blogs like Daily Kos or Instapundit, most successful blogs tend to focus on a single topic that they cover very well, which attracts people who return again and again to see what’s new. Because Windypundit is all over the place, I get fewer regular readers.
Finally, I just don’t try very hard to take advantage of opportunities. In May of 2005 I had one of the very first posts on the web about Google Earth, and lots of sites linked to me. I got huge amounts of traffic. If I had been ambitious, I could have used the surge to launch a single-topic Google Earth blog.
Similarly, this post is the #1 Google result for the search phrase “Fucking Sprint” and people are still posting comments to it. If I were smart, I could have built that page out into a whole site for Sprint haters, with stories about the latest evil things Sprint has done, forums for visitors to discuss how bad Sprint is, cartoons, T-shirts for sale, and so on. But frankly, I got over it and have moved on.
As I write this, I’ve been getting surges of 5 to 20 times my normal daily traffic because I happened to do a post about Harry Potter right in the middle of Pottermania and several of the main Harry Potter sites have linked to me. The smart thing would be to quickly post a bunch of other Harry Potter articles and link to them from the first one to generate more links and return traffic…but I really don’t have much more to say about Harry Potter.
I’ve had Google AdSense up in the sidebar for a little over two years, and it earns me a low-three-figures income. At the very least, I’m covering my hosting fees.
I just started trying out Text-Link-Ads, which appear at the top of the left sidebar. I get paid a flat monthly rate for each of those, regardless of whether anyone actually clicks them. In a good month, I make 50 bucks.
I also have numerous affiliates, including Amazon and Adorama Camera. If you click through to either site and buy something, I get a small piece of it. I make almost no money this way.
In addition to the my Smugmug site, I also have a MySpace page, a Model Mayhem page, a OneModelPlace page, and a Yahoo profile. I’m also trying to start an archive site for storing useful information such as maps and data, but I haven’t done anything with it lately.
I don’t have a lot of advice about blogging, and even if I did, Technorati gives Windypundit a rank of 36,688 so you probably shouldn’t listen to me. There’s plenty of advice out there on the web and Google can find it all for you.
That said, here are a few tips for other minor-league bloggers:
Content is king. No matter how well you market your blog or how well you optimize it for search engines, the thing that unltimately sells it is your original content—what you blog about and how much of it is original with you.
That’s not to say that you shouldn’t also learn the basics of how to optimize your page for search engines. A little bit of Google PageRank goes a long way. Windypundit is somewhere near the high and of PR 5, which is not huge, but it’s enough that when I post about a subject of less than national importance I can get on the first page of Google search results.
For example, in a search for either “chicago gay pride photos” or “chicago marathon photos” my page on that subject is the fourth result. I couldn’t do that without some pretty good search engine scores. Note also, however, that both of these pages contain original content that no one else has.
I’m hoping to build-out the archive site a lot more, with links to my eminent domain photos, data files for Google Earth and Google Maps, and a variety of other non-blogging materials. Other than that…
Other than that, it will be more of the same.
Thank you very much to all my regular readers for giving me good reasons to keep on keeping on.