How to Make a (Basic) Ground Lizard Chili (Blogs in the Social Media Epoch)

lizard photo

Image by Frank Winkler, via Pixabay

(Some quick notes on OT and social media, based on an email responding to another editor’s comments, on the subject of whether OT should be seeking to get more visitors via social media than via more “traditional” blogging methods.) I don’t want to say anything that could be taken to discourage “social sharing”: I feel strongly that the site – the site itself, the authors, editors, and users – all should improve their social games, but (I know you know this, but I think it has to be emphasized) OT is completely not Buzzfeed, even if at some point it might expand some Buzzfeedish features. I think we’d do better cultivating a we-are-most-definitely-not-Buzzfeed identity, even if we occasionally played with “clickbait” just for the sport of it. So, I disagree with a simple “more prominence on social media would be huge” conclusion. More prominence or more eyeballs doesn’t necessarily, or in the vast majority of cases even likely, mean anything for what we want OT to be. To condense a long discussion into a single example that may initially seem a little off: As most or all of you know, Sam’ Wilkinson’s 2012 chili recipe post is the single most “popular” post in the history of the site – mostly if not entirely because it has a very high Search Engine Optimized title: “How to Make a (Basic) Ground Beef Chili.” On any given day Sam’s post will be near the top views-visitors-wise, right after the home page and whatever new or newish posts, and ahead of any site feature or old post. I have nothing against Sam’s post. I think it’s a great post. I even tried out making a chili based on it, and I may soon do so again.1 I don’t see anything wrong with its SEO-friendly title (containing key words repeated in the body of the post, etc.).2 In short, it’s a model post for this site: Entertaining, informative, thoughtful, well-researched even, All the same, it doesn’t really do much for the site, or as much as its superficially measurable popularity might seem to suggest. It may very well be that not a single one of the ca. 100 daily chili-curious, nor a single one of the other over 100,000 chili-curious visitors to the post since its 2012 debut became a regular League/OT reader: It’s not like the site has regularly and prominently featured recipes, or regularly features chili, or has ever made a play for lowest common denominator person on the internet (like Buzzfeed). So there’s no follow-through or exploitability for us. We could delete the text of the post, or re-direct visitors to the New York Times crossword puzzle or a dog rescue or a Japanese avant-garde music of the ’00s site3, and it would have approximately zero net difference for the life of the site, while probably maintaining (at least for a while) about the same number of hits. If we ran advertising, and our advertisers could feed chili-related ads, then we might get a chili ad clickthrough or two, maybe even collect a small percentage on occasional purchases of chili-cooking equipment via an Amazon context ad, but that would be about it. It’s also possible that someday Sam will get offered a position as chili-ist at some recipe site, and will from that position be able to channel visitors back to OT… The last might seem unlikely, but it actually gets closer in concept to how prominence-measured-by-eyeballs might indirectly benefit the site or its users – yet it still does suggest any significant impact on the site – except for the potential loss of Sam. What rules in the social mediatized landscape, or in eyeball-counting or retweet-counting or other measures of popularity, does not seem to matter much to OT, and arguably should not. The real issue is the character of the site, what it is and what we want it to be: I think that, for the most part, OT’s users are the kind of people who prefer blogs to new social media and the people who seek to dominate it. OGs may still prefer a whole paragraph, or even several, to 140-character back and forth. and most still have the independent, don’t-tread-on-me blogger spirit that makes them prefer a blog/discussion site over a too-big general interest site or a narrow professional-scholarly single-subject site. In sum, OT is to a large extent a creature of the previous internet era, seeking a new niche in a transformed environment. That’s OK. You don’t have to be Snapchat or the next, even shallower and even more disposable Snapchat, to have a reason to exist. It’s OK to be a lizard in an age dominated by insects: All living creatures are equally evolved. So, OT can learn to eat insects in the way its dinosaur ancestors didn’t need to, but it’s still going to be a lizard, and so it should be as good a lizard as it can be. If it tries to go about things like an insect or some other type of beast, things won’t go well. Higher up the chain in the lizard kingdom, even if the lizard kingdom isn’t where millions of teenage consumers are heading NOW NOW NOW, would still be pretty huge. In practical terms, I think that means doing what lizards do, but better, while also adding new insects to our menu.

Notes:

  1. …probably has something to do with why I labor to convert Sam to my side whenever we differ, as we almost always differ, on matters-other-than-chili []
  2. Another post – or title – that does well is “What Is Politics?” []
  3. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yaKcTfE3Bso&w=640 []

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