The Right Kind of Attention

/ San Francisco, California

106,820 people visited my website last week. Two posts had been upvoted to the top of the orange website and a hellish amount of attention was suddenly thrown my way.

A screenshot of the number pageviews of this here humble website last week

This has happened before and I’ve always felt conflicted about it. The first time I got onto the front page of the orange website I was like finally my time has come! I shall ascend to Valhalla! Mom, mom, take a look—my genius is about to be recognized! But what I didn’t understand back then as a writer desperate for eyeballs is that you need to be careful about all this and find the right kind of attention: optimizing for eye balls is almost always bad for you. And so the orange website always has been, and always will be, the wrong kind of attention for me.

Most writers would kill for this many eyeballs though. Look at all this engagement! I have never felt more engaged! But now, if I could go back and give my teenage self some advice, then I would shake them silly and shout about how they need to invest in smaller communities and ignore the likes and retweets and eyeballs as much as they can.

On a similar note, I genuinely admire how Tom MacWright feels the same way about this stuff. Except he takes it one step further by adding these lines of JavaScript to his website:

try {
if (document.referrer) {
const ref = new URL(document.referrer);
if (ref.host === "news.ycombinator.com") {
window.location.href = "https://google.com/";
}
}
} catch (e) {}

These humble lines of JavaScript will redirect folks away from your blog when they click a link on the orange website. Tom writes:

Redirecting Hacker News links away from this website makes sense to me. Traffic to this website doesn’t pay my bills. Disengaged readers just looking for a hot take don’t return to my site, or recognize me when I write something else, or write blog posts of their own and bring new creativity to the indie web.

Maybe posts will be less viral (I can hear, as I write that, someone writing “you haven’t written a hit in years, Tom!”), but writing viral posts or maximizing hits wasn’t my goal when I set out and it isn’t now.

As I dove into the comments of the two posts that shot up last week, I started to think about what kind of audience this is and how I don’t want any of this; the passive aggressiveness, the snark. But, most important of all, I don’t want this kind of relationship with the people who read my work.

Because attention alone is not enough.




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