a rickety bridge of impossible crossing

over analyzing

There is no good news on an analytics page. One possibility is that only one or two people are reading my blog. This make me despair that my writing is completely pointless, nobody cares about it, I'm tilting at windmills, I should just stop and save the wasted energy, etc. It drains my motivation motivation.

The other possibility is that a decent number of people are reading my blog, in which case I despair about feeling like a total fraud, look over everything I've written with an ultra-critical eye, and feel like whatever I write next has to be really good because I actually have an audience and I don't want to disappoint them with just the usual crap. This gives me a different kind of paralysis.

The logical part of my brain knows that neither of these stories is true, but those are the stories my anxiety brain tells me. The only number I want to see on the analytics screen is 0, because that means the analytics are broken, and broken analytics are as good as no analytics. That was the case with bearblog for a long time; the number was a flat 0 for months, not even registering my own views on a different computer, so I knew it wasn't reporting the situation accurately. I even forgot they were there for awhile. But now they're back, and I wish they weren't.

What I want is plausible deniability for my anxiety. I want to not know whether and how many people are reading what I write. I want the knowledge that people can read without the possibility that they are or are not reading hanging over my head.

Obviously I want people to read, otherwise I'd be writing all this in a text file on my computer. But I don't want to know how many people are reading. I don't want to know when a post "does numbers", because then I feel subconscious pressure to write more posts like that one because fucking number go up. Or I obsessively scrutinize the post, filing away all the rough edges, making sure that if a lot of people are looking at a particular post that it represents the best me possible. Which is a fool's errand, because I can't possibly know whether how I perceive myself bears any resemblance to how others perceive me, but that's the mortifying ordeal of being seen.1

When I first started the blog, I speculated that the analytics screen is out-enough-of-the-way that I won't be tempted to look at it, but that's not really true. The link is right there at the top of the page whenever I write a post, taunting me. All it takes is a simple middle-click and it's opened in a new tab, satisfying my self-destructive curiosity. It's the same impulse that leads to googling symptoms when one feels ill and speculating about all the exotic parasites and tumors one might have.

But analytics seem impossible to escape, particularly if you're relying on a free service. Everywhere I've posted my work in the last decade or so offers them: youtube, blogger, neocities, itch.io, bearblog, and especially social media. Social media has gamified self-expression to an unhealthy degree, and although I avoid the worst of it by no longer being active on twitter or facebook, the fediverse is no escape: I'm still hypnotized by the number of likes and boosts I get. I hate that I am. And I can disable the ability to see likes and boosts in my client, but on social media, analytics have that personal touch that make me feel guilty about disabling them. I'm able to see not only how many people like me but who likes me. There are people there that I consider friends, to whatever extent it's possible for me to make friends online,2 and I show when I like their posts by giving them a fav. To not allow them to do the same feels like sort of a snub, like I don't care what they think. But I do, I just want to care about it the right way, you know? I wish there was an option to only get notifications from mutual followers. I suppose one way I could achieve that would be to post everything locked to followers-only, and I've considered it, but having public posts boosted is often how I meet cool new people, and I wouldn't want to give that part of it up.

The only time I've been able to escape the siren's song of the analytics page is, ironically, when I was paying for the privilege. When I could afford to pay for webhosting at NFSN, there was an option in the control panel to completely disable all visitor logging and analytics, which I happily enabled; and even if I didn't, the temptation wouldn't have been ever-present, because I rarely had a reason to login to the control panel except to top off my balance. I don't know why none of the free services have an option to disable it. I guess they assume that, because I don't have money, the only reason I would want a website would be to make money, and that in order to make money, obviously I would want to know how many eyeballs are waiting to be monetized.

Well, I allow people to sponsor the blog in case people like it enough to want to support it, but I would never try to turn writing or any other creative endeavor into a business, because then I would no longer enjoy it and I would want to stop. Don't get me wrong, if I could get enough sponsors to quit my job just by doing this, I would, but the second I have to start thinking about promotion and SEO, the second I feel pressure to tailor my content to what will continue to bring in the paying audience, that's when all the joy of creation would disappear. I never want to be in a position where I feel forced to do what's marketable. I am not nor do I ever want to be a salesperson. That probably means I'll never be a full-time writer, but as much as I hate having a job, turning something I love into something I hate would be even worse.

I guess that's why analytics pages bother me so much: I don't want business ontology to intrude on something I do for fun. I don't want to think about the numbers. I don't want to care about line go up. When I talked about my theory of obscurity, I said I only wanted to know if people were reading if they made a conscious effort to reach out, and it's becoming clear that bearblog isn't a platform that accommodate me.

I suppose I could start using dreamwidth. That was on the shortlist of places for me to start a blog. In the end I rejected it because it doesn't have a good mobile UI, but as time's gone on, that's no longer an active concern. Even when I do compose a post on my phone, I tend to use an offline notes app and copy/paste the text into the post box. This is because I want to avoid a repeat of this scenario:

SCENE: m· spends half an hour laboriously writing a short post on the world's worst typewriter

🦝: "Well, that sucked, but I managed to finish a post. And now, to save it and see how it looks."

m· clicks the "save draft" button. Unbeknownst to them, their mobile network is temporarily unavailable. They receive an error message. They press the back button. The post is gone.

🦝: "My soul has abandoned my body. I am the walking dead."

So no mobile interface isn't as much of a dealbreaker as I thought it might be. It would make it harder to edit posts on my phone, but I don't actually want to edit posts on my phone, so if the additional friction prevents me from doing so, that might be a feature-not-a-bug.

Another feature and/or bug of dreamwidth is the theming. I remember what a harrowing ordeal it was to make a livejournal theme, and dreamwidth is based on the same software, so it's very likely that I would be stuck with a theme I'm not super happy with because I don't want to open that can of worms. But it's the words that matter, right? But I want some unique visual flair, right? This is one of those perpetual fence-sitting issues for me. Like, I'm not good at visual design, but I can at least make something that's uniquely ugly. I don't want something I care about to blend into the ocean of soothingly bland templates that are now inexorably linked in my mind with SEO spam blogs; but on the other hand, I write posts I care about on mastodon, where every post is visually indistinguishable from every other post, so 🤷‍♀️

Anyway, the moral of the story is that I need to lighten up. But if I lightened up, I wouldn't have a post for today. So uh, I guess I'm incentivizing my anxiety by turning it into content? That seems bad.

guess i've got brain problems

  1. this isn't a new phenomenon; even when I was a teenager with a geocities page and it was trendy and easy to have a "hit counter" at the bottom of the page, I only had one up for a couple days, because I couldn't bear the internal shame of, upon visiting my own page, seeing that it's only gone up by one (me.) I've always been happier not knowing.↩

  2. this is entirely a problem with me, not with anyone who might be reading this. Y'all are cool, my brain is just broken and I'm not good at whatever process by which "acquaintance" becomes "friend".↩