(or, having a consistently-used subtitle format helps reassure the reader that all is normal, while still adding an element of humour or insight beyond the title)
If people can be broadly divided into two kinds – content creators and content consumers – it can be said there’s been a debate amongst the creators that’s as old as, well, creation itself; what is better for generating an audience – quality, or basic attractive imagery? I might have a larger audience if I wrote my titles in block capitals and exclamation marks, covered each post in exciting pictures and put ‘#firstworldproblems’ in the tags of all my updates, but I don’t really want to do that. Personally, I’d consider it more of a success if people read my blog and enjoyed it for the entertainment and insightfulness therein, rather than have twice as many viewers, but each of them only clicks on the page for four seconds because I put a picture of Miley Cyrus in the header. However, some, justifiably, feel that creating an audience is, by definition, the sole purpose of any published work, and would consider the number of views on a blog or comments on a YouTube video as a more accurate measure of ‘success’ than my idealised notion of ‘entertaining’ people.
Firstly, I’d say that entertaining people or making them think ‘Holy crap, turtles do look remarkably similar when they’re upside down’ are the criteria by which I judge this blog a ‘success’; I don’t particularly care if a hundred people see it, or if two people do, I primarily want people to think about things – this is why I often try to draw my self-centred ramblings into a broader conclusion about life and society and stuff. Ultimately, the ultra-connectivity of our culture means that people are able to talk more than ever, but often do not – in an age of being able to call people thousands of miles away for free, do you know your neighbours? No, because you’ve been playing GTA V alone for the past week or so, haven’t you? I feel that the ease of connection that the Internet brings is a blessing and a curse – we can communicate much easier with people, but we choose not to. A century ago, people would have had much better relationships with their neighbours, almost out of necessity; the lack of a centralised source of information (like Wikipedia) or source of goods (like a Morrison’s – the first supermarket wasn’t around until 1916) meant that people had to talk to and interact with those around them; now, the faceless information-spouting of the Internet takes away this need, leaving a strange mix of the most sophisticated communications system in history, but a society full of people that type questions onto a screen instead of asking those around them (like I did just there to find out when the first Piggly Wiggly opened). This means that the average homo sapiens talks with people less than they used to, which is something that I want to address; I feel that writing partially-meaningful words on this website will achieve that aim better than if I write said words on said website, and stick loads of funny and topical pictures around them. This is not to say, however, that pictures or attractive titles make a piece of writing inherently worse – newspapers are full of pictures – but too many images can distract people from the real message; The Sun has more pictures relative to the amount of words on its front page than The Guardian, reflecting their different means of maximising readers – the former, very broadly speaking, is more inclined to shock people into reading, while the latter lets the stories attract people on their own merit.
This is not to say that a piece that attracts people based on its own merits and not this ‘window-dressing’-like stuff is inherently better, or more honest – pictures don’t mean idiocy. So don’t think that an attractive YouTube thumbnail that is nothing like the video makes that video’s producer dishonest or a liar or a sell-out, they just want to get more viewers, in a slightly different way. And I feel that this is a big argument to suggest that sheer fanciness is the best means of generating an audience – the quality of a video or written piece is difficult to judge individually, as factors like audience, time of writing, tone, objective and so on, must be considered, and impossible to judge between multiple people. This is why we often fall back on numerical data to judge the ‘best’ things around: is Gerrard or Lampard a better player? Who knows, but Lamps has scored more goals for England (29 to 20) in fewer games (101 to 106), and so is he better? This is perhaps an overly-simple example, but the human desire to quantify everything (we did invent maths, for God’s sake) means that subjective judgements are often ignored in favour of objective ones. Why do you think YouTube places so much emphasis on how many subscribers each user has? You can see it on every page of a user’s channel and on all of their videos – its an easy way of finding ‘the best’. And things like blog posts are similar – how do I know you like this piece? You might all hate it as far as I’m concerned, totally undermining my initial idea of ‘entertaining’ you folks; all I know is that 90 people read my blog posts last Saturday, which can be considered a success, seeing as no-one really knows 90 people in real-life (oh yes, apart from you, who clearly knows all of your 400 friends you added on Facebook back in year eight, including a guy who was in the Sixth-form at the time, and now just posts pictures of getting himself wasted – you know all of those people, right?).
However, the lines between objective and subjective judgement are blurring faster than the lines of morality, gender roles, and when you try and read a bar code by squinting at it, just to exemplify how poor your eyesight has become. Nowadays, you people reading this don’t just show up as numbers on a graph for me to oggle at, you can comment below this post, and ‘like’ it too, showing your overall agreement with its ideas, or even ‘follow’ this blog, which just means that you’re judging my character as one you like and would enjoy hearing from, based solely on 900 words of half-checked ramblings and disoriented turtles (not that I don’t want your follows, of course x). Its not just enough to have a crap-ton of views on your blog anymore, but they have to be the right views: have a supportive but small fan base like a local punk band, and no-one knows who you are – you’ve failed objectively in spreading your influence and reputation; have a massive following, but in which every one of them wants to hang, draw and quarter you, and well done, you’re this pinnacle of human development – here, you’ve failed subjectively, in that everyone knows you, but no-one likes you for it. Here, you could say that it is therefore impossible to succeed in life these days, as you’ll inevitable end up as one of these two categories, but (and this will surprise my real-life friends), I’m taking the optimist’s view here (and, real-life friends, I assume you reacted to that news like this). I reckon this blurring lets us be successful on both fronts, however we choose to define that term; if I want to reach people with considered opinions and a vaguely-humourous writing style, I can, and get feedback from you guys to ensure that I’m making sense, helping me to broaden my audience. Similarly, if you want to cover yourself in stickers, memes and topical imagery, go for it, and we’ll tell you how to not stray too far from the message you’re trying to deliver.
The discussion about the best way to attract an audience has a million other factors – if you need a thousand people to read your blog because you sell ad space on it, and need those views to buy food that week, you’ll probably go for the objective, sheer-numbers definition of success, for instance. But it’s important to remember that these factors exist – me writing a title in block capitals doesn’t make me dishonest (although it does make me a bit of a prick for using it ironically). The Internet’s ease of communication means that content producers can reach more consumers than ever, and these consumers can then feed back to these producers, to improve both the quality of their content, and help spread it to a larger group of people. I’m not going to pretend that views on a screen or real-life responses to these blogs doesn’t matter at all to me, as they do – it wouldn’t make much sense for me to encourage you guys to talk with one hand, then punch anyone in the mouth with the other for talking to me about stuff – but I feel that monochrome colours, hopefully eloquent wording and links to Wikipedia pages thrown around are the best ways to get my point across; remember, though, that there’s nothing wrong with capitalising your headers and putting exciting pictures on things if you want to.
Also, this blog has been going on for a week now, making it a longer-term commitment than any teenage romance ever. Who needs a girlfriend when you’ve got a blog!
Links, glorious links:
– Piggly Wiggly (the World’s first supermarket)
– The Sun’s front page (only visible at day time)
– The Guardian’s front page (only visible when there are things around worth guarding)
– This guy (perhaps the only thing in our society worse than printers)
– I’m so excited! (and I just can’t hide it…)