Monday, February 05, 2007

This blog will receive its one millionth visit sometime later this week. I may very well miss it since I’m on the road on a business trip & don’t have regular access to the web. You can find the current number in the Site Meter box on the left column, just below the big Poets in Need button amidst all the link icons that separate out the blog archives from the blogroll.

It has been just short of four and one-half years since I started this project. At the end of the first full year, the blog had received some 50,000 visits, a number that today shows up in less than two months. Obviously, tho, those weren’t 50,000 different visitors any more than last year’s 350,000 visits represented that many distinct individuals. Rather, as best I can tell there is a core readership of maybe 1,500 people, folks who stop by somewhere between daily – a handful more often than that – and once a fortnight. These are people who never need to explore beyond this top page unless they’re working on some project and need to get archival.

Around this core is a somewhat larger number of individuals who stop by for a time – perhaps they’re taking a class & have been told by a professor to check it out – but who don’t develop the habit. These readers tend to look at a number of pages when they visit, but they may not last as readers more than a month or term.

These days, the average number of pages read per visit is fairly high – around 1.8 – suggesting that classes are actively using the site. Toward the end of summer, that number might drop as low as 1.1 or 1.2. Even the latter means that one out of every five readers is going beyond just the top page.

When I started this blog, my goal, as I’ve noted before, was to have maybe 30 readers a day, 30 being the audience size of what I take to be a completely successful reading. And I still think that any blog that gets 30 readers a day deserves to be called successful – indeed, I think you can have a successful blog with considerably less, since the point of the blog is not numbers but rather the quality of thinking that the form helps to bring out in you. But my model was obviously wrong, in that what goes on here is not a public reading – this is not a podcast, tho Didi Menendez has been trying to persuade me that it should be – but actual eye-mind-brain reading, if not exactly the way it’s done with books & hardcopy magazines, then the way it’s evolving online. Right now, my average visitor spends exactly three minutes each time they come by. That’s roughly three times the length it takes to read the words in this note up to here silently, but less perhaps than it would take to read these same words aloud.

What this suggests to me is that the web is more than simply a new distribution medium for the same modes of writing with which we’re all familiar. The idea that Jacket is a magazine is probably a very useful metaphor for its editors, but ultimately that’s what it is – a metaphor. I can’t say what will come next exactly, tho I don’t think flash poetry is it, precisely (tho it might be for concretists & visual poets). In fact, I think we’re about to see several different & somewhat contradictory trends occur simultaneously. One is that blogging has gone from being a new medium to an old one in just five or six years, tho to date nothing has shown up yet that suggests to me anything better. I tend to agree with my son who argues that social networking sites all suck. But that might not be true three to five years from now.

I also think we’re seeing something of a backlash to online content, as such. One history department has already banned the use of Wikipedia as a citable source for papers & there are certain to be others. Similarly, we’re already familiar with the model of the brilliant grad school poet-blogger who suddenly goes silent (or at least dampens down the activity markedly) the instant he or she gets a tenure track job, suggesting that there is a conflict (real or imagined) between community & career. As least such poets are being clear as to which value they’re going to pursue.

Similarly, I think there’s going to be – already is, I suspect – some clashing over whether it’s possible to do serious critical writing in this form. One of the most interesting things about last December’s MLA convention in Philadelphia was listening to one fifteen-minute paper after another & realizing that two-thirds had less in the way of ideas than the average blog note. And this was, by all standards, an excellent MLA convention. Try writing 200 MLA presentations in one year, tho, and your whole idea of what constitutes a critical piece of thinking is going to change. In this sense, the real promise of blogging is the one that it holds for changing what constitutes critical thought, literally marginalizing the academy as a site for such about poetry, returning critical writing instead to the poets themselves, most of whom do not teach, or do so only under the most abject of adjunct circumstances. Perhaps marginalizing is too strong a term – there are, after all, good people in the academy who do serious work – but at least “de-authorizing,” de-legitimating academic critical writing as such, forcing it to compete on an equal basis with the “deep gossip” of poets writing about their own work & that of others. Nothing could be healthier than that.

But mostly I want to say what I’ve said before when I’ve come across these little milestones in the history of this blog, which is thank you for stopping by, whether you agree with anything I write or not, or simply love to watch a train wreck in slow motion.