In case you are just tuning in: I’m taking a travel writing course through Matador U, a new media school for writers, photographers and filmmakers. This week’s assignment zoomed in on social media platforms and our connections to them. We were asked to find and critique five blogs in a geographical area of interest to us. What appeals? Visuals? Design? Content? Navigability? How would we make the blog better?
After this comb over, we were asked to check the Alexa rating of each, which is a web information system that identifies internet traffic stats and metrics. The site where you can find out that .000043 of global internet users visit your blog. Wow!
The final task involved setting up a Twitter account and an additional profile on another platform such as Stumbleupon, Digg or Reddit (insert groan and nauseating feeling of hypertonic trapezius muscles here).
Having just pounced upon expedia.ca sell-off flights to Belize for February, investigating blogs with a bull’s eye on manatees, quetzels, cashew wine, Ambergris and Caye Caulker seemed obvious. Finding five Belize blogs wasn’t an issue. Google matches revealed a strong presence of blogging expats, some even hawking promotional blog fan t-shirts and hats. However, the format, granny-friendly font and garage-sale advert clutter of most Belize blog pages led me elsewhere.
I decided to examine the blogs that I am already attracted and dedicated to.
Clearly, the strength of a blog’s writing is the magnetic force for me. The content can range from surviving the Burning Man Festival, Oregon’s best microbrews to chimp rescue stories to how to make sushi rolls out of mac n’ cheese. Similar to my writing force field, I read in the same manner. All over the map.
What I know for sure?
I refuse to read white script on black background, or blogs that have been brushed with too much Hollywood (flashing widgets, WIN THIS! and running scripts). I find danger in too many hyperlinks within the text. Like a magpie that spies something shiny, I too have been known to fly off, distracted, clicking a hyperlink to another page, never to return again. (Which means you are NOT allowed to divert from my page to discover my go-to blogs below. An alarm will sound.)
Clean lines. White space. Simplicity. Seductive, high resolution photos and engaging writing that meshes with my interests, or musings that spark interest, unplanned longer runs in the rain, another glass of wine, deeper conversation and restless sleeps.
Writers that mesh and spark:
An automatic network emerges among those who have worked with primates. I was initially virtually introduced to Andrew via a friend in Suriname who thought we might like to share and compare our Jane Goodal-esque love and chimp sanctuary volunteer experiences. His body of work is humble and honest, showcasing the grit of a writer’s life and hope in chimpanzee crusades. A former primatologist, sometimes CBC Radio One science columnist, sometimes vodka expert, the author of The Riverbones and The Chimps of Fauna Sanctuary writes intelligently here:
http://www.andrewwestoll.com/ Alexa: 13,226,465
Brene Brown–Ordinary Courage
With a PhD tucked up her sleeve, the University of Houston Research Professor poses big questions about vulnerability, courage and authenticity in a smart and accessible way. She made her rounds on Facebook in a viral way with her TED video (Ideas Worth Spreading) on the power of vulnerability. She captivates and enlarges a sentence in a remarkable way. And, I might just copycat her sidebar that spotlights what she’s listening to and what’s on her nightstand. It makes Brene Brown a little more 3D to me.
http://www.ordinarycourage.com/ Alexa: 256,306
We were both shortlisted for a prized travel writer internship position with G Adventures in Toronto and I admired his rock solid empowerment and personal brand from the get go. He is a former aerospace engineer turned brand & marketing strategist and leadership coach. I gravitate towards his writing because he adheres to his blog mantra when he posts: Dream. Explore. Discover. Inspire. He is also consistent with his brand via Facebook and Twitter and has a graphically tidy and splashy site:
http://ryancoelho.com/ Alexa: 7,379,662
A Bus Called Forward
A mutual friend in Mexico thought Keph (Matador U alumni) and I would get on like a house on fire with our shared passions. He thought our writing had a similar slant and groove. I was flattered and became hooked on A Bus Called Forward. Keph’s photos will transport you to everywhere she has been in a blink and her succinct words fill in the textures, temperature and tastes.
“When she was 28 years old and I was only 5, my mother bought a renovated 1950s school bus and named it Forward. We left Toronto in the spring, driving westward towards the Pacific. Her incomprehensible plan was to drive to New Zealand but Forward blew a radiator hose in the mountains in the interior of British Columbia. Ever pragmatic, my mother sold the bus for $500 and a wheelbarrow, and started a garden. I haven’t stopped moving, but my mother’s still there, still gardening.”
http://www.abuscalledforward.com/ Alexa: 4,315,987
Julia Dimon: The Travel Junkie
A few years ago I was velcroed to an OLN (Outdoor Life Network) program called Word Travels that followed two scrappy travel writers pitching and landing gigs as fast as their planes around the world. Firecracker co-host Julia Dimon has visited 80 countires on all 7 continents. She is hopeful, insightful and a writing dynamo. Her site is glossy, enviable and the ultimate time-sucker. In a good way.
http://juliadimon.com/julia/blog.php Alexa: 4,611,331
About the Alexa Ratings
My blog currently perches at 3,206,262 in worldwide blog rankings. Is this good? How many jellybeans in the jar does that equal? This does not change my life in any way. Do I really care that 3.55% of visitors keyed in “he farted in a hermetically sealed suit” and were led to my blog? Did I ever mention farting in a hermetically sealed suit? Should I take note that high impact search queries were tagged on the following terms: cat crap coffee, chips with gravy, bug bite soup, rotten confessions, Czech beer and chocolate covered marshmallows?
The Alexa rating serves a purpose to someone, but, it won’t influence my writing enough to narrow my niche to farts and marshmallows.
About Twitter, Stumbleupon, Digg, Reddit
I just can’t. I can’t be responsible for another social platform. I feel like I’m trying to barf up content in too many places already. Facebook obligations alone have angry “friends” upset with my lack of communication (interpreted as “ignored”). I drop off the face of Facebook for a few days to enjoy life as it was before the Techno Whore Wave of the 2000’s and I am berated. I can barely remain verbally active on Twitter. I refuse to Tweetchat or Twitpic. I don’t want to Stumbleupon anything else, there are enough viral videos and cuddly kittens and tsunami dog love stories on Facebook.
If shunning more social media platforms will be the detriment of my writing career, I’m okay with that. I’m not Twitter-friendly enough because I don’t have a cell phone. And I don’t have one for a reason. I would disconnect my home phone if I could. I never check my home phone messages when I’m at work, or away—mostly because I don’t know how to, but also because I don’t need to. I’m not that important, and socialites have to move in mysterious ways sometimes.
Social media is an accessory, not a necessity in my life. It has its place like shortbread for breakfast, Kobe beef and champagne. I can’t do it all the time. I will commit to my blog, the established blog writers that stretch my static thoughts, to intermittent Twittering and near-daily smartass Facebook updates.