Five Thousand Whats

Posted on April 20, 2013


SubscriberAs I write this paragraph, my blog is racing past a milestone that I would have, at one time, thought unreachable: five thousand subscribers. Now before you go getting all impressed – or thinking that I’m trying to impress you – please keep reading.

What does it mean to have five thousand followers? To the uninformed, including me just a few months ago, it suggests that a certain number of people are receiving an email notice whenever I publish something. If logic follows closely behind, we might then conclude that most of them would actually be reading the posts. That’s why they subscribed, isn’t it? Because they don’t want to miss a single word!

There’s a part of me that would like to believe that. Meanwhile, however, all the other parts conspire to assure me that this is some sort of mistake, a clerical error that has landed at least forty-nine hundred of those poor souls in the wrong place. We’re all busy. We have more things to do every day than we can handle in a week. Who can keep up with the rising tide of blog posts? And the stats bear this out. The number of visitors I get is a tiny fraction of the people who have asked to be notified as soon as there’s something new to view.

But clerical errors aside, why would they subscribe if they have no intention of coming back?

I’ve asked similar questions over the past couple of years. Why do I get emails that are filled with nonsense phrases – or contain nothing at all? What does a person gain from sending out blank messages? Just as puzzling, what reason could there be for someone to spend the time and mental energy it takes to write and transmit a virus whose sole purpose is to destroy the work of strangers and cause them unknowable inconvenience? What’s the explanation for the epidemic of spammers and scammers out there?

I have no idea.

But I’ve been paying close attention to the climbing subscription numbers, mostly out of curiosity, and some mild concern. The total jumped by a thousand in less than seven weeks. What have I done to cause this surge in popularity? Nothing. I’m not on Facebook, I don’t Tweet, and I rarely even talk or write about blogging. Yet new followers continue to arrive, currently at the rate of thirty-six a day. Why?

Just as there are people who do nothing but comb the latest additions to Freshly Pressed, there are others who apparently subscribe to blogs with the sole intent of receiving grateful feedback on their own sites. I’ve had Likes show up within seconds of my publishing a twelve-hundred-word post. No one can read that fast. Their goal must be to attract attention to themselves.

At least that’s the only explanation I’ve managed to find.

But what about the subscribers who don’t have a blog or a website? Many don’t even supply a valid email address. They’ve signed up, but there’s no way to identify or contact them. If they have something to gain, it isn’t clear. What are they up to? Again, I’m mystified. But I’ve picked up eleven more followers since the last time I checked.

Some of those who do have blogs appear to know little or no English. A few leave me comments in Dutch, Hindi, Mandarin, Farsi, or one of a dozen other languages. Because accurate translation is difficult, I tend to delete those comments. I worry a little that I’ve rebuffed a sincere reader, but I would worry just as much if I let a message stand that was decipherable to others but not to me. And I have to ask: if my post is written in English and it motivated someone enough to comment, why would they choose to do so in another language?Blogger

I’m the only one who can see a list of my subscribers, and I don’t go looking for them unless their blog is readily accessible. Being on that list, then, doesn’t seem to provide any obvious benefit. And still, they show up, most of them punching the clock and immediately disappearing again. They won’t leave a comment, unless it’s to sneak in a link to something self-serving. The vast majority will never read a word or say anything. They’ll just hover there in limbo, invisible, present only as a small effect on a four-digit number. A number that I have recently begun to consider meaningless. A number that, by the time you read this, will have surpassed fifty-one hundred.

The question is, fifty-one hundred whats?

* * * * *

Please understand that I’m not talking about every subscriber. I appreciate anyone who takes the time to read these posts, and I love getting comments. In fact, I believe a mutual relationship forms the very foundation of blogging. But there’s something else going on inside the walls. More than likely, it’s just a lot of harmless scampering, as the inevitable schemers pretend that they’re accomplishing something real. In truth, they’re just busy building a pointless illusion. I hope so, anyway.

As far as the numbers are concerned, I wanted to let you know that they don’t mean much. For me, if you’re really here, that’s all that counts.