Husbands notoriously, or at least stereotypically, forget their wedding anniversary. Having just failed to mark Heretic TOC’s second anniversary on time, I am unsure whether this reflects my unromantic nature as a male blogger, or whether blogging is not supposed to be a project one is faithfully wedded to anyway, or whether we should all divorce ourselves from anniversary angst.
Catching up belatedly on the fact this blog’s second birthday was on 8 November – oh shit it’s a birthday, that’s even worse: I missed the kid’s birthday! – I do actually see that it is a useful moment for reflection and thoughts for the future.
And I am delighted to report that even though I missed the actual day, so there was no party with candles to blow out and all that stuff, there has been a lot to celebrate: much more, surprisingly, than at the first birthday stage, which might be thought a more significant landmark. It is not just a matter of fact and figures, either, but starting with a few will help set the scene.
The average number of hits per day at Heretic TOC in the opening month, November 2012, was 89; in the corresponding month the following year there were 192; for this year the figure is up to 296. Hard comparative data are not easy to come by but there are some indications that these figures, especially the latest one, are strong for a specialist blog at the more highbrow end of the spectrum. By the end of the first year Heretic TOC had 40 “followers” subscribing to be notified by email when each new blog is published; there were 70 by the second anniversary.
A bigger story, though, is to be seen in figures indicating readers’ intensive engagement with Heretic TOC. The average number of comments per blog since the beginning has been about 29. But that masks an amazing rise seen in the last six months or so, and especially in the last three months. The last half dozen blogs have each attracted over 100 comments; the most recent, in the first month of the third year, has brought a record 366 and there may yet be more.
Many of these comments are not short, either, often stretching to several hundred words and sometimes a thousand. Usually well argued, they are also often richly informative, sometimes with links to important source material. By the second anniversary well over half a million words of comment had been published! By the end of November there had been over 3850 published comments in response to a total of 132 blogs. The mean average length of comment was around 150 words: some are just brief acknowledgements but the mean is boosted by far more substantial, contributions, as noted above.
Another noteworthy aspect of quality, as opposed to quantity, is that the briefest points (“Couldn’t agree more”, “Nice of you to say so”, etc.) tended to reflect the extraordinary courtesy and mutual goodwill of participants. It’s not even as if I have to battle to keep out flamers and trolls: I suspect those who visit the site with that in mind usually think better of it, realising that vicious abuse will simply reflect badly on themselves in the Heretic TOC environment.
All of this leaves me in no doubt that Heretic TOC is presently serving a useful function, even though the heretical thoughts aired here are no more influential in the world than they were when the blog started, indeed perhaps less so.
This certainty of purpose contrasts strongly with the situation a year ago, when the title of my anniversary blog said a lot about the existential crisis Heretic TOC was undergoing: What’s the point of it all, really? At that time, too, there were some really good commentators, but I felt newcomers were being put off by the bad behaviour of a few. I said I thought two thirds of the material was good, but:
The remaining material, though, including posts which had to be rejected on grounds of personal abuse, repetition of previous positions, incoherence, etc., involved me in some very difficult – indeed at times utterly draining and exasperating – bouts of moderating. This, indeed, has been by far my toughest task, which has at times thoroughly tested my capacity to be as calm, fair and objective as a moderator ought to be.
At this point, or soon after, I concluded that my moderating needed to be a bit tougher. It was a hard decision for a blog such as this one, which aims to encourage dissenting voices, not suppress them. I do not regret what I did, though. One year later there is a considerably greater range of heresy being expressed here, not a narrower one.
As for the future, I very much hope to be delivering a third anniversary report around this time next year. I may be unsure, as indicated above, whether blogging is a project one must be “faithfully wedded” to, but I’m not looking to get out of the relationship anytime soon. The sex* is too good for that!
There is a bit of an issue, but it is a good one, a problem of success, not failure. I find it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain a sensible blog/life balance now that the comments are so numerous. As the subject matter is so controversial, and as I have legal responsibility for what goes in, every post has to be moderated carefully. It is not a task that can be delegated and it eats up quite a bit of time. Accordingly, what I think I need to do from now on is to restrict the number of comments per blog to 100. I hope everyone can live with that. Also, I would ask commentators to review their posts and do a bit of self-editing on the longer ones, where possible. I do not want to impose a maximum length, as some posts fully justify an extended argument with lots of information. I just ask you to keep this question in mind: Could my post be expressed more concisely?
Another way around the problem, however, would be if there are heretics here with websites of their own who might like to host any surplus comments after the 100-limit is reached. I know there are a few of you with sites. This might also be a good way of handling the Open Thread idea proposed by James. I suspect such a thread could result in some very intellectually fertile debate because it would offer a chance to introduce fresh concepts and perspectives that would not be sufficiently “on topic” as a response to the blog of the moment. Anyway, I hope potential hosts will think about it and let me know.
A further “good problem” is that Heretic TOC’s back catalogue is now too big for me to access easily from memory. I can no longer recall, as I could for the first year or more, all the blog topics and their approximate dates off the top of my head. As some will have noticed, I do refer back to earlier blogs when the occasion so demands, but even with the Search facility and Keywords it is not always easy to find the ones I am after. So it has occurred to me I should make a title/date index with a short Abstract for each entry.
This thought led to another. Wouldn’t it be nice, I mused, to have a paperback book on my shelves for easy access to my favourite pieces, put together in a “Best of Heretic TOC” compilation including some of the best comments? This would be a valuable see-at-a-glance resource as well as a personal memento. In these days of print-on-demand publishing, it would not need to be a very costly investment of my money even if only one copy were ever produced. I could make other copies available for purchase for a very modest amount, though, if anyone else expressed an interest. I’m not going to big this up as a must-have purchase because plainly it will be nothing of the sort given that every word of the original blog will continue (WordPress willing) to be available into the foreseeable future. But, if I can get my act together in the coming months to do the editing, design, etc., it will become available for anyone who wants it.
If anyone has suggestions for particular blogs to go in the book, and also particular comments, including any of your own that you feel may be of lasting interest, do speak up. Yes, I know, with literally thousands of comments to choose from, it’s a tough selection to make; also, there is bound to be a bias towards recent comments, not least because they are more easily remembered. This doesn’t really matter too much, though, as I happen to think that many of the best comments have been made in the last six months.
That’s about it, I think. If you’ll excuse me, then, I’d better get off so I can go and bake that Heretic TOC birthday cake at long last!
*Legal disclaimer for humourless surveillance agencies: I mean the discourse of non-teleiophilic sexuality.