Monday, August 26, 2019

What's This? An Editorial?

Are you concerned about the future of blogging as a viable social medium? While entering Trackside Treasure's 12th year, I read this rather dismayed (but not defeated) post on Chris and Connie's Facebook page this week. Chris and Connie do a lot, see a lot, share a lot. They're committed. Their post is lightly-edited, with my thoughts at the end:

We're a touch worried...

We can't shake that feeling that this here Facebook page, and our HQ on the web, has run its course.

And it comes down to one reason really: engagement. It's fallen and continues to drop. We get scads of traffic between those two sites but in return the response tells us we've lost our audience. For example a recent week at had us greeting four thousand unique visitors, who on average read three separate articles (of the 1200+ there) and spent some ten to twelve minutes each browsing in total. That's 12k pages views and 666 person hours in those seven days. And from that came a single comment and one social share. And it's not like doing either is made difficult there. 

We operate these sites for fun (I don't how in some minds they think we make money off it – I wish) and with the hopes that other people will enjoy the experience too. But lately it's been the sound of crickets and of course that always present background noise from haters and the (fill in the blank) police. They always let us know they're around. If the positive vibes flow they can be drowned out though.

We really should be getting better results than we do. Not that we don't appreciate those who have been cheering us on and doing their part – we love you guys muchly. Please join them! We put a lot of time and resources – we're volunteers here people - to bring you these articles.

Plain and simple, if we're not hearing from you, via comments, here and especially at, by likes, shares or any other interactions the numbers tell us there's little reason to continue. Let's make this comparison...we're a band, a pretty good one too...exhausted but knowing we've done something great, the crowd gets up, turns and leaves without a sound. No ovation, no applause, no calls for an encore. Just deafening silence. That's the state of it. And it's been getting progressively worse for many, many months.

I also came across this post on Mike McNamara's interesting Northeast Kingdom blog. What I would normally call the 'death of a blog' admission (haven't posted here in a while) but notice the pivot to Facebook posting:

The illustrious Kingston Sub modeller Jason Shron also marked the pivot to Facebook:

Now, I've consistently stated that anything I do, online or in a book, is really for my own use and enjoyment. That sounds self-serving, and it is. But I'm not doing it then hiding it nor putting it up on a shelf in my office. I'm sharing it. If you or someone else gets something out of it, so much the better. But I catalogue my memories, some photos and observations this way. A quick glance at my Blogger statistics shows that my comments-per-post are pretty consistent: 0, 4, 2, 0, 3, etc. Can't really judge pageviews because of those weirdos in the Ukraine and India using my post to sell cars and shoes. Don't care.

Blogging is not the future. Facebook is not the future. Likes and shares is definitely not the future. Dollar signs are not the future. If engagement is the future, then engagement happens in a continuum. Years from now, I will send my Trackside Treasure posts to you in a single thought via some plasma channel or other StarWarsy hologram thingie. Whaaaa?

To help me with my quandary, I reached out to three fellow rail enthusiasts who are making excellent and varied use of social media: Dartmouth's Chris Mears plus Mark Perry and Steve Boyko, both in Winnipeg...

I asked fellow blogger Chris Mears about the blog/Facebook issue:
"I’m trying to create a balance. I get so excited by these things I like and the compulsion to share them can be hard to suppress, and I’m not sure it should be. I’d hate to think I was burdening my friends or a group with these outbursts so I created the blog and the Facebook page to act as outlets. I like the ease of posting content to Facebook from my cell phone and it feels like maintaining a sketch book of ideas. 

As the Prince Street Facebook page matures I think it plays well to exercise ideas that could mature into posts on the blog, which remains the heart of my creative output. In those two domains I have a place where I determine what is suitable content. As well, Facebook is becoming my primary cloud storage platform for my current railfanning photos. I’m willing to regard Facebook style of cost for that of other storage. The ease of Facebook seems to encourage it."

Winnipegger and TRAINS magazine contributor Mark Perry is posting almost daily to Facebook. What does he like about it?
"I pretty much only put my photos on FB, not much into writing magazine articles anymore nor do I want to post pics on sites like Flickr so that thieves like B**** can steal them. I like a story with every photo, and I try to shoot photos with a story behind every one of them.  Lets face it, I've had enough of 3/4 wedge grade crossing shots to last a life time. I like FB!"

Fellow blogger Steve Boyko puts it this way,
"My issue with FB is that we don't own the platform. FB controls everything, including if and when it decides to show our posts in feeds. I prefer to host the majority of my content on my own site where I control everything. If nobody comes, well, that's my fault for not writing something that people want to read, but at least I control that."

Sure Facebook and other social media are easier to post to. But they're not as 'permanent' or 'searchable' and that is really paying a compliment to blogs, which are known for being not all that searchable and who knows about permanent? We gravitate to what's easy. What's fast. It's tough investing time in a project if we feel no-one is giving us any return on our investment.

Not sitting here looking at charts and graphs of which of the social media are on the rise, and which are in decline. The next big thing for the young people? Myspace, facebook, blogs, email, portable cell phones, colour TV, talkie movies, sitting around the ol' Victrola? They come, they go, some stay.

While I enjoy the immediacy of Facebook, and the neat things I've learned and been part of there, I don't see myself gravitating that way for anything other than immediate things. I also don't see myself duplicating Trackside Treasure in Facebook form. But I do feel the pull of Facebook, and acknowledge that it's already pulled me away from Yahoogroups. Yet the strongest pull is the resiliency and depth that blogging offers me.

It's been said that writers desperately want to be heard. As a blogger, I'm a writer and photographer. I suppose photographers desperately want to be seen. I can do both these things on various social media. Blogging forces me to formalize, focus, format and forge posts that can be all about the past,  in the now, and updated in the future. [Ed. note - an effective editorial always concludes with a strong call to action. Cue the call to action!]

                                         It's time I stopped navel-gazing and get to work. 
To the ramparts! To the bookshelves! 
To the photo albums and notebooks! 
To seek, to strive, to share, to blog, and never stop!

Running extra...

Thanks to Chris, Connie, Mike, Mark, Steve and Chris Mears for their valued input and doing the work online, sharing what is nearest and dearest to them. Don't ever stop.

Congratulations to Winnipeg's Ian Lisakowski for being the first to note all five differences in Trackside Treasure's eleventh anniversary Lego Swap contest! The oft-coveted Trackside Treasure prize pack will be winging its way westward! Honourable mention to TLC's Railfan Sisters' Allison Gagnon for her studiously collaborative entry. Here are the substituted 'F-units' that were to be found! Good F-F-F-F-Fun!


Steve Boyko said...

Well said, Eric.

"I've consistently stated that anything I do, online or in a book, is really for my own use and enjoyment."
Oh, me too. If it ever stops being fun to write or share, I'll stop. There have been times when I've paused blogging for a few weeks, because I just wasn't inspired or I had other things to do. So far those times have been short, but if I ever lose the passion, it'll be time to move on. Hopefully that won't be anytime soon. I have a lot of things in the queue in my brain.

My quote makes me sound like a bit of a control freak, which I guess is actually pretty accurate. Huh.

Keep on writing, Eric, and we'll keep on reading. And commenting, occasionally ;)

Eric said...

Your quote only includes use of the word 'control' twice, Steve. That's not bad. Also, I don't remember giving you permission to be a control freak. (Oh, there I go again).

But you're right - this really is about control. And whether it be Railpictures, in print, or anywhere else, why would we not want to have more control? I believe that was the great, shining light of the Internet when Al Gore apparently invented it.

Thanks for both reading and writing, Steve. And commenting! Comment count for this post already stands at...2!


Jeff said...

Eric, thanks for bringing this issue to light. I must admit that after viewing thousands of blog pages, this is the first comment that I have left. I have til now taken for granted the fact that some authors would benefit from the simplest of gestures...appreciation of their efforts. Well good sir, no more! In the future, I will be sure to share my thoughts in the future with you and your blogging brethren. I have enjoyed tremendously your efforts and this blog has been a great resource for me. Keep up the fine work....please.

Eric said...

I appreciate your kind comments, Jeff. Sure, if something generates thoughts after reading a post, your comment is indeed welcome.

Having worked through the Facebook vs. blogging decision process, you can rest assured Trackside Treasure will continue full steam ahead!


J D Lowe said...

I've been blogging for around 10 years, and I must admit my blog stats were never at the levels discussed in the post. There have been highs and lows of course, and many times I've thought of giving up. There seems to be an unstated assumption in the wider world that if the blog isn't doing 'big numbers', 'being on brand', 'being targeted to a market' and so on where one would be considered to be an 'influencer', then why bother.

But over the years a small core of regular readers has emerged, and certain posts generate a steady stream of new readers, some who become regulars. I'm happy with that because I don't tailor my posts for mass appeal, and whoever finds them interesting are the ones I'd like to know and maybe have a conversation with. Maybe that isn't a big group, but so what. I like to think I'll give up when I've run out of things I want to write about.

I apologize for not directly addressing the facebook vs blogging question, but the opening about low metrics pushed some button in me :-)

Interesting post. Keep up the great work!

Michael said...

Here's my take. Now, I'm not part of the tinfoil hat brigade by any means, but I do not want Facebook to really have any more information on me than it already has. I visit some FB pages for a few moments, but as a writer, I enjoy deep dives much more than quick hits. I like FB and blogs for different reasons, but they are separate entities to me. I cannot see my blogging activities migrating to Facebook. I prefer to share the odd item on others' FB pages, like Eastern Ontario Rails, and leave it at that. I've always had the same outlook on my blog. I get what I get and I don't get upset. If people visit, great. If not, that's okay too. I just like talking about railways and sharing my thoughts with fellow fans. As a blogger that has to conserve his material, due to the scarcity of railfanning in Ottawa, I will always prefer the go-slow approach of a blog and let the people come and go as they wish. All I control is the quality of my writing and images. Everything else is out of my hands.

Eric said...

Hello J.D. and Michael,

I'm enjoying these comments!

J.D., yours is one of the most original, dare I say quirky, blogs out there. And I may not have ever left a comment! So what's that telling me? You put out a lot of content and it is unlike anything else, with some fantastic modelling! FS: I'll give up when I run out of things to write about. My take: Won't happen for a long time, if ever!

Michael, like J.D., you've built a substantial local community. They discuss issues that matter and there is indeed valuable sharing and support there. FS: Everything else is out of my hands. My take: So are the white doves they release at the Olympic opening ceremonies. Everyone loves seeing them.

Thank you both for your insightful responses! To the ramparts!

Allison said...

I just scanned your editorial post till I got to my name (!)...and so I feel honoured to be honourably mentioned on this honourable site! (And all my "ou" combos are getting red squiggly underlining as I type, but I hope they won't show up in Canada!) Congrats to the real winner, a real, but unrelated, railway person!! ;-)

Shane Stewart said...

Some of us probably have more of a "Lurker" status, but that doesn't mean your work is not appreciated.

Lord Darth McIan said...

Hi Eric,

I follow your blog with extreme regularity, and I'm not on Facebook, nor do I have a desire to be. The few FB sites I occasionally check are all accessible without being an FB person, so I'm good. No FOMO issues here.

I do have a notification that's sent to me via e-mail whenever TT has a new post, and I truly appreciate all the posts about PLaP and Winnipeg westward you make. Right in my time period and locale for modelling!!

Keep up the good work and can't wait for the coveted TT Prize Pack to arrive!


Eric said...

Thanks Allisoun, Shane and Ian for your comments.

I can be a bit of a lurker myself, not a reflexive commenter at all, but once in awhile I do enjoy commenting where I can be supportive, add more information or otherwise cajole.

Ian, the 'coveted' prize pack is on its way and I hope it turns out to be covetable. You'll be the judge of that!

Certainly FB brings with it so much potential FB drama. The 'shoot and scoot', 'fire and forget', 'smoke and sweep' nature of FB comments and discussion does not promote accountability or even honesty/reality. I'm big on keeping things real and if I can't, I tend to avoid things. So blogging is pretty accountable by comparison.

Thanks all for your support!

JasonPaulSailer said...

I don't have a blog like you and Steve have, but I always try to read each post that is posted and the occasional comment...

For me, it's nice to have access to the various Facebook groups, though at times the drama that does pop-up can be annoying and draining. Or finding out about events/news after the fact, due to "algorithms"...

Anyways, blogs like this are a great place to take a minute to unwind and catch-up, or to reflect on memories from years past. Keep up the great work Eric!

Eric said...

We're on the same page, Jason!

As for us, we also enjoy being trackside and capturing the passing scene, don't we?
I do believe that anyone 'reading' anything online is already 'engaging' with the one who posted it.

Thanks for your comment!

JasonPaulSailer said...

No problem Eric, I am glad we are on the same track. Keep up the great work!

Off the Beaten Path - with Chris & Connie said...

Chris & Connie here! Sorry, slow to react here and couldn't comment till now. Thanks for this - very insightful. We originally came into this game for the fun, and it's still fun, but it somehow grew into a monster of which we occasionally loose control. In many ways, I want to go back to those simpler days when we did it simply for us.

Things has since improved in regards to engagement, so I guess that's a plus. It's all about the pat on the back. Tell us we're doing good, via comments for example, and we'll keep pumping out the fresh content. Perhaps it's a bit narcissistic in that respect but silence motivates no one.

Anyway, I tend to babble on. Plain and simple, thanks.

Eric said...

Hi Chris and Connie,

Thanks for providing the flint and tinder for this post.

I'm trying to keep it simple and spaced-out so I can pace myself. I approach the process somewhat selfishly and indeed indulgently. But I enjoy pumping out the fresh content and if two or three are taking it in, we're good.

Hope you're doing OK, and keep up the good work!