My 400th Blog Post
06/22/14 - 06:07 Filed in: Blog | Website
This blog entry marks my 400th blog entry and to say I am amazed is an understatement. I am going to take a little time to reflect on how this blog started and my expectations versus reality. To be honest I never expected it to last more than a year, two at the most. I always have considered this site to be a picture based website which happened to have a blog as part of it. But lately what I have been finding is many people regularly read the blog and really don't visit the picture area of the site. Early on this wouldn't have made much sense to me, but there are now getting to be nearly as many blog entries as picture entries.
Why a Website?: In 2003 I had picked up my Kenmore Elite 6 burner gas grill and I began to get serious about my grilling. I was starting to make more than just burgers, dogs and steaks on the grill. My grilling was beginning to cut into the time I spent on photography and I made the decision to give food photography a try. It would allow me to spend time pursuing two hobbies at once. If you were an iTools and later .mac member, Apple had service called HomePage which was a way of using it's iPhoto photo management software to create web pages full of photos. I started doing this for some of my cooks. I shared the url with some friends and family and to my I was getting some very positive positive feedback. In January of 2006 Apple announced their iWeb WYSIWYG web creation software. They were starting to phase out the type of web page creation I had been using and so I decided it might be fun to try out this new program. When personal websites became popular, they looked pretty crappy and were a bit of work to get these crappy results. Plus I really didn't feel I had anything interesting to share. But iWeb caught my interest, it was a WYSIWYG that produced beautiful results without having to know HTML. A website would be an outlet and a justification for my food photography.
Why a Blog?: One of the page types iWeb had was a blog page. Blogs started appearing on the radar screen in the late 1990's and by about 2005 had reached mainstream status. I was using this proposed grilling website as a real world exercise to help teach me iWeb, which I thought had great potential. I was trying to use all of the various page types on my site to learn iWeb, including possibly the Blog Page type. I was torn though, because many blog pages back then were often like daily or weekly personal diaries. Then and now, I really don't feel that I am all that interesting and I don't feel the need to share the details of my life with the world. I had received a lot of help from various websites and message boards when I was getting started with more serious pursuit of this hobby. I thought I might be able to have a blog where I shared my learning experiences with others. I really was torn though. I created the entire site without the blog before making my decision. I decided to write a few short blog entries to debut with the site. Not knowing what the future held for me, it was hard to know if I would have enough topics to write about going forward. So I entered the exercise with many "out" clauses, spelled out on the blogs main landing page. I said I didn't know how long I would keep it going and I also wasn't going to pin myself down to any kind of time schedule for new entries.
What am I Going to Write About: It has been an interesting run. My biggest fear all along was I would run out of topics to write about. There were times I really wasn't sure where the next blog entry would come from. I struggled a bit at times to find something interesting to write about. But my expanding grilling and smoking activities and my smoker, purchased late in 2005, provided a lot of early material as I was learning to use it. But I also started getting into world grilling, grilled pizza, baking my own hamburger and hot dog rolls, paellas, and multi-item cooks. When it seemed like I might be running out of new topics, my interests would evolve giving me new things to write about. The purchase of my Big Green Egg two years ago has provide a wealth of topics. Besides learning grilling, smoking and baking on the Egg, I have been doing new types of cooks which I never have done before. Items such as stir-frying, thick crust pizza, fritatas, quiche, rolls baked on the Egg, cookies, pies... The list goes on.
Grillin' and Smokin' v2.0: In the summer of 2011 I completely redid the site in the RapidWeaver software and changed the web host. I was forced into this but Apple stopping future development of iWeb and getting out of web site hosting. The RapidWeaver software was quite a bit more sophisticated than iWeb and gave me some new capabilities relating to the blog. I was able to easily add some site analytics to this version of the sitesite. The analytics have allowed me to taylor some aspects of the site to my users. Blog commenting works more reliably and for all years. The extensibility of RapidWeaver allowed me to add a yearly index of bogs and add a Java Script that allows the main page to show the last 10 entires and then show more entries as you scroll to the bottom of the page. Additionally there is a Contact Form that people use to get in touch with me. I don't tend to get many blog comments, but for whatever reason folks seem to use the Contact Form to ask questions I would expect them to use Commenting for.
Lies, Damn Lies and Statistics: The numbers from Google Analytics have revealed several surprises. First of all my blog gets the most visitors on my site. Technically the home page comes first, but that is to be expected. After that comes the blog area. I always looked at the site as a picture based web site with a blog that was sort of secondary in importance. But I can't argue with the numbers. As a result I have been taking the blog more seriously in terms of importance and trying to find good topics to write about. The second item that surprised me was where my visitors were coming from. In the fall of 2011 around 30 percent of my visitors were coming from outside the U.S. This really shocked me. I always figured a U.S. based BBQ website would appeal to folks in the U.S. and possibly Canada. Beyond that I didn't expect visitors from other countries. I looked at that stat for several months to make sure it wasn't a fluke. When it held steady I made a change to help my visitors from outside the US. I started using metric equivalents to all of the imperial measurements going forward. Over time I also went back and added metric equivalent to all of the imperial measurements in all of the existing blog entries in the archives. Looking at the percentage of visitors from outside the U.S. lately, it is up around 40 percent of the total. I would like to think the addition of metric units has helped that. The last figure that has proved interesting and very gratifying is in the 3 years I have been able to monitor the site usage the number of visitors has nearly doubled each year.
What's in it For Me?: The pleasure of helping others. Really. Over the years I received a lot of help from many, many people I can't ever thank enough. So I am thanking them by trying to help others the way they helped me. I make no money from the site, although I keep getting junk email from people who want to help monetize the site. Several of them are very persistent and don't seem to understand the concept of helping others being it's own reward. If I had to write entries to try to hit a certain schedule or to generate the maximum number of hits, it would take all of the fun out of this. Hobbies are supposed to be fun, for me this is a hobby. And actually there are some simple pleasures writing the blog too. I have found that organizing my thoughts to write a blog entry often helps give me a clearer understanding of what I an writing about. Some of my how to's have been useful to me when it has been a while between that type of cook. There are little things I may have forgotten in the time in between.
Then there is the pleasure in knowing people are reading what you wrote and it is helping them. Don't worry I am not getting full of myself or becoming a legend in my own mind. It is good to know other people are being helped. Otherwise what is the point of writing this type of blog? I will get comments on my posts in user forums on the web thanking me and people send in the contact form to me to say hi and thank me for something I wrote. This always feels nice. It is also a treat when your site turns up as the first result on a Google search. The first time it happened I was not expecting it. I started to read the description and I said: "Hey that sounds familiar." When I looked at the url it was a blog I had written. One of the things that is gratifying about this is it means I may have covered a topic that has not been covered by other sites. Since getting my Big Green Egg, I have been attending Egg related events. When I meet people there and they hear my name they will ask if I have a blog. My Big Green Egg dealer has also been sending folks to my site as a useful reference. All of these things help make me want to keep up the blog moving forward. I have no idea what I will be writing about, but this is nothing new.
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