A-lister conspiracy theories and dreams of easy success

There’s an interesting conversation happening right now about the equity or insularity of the blogosphere.

(Nick Carr, Kent Newsome, Labnotes, and Chip’s Quips are covering it as well. And now, Shel Israel.)

Partly, it’s the perrennial A-lister bitch-session: why am I not in the Technorati Top 100? Partly, it’s the angst of someone who started blogging with great expectations only to find he’s talking to himself in an empty room.

In other words: why aren’t “they” listening to me? Most especially, why aren’t “they” linking to me? (“They” being the top bloggers out “there.”)

Bloggers start blogging full of piss and vinegar, ready to take on the world and win, zoom up the Technorati rankings, get links from everyone, earn $100/day from AdSense, get the (supposedly) cushy panel speaker invitations and keynotes at hotter-than-flame conferences with weird names, receive free stuff from funky companies with missing letters, eventually write the book, make a million (or ten, a million isn’t what it used to be), and ride off into the sunset. Easy, isn’t it?


This is real life
This isn’t the movies. And this isn’t the crazy-stupid-brilliant flash-in-the-pan that you hear about from time to time, and wonder why you didn’t think of.

Anything worth doing is hard. Doing anything well is hard. It takes time. It takes effort. It takes talent. It takes skill.

But sorry, that’s not enough.

The L factor
Here’s the hardest part for any of us to accept: It takes luck.

We’d have it a lot easier if there was a clear-cut algorithm for success. Do X amount of work for Y number of days with Z degree of skill, and you’ll be successful.

Sorry. I wish it was true. But it’s not.

Some weird magic happens in the world.

  • Some wacked-out left-field idea like Snakes on a Plane just comes out of nowhere and hits a home run.
  • Some odd idea like getting people to write secrets on postcards and send them to you so you can post them on a website results in a top ten blog and a successful book.
  • Some 18-year-old kid creates a piece of software that others start contributing to that turns out to be really good and amazingly popular.
  • Some slightly-shady entrepreneurs take an old idea and a lousy site and sell it for over half a billion.
  • Some crazy geniuses create the best hardware/software combination the market has ever seen and spend decades struggling to get to 5% market share.
  • Some other crazy geniuses with duct-taped glasses buy a piece of junk software, land a distribution deal with a clueless giant, and become the most profitable company in the world.

The point
It doesn’t always make sense. In fact, it usually doesn’t. Success or failure in any venture, blogging, business, or personal, is a combination of so many factors that predicting it is virtually impossible. Ask stockbrokers.

This doesn’t mean you can’t stack the deck. It doesn’t mean hard work doesn’t pay off. It doesn’t mean that skill and intelligence and tenacity don’t make you more likely to succeed.

It just means that shit happens.

Ecclesiastes says it best:

I returned, and saw under the sun, that the race is not to the swift, nor the battle to the strong, neither yet bread to the wise, nor yet riches to men of understanding, nor yet favor to men of skill; but time and chance happen to them all.

A-lister conspiracy theories
It’s hard, sometimes. I know. You don’t get the link you think you should – the one you think you deserve. I’ve had it myself.

The reality is, the blogosphere is a big place. Lots happens. Conversations abound. Blogs proliferate. Attention is limited. Blogs shoot up, blogs tumble down. Enough churn occurs to make me believe that success is still possible.

But you are already more successful than you know. Think about it: there are now 52 million blogs. 52 million!

Let’s say your blog is ranked 39,756 (coincidentally, just like the one you’re reading right now.) How lucky are you?

Let’s break it down:

  • If you’re in the top 5 million, you’re 1 out of 10
  • If in the top 500,000, you’re 1 out of 100
  • In the top 50,000, you’re 1 out of 1000
  • just for fun, let’s continue …
  • Top 5000? 1 out of 10,000
  • Top 500? 1 out of 100,000
  • And top 50? 1 out of 1,000,000

See the point? Even being in the top 100,000 is an accomplishment! (Of course, for all of us who are serious about this blogging journey, it may not be enough. It may not satisfy.)

We have to have a sense of realism. If everyone was a star, there’d be no fans. Not all of us, as Russell Crow said in Master and Commander, become the man (blogger, woman, person) we once hoped we’d be.

Maturity is the ability to see that fact without becoming bitter.

Genius is the ability to see that fact without becoming bitter – and to continue to hope, and continue to fight against the odds – and perhaps, eventually, through blood and sweat and tears, succeed.

It’s magic. Just don’t quit the day job.


Want weekly updates? Of course you do …



14 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Great post. One should also view blogging in terms of who is reading you, not how many. That may just be the convenient point of view from somone whose blog is not in the top 100, but at the end of the day, I think it still holds true. By the way, I believe Ecclesiates is credited with saying “shit happens” as well, just not very often.

  • This is a fantastic take on the absurdity of this particular meme, but the quote from Ecclesiastes promted me to post. Translation: Life isn’t fair, get over it! And while you are at it, look at how great it is to be alive and in the top 100,000. I love it!

  • John…came over from the link you posted on Nick’s blog…

    you are so very, very right! the points you make are some that a number of folks I know have been saying for well nigh a year now on this old meme. Unfortunatley, I doubt it will die because there are a number of malcontents who are stuck in the angst you mention. They’re seriously unhappy that they’re not bigger than they hoped to be…

    In many ways it’s like listening to girls who thought they’d get discovered sitting at the counter of Schwab’s Drug Store, just like Lana Turner, only find out that lightning never strikes twice, if it ever struck in the first place.

    Blogging is what it is–it’s what you do off-blog that makes you something other than….

  • If my blog was in english, i’d definitely link it to yours. This post was truly inspiring. For a moment there, I completely forgot we were talking about blogging. I guess it’s all part of the same old reality.


  • John, you hit a home run on this one – persistence, luck, hard work, and optimism; the way of the world (and history, as you so aptly point out) dictates you need all to make the magic. And thanks too for putting those darn rankings in perspective! All the best.

  • “This doesn’t mean you can’t stack the deck. ”

    I think this is the key point. This is not the lottery… there’s a LOT we can do to greatly improve the odds of having the readers we *want* to have. This is no different from any other kind of “product” — if it’s not something readers value and find worth their time and attention, they’ll go elsewhere.
    The great news about blogs is that–unlike, say, novels–you don’t need to have an agent (now THERE is a true gatekeeper scenario). With blogs, we can ALL submit “unsolicited manuscripts” to the entire world, every day. We don’t need A-listers to do that. We need hard work and some skills (see: Napolean Dynamite)

    Yes, there are people who’ve done it through luck, but some of us don’t want to leave that much to chance. Besides, the ones that get “lucky” often do not have a sustainable model once the novelty wears off. The RIGHT kind of hard work has more staying power. And by “RIGHT kind”, I mean, the kind where we put the reader–not our content or ego–first.

    I’m so glad that someone–YOU–wrote this. : )