Almost exactly one year ago today a little blog popped into being with the publishing of its very first post. It wasn’t a very interesting post, although it did have a nice photo of a plane … tilted to one side because its author thought it looked cool (it didn’t). The same author didn’t get around to installing Google Analytics for another couple of months so he can’t tell you how many people read that first post, but gut feeling? Somewhere less than ten.
And so, with that inauspicious start, whatsdavedoing.com was born.
Fast forward twelve months (and 95 posts) and things have changed a bit. From having nobody except my dad and the neighbour’s cat visiting the site in December 2009 to well over 100 people per day this month. From not being able to spell Twitter to having 700+ people silly enough to follow my abbreviated ramblings there, and another 170-something folks doing the same on Facebook. From making no money whatsoever to … well, still making no money whatsoever, but now not worrying about it in the slightest. And more important than any of the numbers, from barely knowing anyone else who thought that travel was the most amazing thing imaginable to meeting, virtually and physically, a huge community of other addicts who are just as crazy about seeing the world as I am. It’s been a wild ride.
Here’s the back story.
I’d kept a blog on one of my trips a couple of years earlier, mostly because I was way too lazy to send individual emails while travelling and bulk emails make me die a little on the inside every time I receive one. I’m still not sure why I thought that a blog would be less impersonal. Those posts are now imported into this site, so if you’re really particularly fascinated feel free to dig way back through the archives and track them down. Personally, I wouldn’t bother.
One day while trying to maintain the will to live at a soul-crushing job I found myself reading a New York Times blog called the Frugal Traveler. Wow, awesome, I thought. A guy that gets paid by the NYT to be a cheap-ass backpacker, travel round the world and write about it. Now that’s my best job in the world. Sorry, Tourism Queensland. While I didn’t actually believe I’d get a job like that (editors aren’t exactly jumping out of their seats to offer dream travel writing gigs to unpublished computer geeks, apparently), it did get me thinking about doing some writing for public consumption. Before I fell into working with computers for a living I’d planned to be a journalist, but other than writing a few contract articles for a local newspaper about several sports I knew nothing about or reviewing awful software for a short-lived computer magazine, I’d never had much of anything published.
After a quick Google search I stumbled across a site called Indie Travel Podcast which was looking for article submissions. In one of life’s more delicious ironies I’m currently sitting across a table from Craig and Linda who run that site, but at that time I’d never heard of it. They shouldn’t feel bad about that though, I’d never heard of any travel sites that weren’t owned by some massive corporate – despite having travelled on and off for a decade, blogging about it was pretty much invisible to me. Oh how that was about to change.
After writing a couple of articles for them and spending even more ‘work’ time browsing around the internet hunting out other many cool examples of this whole travel blog thing, I decided that what the world needed was yet another one. My little nephew was just learning to talk back then, and his favourite phrase every time I saw him was ‘what’s Dave doing?’. God knows where he got that from, but it was very cute. What better name for a website, I thought? Well, apparently, there’s a whole raft of much better ones if you actually give a crap about search engine optimisation but like everything else, that’s something I knew less than nothing about. And really, TravelWebsiteThatGoogleLoves.com is nowhere near as endearing when it comes out of the mouth of a toddler.
Being a geek finally became useful at around that point as I figured out how to get some hosting, transfer a domain, install WordPress and a whole bunch of other boring technical stuff that made a website work. I’d go into detail but unless you’re struggling with insomnia it may not be that useful. Once the site was up and running I took the approach common to every unsuccessful travel blogger – ‘write it and they will come’. Yeah, not so much. ‘Write it and it’ll be roundly ignored’, more like. Who wouldn’t love seeing 0 comments at the bottom of every post? It’s not demoralising at all. Shouting into the void is awesome. Hmmm. Maybe not.
And so it was time to start with the other approach common to every unsuccessful travel blogger trying to become less so – self-promotion. I noticed that a few people who apparently knew what they were talking about said that Twitter was a great way to get the word out there about your awesome content that nobody is reading. Despite my oft-stated antipathy towards anything that encourages communication without vowels, I decided to give it a go. Within a week or two I was totally hooked. Sure, it was a good way to get people to start reading my stuff but that was only a side benefit. I’d discovered this friendly, supportive and incredibly upbeat community of fun people doing amazing things who enjoyed nothing more than chatting about it all day. Who wouldn’t love that? I followed a few people, they followed me back and so it began.
Somewhere in there I’d managed to rescue my soul from being crushed and convinced my employers to give me voluntary redundancy, and so the three weeks of holiday’s that I had planned for the year rapidly turned into six months of solo backpacking instead. Awesome. If it was going to achieve nothing else, I thought, it would at least gave me a hell of a lot of new blog content.
Of course it gave me a lot more than that. I finally got to put a face to the online personas of a couple of dozen fellow bloggers that I’d been chatting away to for months. Many of them have become great friends as a result, and that is by far the best thing of all that’s come out of this little writing adventure.
As time has gone by, I’ve also started to discover my writing ‘voice’. It’s definitely a work in progress but it feels like as I’ve written more, I’ve stopped trying to sound like some sort of Conde Nast wannabe and started lightening the tone a bit. I’ve become a blogger, in other words. Much to the undoubted horror of my high school journalism teacher, I’ve rediscovered the word I. And started beginning a sentence with and. See, there I go again. And again. Oh crap.
With all of the travel, of course, the amount of time and connectivity that I had to publish new articles went down as quickly as the amount of potential content went up. My time was spent in buses and bars, on beaches and boats, instead of writing as much I would have liked or working on any of the 500 things that annoy me on a daily basis about my site design. Since finishing that trip a couple of weeks ago I’ve started writing more again and have fixed up at least a couple of those annoyances. Cool, only 498 to go. There’s a lot of work still to do – I’m no great coder and an even worse designer – but I’ll get there in the end.
In the tradition of all good retrospectives, this is the point where I deliver a set of grandiose plans for the next twelve months. Sadly, I don’t have any. That’s not to say that I don’t have plans – why, I’ve got armfuls of them – but they really aren’t all that grand. Working on my writing and regularly putting up more posts and other content – hopefully you guys and girls might even keep liking it enough to come back. Continue tweaking the site design and sort out some background technical stuff that’s been making things more difficult than necessary since day one (see, I told you I didn’t know what I was doing when I started). Get better at the other stuff needed to be a blogger – social media, SEO and all the rest.
And most importantly, keep being a part of and giving back at least as much to the travel community as I take from it. It’s that community that pulled me in, kept me motivated during the down times and may well help turn my life in a totally different direction from where I thought I’d be a year ago. With any luck, that might all translate into continuing to grow my readership at the same rate for the next twelve months. If not, it’s not going to stop me from writing, but I know myself well enough to realise that I write better for an audience.
Thanks so much for being a part of that very audience.
Have a great Christmas, and let’s keep the fun going in 2011!
If you’d not doing so already, I’d love you to follow me on Twitter and Facebook, and subscribe to the site (for free, of course) by RSS or email. It’s all part of that motivation thing I talked about, y’know? Thanks heaps!
[Image courtesy of AJU_photography]