Thursday, September 02, 2010

Belshaw's World - blank screens, spam and Captain Thunderbolt

Those of you who write on a regular basis will know what it’s like to have a blank screen day, one of those days when the words just won’t flow. To add to my woes, I have been suffering from a spam attack.

I woke up this morning with the need to write this column looming over me, and then had to spend three quarters of an hour going through deleting spam comments.

I am not quite sure why certain Chinese sex sites have decided that my blogs are a suitable place to lodge comments with links, but they have. The same applies to various purveyors of get rich quick schemes.

I don’t actually mind a bit of shameless self-promotion, so long as the promotion is in some ways linked to the original story. However, the link between various Asian beauties all described in Chinese and the question of whether or not Australia is a Christian country is, at best, uncertain!

My blog stats allow me to monitor the most popular posts on my various blogs.

Over the last month, by far the most popular post on my personal blog has been a post I wrote back in November 2008, Sunday Essay – the importance of quiet time in a crowded world, followed by a post from February 2008, Report of the NSW Aborigines Welfare Board, year ended 30 June 1940.

The two most popular posts on my New England blog in the same period were again older posts, Margaret Olley's New England connection and The Poetry of Judith Wright - Bora Ring.

I mention this because the spammers appear to be reasonably good at targeting some of the more popular posts, leading to the type of silly result that I referred to earlier.

The question of what people like to read always interests me, as it does most writers. After all, we all want to be read!

I write for two quite different audiences.

The first is that small group of regular readers, whether of this column or the blogs. I know many of this group because of comments or other feedback. Here I just try to be interesting, although my tendency to ride-off after my own hobby-horses sometimes detracts.

The second audience is that which comes to my writing through search engines. This is far larger, over 80 per cent of blog traffic.

People use all sorts of search terms to find the sites. Most come in, scan and then leave. They appear in the stats as one page view, 0 seconds.

I used to get a bit of a complex about this. Surely my writing was good enough to hold them for just a second?

The reality is that people coming in through search are looking for specific things. They can tell almost instantly whether or not the post in question has anything for them.

Far more satisfying are that very small number who stay and look.

Monday this week, for example, I had a visitor from Sydney who came in searching on Kempsey New England. That visitor stayed for almost fifteen minutes, with fifteen different page views.

Most satisfying of all are those who provide a personal response to stories.

A story I wrote on the search for Captain Thunderbolt drew a comment from David Donaldson. Now I had no idea who David was. I had to look him up.

It turns out that David, the first Director of the Sydney Film Festival, was a personal friend of director Cecil Holmes and had been driving the search for the lost film. In turn, this led me into further research and writing.

I have no idea whether or not a copy of the full 35m film can be found. I would like to think so, although I don’t feel confident. However, I had a lot of fun going through stills, looking at the shorts, identifying people and locations.

I never know with this type of thing just where I might end up.

To find a film still showing Aunt Kay (Kathleen Vickers nee Drummond) and Mrs Roy Blake (wife of the Express editor) that I could match with a photo of extras from the family collection is obviously satisfying.

Just as satisfying is the feeling that I can now put the movie into a better context.

Well, I seem to have come some distance from the issue of spam. Still, I now have a full screen. Time to finish this meander!

Note to readers: This post appeared as a column in the Armidale Express on Wednesday 25 August 2010. I am repeating the columns here with a lag because the Express columns are not on line. You can see all the columns by clicking here for 2009, here for 2010

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