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The More I Learn, the Less I Broadcast

The More I Learn, the Less I Broadcast

This is an official rant. It's very long.

An incident today really threw a spotlight on a major attitude change of mine, which has happened within the last six months to a year. I no longer look to any public webcomics blog or forum to productively share and receive information about webcomics. I barely participate. I'm genuinely disgusted with the state of webcomics discussion, and it's not worth my time either to wade in and try to raise the level of debate, or to keep sifting for signal in all the noise.

As has been mentioned in the Comixpedia News section, I was on a webcomics panel this weekend at PenguiCon. The other panelists were Howard Tayler of Schlock Mercenary, Eric Millikin of Fetus-X, and The_Ferrett of Home on the Strange. The topic was one I came up with in email discussions with Howard and Eric before the con (I wasn't aware that The_Ferrett was going to be joining us, or he would have been included.). "Webcomics Haves and Have Nots: As webcomics begins its second decade as a medium, the vast majority of web traffic still is directed toward a tiny fraction of all titles. What do the disparities in traffic numbers indicate about art, society, entertainment, and free choice?"

So it was a panel about traffic. And in preparation, I did some research.

Actually, a LOT of research. I am a data analyst in my day job, with coming up on 10 years' professional experience in Oracle, Access, FileMaker, etc. I went out and gathered data to fill a spreadsheet with all available statistics for something like the top 150 webcomics titles as of Summer 2005, and their corresponding data for Spring 2006. I was hunting for trends, oddities, general rules...anything the data might show me.

I learned a lot. Some of my firmest beliefs and predictions were proven untrue ("proven" and "untrue" being two words I do not use carelessly). I shared the spreadsheets with Howard and Eric. They agreed that what I had there was damned eye-opening. Howard said every webcomics person who was serious about growing their traffic ought to see those numbers. This was literally a large set of data which had never been put together before, and what we had learned from it was valuable information that we alone possessed.

Eighteen months ago, I would have taken Howard's remark to heart, written an analysis of that data, and published it on Comixpedia with the actual spreadsheets and some graphs. Instead, I showed the spreadsheets to only two other creators. Both of them were blown away by the quality of the data and the things it showed. One of them radically re-evaluated his idea of his own comic's place in the bigger picture, as had Eric and Howard and I.

The panel didn't quite go in the direction I had hoped. There was a lot of apologizing for the focus on traffic numbers, which I saw as the point of the panel. Everyone was quick to point out we weren't equating traffic numbers with success, that there were other metrics, dimensions, limits, factors, yadda yadda yadda. Yes. Fine. Points conceded. Can we talk about traffic, though?

I tried to make some points that were dry and had math and numbers in them, but were exciting to me because they answered questions I had wondered about. I threw a lot of numbers out there.

Today, I learned that the numbers probably didn't stick.

The_Ferrett is a nice guy and was an exemplary panelist. But although he's an extremely popular blogger, and makes a very good comic, that comic is 4 months old. He was a 101 student in a 425 seminar, acquitting himself well but out of his depth. I know because I have been in his shoes. On my first webcomics panel in 2002 I had a 45-day-old clip-art comic I was then making in MS Word, and I was dropped in among the likes of Pete Abrams, Jon Rosenberg, and Peter David.

Anyway, he assumed it was fine to blog about the panel. I can see why he would assume that. He'd be within his rights to repeat anything that was said in public.

But I don't do that. I don't actually know anyone who does. I've been known to repeat something said on a panel at one con, when I was at a later con. Question: "Did anyone ever try doing [IDEA]?" Me: "Well, I know Bill Holbrook said he tried [IDEA] and got good results..." But I don't discuss panels the next day in my con report, except for the best one-liners.

The_Ferrett blogged the numbers I was throwing out at the panel, to support the concepts I was explaining. On top of that, he got most of them wrong.

I posted to his blog that I was unhappy, and he pulled the post immediately. As I say, he's a nice guy. But I had to explain why I was upset. And to do that, I had to explain to myself why I was upset.

There is a reason I have not made these data points public. It's because I don't want or need an argument.

The state of webcomics dialogue is abysmal. The public discussions are dominated by loud, petty, self-deluded asshats who aren't remotely interested in learning anything by analysis. Half of them are arguing about their wounded feelings, and half of them will viciously argue that the sky is green, if they think it'll make them seem like bigger men on campus. (And next month they'll be arguing "blue" for the same reason.)

The way I look at this, I went and found some things out on my own, from publicly available and a few private sources of data. I did that because I wanted to know. There are things that only hard data and math can show you, and you don't know the answer until you crunch the numbers.

You can't learn everything from raw data, of course. Not even from experimentation. But if all you do is sit around and chew the fat and try to deduce truth from anecdotes, you don't get any closer to the truth; you just get big huge empty philosophy books.

What you get, really, is Aristotle telling everyone that the Earth is the center of everything, and objects fall because they're seeking their natural resting place. In other words, total bullshit that sounds reasonable and wonderful. If it's a really BEAUTIFUL bad idea, people will believe it for thousands of years, until someone finally looks at hard facts and says, "This is not the case. It has never been the case."

I learned from what happened after Jon Rosenberg played Copernicus to Scott McCloud's Aristotle last year. The micropayments experiment proved (again, a word I am extremely cautious about) that the BitPass model is woefully inferior to Goats' existing revenue model, and probably to every other working model there is.

I watched some people attack the experiment and the experimenter, rather than assimilate the new available data and change their worldview to cope. McCloud himself fired shots at Jon over it.

I then saw Jon shrug his shoulders and essentially say, "I learned what I needed to know, I shared it with the community, I got pissed on for it, but whatever. I'm now moving on, with more answers than I had before." And then he proceeded intelligently toward more success.

Well, I am in a real fuck-the-community mood lately. I don't see why I shouldn't just skip the "getting pissed on" step and move right to the "proceed intelligently" step.

I do put a lot of value on my personal relationships with other creators. But these days, if I have something important to say that Creator A will want to know, I will email it or call him or her. I will not put it out there where Creator (oh, let's pick an initial at random) G, can use it as a soapbox to stand up on and sell bottles of Insanity Tonic.

I don't care to argue. Defending your data may be valuable when the challenger is knowledgeable and rational. But I don't need to defend it to anyone who'd see it as a threat to the self-aggrandizing bullshit in their head and heart. It taught me what I needed to know, and I'll share it with people I have a personal connection with. My friends tend to be courteous, curious, and sane.

I'll even talk about it on panels, so people will know what I think and why. They don't get to see the spreadsheets, though. I no longer feel the responsibility to put good, helpful information out into the public view.

I feel that I have all but exhausted public discussion as a way to learn anything meaningful about webcomics. The people who write the biggest volume of words in webcomics blogs seem mostly to be the ones with illusions to protect or self-esteem problems to shore up, or the ones who see drama as a form of entertainment, or the ones who think their social status among creators is more important than the success of their comic.

But whatever troll species they are, they're saying very little that matters to a struggling webcomics creator who just wants to know the truth.

So. I stay away. As do a lot of the other creators with a degree of professionalism, at least most of the time. We find each other, and then talk about real stuff.

Re: The More I Learn, the Less I Broadcast

I agree that people seem interested in the entertainment value of "webcomic drama," but I'm sorry you feel it means you have to refuse to spread actual, hard numbers.

I always assumed that power laws of distribution were in effect, and that meant the majority of webcomics -- when compared to other webcomics -- would fall into the "long tail" simply due to ordinary social interactions among the audience.

This would be good news for aggregators (such as KeenSpot, Modern Tales, etc), who offer a wide choice, even if some of those choices are individually unpopular; not so much for actual creators, who would still be looking for a "hit" so they could get a larger audience (whether for the ego of getting more readers than most other creators, or for the potential of pulling in enough cash to make their work their dayjob).

Did your findings suggest the long tail distribution was not in effect? If so, that would be a major discovery (it would mean an important difference must exist between how webcomics audiences behave versus either blogs or podcasts, for example).

Also, typing this, I just noticed my own bias: I assumed that this would be a comparison of webcomics against webcomics. I have seen very few articles anywhere comparing webcomics against other forms of Internet entertainment. When you said "bigger picture," were you implying you actually made such a wider comparison, yourself?

As for your mention of The_Ferret getting the facts wrong: that is why you would want to make the findings public. It is hard to know what the correct facts are if they remain unavailable -- and dependent on someone who might have been scribbling hurried notes during a panel -- instead of reading them from someone who had the chance to sit back and put it together with the assist of the source material and a word processor.

I hope you change your mind. I have nothing to offer concerning the twits who feel a need to get nasty, but then many published papers on a great number of subjects are greeted with scorn when they say something that does not agree with the generally held consensus. Your call, and good luck.

Re: The More I Learn, the Less I Broadcast

[quote=pclips]I went out and gathered data to fill a spreadsheet with all available statistics for something like the top 150 webcomics titles as of Summer 2005, and their corresponding data for Spring 2006. [...] Eighteen months ago, I would have [...] written an analysis of that data, and published it on Comixpedia with the actual spreadsheets and some graphs. [...] I have not made these data points public [...] because I don't want or need an argument. [...] I no longer feel the responsibility to put good, helpful information out into the public view. [/quote]

You seem to have taken this very personally and, to some extent, I can see why. You should still publish the data, though. You don't have to enter into an "argument" about it. If the numbers stack up as you say they do, then for every boor who takes issue with the data, there will be a hundred readers who understand it but don't reply. That's the nature of the web.

Flaming your detractors may help you let off some well-justified steam but making the results of your analysis public for the more rational-minded creators to read would say far more.

Besides, I'd really be interested to know what we're talking about here!

Broken Voice Comics
Because comics are not just for kids


Broken Voice Comics
Because comics are not just for kids

certified database monkey

Fabricari's picture

As a certified database monkey, I'm greatly interested in both data and analysis regarding webcomics. In the last year I've conducted a number of experiments to draw attention to Fabricari, including a brief ride on the drama-wagon. Everything brought some traffic, but nothing - NOTHING beat advertising.

I'd like to see if that corresponds with your results.

However, I'm not sure why you posted, just to tease? Of course, some people won't like the measuring stick of traffic. Makes em feel bad the way I do every time I watch "boogie-nights". It's not the size of your data, but how you use it, no?

Fabricari - Sexy Robots and Violent Cyberpunk Comics

Steve "Fabricari" Harrison


The William G's picture

This is all like when Moses climbed the mount to get the commandments of god, and he found everyone dancing around Baal when he got back. So he's punishing us by smashing the stones that'd lead us out of out darkness because he's deemed us unworthy of his wisdom.

The moral highground: It's all relative to the size of your ant-hill.


The William G - Romantic Drama, Post-Apocalyptic Monsters, and More Comic Experimentation

Re: Uhhh

pclips's picture

If only there were enough smashed stones left over to brick up your fucking cave.

You don't need a Moses, Creator G. You need a Frederick Chilton.

Pathetic, Rob

The William G's picture

What's the point of this Rob?

There are a lot of assholes in webcomics? I've been saying that for a while now. No news here.

This whole diatribe is nothing more than a round about flame-bait for me? That's pretty pathetic of you. Show some sack next time.

There are people out there who dont think, act, or approach comics the way you think they should and you're just lashing out due to frustraion? Tough fucking shit, Rob. Learn to live with it. I am.

Or were you just hoping, in that overinflated manner you have when you're online, that we'd all go, "Oh golly Mr. Pclips! Please don't deny us your wisdom. We'll stop being sinners in your eyes because your spreadsheet hold the secrets we desire!" How egotistical of you.

If your spreadsheets can withstand the arguments and scrutiny, people will eventually see things your way. Like how it went down with Jon's bitpass experiment. But I guess you forgot that part.

Is it all of the above?

I agree with a lot of your points Rob. People online are vile in the way they're not in person. But you went and acted in exactly the same manner as those of us who are unworthy in your eyes with this flame-baity, egotistical, pile of shit.

Rob, put your money where your mouth is next time and act up to the superior level you obviously feel you're at. Post your data and let it's obvious truth set everyone free. Sinners and saints alike will decide if we find it worthy.



The William G - Romantic Drama, Post-Apocalyptic Monsters, and More Comic Experimentation

Not About You

Xaviar Xerexes's picture

I don't think Rob's point is rendered moot because of any comments you've previously made WillG.  You don't have a monopoly of perspective on the topic.

And I  think we really don't need to turn this thread into Rob versus WillG.   Please stop with the personal stuff ok?  I'm asking both of you - Rob and WillG.



Xaviar Xerexes 

I am a Modern Major Generality.

I run this place! Tip the piano player on the way out.

Dont put words in my mouth

The William G's picture

I don't think Rob's point is rendered moot because of any comments you've previously made WillG. You don't have a monopoly of perspective on the topic.
I've not made any claims that I'm an expert in anything. This is a pile of bullshit fanboy character assasination placed upon me.

And I've not claimed Rob's point is moot. If you noticed, I've agreed with his assessment of webcomic people.

What I dont a agree with the pointlessness of this whole thing. If he didn't actually want everyone to beg him to show his data of mystery to us so we could tremble in awe of his wisdom, he wouldnt have come on in such a self-important manner. As it stands now, he's venting his frustration on a convenient target because the guys at the con didn't want to play the game the way he wanted them to.

And he did take a couple of very blatant shots at me, so the following...

Please stop with the personal stuff ok? I'm asking both of you - Rob and WillG
...Is a whole lotta "too late" on your part. You shoulda stepped on it immediately.

I know you're pals, but I've come to expect some sort of rational perspective out of you that I always fail to find elsewhere in this diseased, inbred, little corner of fandom we call webcomics.

You know something... it aint all webcomics people. There are a lot of people out there who dont know shit about arrogant fucks like William G, Kurtz, Straub, Balder, Coffman, etc... They have no idea that a bunch of guys who think their opinions are the only valid ones are willing to cut each other's throats at any given chance.

Fuck, the more I'm exposed to this crew, the more I wish I never got involved to begin with. To think I actually held you all in some sort of esteem once for your "DIY" attitudes. Turns out it's just the same cliquish pile of crap you find everywhere.


The William G - Romantic Drama, Post-Apocalyptic Monsters, and More Comic Experimentation

Say Wha?

Xaviar Xerexes's picture

 1.  I don't owe the Internet nor Comixpedia 24 hour supervision.  If people start pissing on the site I do what I can when I see it.  So don't give me any crap about being "too late" - you own what you post and everyone makes the choice to click "post" or not.

 2.  Sure I know Rob - I've met him at several WWs.  I don't see what that has to do with asking both of you to cool it.  I'm hardly part of any webcomic "clique" seeing as how everyone finds a reason to be pissed off at me from time to time.  All I ever ask from people is to be civil, it's not that much to ask really.

 3.  Even I, who blogs the "news of webcomics" almost every day (and has for the last 3 years) don't care about the arguments between the people you listed 99% of the time.  Hope that puts things in some perspective.


I don't even know how to respond to the rest of your post WillG - it's like it's from another reality.  I wrote was a neutral statement asking for a little civility and you view it as an attack on you and another sign of "this diseased, inbred, little corner of fandom we call webcomics." 


And since I don't have time to babysit this thread today I guess that's going to be the last word in it. 


Xaviar Xerexes 

I am a Modern Major Generality.

I run this place! Tip the piano player on the way out.

Yeah and I have a statue of you, too

pclips's picture

You would love to think you're so important that I wrote this just for you.

You're not the only asshole destroying the value of public discussion, Will. But you're a terribly convenient example because you're such a universally obvious one. And it's safe to alienate you, because in three years of reading your posts I have never seen you write anything of value. Someone who is just being an asshole might one day grow up and become a real professional I could learn from. With you, that's not a danger.

So what's the point of the post? That I know things you don't. They're worth something to me, as they would be to any creator who intended to grow out his property or benchmark her traffic. I plan to use the information, and to share it sparingly. People like you are the reason I don't share it with everyone. Clear enough?

The other point is that discussion in public forums is mostly a waste of time, and now you've wasted more of mine. I'm only posting at all because it's my rant, but now I'm done. I don't respect you enough to debate you. Have your last word, or don't. Call me some names back, and then go find someone else to fuck with for attention. I'm sure somehow that will make people read and appreciate your comic.

Stop being a moron, Rob

The William G's picture

Put up or shut up, Rob.

If your knowledge is as valuable as you believe, it'll stand. Otherwise, you've just wasted a lot of bandwidth on a hissy fit you believe you're too good for.


The William G - Romantic Drama, Post-Apocalyptic Monsters, and More Comic Experimentation

Calming the Waters

Xaviar Xerexes's picture

All fair points Rob.  I'm not sure webcomics are really anywhere above or below discourse in other artistic communities but by now I've never spent as much time as in webcomics so I'm not sure.

The days things dwell on personality clashes and petty insults are the days I tend to ponder taking a leave of absence from Comixpedia.  So far, that's not something I've actually ever decided I want to do because for the most part I've learned to tune it out and focus on the good stuff - new webcomics, web toys and artist techniques, more people making a living from webcomics, etc.

And to the extent I can I've been trying to moderate the discourse at Comixpedia to be civil - there's other forums for the drama at this point.

Still I am curious about your research and I'll probably pester you about it at the next WW.



Xaviar Xerexes 

I am a Modern Major Generality.

I run this place! Tip the piano player on the way out.

Re: Calming the Waters

pclips's picture

That's what WW is for, man. I feel perfectly comfortable sharing data there, speaking in person and in relative confidence. Meatspace is important. Even some of the people who are asshats on forums are known to be extremely decent in person. I'll bring the spreadsheets.

Of course, this means you'll actually have to show up. :Þ