I’m not sure. I don’t feel like I get much feedback online on my writing. Do I need to join Twitter? Or write something for Rhizome?

I wouldn’t say that an online post does not an audience make, but I always find that the greatest responses to my writing (whether online or in print) come in person or via e-mail – through private channels of communication. Part of it owes to the intimacy of those channels, which can limit the performative dimension of hashing out a topic on a comment thread or in a discussion forum.

This observation isn’t categorical, but personal. I’m a fairly private, reserved guy and keep a minimal online footprint, so haven’t done enough fieldwork to learn about all of the publics that are generating online discourse.

Yes, you definitely get a better sense of who is reading and how the text is being circulated, and how it has been received, though it only allows for a partial image of ‘your public’, I guess.

Totally. When we were publishing a print journal, we had a list of subscribers but you don’t really know how many of those shipped issues are being read at all, how many are never opened and go straight to shelves or coffee tables. Online, your circulation is entirely determined by your audience and what they are reading, responding to, sharing and talking about. Some of this is through social networks but I also see our essays used more often as class materials, referenced in other magazine/journal texts, brought up in public conversations, linked on Wikipedia, so there’s a different type of impact that isn’t just about a private experience you have as a reader. Part of this has to do with being online, but the other part of this is about being free instead of putting up a paywall or charging for an issue.

Also, just to the idea that there are a few hours of attention immediately after publication: I think this is in some way true for online news sites, but I think that other types of writing and publishing online have a slower build and a longer life. You announce new content but it might take a while for people to get around to it and share it with others. And then it lives on in a way that a print issue of a magazine really doesn’t—it’s searchable and available to revisit whenever there’s an occasion to think about it again. With longer form writing in particular, I don’t think those first hours/days are that important. It’s just marketing noise.

I don’t always agree with this notion. Publics online can so often be staged and or performed because individuals are performing themselves and the networks they want to be a part of. So I feel hesitant to agree on this point.

I’m in a phase right now with my writing of adamantly not checking distribution metrics and outreach, so this question is somewhat hard to answer (since I think that a sense of one’s public often depends ­– or leans on – the desire to find value in a work’s spread/reach). I think talking to people face to face is the best way that I gage my readership/public. Most of the time, I won’t get very many points of feedback from articles and essays I publish online. But then often when I see people face to face they’ll tell me how much they enjoyed something, or how much something made them think, etc. I’m always surprised by this, but I enjoy that feedback immensely and get way more out of it than the flicking/limited attention of social media. That being said, the internet has exposed me to readers that I wouldn’t know existed if it wasn’t for their feedback through whatever social media. Rarely do I find that anything that I publish online have any kind of resurgence of attention after the first couple of hours, though. But again, I have no way of knowing this since I tend to avoid paying attention to that kind of thing (at least right now).

The problem here isn’t that the internet disallows concentration, it’s that its applications are specifically engineered to keep your attention. Facebook isn’t a driver of distraction, it is actually a driver of intense concentration—on Facebook. We haven’t tested this, but I assume that the traffic we see from Facebook is generally of lower duration, because people are likely to flip back over as soon as their next notification pings. So to some extent your question is correct, that our role becomes less to have our own online audience and more to engage with a segment of Facebook’s audience. Which is fine, although lately I think we angered them and we feel like we are being punished by the algorithm. So it takes some of the fun out of that job.

The interesting thing about interacting with audiences online is that you get data back and then tell yourself stories about that data. Like what I just said, it’s just a story. Another story is that it feels like our community likes it when we publish rigorous and meaningful texts even if they don’t read those texts. Which is also fine. At this moment in time, that is what writing for Facebook seems to manifest as: the longread. I wonder what else it can mean, how that might change if we started telling ourselves a different story about our engagement metrics.

In terms of my ego, the internet allows for a sense of false accomplishment. I enjoy the likes and comments that immediately come after publishing something. I find that most people don’t read the articles that I post on social media though, it’s mainly about the headline or the subject matter. I usually feel more accomplished when something gets published in print just because people’s responses seem to be more serious. I feel like this is shifting and I really care about being a part of this shift by doing serious online publishing, but whether I like it or not, something I write in print will be read more seriously than something I publish online.

I do think the web allows me to get closer to my audience or feel a better connection to who my readers are, simply because they can talk back to me. Online, I get validation from my readers and from other journalists. In print, the validation often comes simply from placing a piece in a reputable magazine. I do think most dialogue happens online, these days.

The internet definitely acquaints writers with their audience in an immediate and sometimes not helpful way — obviously, thanks to Twitter and social media it’s possible to see instantly who’s read your piece, what they think about it, and how you fit into a broader conversation — but it’s a very imperfect mirror, one that doesn’t always account for how a piece can reveal its significance over time. I think the internet allows for a better sense of the public — but it also makes it very difficult to perceive scale, and sometimes does a poor job of helping writers find their best readers.