Sunday, 20 March 2011

Dan's Media Digest: 5 Years Young Today

Sunday, 20 March 2011

Today, Dan's Media Digest celebrates its 5th birthday! Yes, I've been writing here, almost every single day, for five years. Hasn't time flown? I'm now in my 30s! That's scarier than it perhaps should be. A few remarkable stats:

30,000,000 words written (est.)
2,571,000 page hits (as of 20 Mar 11)
4,592 comments left (by myself)
4,350 posts published (est.)
2,045 TV episodes reviewed (est.)
I'm so pleased DMD still exists and remains popular with you good folk. Only this week new records were set thanks to my Ben Richards interview (160+ comments, a huge amount of Facebook/Twitter clicks*, incoming traffic from dozens of forums), so it's great to see DMD's still capable of attracting new readers. In 2011 I also unveiled the blog's second template revamp in its lifetime, and DMD3's new "clean blue-white" look appears to have gone down well, which is a blessed relief.

(* Actually, I just noticed my Glee competition was more popular on Twitter/Facebook, but this Outcasts interview is a respectable second.)

DMD: A Brief History

I first got into blogging after frequenting screenwriting some blogs in 2005; memorably those belonging to Danny Stack and Robin Kelly. Originally dismissive of the concept behind blogs (which sounded like "online diaries" to me), I was nevertheless inspired by the idea of communicating with likeminded folk in an easy way (i.e. no HTML coding headaches), so I decided to create my own!

Dan's Movie Digest (yes, you read that right) was born on 20 March 2006, as a blog focused on film reviews, news and occasional features.

However, I soon saw a gap in the market for a UK TV blog, while also noticing a problem competing with the existing movie blogs because I wasn't going to the cinema as often, or buying DVDs as regularly. The movie onus of DMD didn't feel as distinctive, so I decided to specialize with the more accessible TV.

I therefore changed the name of the blog to Dan's Media Digest -- handily keeping the "DMD" acronym! Clever, huh.

For some unexplained reason, DMD started to draw around 800 daily visitors in the late-summer of 2006, and by early-2007 that had increased to around 1000 hits each day. For a homespun personal blog, written from someone with no real reputation online as a "critic", it wasn't to be sniffed at.

From there, page-hits have snowballed every year. DMD now attracts between 90,000-130,000 visitors every month -- depending on what time of the year it is, or what I'm choosing to cover

5 Blogging Boosts

There have been many events and developments that have helped DMD improve and draw more of an audience since it began. The top 5 that spring to mind are:

Sony: The good folk at Greenroom were the first people to contact me about reviewing movies for their client, Sony Home Entertainment. A simple arrangement (reviews and competitions in exchange for links), it's been a fruitful and productive partnership. I know a few regulars here have benefitted from winning the occasional prize. (I still envy Matt getting his hands on a T-600 skull-case in the Terminator Salvation competition.)

Screeners: I've been trying to get access to screeners for a long time, and the breakthrough didn't come for any particular reason. It just happened, really. The BBC now send me screeners on request, although other broadcasters prefer to grant access to an online streaming service, which I don't really like using. I'm an A/V enthusiast, so a tiny window of low-quality audio/video, watched on a computer monitor, just doesn't appeal. I'm in believer in seeing TV the way it's intended to be seen: on a TV, ideally with surround sound and HD. I can't understand the appeal of watching TV shows on laptops or phones. So most of the time I hang fire for a regular broadcast still, with a few exceptions (i.e. shows I'm eager to see, or know will be tough to fit into my schedule at broadcast pace.)

Brushes with Celebrity: One memorable surprise was when James Griffin (creator of New Zealand's TV series Outrageous Fortune) unexpectedly left a comment on my review comparing his OF pilot to the US remake Scoundrels. He even asked questions and was genuinely interested in replies. DMD also helped get me some interviews with Doctor Who's Russell T. Davies, Matt Smith and Karen Gillan, in conjunction with some writing for Ain't It Cool News. All pretty cool stuff. I only wish I had more time to go chasing interviews like that, instead of having them fall in my lap! More recently, Ben Richards (Spooks, The Fixer) agreed to an interview about his sci-fi series Outcasts.

Obsessed With Film: I was head-hunted to run a TV section of OWF's revamped website in May 2010, but left after a month over creative differences. But then I rejoined with a different arrangement in September 2010 and things have gone a lot smoother. I now just post occasional TV news pieces and OWF get the exclusives on my pilot/premiere TV reviews. It's hard to be hands-off with developments at OWF sometimes, having spent so many years as editor-in-chief of this blog, and I sometimes have to bite my tongue over a few decisions made, but the opportunity has definitely seen my writing spread further online. There are many of times when a Google search for a particular TV review delivers something I wrote for OWF as the first item found worldwide, which is pretty cool.

One Million. DMD breaking through 1,000,000 hits was a notable day back in October 2009. I've been involved with a few online ventures since 1997, but nothing ever got beyond 10,000 hits before I'd shut them down, or get bored. DMD has been a much happier experience, probably because I'm older and wiser. Yes, it's true: the older you get, the more your experience, perspective and maturity has a positive effect on how you digest and process the media. Sorry if you're under-25, but it's just true. You'll agree when you're in your thirties, too.

I've always had a knack and passion for writing, but I can definitely pinpoint a "Eureka!" moment once DMD was becoming a success and I'd found my voice. The interesting thing is that it's still evolving. I'm my own worst critic, so I often read reviews that are only 6-12 months old and shake my head in disbelief, knowing I could do better today. That quest to improve is a big part of the driving force behind DMD, and I certainly hope I never hit a comfortable plateau.

Top 5 Commenters

I appreciate absolutely everyone's comments here, don't get me wrong, but there's a core group of people I consider "the regulars", who tend to comment nearly every day. Or if not, I know they're reading every day quite dutifully. And of that revered group, there's definitely a handful of diehard "veterans" who seem to have been coming here almost from the start of DMD back in 2005. Or maybe it just feels that way!

Bob. Or "The Bob With No Surname". Even his family refer to him this way. A Brit living abroad with a Dexter obsession. Prone to leaving comments of great length, which makes me feel extremely guilty if my response is anything less than four paragraphs long.

Matt Murrell. Winner of "Britain's Neatest Beard" (2007-2009), fan of The Wire, with a suspected fondness for penguins. Always leaving great comments that give me something to consider, or wish I'd thought to mention myself in the above post. Damn him.

Dom Robinson. Manchester's very own Nathan Barley? Umm, in a good way. I think. I spent a number of years reviewing movies at Dom's DVDFever website in the early-'00s. For some reason he can't resist me, so keeps commenting here.

Moretears. A Canadian, perfectly placed to criticize both UK and US media without bias. For some reason, I can't help thinking Moretears is a woman, which is what happens when you use gender-ambiguous usernames online. I hope she he doesn't mind.

RevViews. A fellow blogger who used to champion DMD in its very earlier days, which I was always very grateful for. Revs isn't quite as productive when it comes to comments these days, sadly, but I know he still reads, and he's well worth a mention for his earlier input and support.

Again, I had to pick 5, so apologies if you're also someone who comments here with regularity. I had to pick 5! Big thanks also to people like Laura, Jemmerzem, Alex, Readysetgo, David, ILikeTrees, Kristopher, Chris Howard, Neil, Natalia, Shelly, Kevin, Jozz, 4Leaf, etc. If this was DMD's 10th or 15th birthday, you'd probably have been included in this list. I'm sure you understand. If not, well, leave a mean comment below.

Regarding comments, the reason I value them is because people could easily leave their thoughts on other blogs with a larger audience. I guess the appeal of DMD is that your comment actually gets read by everyone (not skimmed over by 80% of readers), and people will generally reply. I know I always do my best to respond to as many comments as I can, which it's luckily still possible to do. Well, outside of that crazily-popular Outcasts interview thread!

So there's something to be said for blogs with undoubted popularity and some reach, but still a little quieter in the commenting stakes.

I also appreciate everyone helping draw people here, intentionally or not. It really does have an affect if you "like", "favourite", "share", or "re-tweet" posts, even if you don't get to see it happening. Rest assured, it does. You may just attract one person to this blog who may otherwise never have found it, and that person could in turn get 10 friends to start visiting. Etc, etc.

So, thanks everyone. It's been an amazing five years. I hope the next five are equally as good, if not better.