I want to thank everyone who showed up last Saturday for the 10th anniversary party at Woodruff’s. I especially want to thank those folks who I didn’t get an opportunity to speak with in person. As well over 100 people showed up over the course of the evening, I just didn’t have an opportunity to get around to everyone, and, now, even a week later, I still feel terrible about it. (I feel particularly bad about not getting to say hello to my friend Laura, who had flown in from Chicago in anticipation of seeing me shit my pants in fear, as I addressed my readers face-to-face.)
All things considered, I think it went pretty well. I’m told that I came off as comfortable and sincere, which is really all I could have hoped for. Some things didn’t go as well as I’d planned, but I don’t think it mattered to anyone. The important thing is, I didn’t get drunk and make an ass out of myself, and I didn’t pass out from fear. (Despite all of my anxiety, I somehow managed to stay on the narrow piece of real estate between the two.)
For those of you who weren’t there, I started out, after a few painfully awkward moments of rambling about how funny it would be if I had a bucket of pig’s blood dumped on my head and made everyone think that I was going to kill them Carrie White style, with my mind, by sharing a few stats about the site that I’ve never shared before. Here’s an overview.
State of the Site
My mental health notwithstanding, the site is healthy. We have between 500 and 1,000 unique readers per day, on average… And, occasionally, we get a big hit. On August 1, for instance, we had over 40,000 visitors from Reddit. They only stayed 11 seconds each, on average, and, as far as I know, none of them left a single comment, but they were here, adding legitimacy to what we do, and helping, I suppose, to put Ypsi on the map in some little way.
And they come from all over. Over the past 30 days… so this doesn’t include the Reddit spike… we had over 20,000 visitors. Those coming from Ann Arbor and Ypsilanti are almost evenly split, with about 17% coming from each…. People from Ann Arbor tend to stay a few seconds longer. I guess because they read more slowly. Their average stay is 2 minutes and 7 seconds, as opposed to the 2 minutes and 4 seconds of the average Ypsi visitor… Others in Michigan read longer. (The statewide average is 3 minutes and 13 seconds.) Well over half of our traffic is from Michigan. Outside of Ypsi and Ann Arbor, our biggest readership is in Saline, for some reason. (My guess, and I haven’t confirmed this, is that the Saline schools, in a bold cost-cutting measure, have replaced their Civics teacher with a robot that, between delivering paid statements concerning Taco Bell’s new menu items, recites passages from my blog.) We also have significant readership in Detroit, Dearborn, Hamtramck and Livonia. (My first inclination, upon learning this, was that I wished our local readership was higher, but, the more I think about it, the more I like that people outside of Ypsi are reading what I write here, learning about our local events, and reading interviews with our Ypsi business owners. Hopefully it’s even motivating some of them to come to Ypsi and spend their money.) Michigan is followed by New York, California, Illinois, Texas, Florida, Ohio, and Pennsylvania… in that order. And, to give you an idea of our international numbers, in the past month, 1.5% of our visitors were from Canada, 1% were from England, and, after those, we had Poland, India, Australia and Germany. Toward the bottom, in the past month, we had 14 visits from New Zealand, 23 from Iran, and 30 from Turkey.
Roughly 50% of our referred traffic comes from Facebook. Eclectablog, Damn Arbor, and AnnArbor.com also send people over on a regular basis. And we are very appreciative of that… If you don’t share MarkMaynard.com articles on Facebook, by the way, you probably should. Or, at the very least, you should “like” our Facebook page.
As for our Google traffic, we still get the occasional hit from “ball shaving” but, sadly, we’re no longer number one in that area. We’ve apparently been overtaken by people who actually embrace the practice, rather than scorn it. (They’re no doubt more aerodynamic, due to the shaved balls, and thus more competitive.) Happily, however, we’re still on the top of the heap when it comes to people searching for information on being “strangled by feet.” And, we’re apparently very high up in the listings for nutria, which are giant rodents. This, I’m assuming, has something to do with an article that I’d posted about cultivating a colony of these creatures along the Huron River, so that Ypsilantians could better feed themselves. (I wasn’t being serious.) In the past month we’ve had 325 people come to the site after searching for “nutria.” 5 people, in that same time, found their way here by searching “Steve Guttenberg shirtless.” We have, I think it’s safe to say, a pretty diverse audience.
Over the past ten years, we’ve somehow managed to make small contributions to the national conversation. Things written on the site have shown up in the New York Times, CNN, the Wall Street Journal, Jezebel.com, and Rachel Maddow’s website, among others. I’d like to say that this exposure has led to tangible benefits for the community, or even me personally, but I don’t think that it has. The site was, however, mentioned in a book entitled Halloween Nation. The author of the book, who is at Harvard, apparently liked the Zombie Claus event that we put on several years ago… At any rate, it’s nice to know that, on occasion, people outside of our little bubble take notice, whether we’re talking seriously about Michigan politics, or doing something goofy.
More importantly, we’ve done some tangible good here at home. In the past year, among other things, we raised well over $1,000 for Ozone House, in an online fundraising campaign that began in response to the homophobic comments left by one of our beloved, resident trolls, and we successfully helped spread the word about a candidate for Ypsi City Council who had attempted to obscure his past as the leader of a far right political party which championed racist, sexist and homophobic beliefs. (He lost.)
Over the past ten years, we’ve helped promote the arts, we’ve shared thousands of items of interest to local folks, we’ve encouraged more than a few people to move to our community, and we’ve successfully used this site to launch events, ranging from the ever popular Shadow Art Fair, and our annual Krampus gathering, to panel discussions on the future of downtown retail, and buy-local campaigns, to name just a few. We’ve also had substantive, solution-oriented conversations about everything from local police tactics, to the place of public education in our community. And, we even got City Hall to change their policies on snow removal, after we made it clear that their contractors and employees weren’t doing the jobs they’d been paid to do.
And we’ve also helped, I think, get some good local businesses, like the Corner Brewery, Spur Studios, Woodruff’s, Beezy’s, and the Wurst Bar, off to a good start, by helping get the word out around the region.
Furthermore, we may have even played a role in saving a local business. When we put the word out a few years ago that VG Kids was thinking about leaving Ypsi for Ann Arbor, we were able, through our network, to find a way to keep them here, employing local people, and contributing to the local business ecosystem.
And, of course, we’ve covered our share of meetings, hosted our share of political debates, shared tons of Ypsi Immigration Interviews, and done lots of other stuff contributing toward the greater good of the community. (We not only took you inside Alan Haber’s home, to talk about the founding of SDS, but inside Hasan Mihyar’s bedroom, to look for his light switches.)
One more metric… As of the day of the anniversary party, there had been 5,949 posts on this site, and 72,480 comments. (The number of comments would have been quite a bit higher, if not for the Iranian hacker attack that took place in 2005, wiping out all of the comments that preceded it, as well as most of the photos that accompanied those early posts.)
And none of it could have happened without those of you out there, who contribute your time and energy to the comments section, and in the real world, making this a better place to live. With local papers going away, it’s imperative that we have communal spaces like this, and I’d like to thank you for helping to make this one flourish, and be productive. I know I put in three or four hours or so a night on this site, but that’s not enough. This site would have ended a long time ago, if not for you. And I thank you for that. It’s easy these days to be disengaged. It’s easy to lose faith in the world. Reading this site can, on occasion, take work, and actively contributing can take even more. It’s much easier to have a few beers, turn on the television, and succumb to the grotesque laugh track of American popular culture. Personally, I like living in a community where a good percentage of folks are willing to invest their time and energy. And, it’s because of you, that we have a healthy comments section, and that we haven’t been overtaken by the likes of those people who leave comments on AnnArbor.com. (We have some folks that I’d classify as trolls, but, for the most part, they’re respectful. And, when they’re not, I’ve found that the rest of the community steps up, and deals with it constructively.) The culture that we’ve built here, for the most part, works. And that’s rare. We’ve created an inclusive, online ecosystem that’s interested in building community, fixing what doesn’t work, and sharing what does. There are, of course, exceptions, but, for the most part, I think we’ve done a good job.
I mentioned right at the start of this post that some of things that I tried the night of the party just didn’t work. One of those things was the automaton that my daughter and I built, called AutoMark. The idea was to have him address people, if I should be overcome by panic. While it worked well at home, it just didn’t work in the environment of Woodruff’s, what with all the yelling and spitting. Here, because several of you requested it, is footage of the AutoMark in action, speaking the words you would have heard last Saturday night.
Trabajabamos, 25 Suaves, and Minus9 were incredible. When I decided that I had to mark the 10th anniversary of the site in some public way, I knew that I wanted my old label-mates Pete (25 Suaves) and Andy (Minus9) be a part of it, and having them there made me incredibly happy. I was particularly touched that Pete, and his wife Fumie “DJ PArty Girl” Kawasaki, agreed to play, as they’d been retired for the better part of a decade. Even if everything else had gone to shit that night, it would have made me happy to see them back on stage, where they belong. Here they are.
Unfortunately, I only have footage right now on 25 Suaves, as I’m having trouble downloading footage from my Flip camera, but Minus9 and Trabajabamos were also brilliant. One of the most gratifying things about the evening for me was the look of shock on the faces of Andy’s friends in the audience who had never before witnessed him outside of the context of nice guy neighbor. And I also really liked seeing a young band, like Trabajabamos, coming out and knocking the cynical old folks on their asses… While I don’t have footage from that night, you can find video of Minus9 and Trabajabamos here and here. Also, I’m told that Trabajabamos will be playing another benefit for FLY Children’s Art Center in the near future, so, if you missed them on Saturday, you’ll have another chance.
And, as for 25 Suaves, I don’t know if they’ll ever play again, but, right after the show, I did notice that they launched a Facebook page for the band, and made their record “I Want It Loud” available for download. Those, I think, are encouraging signs.
The MarkMaynard.com Board of Advisors
I’d thought, going into this event, that it would be good to hold something of a round table discussion on the site, and what we could do to make it better. As it turned out, though, the environment wasn’t right for that. (The dynamic of having me on stage just didn’t work.) I’ve been thinking about it since, and I think what I’d like to do is convene a smaller group of readers a few times a year to talk about things. For lack of a better term, I’m calling it an advisory board. I have no idea how it will go, or how, if at all, I’ll incorporate the suggestions of those who attend, but I think that it would be a good thing to try. Anything that could result in more substantive online discussions, I think, is worth pursuing.
In addition to talking about this site specifically, there are three things that I would like to bring up at the initial meeting of this board… First, I would like to discuss the possibility of several Ypsi groups coming together to host a day-long unconference on the future of our community. Second, I would like to discuss the possibility of engaging the community in a quick and dirty, low-tech video project. And, third, I’d like to talk about the possibility of harnessing our local creative energy to launch a cohesive City-wide real estate portal that would provide useful information on each of our distinct neighborhoods, etc… Since our Cycle Powered Cinema project kind of fizzled, due to technical difficulties, I’ve been thinking about bigger things to push, and I think any of these three would be worthwhile… I’d also like to think about the possibility of bringing on few other people to occasionally contribute articles on state politics, education, the environment, local business, and the arts. (As I only have $100 a month to work with though, I know that’s likely not going to be easy, but I’d at least like to explore the idea.)
Special thanks to Patrick Elkins, My Body Double
Having learned a thing or two from Saddam Hussein, I spent the week before the anniversary event looking to cultivate an army of doubles who could, in case of an attack by right wing zealots and/or annarbourites, assume my place while I slipped into the safety of one of my many Ypsilanti spider holes. I approached 37 people about this, but only one accepted the challenge. His name is Patric Elkins. I didn’t know if I should share this, as I feel kind of bad about it, but many of you who were there that night, and thought that you talked with me, probably weren’t talking with me at all, but with Patrick. I apologize for the charade, but my safety, from time to time, demands that certain lies be told. (I’m particularly sorry if Patrick seduced any of you that evening, as me.) Here’s a photo of Patrick morphing into me. It’s kind of unreal how identical we are, isn’t it?
A woman that I’d never met before, by the name of Monika Szydlowski, brought a lovely and delicious cake that she’d made to commemorate the anniversary of the site. It was the nicest surprise of the evening.
FLY Chirldren’s Art Center
For those of you who didn’t realize where your $5 was going, when you handed it over at the door, it went to FLY Children’s Art Center, for their work in Ypsilanti’s public schools. They took in almost $500 at the door, and a bit more at their table, and, as a result, they’ll be able to expand their programming this school year, allowing more children to know what it’s like to express themselves artistically. In a world where we need young, bright, creative people more than ever, it’s absolutely inexcusable that many of our local children just get 20 minutes of art education twice a week, and that’s why I think that FLY’s supplemental in-school programs are so critical. With 42% of Ypsilanti children being raised in households below the poverty level, it’s no surprise that a lot of our young people don’t have access to even the most basic tools to help express their creativity. (A FLY teacher recently mentioned to Linette that she’d had to teach an 8 year old girl how to use scissors, as she’d never had a pair before.) If we expect this next generation to solve the problems that we’ve created, we damn well better give them the creative foundation they need to start down that path, and I can think of very few local groups, outside of 826 Michigan and FLY, that are doing that. So, with all of that said, if you weren’t able to make it out to the party, but would still like to contribute toward the incredibly important cause, you can do so online today.
Other People to Thank
I’d, of course, like to thank Linette, who I met about 20 years ago, here in Ypsi, at a bar which has since been condemned, called Cross Street Station. If it weren’t for her, I doubt that I’d be here… Thank you to everyone who came out and participated in the Community Show and Tell portion of the show. It was great getting to chat with people on the stage, if only briefly, about those things they brought to share with the group… While I’m at it, I’d also like to thank former Ypsilantian Steve Cherry, who, taking pity on me, about nine years ago, offered to help me transition away from Blogger to a more stable blogging platform. The fact that he continued to help me, even after he’d given up on Ypsilanti, I think, is testament to his character… And, I’d like to thank Andre Grewe, who, when the site was having trouble a few years ago, as a result of my not knowing how to back up, or update the software that runs everything, offered to jump in and take the technical lead. It’s because of him that the site now has, among other things, rotating headers and integrated links to Facebook… And, I’d like to thank Hasan Mihyar and the staff of Woodruff’s, who I consider friends. Their bar has become a great asset to our community, and I was very happy when they offered to host this event. Hopefully, they’ll all be around in another 10 years, when it’s time to celebrate the 20th anniversary, assuming I make it that long… Thanks are also due to my lovely mother, Pat Maynard, for driving up from Kentucky to watch the kids, so that Linette and I could cavort… And, lastly, I’d like to thank Chris Sandon for the loan of his video projector, and my friends Glen and Caleb for helping out on the day of the event. None of this could have happened without their contributions… And, once again, I’d like to thank all of you for your comments and support. Linette and I moved back here from California 12 years ago because we thought that Ypsilanti was the kind of scrappy, creative, open-minded, supportive community where we’d like to put down roots and build something. Thank you for demonstrating to me every day that we made the right choice.