Why do I blog?

I love participating in online conversations, so here’s my take on the “Why do I blog?” meme which recently showed up on New World Notes and Journey To The Center of the Metaverse and Daniel Voyager’s Blog after a challenge by Strawberry Singh.

How long have you been blogging?

I launched Hypergrid Business in late March of 2009, so it’s just passed the four year milestone. During that time, I’ve written  872 articles and edited 386 others, for a total of 1,258 articles.

Some of these articles were written in my virtual office on my own OpenSim grid.
Some of these articles were written in my virtual office on my own OpenSim grid.

Why did you start blogging?

I learned about OpenSim at an IBM conference that I attended in Second Life. Previously, I’d been vaguely interested in Second Life as a platform, and as a preview of what we could have in the future, but didn’t really see any personal relevance in it.

But during that IBM conference, I was able to come up to speakers ahead of time, or after their talks, and introduce myself, and ask follow-up questions, and talk with the other participants. Just as I would have at a traditional conference.

This was a huge deal for me as a journalist. I used to spend a lot of time attending technology conferences, back when magazines had nice fat travel budgets. Lately, though, I’d been stuck attending virtual events, where you sit and stare at a PowerPoint slide presentation while someone talks, and then you get in line with other journalists and analysts to ask questions. With these virtual events — which only differ from telephone-only earnings calls by having the slides there — there are no opportunities to get to know the presenters or other attendees. No opportunity to ask follow-up questions, or request a follow-up interview. Everyone goes home with the same information. In fact, there’s really no point in attending, at all — might as well just glance through the slides and read the transcript later on.

At IBM’s conference in Second Life, however, I got to enjoy most of the benefits of attending a traditional event. I could even make small talk about the weather — it was nice. It is always nice. Why do we even have a roof? Ha ha ha.

But the other big thing I learned at the conference was that there was such a thing as OpenSim. I cover enterprise technology and, for many reasons, Second Life is not a good fit for enterprise applications. OpenSim addresses all those reasons.

I went online to find out more and was surprised to find no user-focused information about how to make OpenSim work for you. There was some technical documentation, which was very difficult to read. And some social stuff about what was happening on some grids.

But very little in the area that I cared about — companies, educators, non-profits, small groups and individuals who wanted to set up their own grids for collaboration, training, education, events, simulations, and creativity.

I continue to blog because there is still very little how-to information aimed at the non-technical user. There are few case studies about successful deployments. Or news announcements about technical developments presented in easy-to-understand, what’s-in-it-for-me form.

So that’s why I started blogging, and why I continue to do it.

It costs me money — so far, advertising revenues haven’t been enough to cover hosting and freelance writer costs. It does take a lot of time. The majority of the largest grids are convinced that I’m biased against them and in favor of their competitors. The rest probably feel the same, but are too polite to call me on the phone in the middle of the night to yell at me, or to threaten me with lawsuits.

It’s worth it, though, because I believe that the metaverse is important. That it will transform society even more than the Internet has. And that the transformation will be for the better.

And, personally, the sooner we get there, the happier I’ll be. So I’m doing my part to help speed things up.

How many times a week do you post an entry?

I just divided the total number of articles posted by the number of weeks Hypergrid Business has been running, and got six. That seems high — I can certainly remember entire weeks where I posted nothing at all, usually because of heavy deadlines on my day job.

I guess I’m more prolific than I thought.

How many different blogs do you read on a regular basis?

I used to use an RSS readers to follow all the metaverse-related blogs — New World Notes, Daniel Voyager, Justin Clark-Casey, I Live in SL, Metaverse Ink, plus all the grid-specific blogs —  but lately I’ve just been following Twitter. You can follow my virtual worlds news sources here: Virtual Worlds List.

I also read a lot of technology and business blogs, but that’s probably more related to my day job.

I also have Google Alerts and Google News alerts for related keywords, and follow various online communities on Google Plus, Facebook, and elsewhere.

Do you comment on other people’s blogs?

I try to. I know that I like it when other people comment on mine. The number one reason I write is to have people read my stuff. Comments are proof that people are reading, and are interested in the content, and didn’t just randomly surf to the page before surfing away again. I’d guess that other bloggers share that sentiment to some degree.

I also like to be useful, so if someone has a problem, I like to suggest solutions. The hard part is keeping myself from going overboard. I can sometimes be a bit of an overbearing know-it-all.

Do you keep track of how many visitors you have?

Yes, I have Google Analytics set up on the blog. Over the past four years, over a million Hypergrid Business pages have been seen by 343,015 unique visitors, according to today’s data. A typical month will see somewhere between 10,000 and 15,000 unique visitors. This April, for example, there were 13,753 different visitors.

Unique visitors to Hypergrid Business, according to Google Analytics.
Unique monthly visitors to Hypergrid Business, according to Google Analytics.

Around 76 percent are English speakers, which makes sense, since Hypergrid Business is written in English. The next most common language is German, with around 6 percent of visitors, followed by French with 3 percent and Dutch with 1.5 percent.

Around 38 percent use the Firefox browser, 27 percent use Chrome, 18 percent use Internet Explorer, and 11 percent use Safari. A little more than 6 percent visit the site on mobile devices. Of those, 30 percent use the iPad, 26 percent use the iPhone, and the rest are either unknown or Android devices.

Just under half of all visitors come to Hypergrid Business via a search engine — 41 percent from Google, 1 percent each from Yahoo and Bing, and less than 1 percent from other search engines. Around 22 percent come to the site directly, by typing in the URL or using a bookmark or an email link. The rest come through referrals from Networked Blogs, Facebook, Twitter, Scoop.it, Google News, and other blogs and websites.

Google Analytics also shows the keywords that people search for to get to the site. The top ones are “hypergrid business,” “opensim,” “second life,” “hypergrid,” “inworldz”, and “opensim hosting,” in that order. People also get to Hypergrid Business by searching for individual grid names, other virtual environment companies, and particular topics like “opensim mesh” or “oar files.”

Did you ever regret a post that you wrote?

There was one post I wrote about BitCoin that was picked up elsewhere and brought in a lot of non-virtual worlds-related traffic. I feel a little bad about that — not because of all the name calling in the comments, but because advertisers were getting page views from irrelevant people. A few other posts brought in outside traffic as well, including one about Unity, a post on patent protection, and a post titled “Sex king takes on the hypergrid” because, apparently, lots of folks out there are searching for “sex king.”

None of the stories commenters considered “controversial link-bait” make it into the top 30 posts by page views. Instead, when it comes to the most-read OpenSim-related stories, how-to articles make up most of the list — how to set up a mini-grid, how to choose a hosting provider, how to find content for OpenSim, and how to get Vivox.

So the lesson here for me is if I want more readers, I should either write about issues that more people care about — like Unity or BitCoin — or do more how-to articles.

I’ve made predictions that haven’t come true. Or haven’t come true yet. I’ve written articles that annoyed people. And articles that cost me advertisers. But I don’t regret doing that. If I did, and wrote only stuff that is guaranteed not to offend anyone at all, this publication would become useless and unreadable.

Most of all, I regret the stuff that I haven’t done. I regret not doing more polls. Not publishing ebooks. Not staying on top of Hyperica destinations — there are so many great places to visit, and I just don’t have time to keep up with them all. I regret not doing that story on “women pioneers in virtual worlds” that I’ve been planning for years now.

Do you think your readers have a true sense of who you are based on your blog?

I don’t really write about my personal life or what I do at work, so I don’t think they do.

So here’s a quick recap.

I’m in my 40s. I’m not naturally blonde — my natural hair color is dark brown, but I’ve been dyeing it for about ten years now. I feel peppier as a blonde. I’m out of shape, mostly due to the fact that I sit on my butt all day, and also because I had a herniated disk last year that kept me from walking or standing up or even sitting upright for a couple of months — after several months during which I could only walk for short stretches at a time. But I’m back out there now, walking the dogs every day, and will be swimming regularly in the summer. I want to start a diet and exercise support group, probably in Kitely, since I very much enjoyed the Club One program in Second Life a couple of years ago, and am sorry that they discontinued it.

I have two teenage kids who are total opposites of each other. The oldest is a computer geek — she’s the one who installs Linux and mono for me when I need to test OpenSim or write a review. She’s about to graduate high school, and is taking differential equations and waves and optics at the local college. She also plays second violin in the local city orchestra, is the news editor of the college’s newspaper, and occasionally writes articles for me. Next year, she plans to attend Tufts, near Boston, to study chemical physics with a possible second major in math.  She’s fluent in Chinese, has written a novel for NaNoRiMo each of the past few years, acts in high school plays, designs websites, and writes text adventure games. I’m a very proud mama.

My son is in eighth grade and he’s a hands-on salt-of-the-earth kind of guy. He fixes everything that needs fixing, works at a construction job, runs a registered rabbitry where he raises and shows pedigreed rabbits. He has chickens which produce fresh eggs for us every day — all up to code, with state inspections and everything. He grows vegetables and does yardwork for neighbors. He builds his own cages and hutches, and does other light carpentry. He will inherit the land we live on — a 70-acre former dairy farm in Western Massachusetts — and is planning a life centered around the land. He’s a great kid and I’m super proud of him, as well.

Rounding out my personal life: I’m single, rent out a couple of rooms in my house to young women with interest in horses and veterinary work, and also have a couple of horses living on my land. I like going out to eat with friends, and watching action movies, and reading Terry Pratchett. I love hiking and swimming. My favorite TV shows are all the police procedurals, Grey’s Anatomy, Big Bang Theory. I get all my news from the Daily Show and the Colbert Report.

Twenty years ago, I was a war journalist in Russia and other former Soviet republics. (Photo by Maria Korolov)
Twenty years ago, I was a war journalist in Russia and other former Soviet republics. (Photo by Maria Korolov)
That's me in Chengdu, China. Holding a live baby panda.
That’s me in Chengdu, China. Holding a live baby panda in 2007.

For my day job, I write for technology publications like Network World and PC World and CIO magazine and Treasury and Risk. I also write commentary for Internet Evolution. I’ve been doing this for the past four years or so. Prior to that, I ran an editorial news bureau in Shanghai, China for five years, focusing on news about the Asian technology, financial, and pharmaceutical industries. This is why both my kids are fluent in Chinese, by the way — they attended public Chinese schools while we were there. Before that, I was the technology columnist for Securities Industry News, and, before that, a staff financial services reporter for Computerworld. (That was back when I was married, and writing as Maria Trombly.)

Before the kids, and the marriage, I was working overseas, in Russia and Central Asia. I reported for Reuters and UPI, and was a managing editor at the Moscow Tribune. I reported from about a dozen warzones, including Chechnya and Afghanistan.

I started my writing career at the Chicago Tribune, covering local politics in Lake County. I graduated with a degree in mathematics from Cornell University, where I did National Science Foundation-funded research on numerical approaches to differential equations. While in college, I also reported for the local newsweekly, worked as a database programmer, and did a bunch of other odd jobs. I had my first programming job when I was 14, creating VisiCalc spreadsheets and quiz programs for teachers, taking care of our school district’s HP 2000 mainframes, and updating relational database software for library catalogs. Programming was my first love, my first glimpse into creating virtual worlds, and I still try to keep my hand in. Right now, I’m learning Python.

Do you blog under your real name?

Absolutely. I had a fake name once, way back when, when I was on Internet Relay Chat. And I discovered that maintaining a second identity was too much work. Plus, if you keep the identities separate, one identity can’t get the credit for the work you do under your second identity. So you get half as far with each identity than you would have otherwise. Or less than half, because progress is not linear, but accelerates. If you spread your efforts in too many directions, you might never reach the critical inflection point for any of them.

And having been married, and writing under my married name — under a misguided impression that “Trombly” will be spelled correctly more often than “Korolov” — and then under my original name again, I know that re-branding is a big pain in the patootie. For a while, I went by Maria Korolov Trombly or Maria Korolov (formerly Trombly), but that’s also a pain.

So I’ll stick with just the one name. Unless I go and write those pornographic novels I’ve secretly been thinking about.

Are there topics that you would never blog about?

I don’t like writing about social events unless they somehow impact a grid’s business model. So, for example, I don’t want to cover virtual rock concerts or anniversary parties, or role playing games. That upsets some folks, because they want to get coverage for their pet project, and there aren’t enough blogs out there to do that. It’s getting better, but it will take time.

I don’t write about my relationships. In general, I prefer to keep a certain amount of emotional distance from people I write about, since I might have to do a negative article about them at some point. And if they thought I was their friend before, they’ll feel really betrayed afterwards. So there really isn’t anyone I’ve met in the virtual worlds that I would, for example, ask to stay on their couch if I was in town. Maybe Hamlet Au of New World Notes, since he’s more of a peer than a source. And Hamlet is welcome to stay on my couch if he’s ever in my area.

And I never sleep with my sources. At least, not anymore, now that David Petraeus is taken. Darn you, Paula Bradwell!

What is the theme or topic of your blog?

Enterprise use of virtual environments. By “enterprise” I mean any organization — company, school, government agency, non-profit. And by “virtual environment” I mean any immersive platform, including Second Life and OpenSim, but also other platforms as well, such as ProtoSphere, Venuegen, Jibe, Olive, 3DXplorer, and Open Wonderland.

Do you have more than one blog?

I also have Hyperica, which is a destination guide, and my personal site, MariaKorolov.com, where editors can see my bio and some of the stories I’ve written. I’m a bit slow keeping both of those updated, though.

What have you found to be the benefits of blogging?

Occasionally, I’ll come across a story that I can pitch to a bigger publication, and actually get paid for writing it up. That’s nice, but not the primary benefit.

The main benefit is getting thank-you letters from readers. It’s especially gratifying when folks are setting up big virtual world projects and tell me that they started by going to Hypergrid Business and reading the how-to articles.

So, why do you continue to blog?

Because I’m betting on the future. The metaverse will, at some point, and in some form, go mainstream. And when it does, there will be a big hunger for information that will lead to a bubble in metaverse media, just as there was a big bubble in dot-com media twelve years ago.

I want to be ready when it happens. Either as a journalist covering the transformation for the big outlets, or as a publisher of a publication — like Hypergrid Business — that becomes big and popular or, best of all, as a founder of a metaverse-related startup that helps change the world while I live a billionaire entrepreneur lifestyle on a tropical island.

Maria Korolov