Someone in Tehran likes my (free and web-based) textbook

I was checking some Google analytics stuff this morning (mostly as a way of procrastinating on actually doing the mountain of work I pretty much absolutely and positively finish in the next 48 hours or so) and that including perusing the hits on my (defunct, free, and/or web-based) textbook project, The Process of Research Writing. Two little fun-facts: In the last year, my textbook site has had about 1200 or so “visits,” and in the last month, six of them have been from Tehran, Iran.

This was on my mind a bit at the gym in part because I learned the other day that I will indeed be presenting about this at the upcoming Computers and Writing Conference in Davis “right next to wine country” California in late June 2009. (Actually, I’ll be giving two presentations: the other one is going to be about “ending” and/or giving up on blogging.) This is the panel on alternatives to traditional publishing that I originally proposed for the CCCCs and that I wrote about some time ago here, and my spiel is going to be about my “do it yourself” approach with this project.

At the end of my McGraw-Hill experience in 2006, when it was officially “dead” to them and when they didn’t want to give me back the rights, I kind of felt like my book was being packed away into a crate to be deposited into that same warehouse that’s at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark: gone forever, and I wasn’t exactly expecting a sequel (ala Crystal Skull) to change the situation. So, my theory was that in publishing the project online, I would automatically receive some version of an audience, certainly more than if I had just shelved it entirely. And this has turned out to be very true.

Now, 1200 visits in a year is not a lot– this blog received ten times that many in the same time-frame, and technorati ranks this site 278,352– and I don’t have a lot of evidence as to what those 1200 or so visitors did with the site. But that is about 1200 more people doing something with this project– even if it is just glancing at the main page– than would have seen it otherwise. And I’m pretty sure that no one in Tehran would have thought about it much.

When I was at the gym this morning, I was reading Clay Shirky’s book and the chapter “Publish, then Filter,” and one of the point he makes in there is about the difference between an “audience” and “friends.” I don’t quite agree with what he’s getting at there, but he is kind of saying something that a lot of other theorist have said about audience and internet technologies: you don’t have to have a big audience to be a “success.” I’m thinking here in particular to something that Chris “The Long Tail” Anderson said in an interview someplace about how an audience of 100 is a good thing if it is the right 100 people. For me, it turns out that at least a few of them are in Iran.

Now, it’s easy for Shirky and Anderson to say these things of course, especially when they are saying them in books that have reached very large audience and which have undoubtedly made each of them a lot of money. In fact, the cynic in me says that this is all part of some twisted con, kind of like one of those “get rich” books where the advice really ought to be to write a book about getting rich quick, only the pitch here is a little different: “Buy my book about how big audiences or big organizations don’t matter, and pay no attention to the fact that you are joining a big audience and contributing dollars to a big organization.”

Still, it’s pretty cool that by forgoing dead tree print and the money that could have come from it (had I been able to convince McGraw-Hill, of course), I’ve been able to produce a resource that is at least kind of interesting to someone somewhere. That doesn’t pay the bills, but it is satisfying in a small way.

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