What exactly am I doing here?

Mallorn Computing mentioned in The Garden.

Judy White and Graham Rice’s 1999 article mentioning Mallorn Computing in The Garden magazine.

What exactly am I doing here?

Don’t worry, I’m not going to start an existentialist discussion.  This is more likely to be a discussion about social media, pleasing the masses, and picking a direction and sticking with it.  Maybe not even a discussion.  We’ll call it a soul-searching rant (with just a hint of existentialism, a smattering of positivism, and a dash of rationalism).

hort.net has been around for eighteen years (sixteen if you don’t count the time it was hosted by Mallorn Computing, Inc.).  In internet years that’s as old as dirt.  Some of the same features that were started in 1995 are still active (which I’ll claim as a testament to my excellent coding skills and not some fluke or indication of laziness in updating things).  Other features are newer (like our sHORTurl service).  I’m trying to grow and accommodate the needs of Internet users, but lately it’s been like herding cats.  Or trying to find Thismia americana.

It seems that when I start working on a feature for hort.net the Internet landscape will change, and then I’ll have to switch gears to work on another feature.  Rinse, repeat.  I’m starting a lot of projects and finishing none of them.  For example, I was trying to make the image gallery into a canonical source of plant photographs for people.  But then Google essentially stole the content and people stopped visiting.  They could get the photos from Google without even being aware that hort.net existed.

So I started blogging and facebooking and tweeting to bring new visitors to hort.net, but it doesn’t feel quite right.  It might be because I’m rudderless.  I’m posting a scattered hodge-podge of miscellaneous gardening links with no real commonality.  A lot of people make a very successful living doing nothing and talking about it, but that doesn’t particularly interest me.  The whole social media thing is like a giant mutual appreciation society — I’ll follow you if you follow me.  And I have been — following right down the rabbit hole, wondering why my Klout score had dropped or I was unfollowed, and traffic to hort.net still wasn’t increasing.

I started hort.net to leverage technology for the green industry.  I have a BLA (Bachelor’s in Landscape Architecture) from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and a MS (Master of Science) in Horticulture from the same institution.  But as a kid I was a computer nerd and accomplished a great number of nerdly things.¹   In college most of my elective courses involved things like computer visualization, databases, and programming, and I took on special projects to tie it into my curricula.  This was cutting edge stuff in pre-internet days.  I saw (and still see) how little the green industry used technology, and I wanted to make a difference by melding the two.

I don’t feel that I’ve accomplished that…  yet.  I started down the right path, to the point that Mallorn Computing and hort.net were mentioned in magazines like RHS’s The Garden or Horticulture here in the states.  But I don’t have focus.

Instead, I think I need to pick one topic and run with it.  I have an idea, and I think that you’ll all like it when it’s announced.

Social media is great for getting the word out and has its place, but it’s not going to add content and features to the site.  It’s not going to make people want to stay and participate.  So for now I may tweet and post and blog and whatever, but my expectations and reasons will be different.  I’ll be sharing something because I think it’s interesting or needs to be said, but social media won’t be the focus.  I’m not doing it for the exposure, but instead for the ability to share with people.  I’ll tend to our gardens, both virtual and real, and let that feed my soul.  Hopefully I’ll make the world a better place in the process.

tl;dr²:  Now I’m hanging out with you because you’re interesting, not because I want something.  And hort.net is going to get cooler.

_____________________________________ 
¹ At twelve I wrote programs to manage my stamp collection and balance my mother’s checkbook; by the age of 17 I had written a basic window manager in Assembly that ran on MSDOS 3.3.  I told you — nerdly.
²tl;dr stands for ‘Too long; didn’t read’.  It provides a summary.