Happy Birthday to me … and by “me”, I mean this website, Life of an Architect. On January 14th, 2010 my life was irrevocably changed, mostly for the better, when I decided to start a blog site and start talking about what it meant to be, and work with, an architect.
In my effort to recognize this milestone, I thought I would take this entire week and write a blog post where I will isolate a year (or two or three) and talk about what happened, what was important, and why it matters. Consider it the ultimate peek behind the scenes … you might just be surprised by what you find out.
Life of an Architect – Year One (2010)
Best decision I made was to name my site ‘Life of an Architect’ … a decision at the time I didn’t consider much. I came up with the name based on a class I took as a Freshman when I was in college. That class was Architecture and Society and was taught by the great (and extremely popular) Larry Speck, FAIA. On the first day of class, before any of us knew who Larry was and just how important a figure he is within the architectural landscape of Texas and beyond, he moseyed on stage and told us that we were in “Architecture and Society” and that he named the class this because the “Architecture” part was self-evident, we were going to be talking about architecture, and “Society” because this gave him the ground to talk about whatever else he wanted to talk about. I applied this same logic when naming my site because I am an architect, and the “Life” part would allow me to talk about whatever I wanted.
Once I came up with a name, oh boy, this was an exciting year. I probably spent at least 20-30 hours a week working on the site and the content. The challenge was trying to learn what I was doing – I started editing photos and graphics in photoshop for the first time, and I meet Paul Anater who seemed to know everyone and was one of my biggest advocates in these early days (read this as evidence of my early reliance on Paul), and Amanda Eden – a Director at a public relations firm that specialized in the AEC industry who introduced me to probably hundreds of people, (and who is responsible in no small way for me starting a podcast) and is a good friend to this very day. Paul and Amanda, in particular, had a major role in those early days but there were countless others who engaged with me in a meaningful way that reshaped my world and I owe gratitude to every single one of them.
I wrote a mind-boggling 180 articles the first year – an average of one every two days. It’s hard to pick my favorite but since that’s my goal for this post, I’ll have to go with the following:
Top Ten Reasons Not to be an Architect
Why would I choose this post, considering that I hate it? This post, probably more than any other, put Life of an Architect on the map and my online visibility shot through the roof. I even wrote a post describing how much I hated having written this post (Evil Top Ten List – I Hate You). Despite this internal turmoil I was going through, everything was happening really fast and every bit of it was exciting. In a relatively short period of time, I went from some guy in the next cubicle to having people from all over the world reaching out to me as if I had something worth reading – which was the root of the next big struggle I would face, but I’ll eventually get into that later.
Let’s take a look at how the traffic was growing and how this understandably shaped my behavior.
I have since learned that the people whose opinions I care about don’t give two shakes when it comes to website traffic and the metrics behind this site. The people that are most interested either write a blog themselves and are looking for some basis of comparison, or they are AEC industry-related folks that are looking to collaborate in some capacity.
Even though the born-on date for Life of an Architect is January 14th, I didn’t learn about or set up Google Analytics until early March. You can look at the graph above and you’ll see what I mean – just as you can start to see the rate at which the traffic started to grow. While this amount of traffic seems downright pedestrian to me now, it was a big deal in the beginning. Once I had basically learned how to “blog” I would have quit if it wasn’t for the on-going challenge I set for myself on how to continue this growth. I don’t really want to put it in writing because I find it a bit shameful, but this period came across as a huge validation to the things I hold intrinsic to my core values, not to mention a huge boost to my ego.
In the beginning, despite the fact that I didn’t think anyone would actually find OR read my site, I made the decision to be my truest self and not pretend to be something that I am not. This was a frightening decision because the opportunity to embarrass myself was coming at the rate of every other day (every 1.95 days if you want to get specific).
I know that some people will find it incredible that I would share the metrics of my site so openly, something that I’ve never cared much about. I’ve only had it really be an issue twice in nine years – once was when I was submitting my application for Fellows in the AIA and one of the elder statesman (who I barely know and don’t have any history with) here in Dallas started telling some people that I was lying about the numbers. Luckily I had someone who came to my support and shut all that nonsense down. The other time was much more recent when I had started the podcast. I was looking to understand how different the metrics were between blogging and podcasting so I reached out to a friend of mine who has been podcasting for some time and I asked for some help – ultimately, and rather disappointingly, I think they viewed me as competition and elected not to share any information with me. I have a policy of transparency on my site and if someone wants to know something that I know, I am going to tell them. To this day I wish this was something that more architects would practice.
Year One Page views – 518,635
Year One Countries/ Territories – 190
Year One Top Five Cities – Dallas, New York, London, Lisbon, and Los Angeles
I should point out that the blog was beginning to take its toll on my family during this period. The blog at this point was basically an exercise in learning how to do something new and I did not have the support of the office where I worked to spend time on it during office hours – which I totally understand. What that meant was all the time I dedicated to the blog was during my evenings and on weekends. The time it took to prepare an article every two days, while trying to expand the reach, learn about all the moving parts associated with social media, etc. meant that I was spending the equivalent of another full-time job on what was essentially a hobby. To say that this caused stress in my house would be an understatement as it wasn’t just my burden – it affected everyone. My daughter was 5 years old at this time and considering that she went to bed really early and that kept us in the house, this allowed me additional consideration to spending the sort of exorbitant time needed to develop the blog. I think if my daughter was just a bit older when I started, this blog would most likely not exist.
Here’s the thing about trying to track the most popular posts from a given year. If I write a popular post in January, as opposed to November, it has all year to acquire page views (a page view is basically an indication of the number of times a particular post was read). The other way to track popularity is to look at how many times a post was accessed on the day it was actually published – which it should not come as a surprise that this was a metric that I tracked for years. For the purposes of these birthday posts, I decided to go with the most viewed post over the course of a year because as it turns out, there are a handful of posts that show up time and time again regardless of when the post was originally written.
#1 – Top Ten Reasons to Be an Architect (18,387 year one page views)
If you have ever considered being an architect, here is a list of reasons why you should be an architect.
This is one of what I consider the “Holy Trinity” of blog posts on my site. Turns out this is actually a pretty well thought out post and for people who are considering becoming an architect, this is a great place to start your indoctrination. A thoroughly positive piece with room for all sorts of various career trajectories within the profession.
#2 – How to Spot a Hippie (17,255 year one page views)
Time has not been kind to most hippies, something that I am at a loss to explain. All that love and kindness, a healthy lifestyle, proper diet, What gives? So in a matter of moments, I put together my list of today’s modern day hippie requirements.
This is the post where I get the meanest comments by a mile. I have considered turning the comments off for this post but I never do – if I am going to dish it out I have to be prepared to take it … and let me tell you I take a lot.
I gave my first public presentation on social media at the Texas Society of Architects convention in 2010. I was contacted by the Society and asked to do this presentation just three months after I started the site. At the time I was horrified that I was being asked to do this – I had literally just begun the site so what sort of insight can I honestly bring to the mix. As it turns out the message I delivered in that presentation is the same one that I deliver now:
Architects need to be talking about architecture to people who aren’t architects.
This presentation turned out to be the first moment when an important milestone became a possibility. My college professor, Larry Speck, was in the audience for this presentation and he told me it was at this moment that he thought I was on to something special and why he ultimately asked to sponsor my elevation to Fellowship in the American Institute of Architects – an achievement that had never been on my radar as a possibility.
Tomorrow will be a look at years two and three when things really start heating up. I hope you will join me for the rest of the story. If I’ve left out a tale you were interested in, or possibly have a question you would like me to answer, please feel free to add it to the comment section.