Why Plug One survives

So why does Plug One exist?

Good question. It’s one I’ve obsessed over for months, especially during the past few days. It haunts me as I write this, causing me to neglect my (slightly overdue) paid writing assignments.

It wasn’t meant to turn out this way. Plug One started back in September 2006. I intended it as a magazine-style website, with friends who would contribute features, reviews and the like. I wanted to celebrate progressive hip-hop — hence, the name Plug One (props to Posdnous). But the site was crippled by several early mistakes, including using Joomla as a CMS platform (even though I didn’t have any programming or design experience), relying too heavily on my friends for content (even though they weren’t being paid) and, yes, wasting too much time on “news” posts.

Ah, the news posts. It seems quaint now, but back in 2006 there was little news available online for indie-rap artists. It was during a time when “indie” was used as an epithet designating “backpack” rappers as less than. However, by early 2008, the blog scene rapidly changed. No longer dominated by super-opinionated types like Byron Crawford and OhWord.com obsessing over Lupe Fiasco’s Christ-like pose on Food & Liquor, the new kings were mega-post sites like NahRight.com and 2dopeboyz.com that chucked up news, MP3s, videos, and anything else they can get their hands on. They proved to be very good at it, sometimes generating up to 50 posts a day. And with fresh jolts of energy brought by the Cool Kids, Blu, Kid Cudi and Tanya Morgan, to name a few, fan fervor was finally returning to the indie-rap scene.

So you could say that Plug One missed its moment. The problem is, I never intended the site to be a commons area, a Drudge-like collection of search engine-baiting links. It was supposed to be a magazine, with the news posts serving as front-of-the-book style content. So why was I writing so many goddamn news posts?

It’s the reason why I woke up this morning and wanted to delete the whole damn thing. Rip it up and start over again.

If you have visited Plug One since, oh, its WordPress incarnation (I moved it here from Joomla in July 2008), then you’d find little proof that I’m actually a music journalist who has held several editorial positions, contributed to Spin magazine since 2007 and won a few awards (okay, only one). I’ve voted in Village Voice‘s Pazz & Jop poll since 1999, and though that poll doesn’t mean what it used to (hell, nothing does anymore), it’s a sign that I’m generally respected by my rock-crit peers. But I don’t even use my real name on this site. No wonder that when I introduced myself to other bloggers, they’d be, like, “Who the fuck are you?” I’m not saying that I’m a famous writer, but my real name carries more weight than “Plug One Boss.”

Instead of utilizing my strengths, the Plug One project seems to exploit my biggest weaknesses. I can be extremely lazy. Yes, I’ve gotten much better since the days when I used to turn in an URB story three weeks late (sorry, Kathryn), but it’s still a pernicious habit of mine. Reviews are very hard to write. Essays are very hard to write. Interviews are fun to do, but transcribing them can be a chore. Perhaps that’s why I’ve collected several unpublished interviews — apologies to Jeff Chang, Jeff Kuglich at Galapagos4, Chikara at Tres Records and too many others to mention. I rarely post reviews anymore, and have made  more lists of ideas for essays than actual essays. (However, I finally posted a review earlier this month.) In contrast, posting tour dates and album release information is easy. I get tons of press release emails, can always check MySpace and Twitter for new announcements, and even swipe the stuff from others sites like Okayplayer.com and HipHopDX.com. It can take a half-hour or more to format, but it’s mindless work.

I mean, why bother writing an essay, review or interview when no one’s going to read it anyway? Most of the traffic that Plug One gets is from people who are looking for free downloads of albums, period. When I posted items for RJD2’s The Colossus and Ill Bill’s The Hour of Reprisal, I got crazy hits, at least for a crummy site like mine. And the only reason my Flying Lotus interview continues to attract visitors is because I asked him a question about the Internet bootleg Raw Cartoons, which makes the story pop up in search engines when people are, again, looking for a free download of it.

It was easy to get trapped into a cycle of scraping for tiny traffic bumps with such a defeatist attitude, instead of addressing the tougher issue of why Plug One isn’t working. I could have gone on like this forever, except I finally got a job after two years of looking. It’s a modest part-time gig editing content for Rhapsody.com, but it will require a lot of my creative energy. Posts that I would have written for Plug One — if I actually wrote posts instead of news charticles! — will now go to Rhapsody.com.

This doesn’t mean that I won’t have a website anymore. These days, it’s important for writers to have an independent, self-owned outlet for their work. I am still deciding what my digital strategy will be, and whether that strategy will include a better, reconfigured Plug One, or a new site that doesn’t have a legacy of failure on its shoulders. The one thing that Plug One boasts is an deep analytics history. The blogosphere, specifically the hip-hop blogosphere, is much more crowded today than in 2006, and it would be very difficult to gather several thousand visitors without a lot of time and promotional work. I care about that history. But is it enough to save the site?

I don’t know.

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5 Responses to Why Plug One survives

  1. anonymous says:

    Of course you should save this site! it’s the only site i found that see hip-hop as this big concept that it really is… Instead of deleting this site we should make more sites like this one.

    Just a guy from who visits your site often!

  2. Plug One Reader says:

    ..Plug One Boss..

    Long time reader, first time poster… of anywhere really. I understand how it can be a hassle to keep updating things that seem quite trivial. However, I wanted to say a few things for what it’s worth:

    1) I’ve always enjoyed your interviews, reviews, and ramblings and will continue to do so.
    2) I appreciate you doing the mindless work of cruising other sites for tour/release dates, which saves me the time and also gets my ass out from time to time.
    3) You have damn fine taste in hip hop, but also music in general, and that comes across in your work here. (I would say it does in your work elsewhere, but since I don’t know who you really are, this will have to do.)
    4) Whatever you decide to do with your digital strategy, if you do decide to pull the plug on Plug One (sorry about that), you definitely have to set up some kind of link to what comes next.
    5) A quick question as well: I’ve seen you mention quite a few different places about other contributors, but I don’t think I’ve ever actually seen another post by anyone other than you… and I’ve been reading this for a few years. Is that true?
    6) Good luck at Rhapsody!

  3. OCTAVIUS says:

    What metrics are you using to determine whether the site is a “success” or not?

  4. plugoneboss says:

    Thanks for the comments.

    Octavius, I use Google Analytics and Quantcast.

    Plug One Reader, I appreciate the fact that you’ve been following the site for some time. I know there are a few of you out there! To address one of your questions: Past contributors include Max Herman, James O’Connor, Jonathan Zwickel, Sam Chennault, and Rachel Swan. You’ll find their work if you do a search on the site.

    I’ll try to address the other questions in a follow-up post.

    I am not pulling, uh, the plug on Plug One. I guess my post was a temper tantrum, and a wake-up call aimed at myself, to provide some more meaningful content. Just because most people come here looking for non-existent free downloads doesn’t mean I can’t give them a reason to stay.

  5. Max says:

    It’s good to hear you’re not pulling the plug on the site. I understand wanting to offer more meaningful content, but I think the more news-like posts set Plug One apart already. It seems like a lot of blogs like to roll with hype while you keep your readers updated on a range of under-appreciated artists. That said even a quick reminder about a group’s upcoming tour can be extremely helpful when I may have missed an e-mail about that tour or never got it all together. Plug One is a resource that is needed—period.

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