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One Year Later: The Oddball X Relaunch and its Mixed Messages

Just shy of a year ago, I relaunched Oddball Update. Revision 10, or “Oddball X”, was a sea change in the presentation of this blog. Whereas before it had been a blog and only a blog, Oddball X attempted to transition the site into a news-and-reviews format, featuring big glossy images and a clear separation between blog and review content. The new presentation also gave rise to some monetization, mostly in the form of sponsored posts and a few Amazon Associate links. I had hoped to give more prominence to articles that people might actually want to search and find from Google or whatever, while still keeping those personal infodump blogs around for the benefit of friends, family and my own future self.

So how did it all shake out over the last year? Has this experiment been a success or a failure? To give a cop-out answer, I think it’s been something in between. But if you pressed me for a real response, I’d probably admit that Oddball X has wound up being pretty disappointing.

In my opinion there are two very large problems here; two primary reasons for the lackluster reception of Oddball X. The first is the insurmountable fact that I can’t seem to decide what I want this site to be — a blog, or a review site — and it’s not very skilled at being both simultaneously. The second is the obscene lack of content. I just don’t find myself interested in posting here, mostly because all the layers of spit-and-polish I’ve erected require me to prepare images and arrange stuff so that it fits in with the flow of the site, and most of the time that’s just too much damn work. Earlier tonight I almost abandoned my post about smartphones, simply because I could not find a decent banner image to go on the homepage carousel. (I eventually stuffed the post under the Blog category and omitted the image entirely.) That’s just ridiculous, but in today’s world when I have so much to do and when social media usually satisfies my cravings for sharing stuff, I need as few barriers to entry as possible if I’m actually going to get anything posted here.

It seems clear that if Oddball Update is to survive, the best way forward is to pick a side — blog entries or reviews — and go all-in. And it also seems clear to me that blog entries is the side to choose. Although it makes the site nigh impossible to monetize and potentially renders much of its content meaningless to outside visitors, it is, in point of fact, the only reason I ever created this site in the first place. If not for this place to post my online drivel, spur-of-the-moment thoughts, rants and reflections in an informal format, I would likely have lost many details of my life to history.

Furthermore, I find myself more apt to post interesting reflections, cool tech stuff and other happenings if I can do it in a free-form, blog style system. I frequently need to say more than most social networks will allow, and the built-in captive audience of Facebook or Google+ usually makes me too self-conscious to post anything but the most short, sweet and frequently snarky drivel. This evening, while searching for a decent photo of an iPhone 4S and a Samsung Galaxy S3 in the same shot (I never did find one that I liked), I ran across another guy’s blog where he briefly touched on his ability to run emulated game ROMs on his S3, view the output on his TV via a micro-HDMI to HDMI cable, and control the action with a PS3 gamepad. It was just a blog, a site where the guy mostly posts pictures of his gadgets and the food he eats. A site most people would call pointless, but it taught me something awesome that I didn’t know the Galaxy S3 could do. That’s the kind of site Oddball Update was always meant to be.

And so it will be again. Whether I’ll completely decimate the existing News & Reviews section is yet to be decided, but I am going to redevelop the layout to be more blog-centric. If I’m to do it right, this frankly means that I’d probably have to redesign the site from scratch in order to satisfy myself. I’m a busy man and this won’t happen overnight, so in the meantime, I have decided to try and prove that I’m serious about solving the second half of Oddball Update’s problems by posting something new every day, starting now. Yeah, yeah…I’ve tried it before, I’ve pledged it again and again and I always fail somewhere along the line. …What? Did you think I was going to say “But this time will be different”? I’m not going to say that, because shit, I don’t know if it’s going to be different or not. But I’m going to try again, and that alone is something. (And if I can build a design that doesn’t punish very short entries with insane amounts of UI awkwardness, it’s more likely that I’ll actually follow through for a change.)

Blogging itself has been undergoing a pretty big sea change what with the rise of casual bloggers who are more about getting free stuff and monetizing their blogs than really saying anything from the heart. (Notice I didn’t say “anything of value”.) Since I think this kind of change has done nothing but stifle Oddball Update, I’m going back to the more organic style of blogging and see where that gets me. If nowhere, cool. But at least it won’t be here, in this nowhere-land of very pretty but very empty stagnation.


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