Product Manage Your Blog

Andrew Chen is an entrepreneur and a blogger. He is one of the top minds in the industry for understanding and analyzing viral loops. After we met in that context in early 2010, I’ve been keeping an eye on his blog and reading some of his insightful essays from the archives.

Over the last few years since the raise of Twitter, blogging circles have been struggling. Significantly reduced friction of quick updates and link sharing have been taking many writers’ attention, time and dedication away from their previously regular blogs.

What I’ve found is that the perceived value of and expectations to a blog post have gone up. You can think of it as a hierarchy of “weight” when broadly & publicly communicating out, something in the lines of:

Re-tweet -> Tweet -> Facebook post (with comment action) -> Blog post -> A-list media

(Two side remarks here: 1) There branded list of particular communication services changes over time of course. For example Quora is currently entering this hierarchy aggressively, and far more right than Twitter/Facebook. 2) A-list media is on the end here not for its reach for broader audiences — you can actually do much better with blogging by reaching the right ones — but for their remaining editorial authority and the share of control you as an author have to hand over to them when submitting your work, i.e ou can’t change and improve later what’s “on paper”.)

Many people broadcasting online spend majority of their allocated time on the left of this scale now. You can (re)tweet 10 messages a minute and there is a lot of slack for the quality and integrity of what gets through. It is a cloud of ideas for the receivers to pick (and re-share) what they find valuable. The little time still remaining for the right side of the scale makes you pick meatier and meatier topics and weigh much more carefully what is worth the proper writing time. Have you noticed how the blog posts that matter move away from pure subjective opinion, improve in structure, display much more carefully gathered evidence, first hand experiences analyzed, research committed?

The heavy traffic on the left slowly fades to oblivion (hey, Memolane! :)) while the content you publish on the right remains more and more with you, to represent and define you. The conscious or subconscious pressure to take proper time and be great if you take time at all could be one of the reasons we see less blogging that we used to.

Texts define people. And the ones that remain on the first page of the Google results on your name search — ever more so.

Coming back to Andrew, he recently did two things that christallized my line of thought above and triggered me to write this post here:

  1. He surveyed his dedicated readers and found that a 2/3 landslide asked him to focus on high-quality long essays on a monthly interval given options for shorter and more frequent posts.
  2. He now published a full content roadmap for his 2011 blogging plans, focusing on the life challenges of early stage startups and clearly defining his goals and milestones for covering this area.

Especially I think the latter is a great idea – treat your personal content production as a product and manage it as such: define your audiences, pick the channels to market, consider the resources available, build a backlog of topics you will cover and keep that stack-ranked as life changes, iterate and see what works and what not.

Even doing it for yourself will help you structure your thoughts and manage time, which will lead to better content for your readers. By taking the next step and publishing these detailed plans, Andrew has of course achieved additional benefits: it is much easier for users to decide if they want to subscribe, and there is a high likelihood of early feedback to help him finetune his roadmap to match actual “market needs” and interest.

So all he has to do now is write, write, write for his alert audience. No pressure, Andrew.


PS: I’ve written two slightly related attempts to touch this topic in 2009:


sten.tamkivi.com Revamp

With a week of downtime to ponder about things, I also thought about this site and its role in my portfolio of things to maintain.

It has been a year since I posted here and not for the lack of things to say or share but for the much-discussed oncoming of byte-size social media. I’ve been posting on Twitter almost daily (and it was fun to rediscover I wrote about that becoming a trend for me in April 2009 here) and as anyone, hit an occasional Facebook Like button or write a comment to a friend’s feed.

I still came to a conclusion that a blog has a place for me in my conversations with all of you. And then realized that I’m basically rephrasing what Clive Thompson recently said so well in Wired: Tweets and Texts Nurture In-Depth Analysis. It is so weird to think that just a few years ago you had to self-host of blogging engine to share a crappy mobile-quality photo (example: a typical post from Oct 2005) – there are so many new and better tools for that. But still, at times you feel like writing more than 140 characters to convey an idea, and do it in a space you actually control.

So, I took a few hours to revamp the software setup sten.tamkivi.com runs on to meet the changed needs. This is what’s changed:

  • Moved from MovableType to WordPress. Long overdue, but really needed the thinking above to be worth the conversion effort. Also considered Tumblr, Edicy & Squarespace, but as I already have a Dreamhost account anyway and WP has been quite painless for our kids’ blog, made this one easy.
  • Refreshed the visual skin that had been eye-hurtingly stuck somewhere in the nineties.
  • Moved comment threads to Disqus. Just the thought of logging into an admin interface to see another 10,000 spam comments slipping through MT’s broken filters was discouraging to writing anything. And as I don’t see in any value in anonymous comments, Disqus let’s you log in with your existing Facebook and Twitter credentials.
  • Drew my more frequent Twitter activity more visibility into this site.
  • Provided some standard tools to share content from here to social sites – Twitter, Delicious & Facebook.

So, in a way, as everything else on the interwebs, this blog has been downgraded from being a central portal about what Sten thinks to one of the several repositories of content I produce as I go – focussing on being simpler, and playing better together with all the other pieces in the puzzle. I am still happy if you choose to subscribe, as at the end of the day – does any content even exist if it is not read?

Old content wise, most of the archives seem intact, just the permalinks have changed – I expect Google to reindex them in no time and thus didn’t bother to rework. One known casualty of conversion were tags – if anyone has any past experience with that MT->WP, please let me know?

End of the technical interlude and hope for a more regular programming – I’ve been overoptimistic about the time needed for that before. Thanks for coming back – there were over 5000 unique readers here even over the quiet 2010.


Migration Misery: Feedburner becomes Google

Google started this year with aggressively reviewing its product portfolio. A number of services were announced to be shut down recently. That’s fine, times are tough. And even if they were not – I still admire the decisiveness of any large product company to occasionally merge similar things and kill the ones that haven’t gained traction. I’ve had to make a few of those decisions myself and they are never easy.

So when logging in to FeedBurner a week ago they proposed they merge my feeds into my Google account, it really wasn’t a surprise. After all FeedBurner had been already acquired by Google last June and something had to happen some day.

These sort of transitions are bound to introduce glitches, too. So I didn’t feel like bitching at once, but give it some time. Now, a week after the transition this is becoming a textbook example of how not to merge products if you are not ready.

This is what I as a long time user am struggling with still today, 7 days after:

  • I used to be a paid customer for premium stats services of FeedBurner. It seems for the part they now killed because of the overlap with Google Analytics – makes sense. However, nowhere in the process have I learned what happened to my credit relationship, will I continue to be charged or not. Not even a note in the lines of “thanks for your business, now we’re free”, if that is the case.
  • The RSS subscribers count for this blog, for example, fell from 271 to 128. It was supposed to “get adjusted in a week”, which it has not. And guess what seems to be the issue – the RSS reader type that seems to have vanished from the stats is… Google Reader
  • I have been splicing public bookmarks into my feed via del.icio.us. This does not work any more. When I go to feedburner.google.com settings, the configuration data is still there, but re-saving it displays an error message of “username stent doesn’t exist on del.icio.us”. Which is not true, of course.
  • Splicing photos from my Flickr feed does not work either, automatically that is. I get a one time effect of images import by going to settings and re-saving the Flickr configuration. But the next time I upload something to Flickr, no automatic feedburner splicing occurs.
  • I often peek at blog stats from my iPhone. iPhone does not support Flash. Thus FeedBurner used to be a well-suited alternative to full Google Analytics to understand how things are trending, which referrals actively generate traffic, etc. Now, not only is GA Flash-centric enough that you can’t even select a report date without it (and I’m yet to see a decent iPhone app for this), they have moved the new FeedBurner to partial Flash too…
  • Even if it was a geeky and technical service, I’ve always loved FeedBurner’s philosophy, brand and language they talk to me in. So I sort of feel I owe them some and have spent a few evening hours trying to get the above feedback back to them. No such luck, virtually responseless Google Feedburner help group is all there is.

Apologies to all subscribers who are missing content or – I really don’t know – are seeing any other technical difficulties with this feed.


Blogimispõhimõtted

Villu küsis mult sama küsimuse, mis Telleriltki (ja ilmselt mitte ainult):

[15:44:41] Villu Arak: Räägin lähiajal korporatiivblogimise vallas ringikompavatele inimestele blogimise rõõmudest. Tahaks pisut tsiteerida tarku inimesi oma jutu kõrvale – olgu siis nimeliselt või anonüümselt. Kuna sa oled aktiivne blogiserverite bittidega täitja, mõtsin uurida, millised on nt. sinu 3 tipmist blogimisräkitiga seotud põhimõtet või käsku, mida sa ise kirjutades teadlikult või alateadlikult järgid.

Esimese hooga tulid sellised mõtted:

  • Internetist ei saa midagi kustutada.
  • Blogis ei saa öelda midagi, mida ei oleks valmis ka Päevalehe või New York Timesi esikaanel ütlema.
  • Anonüümsust ei ole tegelikult olemas, seetõttu teen elu lihtsamaks ja kirjutangi oma nime all.

Ja siis on veel üks fundamentaalne teema, mida kirjutades teadvustan, aga ei oska päris nii kompaktse reeglinimekirjana sõnastada. Blogisid on põhimõtteliselt kahte sorti: need mis räägivad kirjutajast ja need, mis lugejatest. Minu jaoks on see teine zhanr olulisem, kuidagi mõjutada ümbritsevat maailma, ühiskonda. Jagada kogemusi ja ideid või diskuteerida teiste omade üle. Panna lugejaid nende endi elule teisiti vaatama, õnnelikumal juhul ka seda kuidagi paremaks või lihtsamaks muutes. Seega, kui ma siin blogis ka kirjutan endast, siis ainult sellise nurga alt, millest teise eesmärgi jaoks mingit kasu võiks olla. “Sügasin kassi. Siis käsin poes. Tõnu helistas ka. Õlu oli soe.” ei kvalifitseeru. Mõni veider mobiilne olustikupilt argielust ehk küll, aga need kolisin flickr‘isse ära.


More on CrushCamp

Discovered that one of the CrushPad winemakers who kindly hosted us at a recent CrushCamp is also a food and wine blogger: VMac + Cheese.

She has taken the time to take a bunch of photos from my photoset and put together a storyline around it. Great reading if you’re interested to understand the process better, especially as she has added keyword links to explanatory pages at CrushNet‘s EnoWiki too.


Summer – over and out

It is obviously the back-to-school-and-work season now.

First: I’m receiving complaints that this blog has seen just 2 posts in last 2 months… In July nor August nobody cared, including myself. If you were one of those worried about silence – I now know that you have not subscribed to the feed. My Flickr feed you receive as an automagically embedded freebie when subscribing to this blog, has actually had a full trail of mobile snapshots of what has happened over the summer. And I have twittered.

Secondly, the travel season has started. Looking at the calendar, in the month of September I will drop by Tartu (spoke at Baltic Dynamics there last week), Pärnu (attending From Visions to Solutions), London (a wedding + Seedcamp), Athens (Skype Beta Days), Luxembourg, San Francisco / San Jose.

Hope this is enough chances to see you in person. And if not – I’ll try to be a better boy when it comes to dropping a line here on the way. Thanks, your pings to see if I survived the slow season are heartwarming.


Karu Tõde, mitte ainult ajakirjanike kohta

Ühtpidi oli see ajakirjaniku töökohus, täita väljamõõdetud pind kindlaks kellaajaks. Ja samas olla kohal, tajuda maailma ja ühiskonda ja astuda siis sammuke lugejast ettepoole ja öelda midagi, mille peale lugeja veel tulnud pole.

Jakob Karu, Areen, 8. veebruaril 2008

Kohtustuse-osa kõrvale jättes, võiks kehtida ka hea bloggeri kohta?


8332 Cheers to You, 2008!

I would like to thank all of you 8332 unique visitors (yes, you too Teller) coming from 106 countries for finding this blog in 2007 and for reading through those 29372 pages.

The fact that over half of you have come back more than once is great. The 239 of you who have over 200 visits per year under your belt – really, I wish I managed to post that often… Make your life easier and subscribe to the feed, like 171 loyal readers have already done.

A year ago there were zero hits and no feeds here. Your time spent means a lot to me. Especially as I know you are not numbers, but real people.

Have a great 2008 and talk to you soon!