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:

A Day in Twitter User’s Life

I’ve found myself using Twitter more and more recently. In large part it comes on the expense of blogging here – the mental entry barrier is so much different from taking proper time out of a busy day to write a polished blog entry versus shooting away compressed 140 character thought-bits from my mobile in the middle of a meeting or in transit when travelling.

I’ve experimented quite a bit with what I tweet about. At some point I jotted down a few blogging principles (in Estonian here) and Twitter was initially a channel for the leftovers that didn’t fit in, e.g. short messages about me, my location, my random inner thoughts – rather than something specifically designed for the reader. As my followers count has grown (getting very close to the number of RSS subscribers on this blog – interesting tipping point soon; now ranking in the top 2 of #Estonian users – hi, Cyrus), I’ve knowingly pulled back from more egocentric and personal stuff and craft my short messages for a broader, more anonymous audience. To a notable extent I’m also taking feedback from those near and dear to me about which content they feel could be uncomfortable or too revealing.

Either way, Twitter is a concept-stretching medium and part of the beauty of it is that though we more or less know what is the “old” stuff that it is changing we can have no clue yet to what, in which direction. Even better, it is still up to us as the users to define it – both when consuming microcontent (whom we follow, how we filter, what we re-share) and when creating it (just linking or creating new? talking about yourself or the readers? social realism or philosophical abstractionism?).

Anyway, what sparked this post was actually a funny incident today. Apple App Store opened up for Estonian users today. As we launched the Skype client for iPhone this week and it has skyrocketed to a million downloads in less than 48 hours, we are all of course very closely following this space right now. So, when I learned about Apple’s Estonian expansion this morning, I of course tweeted it (at 10:58) as something my followers could care about. At 11:46 Eesti Päevaleht, one of the largest Estonian dailies, ran a news story, quoting my tweet as the original source. They had a comment from EMT (the local iPhone-exclusive mobile operator), who apologized that they still haven’t heard about it from Apple and don’t know what to say.

From one side I even feel a bit sorry for my friends at EMT for stealing the thunder from their official press if and when they were planning to run it. On the other hand – it is a great example of casual, yet targeted real-time content bending the borders between “mainstream” and social media.