Jeff Atwood gave the best possible advice for people who want to make a successful blog:
When people ask me for advice on blogging, I always respond with yet another form of the same advice: pick a schedule you can live with, and stick to it. Until you do that, none of the other advice I could give you will matter. I don’t care if you suck at writing. I don’t care if nobody reads your blog. I don’t care if you have nothing interesting to say. If you can demonstrate a willingness to write, and a desire to keep continually improving your writing, you will eventually be successful.
But success takes time– a lot of time. I’d say a year at minimum. That’s the element that weeds out so many impatient people. I wrote this blog for a year in utter obscurity, but I kept at it because I enjoyed it. I made a commitment to myself, under the banner of personal development, and I planned to meet that goal. My schedule was six posts per week, and I kept jabbing, kept shipping, kept firing. Not every post was that great, but I invested a reasonable effort in each one. Every time I wrote, I got a little better at writing. Every time I wrote, I learned a little more about the topic, how to research topics effectively, where the best sources of information were. Every time I wrote, I was slightly more plugged in to the rich software development community all around me. Every time I wrote, I’d get a morsel of feedback or comments that I kept rolling up into future posts. Every time I wrote, I tried to write something just the tiniest bit better than I did last time.
Now before you dismiss this advice, two points to consider:
- Take a closer look at the end of the url: blog/archives/000983.html. 983! In 2006 after I really got into reading blogs, I dove back and read through Jeff’s archives, among others, and the post numbers are almost entirely sequential. Near as I can tell, he either has written or is approaching over 1,000 posts, so he knows what he’s talking about.
- Take a look at the Technorati Top 100. He’s #73 and #85. (I think because you can get it at either / or /blog)
Other top computer bloggers have done the same thing: hundreds of posts over several years on a variety of topics.
Now, I don’t need to be as big as Reg, Joel, or Jeff, but I’m sort of tired of being invisible. I’ve decided to throw my hat in the ring and create an online persona, and here was my strategy:
- Like Jeff said, write a lot. I’m shooting for 2-3 posts a week (dang mental math made me realize that I need to write over 100 this year)
- Read and respond to comments. Just like it’s nice to eat a restaurant where they owner gives a crap that you’re there, it’s nice to read a blog where the author cares about your reaction. This is especially important when beginning, and I’m going to put extra effort into it. Just like the Cluetrain Manifesto said, the internet is just a big conversation, so if you can keep the conversation going, you get more out of it.
- Cover a breadth of topics. A lot of my writing so far (aside from my early forays into polyphasic sleep and the building of my house) have been commentary on Lisp. That’s just because that’s what I’ve had most on my mind recently. Upcoming topics include general software principles, notes on setups/configurations I make, book reviews, entrepreneur/family balance, collections of resources, education, updates on my startup, and whatever else.
- Cover topics deeply. If I do a better job explaining or consolidating knowledge than anyone else, more people will find it beneficial and more people will read my stuff. In a Googlified “I’m Feeling Lucky” world, being the 3rd or 4th best resource doesn’t get you very far.
- Use social news sites effectively. I’ve submitted a couple of the things I’ve written to Hacker News and programming.reddit.com and had good experiences. I put two of them up before I installed a stats package on WordPress so I don’t know the effect, but there’s more below about the stats I’ve collected so far
I’ve been a heavy internet consumer for a long time and a big blog reader for the last 18 months, but this is the first time I’ve really produced stuff that people have read. I got full stats on the article I submitted yesterday, Lisp: The Golden Age Isn\’t Coming Back, Let\’s Welcome a Bright Future and here’s what I’ve found:
- As of this writing, exactly 2500 people had read the article
- Of the 1500 or referrers, about 800 were from Reddit and close to 500 from Hacker News
- Over 200 people that came from Google Reader. At first I thought that all of those people subscribed to my blog, but I realized that they’re reading someone else who linked to me (for instance, I made Raganwald’s del.icio.us feed – Thanks Reg!). Hopefully people will subscribe, but I’m not sure how to track that without using FeedBurner. Any tips? [Note: I just found the Syndicated views in WordPress Stats. There were 0] Any comments from someone who has subscribed?
2500 page views might not be much to some people, but since I consistently joke about the dozens of people that enjoy my writing, 2500 is a big deal. I’m curious to see how traffic goes in the days after the Reddit/Hacker News traffic dies down. I’m trying to keep writing to make sure people that found me then continue to find good things. Late this week or early next week I’ll have another social-news-worthy post, and this one might not even be about Lisp!