Posts tagged ‘reflection’

Err on the side of action

Last weekend I was in Boulder for a wedding. For weeks I’d been looking forward to going climbing while I was back in Colorado. So on Sunday some friends and I headed up Boulder canyon to climb some rocks. We debated before leaving whether the dark clouds were going to be an issue, but we decided to go anyway. As we drove up the canyon, rain drops began to fall on our windshield. We kept driving. We reached the trail head and pulled off on the side of the road. The clouds were grey all around and the rain was light but unyielding. We started discussing whether to hike up to the crag or to go back and play board games or something. Wet rock isn’t much fun to climb, but we were torn. We didn’t want to turn back if there was a chance of it clearing up, but our group was split on what to do. I threw out my vote: err on the side of action.

“Err on the side of action” is really just another way of saying “regret the things you do, not the things you don’t do”. I’d rather get soaked in the rain and have a failed climbing trip than turn back without giving it a fair shot. People tend to overestimate how much regret they will later feel from their decisions. Research suggests that people are remarkably good at avoiding self-blame, and are better at avoiding regret than they realize. Forgetfulness and selective memory are a part of being human and sometimes it can be a blessing. Nostalgia has a way of making us forget the bad. We remember the “good old days”. We remember college as the best time of our lives, or that relationship that seems so perfect in retrospect, even though you had all sorts of problems at the time. Grab life by the horns and don’t worry too much about doing stuff you might regret.

Making the decision to err on the side of action can also be a useful device since there are so many things that are good for you, but you won’t feel like doing them in the moment. Exercise is an easy example. You don’t feel like going for a run, but you’ll feel better if you do it. Perhaps you don’t feel like going out and being social, even though that’s the one thing that would cheer you up. Make the decision ahead of time to say “yes” to the things you want as part of your life. There’s a chance you’ll do something you’ll genuinely regret, but optimizing your life for the least amount of failure or regret is a pretty horrible way to live.

One of my favorite quotes is from Michael Jordan:

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

In an interview at New York’s IAB conference, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg said “We’re more afraid of losing by standing still”. Big companies often fall into the “safe” position where they feel like they have so much to lose that they don’t take enough risks. It’s neat to see Facebook so committed to erring on the side of action. They admit that they’ll make mistakes, but as Marc Andreessen said “If a company is hitting more than 50% of its goals it’s too conservative”.

I’ve missed a lot of buses over the years. I get impatient waiting for them and just start walking in the direction they are going. I always hope I’ll time it right so I’m within sprinting distance of the next stop whenever the bus finally shows up. It doesn’t always work out for me, but I’d rather be proactive than just stand around.

Don’t be scared to fail. Be proactive. Err on the side of action.


The power of an audience

I know Brett Slatkin from my work on PubSubHubbub back in the day. Brett wrote a great post about why he has his own website. I think it’s an interesting discussion to have in a world where increasingly more content lives on third-party properties like Facebook, Twitter or Google Plus. Brett lists his reasons as being:

1. Having a home

When I want you to know something, I’m going to talk about it here. This is where you’ll be able to find me over time and space. This is my home. People in the neighborhood used to just drop by to see folks and catch up; this site serves the same purpose for me. It’s something we can depend on so we can always be in contact.

2. Expressing myself

This blog is a creative outlet for me. I designed how the pages look and choose the content in each post. If the site is ugly or hard to read it’s my fault, but I’m proud of it anyways. I like that readers get a feeling from my site that’s unique to me. I like that my content and how it’s conveyed are a single package that I’ve created myself.

3. Internet citizenship

We call it the “web” because our sites all interconnect with links. Hyperlinking is what gives the Internet its richness. Following links has helped me learn so much. So I want to give back. I want to cite others and be cited. I want to contribute to the web’s complexity. My own site lets me do that.

Each of his points resonate with me. But for me, there’s one reason that trumps them all: the power of an audience.

I remember showing Twitter to a friend in the early days. Like many people, he told me that he just didn’t get it. Why would anyone care what he was eating for lunch? Later in our conversation my friend mentioned that he was looking for a ticket to a sold-out event that evening. Being one to never pass up the opportunity to show off, I pulled out my phone and promised I’d have a ticket for him in 5 minutes. My Twitter followers came through for me and my friend got a first-hand demonstration of the power of having an audience. He signed up for Twitter that same night.

The fact that Marissa Mayer, Mark Cuban and thousands of other people follow me on Twitter is really cool. So are the friends I have on Facebook. And the people who are subscribed to this blog. Having an audience is an incredibly valuable asset no matter where you build it. It blows my mind that almost half a million people have visited this site. I love the internet. It’s a way for ordinary people like me to have a voice in the world. I don’t take that for granted for a second. As always, thanks for listening and reading along. It means a lot.


Choosing your audience

For every blog post I write, I pick an audience.

For me, it boils down to two options: the first is to write for my RSS subscribers, my loyal readers, my friends, my community.  The second option is to write for strangers, random people searching Google, the people who stumble upon my blog every day because of something I wrote that matches what they were seeking.

TechCrunch writes for the community. Mashable writes for Google.

I realize that’s a pretty broad generalization, but just look at the data.  The three featured posts on TechCrunch right now are No User Updates?, Location and Comparisons.  They may be catchy titles, but probably not anything that would rank well in Google.  Mashable, in comparison, has an entire How-to series permalinked from their top navigation.  This series contains posts like HOW TO: Retweet on Twitter and HOW TO: Download YouTube Videos to Your Desktop.  Guess what?  Almost every post in Mashable’s How-to section is the top result for its title phrase in Google.  Mashable is obviously milking the Google traffic for all it’s worth.  Meanwhile, TechCrunch doesn’t seem to even consider the SEO implications of their posts.

I think it’s obvious that both strategies can work.  What I find interesting is how hard it is to write for both audiences at the same time.

If you decide to start writing for Google, the first thing you should do is turn your title into something that looks more like a search query.  If you’re really thorough, you will Google the title you want to use and check the PageRank of the existing results to make sure you can dominate that phrase.  It’s amazing how well this simple strategy can work.  Sure, your newly devised titles aren’t as engaging as they used to be, but you’ll start seeing far more traffic from Google.  Best of all, the traffic shows up regardless of whether you create new content or not.  The danger of course is that you’ll start alienating your core audience.  This happens when you give in to the temptation to write broader and broader content.  There are far more beginners than intermediates, so the fastest way to get more traffic is to dumb things down.  After all, the top “how to” result on Google isn’t “how to implement pubsubhubbub” it’s “how to tie a tie”.  Traffic is addictive.  If you’re not careful, you’ll soon find yourself writing at the intermediate level instead of expert.  You’ll slowly lose your original audience which is now getting content it didn’t sign up for, but don’t worry – you’ll more than make up for the pageviews you lose.  Heck, the new audience is much better at clicking on ads anyway.  Everyone has to decide for themselves whether it is worth the trade.

When I write on this blog, I’m usually torn about which audience to pick.  50% of my traffic comes from Google, and my posts are pretty evenly split between the two audiences.  A lot of times when I solve a tricky problem with some code I want to share my solution to help someone out there from wasting hours of their life like I did.  It’s my way of giving back to the countless strangers that have helped me out by documenting their solutions along the way.  Posts written for Google send along a good bit of traffic, but I also enjoy writing posts that will never be found via Google.  The protocols powering the real-time web doesn’t get much traffic from Google, but the discussion that post generated was amazing.  My goal for this blog is simply to share what I am learning, and that holds true regardless of who reads it.

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Is one audience inherently better than the other?  Do you think it’s possible to maintain both?