We get what we want, and we want shitty content

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During the 100-day blogging challenge, I wrote a post on living online documents. In it, I wrote about how I would occasionally go back to edit my old blog posts, and how the Internet would be a better place if all writers did this. Why keep adding content online when we could be polishing existing content to make it great?

This is a good idea in theory. Quality over quantity. It appeals to the artists and craftsmen who live to improve and polish their products.

However, in practice, the real world seems to work differently. Businesses/careers rise and fall based upon page view counts. Page view counts equal attention, and businesses/bloggers/etc. will stop at nothing for more reader attention.

Readers seem to demand new content, and value it over old content. Just look at the magazine rack in any bookstore: 95% or more of text in the magazines on that rack are low quality.

“30 days to rock hard abs.”

“The 7 things that drive women/men crazy in bed.”

“The 10 amazing vacation spots you’ve never heard of” (even thought you probably have heard of them).

Yes, most of it is crap.

For any given topic, you could probably do a quick Google search and find something better. Or you could just step away from the magazine rack, and find the best book on that topic.¬†But chances are that you won’t because this is NEW crap, and obviously worth buying. And when we finish reading the new crap, we can wait until next month for the newer crap.

You can take the above argument and substitute “magazine rack” with most any pop-news web site or your FB/Twitter news feeds. I should say that my Twitter news feed tends to have higher-quality news (since I curate who I follow based upon interests), but there is still a lot of noise in there.

Long story short, businesses will give us what we want, and on the whole, we want new shitty content on a daily basis. Thus, there is little incentive for career writers to provide consistent quality over quantity.

An alternative for promoting quality content.

There may be an interesting alternative that promotes quality, and also works alongside our daily reading habits. Instead of hoping for higher quality content, we could create platforms for readers to pick and choose the best content. These platforms would encourage users to think about what is best online, and collect stuff in the areas that they are passionate about.

We are seeing movement towards this online with content curation and collection tools. Pinterest and Tumblr both enable uses to express what they love online. Medium enables writers of all shapes and sizes, but promotes quality by allowing readers to curate their personal favorites.

The cool thing about these content collection/curation platforms is that on the flip side, they become engines for discovering great content. Sure I can use Pinterest to collect pictures I like, but it is also amazingly useful for discovering new stuff I may like. Same thing with Tumblr and Medium.

This is one of the big reasons that I am building¬†Soulmix.¬†We all have our interests and passions. I’m interested in building startups, beautiful pictures of cities, and figuring out this thing called life. I consume new content every day, and most of it is crap, but whenever I find something I love, I save it in Soulmix. By doing this, I’ll always have access to my favorite stuff, but as a side effect, all of this great content is neatly organized for sharing with friends, as well as the entire Internet.

These content curation platforms don’t solve the shitty new content problem, but they are the beginning of movement towards reorganizing the web to promote great stuff. I’m excited to see where it goes in the coming years.

Photo credit: Ken Hawkins/Flickr

Blogging everything you know

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I came across this awesome and hilarious picture today on Twitter. After laughing a bit at the picture, I immediately began thinking about blogging.

Specifically, I was thinking about bloggers in the startup world. Is it possible that with the seemingly endless supply of startup-related blog posts, the best secrets to success are still unpublished? It makes some sense, right? If you have knowledge that puts you at a competitive advantage, why would you risk that advantage by revealing it in a blog post?

My guess is that for the most part, this isn’t true in the startup world.

Founders, entrepreneurs, and VCs could write everything they know, and it probably wouldn’t hurt their chances of success when compared to others. One, startups are all different; there is no recipe for success. Two, even with the best advisors/mentors, startups still seem to have a ridiculously high failure rate. Three, most startup advice isn’t 100% right or 100% wrong. There is a gray area, and they may apply in certain situations but not in others. Four, entrepreneurs tend to be the kind of people who forge their own path. They have their own ideas, vision, and strategy. Even if provided “perfect” advice, many probably wouldn’t follow it exactly.

There is probably more to say, but you get my point.

I’m not sure how to feel about this as a blogger. It means that no matter what I write, it probably won’t hurt my chances of success. But it also means that no matter what I write, there is no guarantee that the writing will be useful to others. Chances are, what I write is flat-out wrong, or wrong for many people.

I suppose that is OK.

Earlier, I wrote about my reasons for why I write. In retrospect, I still very much agree with it.

I write for myself.¬†I can’t guarantee that what I say is right. And I can’t guarantee it is right for the reader.¬†But I can guarantee that the thought process is useful to myself.

Kid President: Letter to a person on their first day here.

There is something awesome about hearing wise life advice from a cute little kid.

FYI: If you would like more writing, please bear with me a moment. I don’t want to spam email followers with more than one email a day, but am experimenting with what it feels like to share great content on different platforms (specifically, comparing this to remixing this content on Soulmix).

Building a startup? There are no rules.

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Building a startup is tough.¬†Because it is so hard, it makes sense for entrepreneurs, founders, and VCs to trade advice.¬†We see advice everywhere. The blog posts. The essays. The coffee meetings. It is all useful. Yet, it kind of isn’t.

One of the things I’ve begun to realize is that there just aren’t any hard and fast rules to building a successful startup.

OK, there may be one: create value in the world which can scaled and captured.

That seems true and obvious, but unfortunately isn’t very actionable. Other than that, I’m not sure I can give you a rule which is 100% true.

You may hear that design matters, but I can point you to successful website that are ugly and janky.

You may hear that you should raise as much money as you can, but there are successful companies which have been bootstrapped.

You may hear that the Lean Startup movement is the way to go, but I am show you many of the Alexa Top Sites that didn’t follow the principles.

You might hear that you need a cofounder, but there are startups which have succeeded with a single founder.

You may hear that these accelerators and incubators are great, but many great startup successes have been built outside of these communities/ecosystems.

You may hear you should move fast and break things, but there are other successful startups that don’t seem to move fast on product at all.

You may hear about the benefits of a private beta, but other founders have found success just getting their stuff out there.

I could go on and on.

For any piece of advice, you could follow it and be successful.. or you could not follow it, and be successful.

How do you proceed?

Too much analysis results in paralysis. And, at any moment, there are a ton of decisions to make. For each one, you can deliberate and ask for advice, but at the¬†end of the day, you have to make a decision and run with it. If it is a mistake? Change directions ūüėČ

My current project: Soulmix

This will be my 139th blog post. That means that I’ve published 138 times while barely talking about my actual work! That isn’t so cool. In an effort to¬†be more open, I plan to start writing more about what I am actually doing.

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Those who have been following my blog have probably seen me link to my current project Soulmix.

Soulmix beta 1.0.

I started working on Soulmix last June, and initially, it was conceived as a niche community site for sharing content related to living a good life. People would share content related to life (personal development, relationships, psychology, lifehacks, etc.), upvote the posts they liked, collect their favorite posts, and discuss within the comments.

After building the site, I beta tested it for a few months. It seemed to have potential. Return traffic was growing steadily, but slowly. I sent a weekly email newsletter curating the best posts on living a good life, and it was well received. People sent emails thanking me for it, and I could track email clicks throughout the entire week. I think if I kept pushing for another year, it could have grown into a great little community for life-related content.

Making the decision to pivot.

A few months in the beta testing, I came to two realizations:

  1. I was getting bored of it. I enjoy reading great content about life, but after a while, it gets old. I have many other interests. I found myself wanting to discover and share content related to all of my interests; not just on living a good life. In short, creating a niche content site felt too restricting for me. I strongly believe in finding founder-market fit, and that means creating a site that I personally love and want to use everyday.
  2. I realized I was building interaction mechanisms. Soulmix was conceived as a niche site, but what I was building was general interaction mechanisms. Upvoting allows masses of users to choose great content. Collections allow users to save the stuff they like. Comments let users talk about stuff. Nothing about these interactions is specific to a niche. They are general, and can be used for general content.

These realizations made the next step obvious for me. I had to broaden the scope of Soulmix, and focus on the general interaction mechanisms.

Focusing on interaction mechanisms.

Furthermore, I’ve begun to strongly believe in keeping products simple. Soulmix had content shares, upvotes, collections, and comments. That felt like too much. I decided that I could go two routes:

  1. The discussion forum route. This would include content shares, upvotes, and comments. The problem was that I couldn’t think of anything much better that Reddit. I would like the Reddit community to be slightly more friendly, but at scale, I understand why it is difficult (if not impossible) to control the Internet masses. The other problem was that historically, I haven’t been a discussion forum kind of person. I lurk, but I’ve never been a big commenter. That means I would never be the power user of a discussion forum site.
  2. The collection/curation route. This would include content shares and collections. This route seemed much more appealing for two reasons. First, the large sites in this space (Pinterest/imgfave/weheartit/etc.) are mostly image collection sites. As much as I like images, much of the content that I consume are links, not images. This leaves me space for building something that I might love. Second, I love the passive social model behind these types of sites. It lets you interact with others through shared interests, but I don’t need to actively think about (or inject myself into) conversations.

So, about a month ago, I decided to pivot. The next version of Soulmix would be a general site for collecting stuff I liked online.

Soulmix beta 2.0.

This brings me to what I’m working on now: the new and improved Soulmix!

Soulmix is now an online tool for organizing and sharing the stuff you love on the web.

Your favorite images, links, and videos are typically scattered all across the web. Soulmix lets you take them all, and organize them into remixes (or collections). It gives you your corner of the web where you can collect and share the stuff you like. You can also follow others users (or their remixes) to discover new great stuff.

Sound good?

Soulmix recently became functional again and is in private beta. If you’d like to check it out, just request an invite¬†*nudge nudge* ūüôā

I’ll be letting people into the beta with time, and if you join, I would love to hear your thoughts!