Living online lists

list-juliejordanscott-flickr-resized

After my post a two days ago, I’ve been thinking more on the idea of living online documents.

As I wrote in the post, there isn’t a good chance that the average online article will get re-written or refined much for quality. The incentives don’t seem to be there.

However, there may be one type of document that may work as a living online document: lists.

We see lists all over the place. Do a google search for anything (social networking sites, SEO strategies, best personal development blogs, whatever) and you will come up with many articles that are essentially lists. People love lists. So do writers. Buzzfeed has pretty much used it as a content strategy, and look how quickly they have grown.

The thing about most lists is that they often purport to be exhaustive or complete. At least that is what we would hope for. What good is the list of top SEO strategies if it is out of date when someone Googles for it later?

What I’m getting at is that a good list should have lifetime value. A good list isn’t just something that should be treated as “news” and then thrown away the next day. A good list takes time to create, and is valuable because it pieces together everything that matters in a certain topic.

Why let a list go out of date if it can be occasionally updated? If I owned the blog post that was number one result for the Google search “top SEO strategies”, I would have incentive to update it. The post probably gets a ton of traffic, and keeping it fresh and up-to-date would help keep it there (assuming that Google’s algorithm can be thought of as a rough heuristic for quality).

Here is an example that has popped up recently. In the past few weeks, there have been several highly-shared articles on startup postmortems. These are valuable things to think about; entrepreneurs should learn from failures as well as successes. These are two of the popular ones:

  1. 51 startup failure post-mortems :: CB Insights
  2. 14 startup postmortems :: Ryan Hoover

These posts by CB Insights and Ryan Hoover are great, and are on a topic which I believe the startup community needs to discuss more often. But beyond that, they ended up inspiring several other founders to write postmortems. Now what? The two articles are fixed at 51 and 14. They are still good for now because they are only missing a few articles, but what happens a year from now? Or five?

Here is where a living online document could work. I had actually been keeping my own list on the side while experimenting with Soulmix:

I’m not saying my list is better now, but unless the authors of the previous two lists update them (which blog authors rarely do), I’m sure that over time, my list will end up being the better piece of content on this topic.

This is just an example, but I think it gets the point across. You could apply it to lists of SEO strategies, great gangster movies, or pictures of Kim Kardashian and North West.

As I’ve been experimenting with Soulmix, I’ve been trying to figure out what it could be, and this popped up as an interesting thought. I think that is pretty cool. There are issues with how to publish or do social shares with updating lists, but the idea of well-maintained lists sounds like a great thing for the readers on the Internet.

P.S. Soulmix is in a private beta, but if you’d like to join and help figure out where it might go, just request an invite 🙂

Photo credit: Flickr/juliejordanscott

We get what we want, and we want shitty content

magazine_rack

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.

No_Rules_by_Fallen0113

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 😉