Living online lists


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 What good is the list of top SEO strategies if it is out of date when someone Googles for it later?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Why let a list go out of date if it can be occasionally updated?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

Living online documents


I haven’t been treating this blog as an “actual” blog.

As a reader, I view blogs as a place for regularly published posts which are read and then immediately forgotten. As a writer, I view blogs as a place to publish a piece of writing and then move on to the next piece.

I can’t think of my blog this way.

Instead, I think of each post as an unfinished piece of work that acts a stake in the ground for an idea that may be worth thinking about. In the future, I may come back to fix up typos, grammatical errors, add/remove sentences, or even add/remove entire ideas.

This means that each post is a living online document. I wish that there was some way for the public to view it as such. Instead, people just see the new posts within their email or RSS readers. To my subscribers, I’m sorry about this. It is unfortunate because all of the ideas are half-baked and may contain some horrible typos/errors. I hope you still find the ideas interesting, and perhaps find your way back to some of the posts in the future (after the 100-day challenge when I can revisit posts).

This points to an interesting thought about online publishing. Most content online does not change. News articles don’t change. Most people don’t change their blog posts. Facebook and Twitter posts don’t change. And at the same time, content is growing at and exponential rate. The Internet is becoming a firehose of half-baked articles that could be better, but never will be.

The current Internet rewards quantity. Yet, over time, it is the evergreen quality posts that really matter. One could expect writers to publish fully formed evergreen content, but this is very difficult. What makes sense is to revisit ideas, iterate on them, and then iterate on the writing.

Is there some way to support and encourage living online documents? If someone could figure how to make living documents engaging, IMHO, the Internet would become a much better place.

P.S. This is post number #70 in a 100 day blogging challenge. See you tomorrow!

Follow me on Twitter @alexshye.

Or, check out my current project Soulmix.