Quick blogging update for October 2018

October 13, 2018. Filed under writing 33

One of my personal goals for the year has been to write more, and this is the sixty-fifth post of the year. At the end of January I wrote up some notes on my blogging, and nine months later I wanted to take a step back to jot down some thoughts on my approach and what I've learned along the way.

Screenshot of Google Analytics pageviews by month, with peak of 36,000 in July.

Since I've started writing, traffic has been more-or-less consistently going up each month, which is quite exciting. A year ago, most months generated about ten thousand pageviews, and the last three months average closer to thirty thousand or so.

What those monthly numbers don't do a great job of showing is just how hits-based things are, with the "good" months being driven by just one or two top articles.

The first spike is the article on Digg V4 and the second is Notes on "The Philosophy of Software Design", which contributed fourteen and ten thousand pageviews respectively.

Months without a strong performing piece are doing fourteen to sixteen thousand pageviews. That's decently good year-over-year growth, but feels low given I wrote nine posts in August, 2018 to reach sixteen thousand pageviews, and wrote zero in August, 2017 (actually, nothing between May 20th and November 18th in 2017) to drive a bit over eight thousand pageviews.

Top twenty articles over last year by pageviews. Top article is Introduction to Archeicting SYstems for Scale.

Looking over the top twenty articles over the past twelve months, what stands out to me are (1) the top two articles over the past year were written in 2011 and 2009, (2) the "hit" articles are those that apply to a broader audiences of software engineers, and (3) that articles about engineering management simply don't drive much traffic.

Equally interestingly and less obvious, is that while I experimented frequently with distribution avenues (Twitter tweet storms, LinkedIn posts and articles, Medium, etc), I stopped devoting much energy towards distribution three or four months ago. Instead I've focused on writing more, and hopefully better, content, and I find it fascinating that you can't tell from my traffic graphs when I switched approaches.

To the extent that you can see any difference, it's that traffic has gone up since I've stopped pursuing distribution.

This isn't because distribution doesn't matter, I remain pretty confident that distribution is more important than quality of content, but more that I think if you write consistently and of reasonable quality, folks who are focused on distribution will leverage your stuff towards their own goals, symbiotically and organically collaborating with you, the content creator. Said differently, distribution is still critical, but for most of us it's more effective to piggyback on other folks' distribution channels by writing good content that they want to share, then to develop our own.

The other primaary metric I started out focusing on was Twitter followers, where I started the year at about 2,200 and am now up to 3,500 (including +150 over the past thirty days), which is about half way to my somewhat arbitrary goal of 5,000 followers by the end of the year.

Screenshot of Twitter analytics, showing 3,500 followers, with 150 gained over the last twenty-eight days.

Somewhat interestingly, and strategically hidden by Twitter's analytics tooling by only showing "new followers" for historical months, is that I was close to 3,500 followers three or four months earier, and lost about five hundred followers in what I assume was a bot follower purge. If that purge hadn't happened, maybe I would be in striking distance to hit the followers goal, but I'm pretty sure that chasing that goal too directly isn't too valuable. Rather, I have some latent hope that followers correlates to writing valuable writing, such that subjugating the system to that goal wouldn't lead where I want to follow (more intentionally controversial takes, etc).

Reflecting on all of this over the past few months, I've adjusted my writing goals a bit, with a rough plan of focusing my writing on these areas for the rest of 2018 and likely through 2019 as well:

  1. management - collecting my writing on engineering management, particularly over the last sixx months, into a book of some sort. This is somewhat likely to happen at this point, although like most things I won't believe it until it's actually done. My systems approach to management is far from novel, but I do think it's a toolkit that would be valuable for many folks who aren't currently familiar with it, and hopefully collecting my writing together towards this end might be useful for a few folks, which is about the best case outcome I've ever expected to come from my writing.

    More generally, most of my professional work is in engineering management, which means most of the new things I learn on a daily basis are related to engineering management, and I'll continue writing them up here, because I've found that to be much more leveraged approach to sharing ideas than any other I've found so far.

  2. infrastructure - I've learned a lot about infrastructure engineering over the last year, and haven't written much of it down yet. I think this is a topic that is more widely interesting to engineers than most stuff I've written recently. I think if I focus writing on this arena for the next 12-18 months, there could be an interesting book somewhere from scavaging all that material together. This is effectively nothing available to read about how to create, lead and nurture infrastructure engineering organizations, so I think a good verison of this could be quite good, as long as there was content to back it up.
  3. systems - using the systems library I'm cobbling together create examples of modeling interesting and important problems. Many business decisions made today are based on buggy spreadsheet models, and I think systems thinking can be a powerful tool towards better generalized decision making. I don't think folks want to read any of this, but I do think it's important, so hopefully it'll be possible to.
  4. random stuff like book reviews and stories of my own experience. I don't think folks really care at all about this stuff either (much like I don't expect anyone to ever really read this post), but I enjoy writing these because they are very different and less structured writing formats, and it feels good to stretch my range a bit sometimes. Sometimes, like the Digg v4 launch, the stories are somewhat relevant, but generally they probably won't be.

Otherwise, I'm also hopeful I can get more opportunities to speak publicly, both at conferences–which I've never actually done before, and would love to develop experience doing–and on podcasts, which I started doing this year and was able to do three so far.

Altogether, this has been a pretty productive year for me so far, and I hope to close it out well and carry the momentum forward into next year, without getting too deeply specialized in a single area of focus.