A couple of days ago, MG Siegler wrote a piece called "Just Win, Baby" that espoused the idea that writing on technology is ultimately a competition. As I read the piece, I both simultaneously completely agreed, and thought he was totally wrong.
While reading the piece, the thing that really struck me as “wrong” isn’t really wrong at all. It’s really about what motivates a person to write a technology site. MG talks about the various things the you might do as a tech writer in order to consider yourself successful. His big three - page views, scoops, and Techmeme.
Now, it’s not to say that those things are inherently wrong, but they are certainly wrong for me. At the outset of deciding to write this for this tiny little slice of internet, the first (or near enough to first) question that popped into my head was “why?”. Why write another tech related website? Something that is perhaps one of the most saturated areas of the internet. The answer for me was simple. Because I wanted to, and I enjoy it.
For the past 10 years, I’ve been writing around the internet. It started on a variety of forums, and then with the influx of social media and aggregation sites, and finally here. Truth is, I really like sitting down and thinking about technology and writing about it. I’ve never been a writer, but I’ve always written.
And so from the first post of this site, my motivation is to write things that I’m interested in, and hopefully write them in an interesting way. I would be lying entirely if I said that I don’t check Google Analytics every morning to see how many page views the site got the last day. Or to say that I don’t hope to monetize this site at some point.
But I’m not motivated in the way that MG talks about. I don’t expect that I’ll ever be on the Techmeme leader board. And I know that I don’t expect to break any news on this site. I don’t expect that someone is going to call me and say “I know what’s in the iPhone 5. I think you should tell the world.”
But already the big things that I would consider milestones for me are probably not even in the same ballpark, let alone the same game. I want to be read. I truly don’t understand why you’d write if not to be read, so page views are important to me. And I did say I wanted to make some money with this thing. But I don’t expect to make a bajillion dollars, and I don’t want to make it in a way that I don’t feel good about. And while I’d consider it a milestone to start getting paid for writing, in truth it’s rather low on the list of milestones I’d rather see happen here.
Because I suspect my motivation is quite different from MG’s, I’d assume that our methods will be different. We definitely agree on some things. Specifically, I’m not going to spend much time on “what I consider to be cheap tricks to bring in traffic — SEO, Google keyword plays, this kind of shit, etc.” My primary approach to anything that I would consider success: just write interesting things.
Perhaps it’s because I’m an amateur at this stage, but I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about clever headlines to draw clicks. Like most things I do, I prefer simplicity, and letting the product speak for itself. So that’s what I do.
And perhaps because I don’t have editors, or deadlines, or bosses, another difference is that I don’t really do anything to motivate myself to write. If I simply don’t feel that there’s anything worth writing about, or nothing has struck my fancy, I just don’t write. I still link to things I think are worth reading, but I’m not going to sit down and write 5,000 words about something I don’t feel is actually interesting. And sometimes, someone else just said it better, so I link them and move to something else. Fortunately for me, as I’ve mentioned above, I was already writing. I’ve just given myself a venue for it.
As you might suspect, because of our different motivation and methods, I think our definition of winning is probably different as well. I don’t think MGs game analogy was all that far off, except maybe one aspect, and that’s the thought of winning. I see there being achievements along the way (which are going to be largely subjective), but I’m not sure that I can think of a way in which I can win at doing this. At best, winning is a moving target that changes as soon as I think I’ve achieved it.
There are some things that I’d like to achieve, mostly because they have some personal meaning to me. I’d like to get on the front page of a couple of subreddits, or have John Gruber link something I’ve wrote. I read those sites every day, and have for some time, and so there is more than a little selfish validation involved. The first check for anything I’ve written is going to be a big deal to me. To be honest, the biggest sense of accomplishment I’ve gotten thus far was seeing chpwn (a popular jailbreak developer) tweet me.
This is one respect where it is sort of like a game. Maybe there are no boss battles, but I can see a moment or two where I can picture a Scott Pilgrim-esque “Achievement Unlocked!” based on my personal goals. Those goals might be different from Siegler’s, or anyone else for that matter, but they are certainly there, and I can see myself hitting those milestones and saying “Now what?”
Perhaps because I’m a relatively new writer (so new that I hesitate to call myself a writer; maybe just “guy who writes stuff”), I have a sort of naiveté about the process. It’s possible that I simply haven’t been doing this long enough to develop any real cynicism about it, or that I don’t have more realistic goals, but for now, I’m happy just trying to write interesting things. And I don’t mean that like an answer to a beauty pageant-style “World peace!”, but as an actual, “I just really enjoy getting my thoughts out there.”