Sharding Yourself

Increasing Outlets to Increase Output

swyx

4 reactions 2022-06-27

As a writer, once you get past the basic mental block of impostor syndrome/finding good topics, the next constraint to growth is the number of channels where you have output.

Motivation

If you have ever stopped yourself from saying/writing something because “it’s not at the quality of my other posts”, or because you’re worried about your followers dropping out due to your “signal to noise ratio”, you have felt this constraint. And you have probably shelved that idea/impulse, and it has probably been forgotten forever.

This marks an interesting phase transition in every life of a creator/writer:

  1. I have nothing to say
  2. I have too much to say

Rarely will you have the exact balance, since you are balancing personal capacity vs your audience’s expectations.

The way this often happens for developer writers is that your blog starts having an awkward mix between your nontechnical and technical blogposts. Usually one side of your writing will be noticeably more popular than the other, and you will feel tempted to focus to build your audience and improve your signal-to-noise.

That’s your right, but also you would be depriving the world and your future self of the multifaceted insight machine that you are.

Here’s to deal with it: Increase your number of outlets.

Our goals

We want to:

  • Express every good idea we come across
  • Across multiple interest domains
  • Limited by our time, not our tools, nor our audience

and yet

  • Be easily discoverable for those who are new to us
  • Maintain high signal-to-noise for those who hate noise
  • Develop WIP ideas with those who know our work

Let’s develop 3 ideas that help us meet these goals.

Idea 1: Increase Cardinality

If you have a blog, that’s an n=1. The easiest next step is to turn that into n=2. Vicki Boykis has this exact setup between her tech blog and more personal essays.

Aside: A common way that people implement n=2 is to add a speaking page next to their writing page. I used to do this too. My feeling is that people who are interested in your views are interested in them across whatever media you can give them. Shard by topics, not format. (although if you can offer both, why not? But default to topics first)

Of course, you can increase the n to some cardinality that mostly describes you: Julia Evans has no less than n=33, although some are clearly no longer current. She has clearly reshaped her blog to fit her interests, rather than be captive to it.

Of course there’s some fuzziness in taxonomy here between a tags vs categories system. My thoughts are tags are unbounded in number, potentially hundreds. categories work really well when there are a small number, and potentially have some hierarchy, but also when presented simply as done on Julia’s blog.

Idea 2: Vary Lengths

If you have a longform practice, add a shortform. Or vice versa. Twitter and Linkedin are the predominant shortform text formats, but you can also do the video equivalent (TikTok and YT Shorts) or audio (audio clips).

There’s also practitioners of the super longform - Twitch Streams, YouTube Live and Twitter Spaces, where unstructured rambles and Q&A achieve openness and intimacy. I have to confess I don’t understand this format very well but there are good practitioners like Jason and Theo and KCD.

Idea 3: Walled (Digital) Gardens

If you have a public practice, add a semiprivate one. I’ve found Discord to be far and away the best platform for this, because of how easy it is to join and how it has full retention and good search for free. However other folks have had good experience with group chats in Slack, Telegram, or WeChat.

The same benefits of working in public apply in semiprivate: I started a private alt 6 months ago and it has helped me be an outlet for smaller thoughts or get feedback in a smaller context before publishing.

The absolute smallest walled garden is your own personal notes, where you have an audience of 1. I try to “work with the garage door up” with my second brain but not everything can be public.

Structuring the Funnel

Given the goals we stated, we likely want to offer the highest signal-to-noise to those who are completely new to us, and the highest idea velocity to those who know us well. This implies a simple ordering:

image

We’ve now successfully derived the standard marketing/community funnel (or radiating circles?) from first principles. The final part is to make the expectations clear to your audience in each circle, and to let them know how to find the next level at each stage should they choose to progress.

It’s important to not take on more platforms than you can manage. If this list stresses you out, just know that having a presence across all these formats essentially amounts to building your own personal media operation. It can feel very repetitive to repeat the same content on Twitter, then again on your blog and newsletter, and then again on your group chat.

Hence the last piece of advice for the part time creator: Shard Yourself - don’t try to do full replication across all the channels you have decided to build out. Have a very clear “primary key” on which you know how to route your inbound ideas and thoughts and audience. My investing stuff goes to devtools-angels, my devrel stuff goes to DX Tips, my snarkposts go to my alt.

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