A quick post I wrote up and submitted to hacker news on Saturday afternoon unexpectedly resonated and was #1 on the front page for a few hours. I checked my web stats an hour ago and found that 12,000 unique visitors had read the article over the course of two days (lighttpd hosted on prgmr.com handled the traffic without a problem, they are a great tech-friendly web host.)
This was exciting and largely humbling; nothing I’ve written has reached so many people, and being featured on a site I frequent and whose visitors I respect was an honor. For anyone who is solely a ‘consumer’ of content, I’d encourage you to try your hand at producing; it is rewarding if you can find something interesting to say. (Hint: A good article may illustrate something counter-intuitive in a compelling way, e.g. viewing something ordinary from a novel angle, or provide easy access to information otherwise requiring significant investment, e.g. how to circumvent a particular bug.)
As a Ph.D. student, at a conference I may have a “crowd” of 50 people listen to a presentation, or 300 people may read an academic paper of mine over the course of a year (if I’m lucky). My thesis will reflect countless hours of work, yet will be read by few. Now, I love what I do and am not complaining, but it’s incredible that I’ve somehow managed to reach 12,000 minds with substantially less effort (and a healthy dose of luck).
This is one aspect of what hacking is about: Finding (or creating) levers to pull that create a greater magnitude of opportunities with proportionally less investment. So, while I’m not about to quit my Ph.D. program, the beginner’s luck I’ve had with blogging has convinced me to continue investing in this particular direction. Not because I know where it will lead me, but because it can potentially lead to so many different places that I might not otherwise reach.
Blogging is about connecting and building an interesting asset around a community of people interested in the same things that you are. I’m reminded of a cool quote from Xianhang Zhang (I recommend reading his post in its entirety):
What I’ve found though, is that the most exciting startup ideas are mostly not in this pool [rather trivial ideas for web startups: Games! Group Messaging! Coupons!] but are, instead, backed by a hidden asset.
When I talk about assets, cash is the least interesting of all of these. Instead, I’m talking about more intangible assets like skills, reputation, relationships, attention & fame. I’m of the strong opinion that the most reliable path towards startup success is to focus relentlessly on acquiring interesting assets and then execute on the startups that naturally fall out of them.