I'm looking again at traffic to my site and how I write. A few years ago I realized I had a "ratchet" problem. My first articles were less polished, and I felt good publishing them. When I got better at writing, my newer articles were more polished, but I would hesitate to publish. I didn't want to publish until I got everything just right. And as a result I've been publishing less and less the last few years.

Why didn't I want to publish until I got everything right? I didn't want a traffic spike to occur and for lots of people to see my unpolished page:

Pageviews for my hexagonal grids page

The trouble is that all the metrics shown in the charts make those traffic spikes look very important. But this cumulative sum chart makes those traffic spikes look unimportant:

Cumulative pageviews for my hexagonal grid page

The spikes feel good. HEY I got on reddit! But they don't seem that important in the grand scheme of things. Most of my visitors come from day to day visits, not from the spikes. And that means my trying to make sure everything's polished before I put it up may be unnecessary. A friend of mine says I should treat my pages like wikipedia. The cumulative traffic graph supports that.

A few years ago I gave myself an “out” by having "x" pages that were less polished. They were blog entries. They were “fire and forget” pages that I would publish, unpolished, and not update. It worked. I published a lot more. I really liked publishing every few weeks instead of every few months.

The trouble was that it was too easy of an out. I ended up publishing almost everything as "x" pages the last two years, and I think it took away from my regular pages. In particular, the "x" pages let me get away with not iterating. I didn't update them after I posted. And they didn't get better. And then they got very little traffic.

If my pages are like wikipedia I should be putting up incomplete unpolished pages earlier and then refining them over time.

So this year I want to publish more often but more importantly iterate more after I publish. I can treat the early viewers as beta testers. It's the “launch early” philosophy from startup culture (minimum viable product, etc.). I tell other people to do this but I haven't been practicing what I preached.

Take a look at my Trello page to see the kinds of things I want to work on.

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7 comments:

NYCynik wrote at January 04, 2018 12:42 PM

First off, Happy 2018!

Secondly, good on you for the meta-analysis of your own blog.

I'm not sure I agree with the Wikipedia page philosophy. (NOTE: I'm not a notable blogger, so maybe your friend is much better at this.) I think some of your posts could be multiple posts, and that might help readers more. When you have an idea, like your circular pathfinding idea, there could be multiple posts.

Many bloggers do this for the ad revenue, but I think it also would give you better analytics, and comments. People can focus better.

Also as a subscriber, I'm not sure if I will get notified of post updates. I'm sure that would impact your traffic. I think you said however that most of your hits are from search engines or your tweets? Would you retweet the post that was updated? I'm thinking that is a good idea, even though it could mean the same tweet 5 times in 10 days. I think mostly that would be okay, based on what I have learned about Twitter.


Anonymous wrote at January 04, 2018 1:10 PM

+1! i did a similar experiment, if less thoughtful or data driven, myself a while back. thoroughly enjoyed it!

Daniel Imms wrote at January 04, 2018 2:16 PM

I've been contemplating similar things with my blog; the more I put out, the higher the bar I set for myself. I think I sort of brought this upon myself though as I never really did "blog" type posts and they all more reference article and textbook type writing.

I also thought a bit about the publish minimal and update it to be more complete mentality but the major issue i see with that is that your most loyal readers listening on RSS or whatever may see only the "unfinished" article and miss out.

Amit wrote at January 04, 2018 7:29 PM

@NYCynik: happy new year! Thanks, I don't know that wikipedia is the best model I should be aiming for. But it seems that it matches how people actually use my site. Most readers are *not* coming through the blog or twitter. I do post major updates on my blog but most of the traffic is not from people coming to see what's new, but from people who want to learn something. It's a different type of audience that I should be paying attention to. Another friend suggested I think of it more like stack overflow — people are looking for answers to questions, and I should be answering them instead of trying to be an encyclopedia like wikipedia.

@ryan: cool, great to hear it!

@Daniel Imms: mine too are mostly article/reference style and not "blog" entries. Most of the readers are not coming in through rss or twitter. So maybe I can turn this on its head by using the rss/twitter feeds as an "early access" channel, sharing drafts and edits before I put them on my home page. Hmm.

Daniel Imms wrote at January 05, 2018 1:46 PM

@Amit I might do something similar this year as well, maybe keeping track of changes and doing a roundup every few weeks/month of all the smaller updates. At the very least I want to start doing more smaller posts so I can lower the bar to publishing a bit :)

Anyway thanks for sharing and keep it up, your early pathfinding articles were one of the things that really sparked my interest in algorithms and I ended up building this years later http://www.growingwiththeweb.com/projects/pathfinding-visualiser/ (which you link to in your A* implementation notes page).

Chris wrote at February 10, 2018 3:41 AM

Hey Amit,

great Idea, love your website and your blog. Thank you for all the work you put into your articles.

Greetings Chris

Lauri Hosio wrote at February 16, 2018 10:48 AM

I agree that long and detailed (and kept up-to-date) posts are really rare and valuable. Most of the traffic to technical blogs probably comes from Google and finding a very outdated or poorly researched article is always a bit disheartening. It's one of the reasons I keep coming back to this blog but I'm definitely not against more frequent and smaller scoped posts.