May 3, 2007
I met Jon Udell this year at MIX. I was reading through his excellent blog to flesh out some of the topics we talked about, when I was struck by the powerful message of this particular entry:
When people tell me they're too busy to blog, I ask them to count up their output of keystrokes. How many of those keystrokes flow into email messages? Most. How many people receive those email messages? Few. How many people could usefully benefit from those messages, now or later? More than a few, maybe a lot more.
From this perspective, blogging is a communication pattern that optimizes for the amount of awareness and influence that each keystroke can possibly yield. Some topics, of course, are necessarily private and interpersonal. But a surprising amount of business communication is potentially broader in scope. If your choice is to invest keystrokes in an email to three people, or in a blog entry that could be read by those same three people plus more -- maybe many more -- why not choose the latter? Why not make each keystroke work as hard as it can?
[converting an email to a blog entry] can have powerful network effects. To exploit them, you have to realize that the delivery of a message, and the notification of delivery, do not necessarily coincide. Most of the time, in email, they do. The message is both notification and payload. But a message can also notify and point to a payload which is available to the recipient but also to other people and processes in other contexts. That arrangement costs hardly any extra keystrokes, and hardly any extra time. But it's an optimization that can radically expand influence and awareness.
I covered similar ground in When In Doubt, Make It Public, but Jon's entry is even more compelling. It's a specific example of how you can adapt your behavior to have a much broader impact. What Jon's describing happens to me all the time. I'll be in the middle of composing an email when I suddenly realize that there's no reason to silo this information in a private email exchange. I convert that email into a blog entry. Now, anyone who is interested in the topic can find it and have a public conversation with me-- and everyone else-- about it.
The next time you find yourself typing more than a few sentences on your keyboard, stop and ask: are you maximizing the value of your keystrokes?
Posted by Jeff Atwood
The same principle counts for more places, for example wikis or code documentation (that's probably obvious to a lot of developers). During development work, I often find myself answering developer questions about how to use my code in a certain way. Instead of replying in private, I add most answers to a documentation wiki and provide a link.
This provides the additional benefit that when said developer forgets about details you've mentioned, he can just go back to the documentation without messing with history logs. If you find yourself answering a question more than once, or predict it, it should be an automatic behaviour to put it on a wiki, blog, etc. The same goes for forums. These are public but their structure is usually very bad and does not promote sharing. You could say that 'devalues' your keystrokes.
With public participation, the value your keystrokes have for the original private audience also increases.
I'm not sure whether to post my views on this idea here or on my own blog...
I'm not so sure about this. Could be Jon Udell just has too much free time and needs to think about something more important than whether or not the world will be the beneficiary of his next flash of genius--if that's what you call it.
This works if you forget about inconvenient details like the signal to noise ratio.
(Not) Confidential to my boo:
We out of food again, baby. Get yo fine ass to the grocery store and pick up some of this:
I started doing this a few weeks ago for the same exact reasons outlined in your post. I usually end up writing an email at work and then edit one or two lines to protect the innocent before posting. Works like a charm.
or maximize the bullshit of your keystrokes. not every email is interesting. And most blogs are very boring. So why do we want even more?
So why do we want even more?
Granted, 90% of everything is crap (aka http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sturgeon%27s_law). That might even be a little bit optimistic in the era of YouTube and MySpace. Perhaps it's more like 99% of everything is crap.
Even so, that still leaves 1% that *isn't* crap. Therefore, the more content we put on the web, the larger that 1% gets. It's in everyone's best interest to keep increasing the amount content on the web so that 1% gets proportionally larger over time.
Finding the 1% of stuff that's actually worth looking at is easy. The populist magic of PageRank/TrustRank means we never need to see or even know that the other 99% exists.
I don't think that's how it works, my good Jeff. I have a feeling if you try this, you'll just end up reducing that 1% to 0.5% of the overall content.
Don't get me wrong, I'll go through your e-mail, but it'll just be to grab your credit card numbers and personal info so I can buy some tube socks online.
I figure you'll be less angry when you see what a good deal that is.
Thanks again for editing my writing again. My application is attached.
Please feel free to use track changes.
Actually, there is a big difference (for many people) between shooting off an email vs. composing a blog entry that you are proud of. Well, given some blogs perhaps not.
The good thing about writing for a blog is it forces you to think, edit, clean up, re-think, compose, etc. This is good for the brain in many ways.
Twitter is like, you know, ummm, er, whatever.
when i read the topic here, i thought it was going to be about programming languages, being a pythonista myself, i was expecting something about maybe boo, or IP.
I was wrong, but this is still food for thought.
What if you post to your blog via email?
Jeff, if you have the time and energy to compose each email on par with your blog, hats off -- but I don't think that's the norm for most folks.
Ditto to my employer being the silo. On the other hand, there have been pleanty of times when I send out an email to all users of a program instead of just the one who asked the question. We have a private intranet at work, I think I'll look into the possibility of blogging there.
It is well know that their is a difference between data and knowledge. Blogging data is just pollution. I understand what you are saying, but most of what is emailed rightly belongs in the trash bin. Do we want to save all the comments about Paris Hilton's recent incarceration?
I like this idea, but when you write "anyone who is interested in the topic can find it", I think that's a big assumption. Most of the email I write is deemed confidential by/to my employer. In order to make this happen, I would need at least one web server and some kind of search engine and I would need a culture within the company of actually using that search engine. In other words, I am not the silo; my employer is.
This all said, I have definitely stopped just before hitting the send button on a long mail to two people and pasted the text into my blog and sent the two people a link instead. Public dissemination does work, but only for stuff that's already compatible.
Based on this article, I'm proposing we move our support function from email to a community forum. There is plenty of useful product documentation, workarounds, advice etc buried in email.
You have to have a certain kind of ego, or at least believe in your own writing, to assume that everything you type is better public. Not all of us, thankfully, have that high an opinion of ourselves.
Try substituting "flatulence" for "keystroke" and you may see what I mean.
I certainly agree with seeking advice, especially with coding questions, etc. The only problem with it is that to reach the people that will actually answer your questions, you mostly have to have the relationships already established (and they read your blog). To often, I've found the bloggers that read blogs and actually comment instead of just lurk tend to comment to receive comments and develop friendships (no harm, you just will probably need to sift through those comments to find an answer).
E-mail is push-ed to you. I ain't going to different people's blog just to know what they want me to know. This just doesn't work all time.
Jeff, I'm an avid reader of your posts, and was wondering if you could make a list or a summary of the blogs you read and/or recommend other programmers to check out as well. I've noticed some from within your posts, and have enjoyed them.
If I write someone an email and they reply with a link to their blog
So here's a real world example from today.
I sent this out as an email *and* I used the email template to create the blog entry. I'm not a big sharepoint fan, but sharepoint does make it super-easy to copy and paste an Exchange email (literally!) as a blog entry.
If I write someone an email and they reply with a link to their blog,
I think I'd never write that person ever again. How inhuman and arrogant can you get? "Replying to you personally isn't worth my time, so I wrote my response in my blog. It's more efficient, you see?"
I have to disagree with you on this one. I wouldn't go read other peoples blogs to figure out what they want me to know, nor expect them to read mine to determine what I want them to know.
When I have a question, I need an answer from a particular set of people. If I asked questions in an open format such as a blog, I'd get a dozen replies from people other than whom I'm asking, and most of them will be from people wanting me to add the same thing to their programs (or even some unrelated feature or some such non-sense).
I'd end up spending more time sorting out what I'm trying to find out, and probably a lot more work because of the new feature I need to add for everyone.
(And the opposite is true. If someone emails me a question, it's usually about a particular client, and not something that should be answered in public forum.)
Also, I don't have time to search through blogs for information to see if something has already been said. However, I do have time to search through emails, where I can narrow things down considerably with some fancy searching, and knowing who/when/subject and what-not.
(I too was expecting this entry to have something to do with the glory of shortcut keys or something like that.)
"Good business writing may have some broad similarities. However, I think there are some major differences in how you write an email, a blog entry, and an IM.."
Jeff - this is copy/pasted from your article on effective e-mail writing, to which you linked in a comment above. I agree with the concept you are stating in this blog, and after reading it, I am thinking about setting up a blog inside of my company. As a member of the tech support team, I spend WAY too much time repeating myself in e-mail. I'm just interested in how you reconcile your comments from this post with your comments I've quoted above?
Remember that posting any emails u get from someone is a copyright violation (though the penalty is tiny as it has not business value)
How about refining the content so more than 1% of it "isn't crap", instead of posting more?
As a skilled social engineer, I support this course of action for all of my potential victims.
As a security specialist, I would advise against this to all my clients.
This is a social engineer's dream. You can become familiar with the lingo, the culture, the titles, even the org chart, all without exposing yourself. Just visit the company blog. So, Bob's been mentioning having to get Jill's approval for something? I'll just call Bob (I'm sure Connie will give me the number) and tell him Jill wanted me to do an independent analysis of what he's been working on. Now I'll sell all the information I can bleed out of him to Company X. $10 will get you $20 that I can get source code.
to assume that everything you type is better public
I wouldn't say everything, but you'll know it when you see it. Most people are so timid about making anything public that this is rarely a problem.
What I particularly object to is this "everything must be confidential/private" mentality that exists at so many companies.
I ain't going to different people's blog just to know what they want me to know
Surely people mail you summaries with links that you click on. This is no different.
I do not post my work on my blog.
I work for the research arm of a large company; the few parts that would be interesting about my job are confidential. (They would be very, very interesting to our competitors.)
My blog mostly stays away from any work topics, so that I do not cause conflict with my company.
Good post, Jeff. I'm a fan of that idea too, even though I have practiced it more with a wiki than with a blog.
To the people wary about confidentiality: Consider setting up a corporate blog or wiki for company confidential information. It's still far better than sending an email to one single person.
Some plausibly false assertions made in your article:
"It's a specific example of how you can adapt your behavior to have a much broader impact."
You cite this premise as though it were a preordained, universally accepted value. The generic "broader impact" is not helpful when you're simply encouraging people to be more prolific. Your argument that "most people" are shy is an arbitrary argument, either based on your personal experience or based on wishful thinking. Let's face it, most blogs are a waste of time, not because they lack content, but because people *just don't know when to shut up*.
"there's no reason to silo this information in a private email exchange."
There is if it's redundant, or lower in quality than what's already out there, etc. When in doubt, research before publishing.
"are you maximizing the value of your keystrokes?"
That's a nonsensical measure of value. Am I only to concern myself with my keystrokes? I think it might be a good idea for a lot of people to minimize their grasp of other peoples' attention. Granted if it's something you're going to share with several people, then by all means put it in one place and point people toward it. On the other hand, writing a public version of your message intended for a specific person is a lazy man's or impersonal man's way out of a true one-on-one exchange (something to be valued as much if not more than a public conversation).
"Finding the 1% of stuff that's actually worth looking at is easy. The populist magic of PageRank/TrustRank means we never need to see or even know that the other 99% exists."
Absolutely wrong. You're suggesting that the majority is usually right, or that aggregate feeder systems represent a value system we can all appreciate. If you don't re-read your own sentence and understand why that's so very wrong, I'm not sure any explanation on my part will help.
"Most people are so timid about making anything public..."
An arbitrary statement, without any basis in studied speculation much less fact.
I can think of plenty of people who ought to be more timid about pouring their pointless dribble into the public space. The fact that you aren't bothered by it or are willing to put up with it does not, I repeat does not, indicate that everyone in the world thinks like you or will appreciate having more people make more junk public.
Anyway, as I've made abundantly clear, I disagree with you on this one.