Content Creation, Curation and Distribution in Digital Era — My Experiences
I have been doing a lot of thinking and preliminary research for the last six months about how content is created, curated and distributed in todays world, especially on internet. Most of my thinking can be both summarised and stems from the following note I made for myself in a tweet.
A status update is content creation. A like is content curation. A retweet/reshare is content curation/distribution. A comment is content creation/curation. We just don't realise it on @Twitter and @facebook
While most of us use these social media in our day to day life, we are unable to realise that we are creating mammoth valuations for these platforms based on the content we create. It is difficult for us to realise this as we still relate it to the age old print publication paradigm. Yes, we are looking at the current world view but we don’t realise that we are looking at it with a lens from the previous decade or even before that. This is a bias that we generally suffer with respect to all the new disruptive technologies.
the applications come out of them [new disruptive technologies] are invisible in the beginning. This happens with every type of new disruptive technology, which is that over the first decade or decades of their development most of what you see is skeuomorphic design meaning that it is designed that mimics the shadow of the past.
The same effect happens to us with respect to content ecosystem as well. We try to find similarities between online content eco-system of today and the print media of previous decades. We end up trying to force fit online publishing into templates of previous era print media, you can call it retrofitting. While this might make sense to the online portal of mammoths like Times and Forbes to a certain extent, it only forces us to ignore the impact of various tools that were only possible because of the internet like self publishing, blogs, online curation portals, meme sites and social media.
Readership in print era and digital era
If you take an analogy of newspapers, good authors got paid by the publishers for their work. Authors who were not lucky enough to be accepted by the publishers had no way of reaching out to the readers.
At first it seemed like internet had solved this problem. Anybody could create and self publish their content. At first it was by building their own static websites. As internet became mature there were blogging services like https://www.opendiary.com/, https://www.livejournal.com/ and https://www.blogger.com which reduced the entry barrier. Anybody could create an account on these websites and publish their own content. If your content got traction then it could reach out to multitude of readers.
But the scenario has changed today. There is an explosion of content. Readers have a content overload today on internet. They are not able to identify the good content from average/bad content. So they generally rely on a set of cues and tools. These tools and cues include but not limited to publications (like hacker-noon on which you are reading this post), algorithms(chrome content suggestions, medium interest matching, twitter and facebook suggestions), feeds(shared by friends and people whom we consider worth following) and social cues(number of likes and comments on a post).
While there are many more options today when compared print era, publications still play a huge role, at-least for the new authors. In the print era if you wrote something and it didn’t get published in newspaper or magazine, pretty much only you or those personally connected to you could read what you wrote. In the era of internet this is different. Anybody with a link to your article can still read it. But if your content is not distributed well enough you can pretty much assume that no one else would read your piece. Inter-connections and virality dependent social networks are leading us to a “Winner takes almost everything” world. We are kind of back to square one.
The rise of publications
But don’t lose hope yet. There is one primary change that the online world has brought. In the era of print real estate was limited. So the publications had to limit the number of articles they could publish in their daily version. It is no more the case today. Running your publication on internet(especially on a service like medium) means that you literally have infinite space. So the thumb-rule most publications follow today is publish all content but promote only the good ones. This strategy is a kind of WIN-WIN situation for both the content creators and content curators.
The writers get to publish their articles in a well known publication. The publication gets to add more content without having to face the risk of loosing their reputation due to bad content as they only promote content they are confident of. The author gets increased exposure for his article as it is part of a publication. If the publication likes the article they also allocate prime time real estate on their home page and also push the content to their followers.
People are underestimating the visibility that the content distributors bring. Here is the story of how I realised this.
After postponing writing on Medium for a long time, I finally wrote a couple of articles last year and readership was abysmal. I felt let down. Though I like writing and sharing stuff, having readers for what you write is definitely more fun. I spent some time looking at the posts that had 1k+ claps. To make sure that the sample was diversified I added posts from both well know authors (more than 1k followers) and new budding authors. One thing that I realised was that most of these authors were publishing their posts in different publications. If you want to take a look at top publications on Medium today take a look at https://toppub.xyz/ by Mubashar Iqbal. Next I started applying to a couple of publications that matched my areas of interest.
In this tweet Naval Ravikant makes an interesting observation which I was following personally though I could never put it in words as elegantly as him. This is very much inline with the progressive publishing concept I follow personally.
Learn from times iterated over time spent. Craft a thousand tweets before ten blog posts before one novel. Skim a dozen books before absorbing one. Make many small investments before a few big bets. Build many small products before starting a company. Explore, then exploit.
I like the word Progressive. Whether it is progressive web apps, or progressive decoupling. But Progressive Publishing(a term I have coined :P) has to be my favourite. In the last one year it has helped me write and share more often. I had started many drafts over the time but was only able to complete a small fraction of them. Every once in a while I had to prune my drafts.
Sometimes I deleted drafts even after writing more than 500 words. I deleted the drafts not because they were bad but because I could no more find the motivation to complete the posts. At times the draft would have just lost the relevance as I would have postponed it for too long while at other times my notes would just be spread across too many places that the effort to bring it all all together was just not worth the time. This is where progressive publishing comes handy.
How I use progressive publishing
The internet has provided us with multiple options and mediums for publishing today. Whenever I had an idea or a thought I clean it up a little and publish it as a tweet. If I have some related thoughts I create a twitter thread and use it to connect the dots. Then I paste the first link to twitter thread in the medium draft. It helps me keep the context intact for the article. Then I quickly add the high level structure in the draft using the headings and TK feature. TK stands for ToCome. So if there is something you want to add in a post you can mark it TK.If you do that before you publish medium will prompt you asking for you clear your TKs.
Also whenever I feel that some of the posts I am planning to write may be related I copy the draft link of one post and paste it in the other post to which it is related. This will help keep the connections intact and also motivates me to complete the drafts. While this helps to a certain extent, another approach that I am following is sharing the drafts even when they are not ready for publishing.
Share your drafts
Anybody who has written more than a dozen posts will be aware of the “Million Drafts” problem. We are all guilty of starting so many posts with excitement but not finding the time, motivation or a reason to complete them.
For example consider the following two drafts Understanding Zabbix — https://medium.com/@gokulnk/draft-understanding-zabbix-f2a83eeb1221 and Linux Survival Guide https://medium.com/@gokulnk/draft-linux-survival-guide-for-beginners-c18bfd982036 While they are not complete yet I can easily share them and update them later as well.
The upsides of sharing drafts
- More of your drafts will see the light of the day.
- Before abandoning your drafts, you can share it with your followers with a note. If you get positive feedback work on it, else dump it.
- When you are planning to write a series of posts, you can create place-holders for the next posts and link them in your current posts. That way you don’t need to revisit old posts to update the links and you can already share the present working draft with your followers. This is especially helpful when you are writing a set of interlinked articles and you are not sure which one you might publish first.
The downsides are:
- Some people might prefer fully completed and polished articles. But I feel that a majority of people might find it good as long as they are able to derive value out of it. I think this will be a good way to test the waters and avoid wasting a lot of time on stuff that people may not find useful.
- Medium doesn’t allow claps on drafts. I think Medium should start allowing claps on drafts as well ;) This will help in peer review and feedback mechanism for drafts.
- Medium doesn’t allow comments. So you might miss out on the public comments. But luckily medium allows private notes. So you can still get private feedback from your friend and followers.
Get Organised, start your drafts early
Reading is a major part of Writing, at-least for me. Most of the times I get idea to write when reading something. A related topic, my view on the topic or my learnings from my experiences. Every time I started to write, I ended up reading more about the topic. Initially I thought this was a distraction and a waste of time. At times I also felt that it was because I didn’t have the motivation to write. But I slowly realised something. As I started to write I could find gaps in my understanding and then led to more reading. So it was good. After realising this I added two guidelines for myself.
- Try to organise learnings as you go instead of doing it as an action item post learning.
- Instead of waiting for the perfect output(say a blog about some learning) publish a decent enough draft and then improvise it.
I had mentioned the same in my declaration of intent that I published last year. This helped me make progress quickly and also helped me share more of my learnings in the last six months or so. One thing I realised was that all my notes were disorganised and they were in different places. I tried couple of tools but was not happy with any of them. So we started building a tool of our own. You can check it out on http://bit.ly/highlights-ext It helps you highlight relevant content, take notes and add tags as you read stuff on the net. There is a web dashboard where you can quickly search for your highlights and notes. I have been using this tool and it has helped me decrease the time between learning something new to sharing my notes about learnings.
It helps declutter my mind as I can highlight important stuff and move on to the next important thing knowing that I can always come back to the highlighted topic at a later stage. Now I dive straight into my favourite rabbit holes knowing well that I can come out from them easily any time. It is still in early alpha but you can give it a try and share you feedback.
When I started writing I think I was giving more priority number of readers and claps. But nowadays I write because it gives me clarity and it accentuates the gaps in my understanding. Reader Feedback highlights the obvious flaws I might have been blind to. It helps connect the dots. It helps like a ledger which I can look back to see how my thoughts have progressed over the time.
To summarise it gives my clarity of thought. Everything else is just an added bonus.
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