I’ve been writing online for as long as I can remember.
My first real interaction with the digital publishing world was a gaming blog I started as a teenager. When I was 17 years old, I was one of the highest ranked World of Warcraft players in North America, and the next logical thing for me to do (as an aspiring professional gamer) was build my digital presence in the gaming industry.
In 2007, the concept of blogging on the Internet was just starting to become more mainstream. Especially in the niche (but emerging) world of competitive gaming, players were starting to use blogs as a way of attracting attention to their teams, and leveraging their audiences as a means of opening new doors of opportunity—such as sponsorships, tournament invitations, etc.
At the end of my junior year of high school, a social blogging site called GameRiot hit the scene.
I was one of the first bloggers to join the platform.
On the front page was a Top 10 ladder of the site’s most popular blog posts for the week—and as a competitive gamer, I was enthralled by the idea of my writing being “better” than someone else’s. I saw GameRiot as a way for me to measure my own success as a writer.
For months, I studied the most popular blogs on the site.
As I began to work to find my name on that Top 10 list, I started to notice that the most popular blogs on the site all shared one similarity: they were dramatic.
All of the content that accumulated the most views and comments, in some way, poked at a trigger point in the reader. Either the author was revealing some sort of drama within the community (X gamer betrayed Y), or the author was detailing a “secret” about the game—a hack, a hidden treasure, or an unknown fact. Either way, the information being alluded to in the title of the blog post piqued your curiosity, and the information enclosed delivered on that promise to the reader.
As a result, I acquired arguably one of the most valuable skills a writer could ever gain.
I learned how to write things people wanted to read.
During my entire senior year of high school, I was not only one of the highest ranked World of Warcraft players in the country, but I was also one of the most viral World of Warcraft bloggers on the Internet. I had close to 10,000 people reading my blog on a daily basis, and my blog was regularly the #1 or #2 most-read blog on all of GameRiot.
From a metrics standpoint, I was killing the game.
A few years later, after graduating college with a degree in creative writing, I began to approach the world of content writing with a similar ferocity. I was no longer a gamer—I was an aspiring author and professional writer. And with GameRiot a nostalgic website of the past (the site was shut down my freshman year of college due to lack of funding), I started my writing career on a website called Quora.
Out the gate, I applied many of the same tactics I had learned as one of the Internet’s most popular gaming bloggers.
And I saw many of the same results.
- In less than 3 months, my first answer had gone massively viral—landing on the front page of Reddit and accumulating over 1M views.
- In less than 9 months, I had become one of Quora’s most popular writers, earning the highly coveted title of Top Writer on the platform.
- My work had been republished by TIME, Forbes, Fortune, Business Insider, CNBC, The Chicago Tribune, and many more.
- I had so many pieces republished by Inc Magazine, that they eventually offered me my own column.
- Within a month of writing for Inc Magazine, I became one of their Top 30 contributors.
Today, my writing has accumulated over 25 million views on Quora alone, and over 50 million views across a variety of different platforms. And after a decade of mastering the art of writing high-performing content online, I’m now the founder of a content writing agency called Digital Press—working with founders and C-suite executives all over the world.
Unfortunately, the digital publishing world is far from “fair.”
About a year ago, I was introduced to an interesting project called RedPen.
I had just moved to Los Angeles, and had begun to think about the publishing space from a much higher point of view. When you’ve been “in the weeds” of something for so long, you eventually reach a point where you start to question the forest you’re playing within—and how the entire landscape can be improved. And one of the things I had begun to question was the longevity of the game I was playing.
How sustainable is an Internet where the only way to be heard is to be more clever, or more dramatic than the next person? And conversely, how does a reader extract real value and educate themselves about a given topic, when they are constantly being led down halls of mirrors?
When I was connected to the RedPen founders, I realized they were asking themselves the same questions—except on an even larger scale.
5I first spoke with RJ Smith, RedPen’s CEO/CTO, and later the company’s Chief Creative Officer, Ryan Lewis, a Grammy-winning music producer with a wide-ranging talent for innovative production (in capacities ranging from music to graphic design to film and beyond). What I gathered from both of them was a fascination with the way the Internet currently prioritized information—and a real vision for how to address it’s most fundamental issues from the ground, up.
Because after 10 years of writing online, I had learned a brutal truth about the game I was playing.
My content, no matter how popular, was far from “the whole story.”
Part of being a writer, an author, a thought leader, or an industry expert, means taking a stand. In order to take a stand, you have to pick a side. And when you pick a side, when you declare a belief or sculpt a perspective, you are, by definition, distancing yourself from “the dark side of the moon.”
After working with 100+ entrepreneurs, investors, and executives on their written content, I can say from experience this is the thing everyone struggles with. In order to stand out and be heard above the news, you have to speak with certainty. And in order to be certain, you have to declare what you believe (on any given topic) what is right and what is wrong.
And nobody wants to be “wrong.”
RedPen, a blockchain-based platform, is building an information aggregation platform that ensures the reader understands that bias at the onset.
Let me explain:
As a columnist, I’ll be the first to tell you that my interests (as someone chasing page views) is not to give you, the reader, an objective perspective on that topic. If Kanye West drops a new album, an unbiased and qualm-free article isn’t going to make anyone click. No, it’s in my best interest to publish a headline like: Kanye West Just Dropped A New Album, And It’s About To Cost Him His Entire Career.
It’s also not the full story—and that’s the problem.
When I started to talk about RedPen with RJ and Ryan, their perspective was to flip the entire model.
If you’re a reader—whether you’re searching for news, or simply the most relevant information on a given topic—then what you care about isn’t what one person has to say (unless you’re a die-hard fan of that person’s writing).
You want to know:
- What’s the full story?
- Who else is relevant to this story?
- What’s the timeline of this story?
- What does the entire Internet think about this topic/event? Do people agree or disagree? What’s the takeaway?
The last question is the one that stuck with me the longest, and was ultimately what excited me to join RedPen as an advisor to the project.
Right now, the Internet is a massive publishing platform that does a whole lot of talking—and not very much listening.
When a news story breaks, thousands of perspectives hit the scene, all of which are looking to shout over the next—none of which have any interest in giving a well-rounded perspective of the event.
As a writer, this is the approach that attracts the most attention.
The result of this sort of publishing ecosystem is that a reader has no consensus of what the “final takeaway” is regarding a given event.
If Kanye West drops a new album, do people love it or hate it? And within that vague term, “people,” who are the credible sources with valuable perspectives to add to the overarching narrative? For example: the opinion of a musician from Juilliard is probably more valuable than an 11 year old who doesn’t play a musical instrument — or a business writer looking to capitalize on a trending topic.
Right now, there is no way to know what the entire Internet is thinking or feeling regarding a given topic.
That’s what RedPen wants to solve for—and I couldn’t align with the mission more.
The publishing world is in desperate need of an overhaul.
Innovation in this space won’t be a faster, better platform.
And it certainly won’t be “more seamless banner ads.”
In order for the digital publishing landscape to make strides, the issue needs to be addressed at the root. And right now, the biggest problem facing the Internet is a lack of clarity around what millions and millions of separate voices are really saying, all at once.