New blog: Words

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I’ve started a new blog: Words.

You may have noticed that it’s a part of the Svbtle blogging network. I’m super excited about this, but you may be confused. Let me explain.

My relationship with writing

I’ve been involved in Internet communities for most of my life. One of the nice things about that is that it’s forced me to express myself in writing for a very, very long time.

I don’t remember what site this is, but there was one that generated a PDF of your top 100 comments on Hacker News. The idea was “You’ve already written a book!” You can see this kind of thinking in many “Blog to book” books that are out there, but I found this really powerful. My top 100 comments span 19 pages; I was (at one point) number 60 on the top of Hacker News by karma. And I really was only active on HN for about a year, February 2010 to 2011. I spent much more time on /., Reddit, and a half dozen forums. I bet if you compiled a list of everything I ever wrote in a <textarea name="comment" id="comment">, I would have written at least 3 novels by now. They’d be shit, of course, but the point is that if you’re active at all on the read/write web, then you’ve probably written a ton.

As a side point, I really enjoyed the anonymity that posting on the web gave me. I could be 13, yet arguing with people who were 30! And they’d actually take me seriously, since they didn’t know I wasn’t an adult! Of course, the only way they wouldn’t know is if I posted proper English… grammar nazis helped me out, in a way.


Practice makes perfect

Of course, this means that at first, I wasn’t practiced at writing, and that means that it was any good… That’s the only way that you get better, though: write and write and write and write. And get feedback on that writing. Originally, it was just people commenting back. Then upvotes. I’m pretty sure that I’ve averaged over two or three comments a day on the Internet over the past decade or so. If you include tweets, I bet the median is about the same, but the mean would go up to 6 or 8.

Regardless, I tend to be very off-the-cuff when writing. When I’m done writing this blog post, I will type :wq<enter>git commit -am "add 'words'"<enter>git push origin,heroku<enter><alt-tab><f5><f5><f5><f5><f5><f5><f5><f5> . Then tweet. I end up doing very little proofreading of the things I write, and that means that sometimes, my writing suffers. I’ve settled into a local maximum: I’m Good Enough at writing that people like what I write, and I can quickly type something out and get it up there. But I don’t think I’m getting any better at writing. And I’d like to.

Gamification and Exhibitionism

I’ve also come to realize something about myself over the years: I respond really well to gamification, and am somewhat of an exhibitionist. Or at the very least, an extrovert. These two things in combination are a powerful mixture.

When I started playing StarCraft II, I knew I wanted to get better. So I set up an account on Twitch. I sometimes stream games there. I’m in Silver league, which means I’m not that good. But knowing that someone may be watching makes me want to be better at it. I sometimes release videos of me live coding. Almost everything I code is open source. Knowing that others might be watching makes me want to be at my best.

Gamification can help with this, too. Monotonically increasing numbers are terribly addicting, and trigger something deep down in my brain. I’ve been known to refresh my retweet count or my upvote count every so often just to watch that number get higher. Combining this with public-ness means that I can compare myself to everyone else with a number too, and I can get to the top of the leaderboard! I’m terribly competitive at gaming, and quantification is the first step towards gamification and competition. I’ve been watching the Quantified Self movement from afar specifically because I’m afraid that I’ll do nothing but ‘self-improve’ and then not use that improvement for anything worthwhile.


If you haven’t heard, Svbtle is Dustin Curtis’ blogging network. I remember reading that post when Dustin started it, and this was the part that stuck out to me:

The goal is simple: when you see the Svbtle design, you should know that the content is guaranteed to be great.

I’m always looking for good things to read on the Internet, so I kept this idea in the back of my head. When I saw a Svbtle blog, I raised my expectations. I can really enjoy bad things as long as I go into them expecting that they’re bad; I’m not the type of person that only enjoys high-brow stuff. And generally, blogs have low-brow expectations for me.

Anyway, after a couple of months, I noticed that I really did think that most posts on Svbtle were pretty damn good. At the very least, they weren’t bad in the way that many blog posts are: super flamebait, shit-talking, or half-baked. I also kept looking at my blog, and realized that many of my posts are sort of trivial, or not really up to my current standards, or have those kinds of flaws. And finally, I hate CSS. Like, I’m no good at it. At all. And I’m sick of messing around with my own style. But most blogging software sucks…

So I applied.

It’s sort of funny to talk about hating startups and centralized internet companies, then go from my own Jekyll blog to a hosted solution. There are a few huge wins for me with Svbtle, though:

Ultimately, it’s all posted on my own domain via the magic of CNAME. This means that in the future, I can re-host everything myself if I want to. I’ve already done this previously when I moved from Posterous to my own blog, and even have redirects.rb already set up. Secondly, Svbtle will send me an archive of all my posts if I ask, which means that I’m never going to lose the data. I will probably keep my own backups locally as well. But in the event that Svbtle goes south, I’m not locked in.

Getting kicked off of Svbtle for having bad content would make me really upset. If it’s a blog network that’s high quality, and my writing isn’t up to snuff, that would make me sad. Time to level up! Now that I’m there, I want to stay there. This gives me lots of motivation to write high quality things, and to improve. And Svbtle provides tools to help me become a better writer, like vetting and copy editing. That’s a pretty huge attraction to me.

Finally, there’s light gamification with the whole Kudos thing. I know that I’ll be trying to get as many as possible with each post, too, and that it can give me reasonable feedback in some fashion. Not as good as well-written responses, but it’s easier to give someone internet points than it is to write a full rebuttal.

Two blogs

I’m still going to keep this blog going; it’s gonna shift to something that’s more about code and less about politics. Words will be more politics and theory with a de-emphasis on code. This blog will be more like a Tumblr in that I’ll post more often, do less work on each post, and make the good but quick. Words will become a place where I’ll take my time, post less frequently, but really work on the polish.

I hope you’ll enjoy continuing to read the things I write about, here or there.