Our Ideas Are Cheap Because We Treat Them Cheaply

I have 30 minutes to write this post. I normally do not write posts in 30 minutes. It usually takes me a long time to write on my blog because I want to make it as polished as possible out of the chute. I feel this way because I know once the content is posted, it will get a decent amount of readership the day I publish with an exponential drop-off from that point forward. No one (figuratively) will read an update on my post, so the incentive to improve or build upon past blog posts is non-existent.

The written word on the internet disposable. When objects become disposable, creators are less inclined to concern themselves with quality. My guess is the rise in short-form blogging (ala kottke.org, PSFK, etc.) is due to this disposable culture. I enjoy both blogs, but they do not satisfy the itch for in-depth content. Writing on the web is increasingly focused on quantity rather than quality.

When was the last time you went back and updated a blog post from a few months ago? I’m assuming rarely; likely never. I have plenty of blog posts where the subject matter is still very relevant, but I am never gone back to make them better. In contrast, when was the last time you updated a code library to fix a bug or add a new feature? Monthly? Weekly? Daily? We have long-term relationships with code. We fix it, improve upon it. We work on it with our peers. Due to that reality, we feel much more comfortable sharing something basic with the intention to iterate—often with community feedback and support. I love writing code for this very reason.

I love sharing ideas, but I hate writing. Mainly because it feels so different from coding. When I write for my blog, it is normally a solitary process where I try my damnedest to dot every i and cross every t. I publish and then I move on. I have tried to create more collaborative processes, but the tools are just not there yet.

Ideas are not cheap, but we certainly treat them cheaply. A modern platform is needed for to enable writing in the same iterative, collaborative process we have for design and development. I know I am not alone in this opinion. Two years ago, I wrote about this subject and mentioned how writing tools should feel more like source control. A year and a half later, a writer for Wired wrote an article with Github.

If we want writers to put more time into their content, the process needs to change dramatically. First, the all-or-nothing approach to posting needs to change. I would love an article to start off as a public draft where I get initial feedback and measure the general interest in the subject. From there, the article can grow, shift and evolve as necessary. Secondly, our articles need to have a much longer half-life. If I make a serious improvement or update to a past blog post, I want to feel confident that people will actually read it. I am tired of forcing myself to finish a blog post that you nor I will never make better and you will never read again. Our ideas should not be disposable and the right tools could go a long way to fix this problem.

8 thoughts on “Our Ideas Are Cheap Because We Treat Them Cheaply”

  1. It’s a great concept. I’ve been thinking more and more recently about how this always-on, pull-to-refresh, instant culture is changing the way we do just about everything. And that includes writing… Newspapers have a word for it: evergreen content. We need more of it. And as I’m slowly redesigning my own site, I think it’s important enough to dedicate a whole section where I’ll link to this kind of writing. It’s a published list of bookmarks. These are articles that will last, on topics like creativity, culture and hard work. I think I’ll call the section “Slow Web” (from this post).

    Also, related… I don’t know if you read this post by Marco Arment a while back, but he discusses this very idea: Lasting Value.

  2. It seems that we have some difficulty to manage the speed at which we receive information and the speed at which we can really process it. The problem you describe is actually even broader than the web. It is the same with newspapers (and news in general, including TV), even journalists aren’t able to sort that much information anymore. I am sure the Slow Movement described by Ryan (and Wired UK last month) is gonna be a big influence on a new range of bloggers. But it’s not for everyone, things like Twitter have a very important role in information exchange and to “generate” ideas that we need to learn how to expand.

  3. Writing follows its own rules and techinques, like designing and coding. Learning those wuld be a better way to improve writing than borrowing familiar (to the coder) but extraneous (to the craft) concepts like version control.

  4. Agreed with @giuliano Writing is a a process with a very different set of rules seemingly similar because we use many of the same tools. Brilliant site and posts, I have enjoyed my stay here. Thankyou for your work on all of the most beautiful icon sets 🙂 props

  5. Love this post. There are other benefits of going back and changing/modifying or dare I say, improving, an old blog post – search. I found lots of opportunities, working with clients at an agency, in optimizing content (not spamming it out, mind you).

    I actually love to write and consider each post I write like its own little work of art. That doesn’t mean that you can’t go back and improve on things you wrote in the past, though.

    Again, love this post.

  6. I was looking for a theme for my kid and stumbled on yours as a diversion for myself and another project I’d like to do focused on writing. Glad that upon clicking through from smashingmagazine.com, I wasn’t greeted with Lorem Ipsum filler, but an actual blog! I would love to see tools like you discuss incorporated for public consumption. So, just know that some 6 months later, this is still being read and the idea is still totally relevant.

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