Our Ideas Are Cheap Because We Treat Them Cheaply
I have 30 minutes to write this post. I normally do not write posts that quickly. It usually takes me a long time to write on my blog because I want to make it as polished as possible. I know a new post will get immediate readership and exponentially drop-off over time. No one will read an update on my post, so there's no incentive to improve or build upon older blog posts.
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 for 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 relevant, but I have never gone back to improve them. 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. We feel more comfortable creating something basic with the intention to iterate and improve. That's how I design, that's how I code and it works well.
I love sharing ideas, but I hate writing about them. The process isn't collaborative or conversational. When I write for my blog, it's 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. I wrote about why writing tools should feel more like source control five years ago. A year and a half later, a Wired article was written with Github. Now services like Penflip are taking it to the next logical step.
If we want writers to put more time into their content, the process needs dramatic change. First, the all-or-nothing approach to posting needs to go. I want an article to start as a public draft to capture initial feedback and measure interest in the subject. From there, the article can grow, shift and evolve as necessary. We also need content to have a much longer half-life. I want to feel confident that people will actually read improvements to a past blog posts. Our ideas should not be disposable and the right tools could go a long way to fix this problem.