How to write a popular piece that spreads around in five easy steps -
1. Write a lot.
2. When you stumble into writing something that's somewhat interesting, go to step 3.
3. Spend a lot of time brainstorming titles that would entice people to want to click on it and read it.
4. Spend a lot of time writing and re-writing the first paragraph to grab people and take them on a whirlwind adventure tour right away.
5. (optional) Spend a lot of time on the last paragraph or sentence to end the piece in a satisfying way.
Now, honestly, I wish it weren't like that - I wish good, calm, stable content just won because it was good, calm, stable.
But that doesn't work as well if you want the maximum likelihood your pieces spread to new readers online.
If you write a piece called "A few thoughts on getting more things done," that's not as likely to spread as, "Kill your schedule."
"Pros and Cons of X" will tend to underperform a more outrageous, less balanced title. "Reflections on the Last Decade" is a lot less likely to spread than "Reflections on the Worstest Silliest Most Backward Decade of All Time"...
Not that they have to be negative topics, you could style things up in a positive way too. Though, negative topics do seem more conducive to spreading - for some reason it's more socially acceptable and appealing to write a filthy nasty rant than to just express appreciation for something you think works well.
I really do wish things were a little different. And maybe they will be someday, but I doubt it. Human nature being what it is, people click on absurd titles more often than respectable titles. Hell, people even do this if they expect to be offended - I think a lot of people secretly like to get outraged. Ultra-progressive people listen to hard line conservative radio to be outraged, and hyper-socially-conservative people dive into Howard Stern...
That's how things work, unfortunately - the underlying content does matter, but a little panache in title + first paragraph + conclusion makes things more likely to spread and spread faster.
If you really didn't like that it's this way, you could make a dent in the problem by spending some time promoting solid, unambitiously-titled content. I'd respect that, I'd actually love to live in a world where things won purely on some sort of objective merit, if such a world were possible.
But hey, things are how they are. You could fight it by promoting better content that's under-promoted. You could maybe transcend it with a highly curated reading list. You could decide you can't beat 'em, so you'll join 'em. Or you could pour gas on the fire by getting publicly outraged, ideally sparking a back and forth controversy of some sort, and playing right into the hand of the generator-of-outrage.
Anyways, you'll have to excuse me because we've got a Risk game to play in Beijing. I'm going for Australia.
I certainly enjoyed the way you explore your experience and knowledge of the subject! Will be following for new updates. Thanks for sharing the information.
Don't forget to pair it with a slow-played, self deprecating, wow I can't believe I've already lost attitude. Once the land war starts in Asia, you're golden.
That's how things work in Risk. :)
Hizook has achieved its initial goals -- it has been a great tool for personal development, generated plenty of professional recognition, and seen its fair share of internet fame (eg. numerous frontpage appearances on Slashdot, Reddit, HN, etc). The question is: where does it go from here? I'm currently finishing up my PhD dissertation (hence the drop-off in posting regularity), and it's not clear what my goals for the site will be going forward -- I will have to think about that a bit more.
As for titles, you are spot-on. I should invest some time to explore the craft of catchy titles. Amortized over all future title-creation activities, it would be time well spent. I'll be sure to let you know re:questions/brainstorming when I get back on the blog writing horse (a welcome change from dissertation writing!).
Wow, that really resonates with me. My blog definitely edges toward unambitious and unambiguous titles, in addition to overly-academic content and writing style (Hizook.com for those curious).
To date, I feel like I've achieved my goal -- I've gained a very niche audience (academic and professional roboticists), but the site lacks general appeal. Interesting conundrum: be happy with concise and curt language or adjust style to be "popular"?
Raphael from Empower Audio sent me a really nice email which is quite cool of him, shared a service the readers here might enjoy, and asked for some feedback. It's good stuff, let's get started -
I hope you are doing well.
I just wanted to say thanks for your blog and your helpful attitude on HN. I've mostly lurked but there were several points you've made on HN that really helped tip me out of a downward spiral (just getting started doing something instead of trying to make a huge ordeal about it), and I've found your blog quite good as well.
I was struggling with discipline and read your comment on HN suggesting to someone to just get started doing some small little piece, like taking a 5 minute walk. I immediately decided to take a walk and start doing so every morning. For the last 3-4 months since then, that one little thing has made such a huge difference it's really quite remarkable. I go on my walk every morning and listen to either podcasts or audiobooks.
A little disclaimer before you check out today’s blog post/video. Improving your public speaking without having to practice is definitely too good to be true to some extent. Although you can reach a passable level of public speaking where you’re not embarrassed to put out content, or give speeches (the level I’m at now), you’ll never become an elite speaker without thousands of hours of deliberate practice. With that being said, I think the majority of people will find the tips below extremely useful, and you’ll be able to significantly improve your speaking skills if you apply them.
1. Know your material. This doesn’t necessarily mean you have to memorize your speech or even have an outline, though those can definitely be useful. The most important thing is you having a deep understanding of the most difficult concepts and nuisances of your topic. You should know you material backwards, forwards, and even inside-out. If you can't explain your thoughts to a five year old you're probably not ready to give a speech on that topic.
2. Be Passionate About What You're Saying. Don't seek validation from the crowd. You should believe what you're saying is so valuable that you're able to give off a passionate vibe and naturally captivate the audience's attention through the law of state transference. When you’re passionate enough about a topic your audience will naturally be drawn into your frame.
3. Be congruent to your mood. If you're under slept and you find the whole world hilarious then give a comedy speech and rattle off a bunch of jokes. If you're in the forest after having spent the last hour meditating then give a calm, relaxed speech. When you give your speeches from a place of congruence the audience can naturally tell you're being completely genuine and they'll connect with you on a much deeper level. Don't try to impress your audience by giving a certain type of speech just because you'll think they'll like it. People can tell when you're being fake, and ironically people are most impressed by those that aren't trying to impress them.