The biggest challenge I faced as a tech blogger was a simple one: motivation. By that, I don’t mean that it was hard to write — it never was. But towards the end, it was getting hard to get excited to write on a daily basis. I needed to be driven. That’s when I’m at my best.
Tech blogging is a game. Most of those still doing it probably won’t admit it, but it is. That’s the only way you can think about it if you aim to be the best. Competition pushes everyone. With blogging, as with all things, you have to be in it to win it.
Now, there are several ways to play this game. And there are different standards of winning. At first, when I was a no-name blogger writing on my own, my goal was simply to get recognized. When I achieved that, my goal had to switch. So it became writing the best headlines. Then it became being more prolific than anyone else. Then it was getting to the top of Google News. Then it was owning certain areas of coverage (location, etc). Then it was writing long “thought” pieces while retaining readership.
The game had to keep changing because I kept winning and had to level up. But again, towards the end, it was becoming difficult to find a game that could motivate me. I started to delve into highly specialized ones. Getting the most comments without using what I consider to be cheap tricks to bring in traffic — SEO, Google keyword plays, this kind of shit, etc. Writing a story with a tiny bit of information I knew to be poorly worded to catch other lazy bloggers lifting content without attribution. Those kinds of things.
That’s not to say I didn’t take my job seriously. I did very much so. Nor is it to say that certain news couldn’t excite me on its own. It quite often did — great new startups, huge news from Apple, etc. — no game required. It’s just to say that the day-to-day of tech blogging is a grind and there needs to be something underneath it all driving you in slow times. Hence, the games.
But in the end, there are really only three games that matter: pageviews, scoops, and Techmeme.
Pageviews is a funny one because as I alluded to, there are a number of ways to cheat this game. Some blogs have built their brands doing this. I’m proud that TechCrunch was never one of those sites. We earned our pageviews the legitimate, slow(er) way. And that’s ultimately the better way because those readers tend to stick around as opposed to those who are more or less tricked into clicking on your site.
The truth is that by the time I got to TechCrunch, it was already a very large site. So with anything I wrote, pageviews were built in to some extent. I was able to leverage that base and multiply it substantially. As a result, pageviews were never that compelling of a game. I simply won it early on and kept winning it just by continuing to write. And it would have been hard to find a substantial, consistent challenger because few peer sites operate at TechCrunch’s scale. Plus, most sites hold those types of numbers close, so it’s hard to compare from site to site on an author basis anyway.
Scoops are a much tougher game. Like pageviews, they also tend to depend on a bit of history. That is, you usually get them once you’ve established yourself (worked relationships with sources, etc). It’s a bit of a chicken and egg problem. At first, I wasn’t any good at getting scoops. At the end, I was very good at getting them.
The problem there became my relationships outside of the job. I became close friends with so many people tapped into many of the things I was covering that I would often learn all kinds of information that I couldn’t write about. That’s frustrating for the scoop game — but it’s really not so bad until someone else writes something you know to be false, but you still can’t say what you know.
Techmeme is the most fascinating game. Everyone in the industry reads the site, and all serious tech bloggers know where they stand on the Leaderboard — calculated by the percentage of headlines your site has in the past 30 days.
When I was at VentureBeat, we were able to get all the way up to second place on the board. I had never seen anyone overtake TechCrunch. We were inching up.
A few weeks later, CNET pulled to within 1 percent of the lead. Then TechCrunch hired me. We hit 10% by July — a full 6.5% ahead of number two. By October of last year, we were approaching 13% — nearly 9% ahead of number two. Game over.
So it’s humorous for me now to watch from the outside as others play the same game. TechCrunch is in a transition period, so perhaps there is an opening. But boasting that you’re gaining now is like boasting that you can maybe beat up the champ …when he has two broken legs.
Those legs will heal.
As for me, I’m playing a completely different game now in a completely different arena. It’s refreshing to blog just because I feel like it, without any competitive drive.
Actually, who am I kidding? That’s exactly what this post is about. I just haven’t found that next game in blogging to win yet. Yet.