Ten thoughts on technical blogging

I was invited to Everyday Hero here in Brisbane to give a guest presentation on technical blogging. I found it was a good opportunity to reflect on six and a half years of writing this blog and creating ten thoughts/themes of what I consider makes a successful technical blog. I hope you enjoy the slides below – you can also download a PDF.

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Information deserves to be free*

Marco Arment recently wrote about the initial failings of his iOS based, subscription only magazine he launched last October.

“Since The Magazine had no ads, and people could only subscribe in the app, I figured there was no reason to show full article text on the site — it could only lose money and dilute the value of subscribing.

That was the biggest mistake I’ve made with The Magazine to date.”

His article gave me a lot of confidence in my decision to write my forthcoming Pride and Paradev book as a series of articles available freely* on this blog for anyone to read/discuss.

I will eventually package this content into a Leanpub eBook in a series of formats that readers will be able to buy for convenience, not content.

I detest the concept of a Paywall, I am more than happy to pay for the convenience of consuming nicely packaged content, but I believe that content should be free*, to read quote and share, not hidden in a subscription only iOS app, or behind a convoluted paywall that blocks you based upon an odd combination of cookies and IP addresses.

No matter how much effort you put into your Paywall/DRM, people will find ways of circumventing it, so making your content freely* available just makes sense. By building DRM into your product, you’ll have to recoup the DRM engineering cost/effort by charging your genuine readers more. But you’re punishing the wrong people!

If you make your content good enough, people will be more than happy to support you and pay for a convenient way to consume it.

* free as in freedom


Staying focused: the pomodoro technique

How do I stay focused when life is full of distractions?

I’ve recently been trying the Pomodoro Technique, it’s Italian for tomato. It was created by an Italian guy who used his tomato shaped egg timer to create a technique to stay focused.

You simply chunk your time into 25 minute slots:

  • Work for 20 mins solid – jot down any distractions, but don’t follow them; then
  • Have a 5 minute break, where you can check your distractions
  • Every four “pomodoros” take a longer break (15-20 mins)

I’ve tried using this at work with reasonable success. The key is to break your work down into chunks that can be managed in 20 minutes. Once you have this down pat, you become really productive, and the time spent on distractions decreases over time.

How do you stay focused?


On writing a book

I recently started spending my spare time writing an agile software testing book with the intention to complete it and self publish it. But then I changed my mind. Here’s why: I don’t see any future in non-fiction1 books as we know them.

Why would you want to write a non-fiction books?

It’s a lot of work and so there must be some motivation:

  • You want to be famous: but with 1.85 million Amazon Kindle books currently for sale, yours will need to be pretty special to actually achieve this outcome.
  • You want to be rich: a typical traditional book earns the author about $1.50 in royalties. Even a Leanpub top selling self published eBook may have around 3000 readers at approx $8 commission per book which works out at about $24,000: probably not even commiserate to the time spent writing the book.
  • You want to share your knowledge: this is the big one, and the reason I want to write a book. But you have to remember that there are more public ways to share your knowledge besides writing a closed non-fiction book.

Writing a non-fiction book is essentially a waterfall process

My biggest gripe about writing a non-fiction book is that it is essentially a waterfall process. You spend a long time writing a book. You then spend more time editing it. You then get someone else to QA it (by which time you’ve probably lost interest). You then get it ‘published’ by finally ‘sending it to the printers’, whatever that means in this eBook age.

We all get why we shouldn’t build software in a big-bang waterfall style approach, so why should writing a non-fiction book be any different.

Leanpub tries to move away from the waterfall model

Leanpub goes a fair way towards solving the waterfall book problem by allowing authors to self publish non-complete non-fiction books as they are written. But the process of releasing updates is clunky, as it essentially means your readers need to download a complete new version of your eBook each time. And you get a single page to take comments/feedback for your entire in progress book.

So why not just blog instead?

I still believe that web blogging is still the best mechanism for writing non fiction material iteratively for easy consumption. It is not only indexed for search, but has in built support for distribution: RSS and email, as well as a way to solicit rapid contextual feedback. The downsides to blogging are it’s hard to offer a way for readers to provide monetary support, and hard to collate content together in neat package for consumption.

How about both?

I truly believe that knowledge should be free, available freely on the web for anyone to access, not tied up in a book. But, there are benefits of collating this information in an eBook as a distribution mechanism. If this package is then available to purchase, at whatever price the reader wishes to pay, then it allows the reader to pay for the convenience of collation/distribution or to thank the author for well written content.

My new book

My new agile software testing book will start with a collection of freely available blog posts which will eventually be bundled together into a Leanpub eBook in a convenient variety of formats for purchase at whatever price you wish to pay. That’s the future of publishing.

[1] I do believe there’s a future in authors writing and publishing fiction books in a waterfall fashion: I buy, borrow and read a lot of them and can see myself doing this for some time. I am not a believer in the piece meal approach to fiction, but this has been done in the past in the form of serials.