Effectively distributing texts online is very painful

| 4 minutes read

On Sunday, when I published “Six unpopular opinions about software standard development,” I thought I had done it again. My article had gained traction on Hacker News, so my website’s current visitor count went from zero to roughly 100 concurrent readers in seconds.

But then, and for whatever reason, Hacker News decided to flag my article, and practically within a few minutes after tweeting in delight that I had made “HN Front Page,” that joy was rapidly replaced with anger and resentment.

See, Hacker News has no “downvote” functionality, and so for users with a karma score of over 500, a “flag” button appears in replacement for the lack of being able to downvote. I can, of course, only speculate what led to the flagging - but having been targeted by flagging on Hacker News, I can confidently say it is a mixture of making a spicy argument and YCombinator LPs don’t appreciate and associating myself too much with the crypto-space.

Now: Why all this complaining? Who cares for Hacker News distribution, some might say? OK, fine - I see you and let’s follow through with what you’re saying: Fuck Hacker News; let’s instead bring my content to Cryptotwitter.

So as an attempt to stay open-minded and garbage-collect past decisions, at the beginning of the year, after many years of hiatus, I re-created my Twitter account and took to the platform mainly to circulate more of this blog’s content. The goal was clear: I needed to diversify the distribution - I cannot purely rely on Hacker News or Reddit as they end up being toxic and a mismatch on many of the issues I write about.

So yeah, I did that and utterly tried to make Twitter work for myself. See, having had previous experiences with Twitter, my biggest problem was the addictive user interface patterns implemented as persuasive technology. So to combat them, and this wasn’t meant to offend anyone, I never followed anyone, and I also installed an addon in my Firefox browser that blocks the Twitter news feed on my desktop computer. So I don’t see content there. On my phone, I do.

Those measures actually worked quite OK, and also, being mindful of the addictive qualities of Twitter helped. But the problem I then started facing was another one: Namely that nobody cared about what I had to say, and this leads me to the latest tweet I just sent to the platform, which reads: “thinking of deleting my Twitter again, being here is a waste of time.”

See, I don’t mean to offend anyone of my followers or acquaintances: This is not about disrespecting the people or anything like this. Instead, that tweet comes from a place of disappointment in a piece of software. It’s because, in the past months, I had actively experimented with “what works on Twitter,” and I’ve now realized that neither Twitter will help me achieve what I had planned: Effectively distribute this blog’s content.

See, my goal is to have an impact with my writing, like real impact through inspiring people or by locking in attribution about ideas - and generally to tech-accelerate in directions that I think are good. And if you’re an avid reader, you know that my posts are usually differentiated, and so that means only a small number of people will eventually find them useful. I’m fine with that, but the challenge is ensuring those interested people get to simply read what I wrote! And that is soooooo hard!

See, on Hacker News, I get flagged. On Substack, I don’t want to give them all my text - it’s mine, and they can’t own it. And on Twitter, well, Twitter is optimized to keep people on their app. And so, texts only ever work if you make them work on Twitter.

This is not just a claim: I can back this up. A while ago, I did a tweet storm talking about Nikolai.fyi’s dmap.sh project, and I tried to use the CTR-maximizing framework that YouTubers publicly talk about. So, create a suspense curve, get people hooked on the first tweet, and carefully craft the moment of ease. Sure, it worked, and that Tweetstorm raked in 400 new followers and, like Idk, 700 likes - it was crazy.

But sadly, it also showed me an ugly truth - that the Twitter game is one about grabbing everyone’s attention and not necessarily about the arguments’ quality or truthfulness. And once realizing this, I got very upset about this, too, specifically because this dynamic is purposefully abused, e.g., by soulbound token haters like Evin McMullen, who seems to be on a roll comparing technical specifications to transmittable skin deseases. But what can I say: although she’s not meaningfully contributing, it’s a great tactic for attention-grabbing.

I also read about Ben Awad and his story of transforming from an “innocent” React dev to a thirst-invoking TikTok hunk and so conclusively, for me, it is that those social media platforms are simply not useful for effectively distributing my texts online, sadly.

Sure - I could stay on Twitter to discuss within the Spectacle, and that works at times. But, e.g., the other day, Arthur Breitman and Vitalik Buterin had a conversation about Harberger taxes, and all my comments on the matter got drowned in the conversation’s general noise. So I thought: “What the fuck am I doing here? If this is only about hammering out the spiciest takes, and if nobody’s anyways ‘leaving the app,’ then what’s the point of spending time and nerves here?”

So here’s what I’m deciding: I’ll leave the Twitter account be; for now, I won’t delete it. But I wanna be more mindful of the time and its uselessness there. Not because I don’t like the people - but because I think its software is fundamentally broken. And additionally, I want to spend more meaningful time on my quest to distribute my texts more effectively on the internet. The website should be made more discoverable, with more tags and introductions to the topics I write about. I wanna make more meaningful connections, and I wanna continue to not obsessively care about “the numbers.” Impact and leaving “the place” better than I found it is why I’m doing this here.

So Hacker News, Twitter, Substack, and all you other “social” networks - go fuck yourselves! I can be my own platform 🖕


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