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A year (and a bit) of swombat.com

Swombat.com started just a year and a month ago. I've enjoyed every bit of it (even though there were some gaps where I drifted off temporarily). It's succeeded where my previous blogging efforts failed, in delivering more consistently and for a longer period than any of the preceding attempts.

I've learnt a lot about what sort of things I want to publish, and about what sort of things you want to read. I've learnt about how to get people to follow me on twitter or sign up to my RSS feed. This coming year, I'll be learning about how to get people to subscribe to the soon-to-be-live mailing list and get your articles delivered instantly by email! I've learnt what a difference it makes to publish things on a consistent schedule instead of haphazardly when the mood strikes me. Interestingly, quality does seem to emerge out of quantity.

Interestingly, throughout the year, most of the 400k total visitors (about 600k actions) were from Hacker News. By internet standards, that's fairly limited. I've clearly not learnt how to really build or access a large audience, or how to expand out of he lovely, comfortable, high quality niche of Hacker News. Neither Reddit, nor Slashdot, Digg, StumbleUpon, or any other social media site (other than Twitter of course) sent any significant amount of traffic to swombat.com. Perhaps this is another lesson to learn next year.

Top articles of the year

No retrospective post would be complete without a "top articles of the year" line-up. Here they are, then, along with how many visitors they gathered.

The bomb that changed my life was the winner (even though it is the most recently published) with just over 29'000 hits. In this very personal article, I described, as best I could, the effects of the London tube bombings on my life. Given how many people told me that they were deeply moved and fascinated by this article, perhaps I need to write less about startups and more about events that have affected me.

My life in Accenture before startups was a distant second with 19'000 hits. In this article, I explained why I felt a need to leave the corporate world, and what was both good and bad about it. Interestingly, I've bumped into many (ex- or current) Accenture people who said that they'd read it and that it resonnated for them. As this is another "story about me", again, perhaps this is a second piece of evidence that this is the sort of things you like to read.

What will kill Facebook? was also quite popular, with 15'000 hits. In this article, I picked up on the anti-Facebook vibe and tried to analyse what, if anything, could really tear down Facebook. The spoiler: the only thing that can kill Facebook is Facebook itself. Interesting trivia: in the months since publishing this article, 51 people have arrived there by searching for "how to kill Facebook". There are at least a dozen more variations on this query, ranging from the murderous "kill facebook" to the milder "what could kill facebook?", mean that if Facebook was a person, it'd be time to get police protection.

How to get your startup on Hacker News has been popular too, with 14'000 hits (more than 1'000 of which came from Vinicius Vacanti's excellent article).

Silence, where I explored the power of silence in business situations, was popular too, and also republished on LifeHacker. On my site, it got 13'000 hits, but no doubt many more on LifeHacker.

My articles about Siri, the Startup escape path and Hypothesis Driven Development got about 10'000 hits each. I'll be talking more about the startup escape path in the coming year. There are many other articles further below that threshold that I really enjoyed writing, and that I hope you enjoyed reading.

You can find them under the Founder's Library.

Some goals for the year ahead

Whilst I don't think that stating my goals on this blog is necessarily the best way to achieve them (turns out you also have to work towards them), here's what I'd like to see happen with swombat.com over the coming year:

Escape the Great HN Attractor

Hacker News is a brilliant community full of interesting people, but I don't want to write only for the Hacker News audience. A typicaly "huge success" post on HN gathers maybe 10'000 visitors, which I'm guessing is about 1/3 of the active community at any one time (there are more drifters, but here I'm talking about the regulars). Conversely, blogs like AVC, VentureHacks or A Smart Bear have 110k, 60k and 30k RSS subscribers respectively. Admittedly, they are excellent blogs at the top of their game, but this is where I aspire to be too.

I suspect that in order to achieve that, I'll have to be able to step outside of the HN niche, however big it might be.

Better engagement

Based on my experiments and calculations, these are the respective engagement rates of different media:

  • Twitter: 0.1-0.5%
  • RSS: 1-5%
  • Email: 40-50%

Considering that I have this data, it's a bit surprising that I haven't yet activated my email subscription system. While email undoubtedly goes lower as the number of subscribers increases, as a rule of thumb it seems fair to say that 1 email subscriber has about the same level of engagement as 100 twitter followers.

As a writer, I like to be read. I like the feeling that I'm not writing solely to myself, and more attention from bigger audiences motivates me to write more. So, one of my goals for the coming year is to build a sizeable mailing list - let's say a few thousand strong. I don't think that email subscriptions are 100x harder to get than Twitter followers, so this should be doable. You can help me by signing up already! :-)

Don't worry, though, this will not involve intrusive popups or annoying ads. The reader experience is and remains the most important thing here.

No monetisation yet

My business, GrantTree, is making enough money that I don't need to worry about monetising swombat.com - which is good, because I don't think it would generate much revenue. That said, I would like for it to get to a stage where monetisation could become an option some day, in case I need or want it.

Regular posting throughout the year

Finally, perhaps the most important goal: there should not be a day, let alone a week, without new articles. For the last few weeks I tried writing a new article every day, and it worked fairly well. I want to continue doing that. I have many subjects on my idea list, and as I wrote more, they seem to be multiplying, so I'm not worried about running out of content. The key objective, then, is to keep publishing every day (or almost every day) - both my own articles, and links to others.

And with this, I end this article, which is dragging on too much anyway.

Merry Christmas!

More from the library:
Startup advice by Sam Altman
Patrick McKenzie's work on the Fog Creek website
Finding a great startup advisor