Thursday, February 4, 2010

Joel and Jeff on programmers who blog

During episode 81 of the StackOverflow podcast, Joel and Jeff got into a fairly interesting discussion about programmers who write blogs.

Joel encouraged programmers who blog to focus on quality over quantity. He said that, when you write an article, you should try to narrow your focus down to some little tidbit of information that you are particularly interested in and familiar with, and you should attempt to write the world's greatest article on that subject. He used the example of "chocolate-covered strawberries", and suggested that you shouldn't just write another article talking about some neat chocolate-covered strawberries that you made, but you should really dig deeply into the particular details that fascinate you, like the particular type of cocoa powder to use. He said, your goal should be to write the article that will be the #1 hit on Google for "chocolate-covered strawberries".

Jeff differed with Joel (he often does), and offered a number of alternate perspectives:

  • Firstly, he said, you should blog about what interests you, and not worry so much about what might interest others.

  • Secondly, he said, you should make the barrier to blogging fairly low. There are already plenty of obstacles to blogging, and if you spent all your time worrying that your writing isn't good enough, or doesn't deserve to be posted, you'll never blog anything at all

  • Thirdly, he said, writing is a skill, and like any skill it must be practiced, and so you should exercise your writing skills regularly and routinely. The more you write, the better you will get at writing, so write as often as you can.

  • Fourthly, he said, simply writing about something will, often subconsciously, cause you to improve your knowledge about it. If you blog about X, in the process of doing so, you will find that you learn more about X. Partly this is because you'll find yourself doing some additional research about X; partly this is just because blogging about X will force you to organize your thoughts and organizing your thoughts is one of the ways you learn

Essentially, Joel said: programmers who blog should blog for their readers. While Jeff said: programmers who blog should blog for themselves.

I've only been seriously blogging for about 8 months, but I find myself strongly on Jeff's side in this area. I'm not trying to be some sort of A-list world-renowed blogger; instead, I'm trying to keep track of the particular topics that I'm interested in, practice my writing skills, record notes and observations about things that I learn, etc.

So, I'm sorry, Joel, but you're never likely to get to my blog from the top of a Google search, and if you're looking for information on chocolate-covered strawberries I've got nothing to offer. But I am feeling good about the return on investment by keeping this blog, so I'm intending to continue it more-or-less as it has been, as long as I can.

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