This is a bittersweet column to write, as I've been spilling digital ink in MediaPost for most of my career. I will continue to keep the blog current, even if it takes some time to figure out what that flow will be like, and I'll continue to contribute to other publications like Ad Age and Mashable, and likely others such as Digiday. One shout-out must be added here: thanks go to Mark Naples of WIT Strategy, my boss (for a brief window) at iCrossing in 2004, who introduced me to MediaPost and got me on board there as one of the first Insider writers. There are then many others at Viewpoint / Unicast and then especially 360i who have supported this endeavor over the years — too many to name here.
With that, here'd edition #401:
What I've Learned, 400 Editions Later
originally published in MediaPost's Social Media Insider
On July 2, 2004, I penned a Search Insider column for MediaPost
Dr. Seuss and Eminem, followed it up 18 days later with a
biblical allegory about search engine optimization, and nearly every week
since then, I contributed to an oeuvre here that ultimately numbered 400
editions. So as not to bury the lede, this is my final Insider edition – at
least for now.
Since I’ve had the honor to contribute an estimated 300,000 words
here (my apologies to copy editors and readers for testing your patience), I
hope you’ll indulge one final entry that goes behind the scenes of this
97-month journey. Here’s what I’ve learned:
1) Know your voice. When I started writing
the Search Insider, I was daunted by other pundits who knew far more about
search engine marketing than me, and all of them seemed to be named Kevin.
Accepting my lack of experience, I put people (also known as consumers, and
sometimes users) at the center, and then figured out where marketers fit in.
That gave me enough time to learn more about marketing on the job (through
three jobs in fact, though mostly at 360i) and hone that aspect later.
2) Big ideas matter, even if they don’t spread.
When I’ve had what I thought was a great idea – such as The
Motivation Bubble – hardly anyone seemed to respond. I’m still proud to
have shared such columns. Perhaps they shaped the thinking of some people who
never responded, and at the very least I felt some sense of achievement just
going through the process of refining the idea.
3)Go off topic. When I feared I was
heading too far off topic and wrote the story anyway, it would get the greatest
response. Speaking of which, my grandmother featured in “Google
vs. Grandmom” remains in good health, gave up on the Internet, and still
has all the answers to everything – regardless of whether you seek her opinion.
4) Count on numbered lists. I resort to
numbered lists a lot, for three reasons. First, they’re easier to read, and I
have a short attention span. Second, numbers in headlines grab attention.
Third, they’re a fun challenge – a creative dare. Often, I’ll have writer’s
block, and then come up with one or two ideas around a similar theme. I’ll then
jot those down and think about how many more I’d need for a decent list,
whether it’s 5, 10, or occasionally 100. Then I’ll force myself to get near
that number, adding or subtracting a few to keep the best ones in. If the piece
works when it’s finished, it delivers the writer’s equivalent of a runner’s
5) Expect writing to take longer than expected. In
writing 400 columns here, you’d think I could crank them out. It’s never the
case though. Each column is a learning experience, starting with a thesis, or a
hypothesis, or a half-decent idea for the middle of a non-existent story. The
journey ventures from there, spanning links, images, old emails, LinkedIn
profiles, and quotes (often later omitted) from sources such as the Bible,
Baruch Spinoza, Sherry Turkle, “30 Rock,” and “Calvin and Hobbes.” Practice
doesn’t make perfect; practice makes perfectionism. I know not every post is
amazing, but I still put in the time. It takes just as long to write an average
column as it does to write a great one.
6) Your time and attention are priceless. I
don’t devour analytics to determine how many people read each column. All I
know is that to keep writing this many, some people must be reading them. While
it’s impossible to know exactly who is reading what, I am so moved that you and
others have taken the time to read any of it. My goal with any column is
simple: to respect your time. I can only hope I have remotely succeeded.
7) It’s time to eat the grapes.
This Insider series will continue with other talented writers; keep reading
them, and I’ll do the same. As for me, I’m hardly going silent; I’ll continue
to cobble together thoughts on media and technology through my blog and potentially other
endeavors. The process of transition stirs up a range of emotions that have
been expressed better by others. A retiring college professor once told his
students that he wished them “the humility required to feel truly appreciated,
and the wisdom required to know when it is best to move on.” Quite a few years
earlier, the Stoic philosopher Seneca wrote, “As it is with a play, so it is
with life – what matters is not how long the acting lasts, but how good it is.”
One can only pause and reflect for so long. As quoted in Roger Housden’s book “Saved
by Beauty,” the 13th century Persian poet told his listeners,
“Remember the proverb, ‘Eat the grapes.’ Do not keep talking about the garden.
Eat the grapes.”
With that, it’s time to move on. As Scotty
famously warned in “Star Trek IV,” “Hold on tight, lassie! It gets bumpy from