Dave Winer is too important to think he's accomplishing nothing


I read Dave Winer’s Scripting.com blog every day. I subscribe via email. Like everything Dave does, it makes me think.

Today I wonder if I should set up an email subscription service of some kind for this blog. Email is the new hotness in marketing. Email addresses are like gold.

Dave recently wrote about how he feels he’s reaching nobody with his blog, especially as it pertains to the political issues of the day (e.g. coronavirus, the Black Lives Matter movement and Trump).

He writes on Twitter:

I enjoy writing my blog because as I’m writing I feel like I’m helping straighten things out, but it’s an illusion, none of it ends up in the bigger conversation, none of it ends up mattering.

Dave has 68k Twitter followers, and my theory is that your Twitter feed starts to “matter” when you get past a certain number. I know it’s way more than I have: 1,771.

Would things be different if I had 68k followers, or would I still think that the Twitterverse, as it were, barely knows I’m alive?

Maybe 1 million followers is the point at which you really think something’s happening.

How many followers does the “average” active Twitter user have? If I were to guess, I’d say fewer than 500.

According to the Pew Research Center, of the 10% who tweet most often, the median number of followers they have is 387, and the median number of accounts they follow is 456. Also, 80% of tweets come from that top 10%. That means 90% of Twitter users send 20% of the tweets.

Does any of this mean anything? My gut says no.

Like with any social media service, the bigger your audience, the better you feel about it and the more you post. That’s the theory anyway.

You can bet that Donald Trump is eager to feed his 80 million followers, never mind that a great many of those who follow him are not Trump “fans” per se. Maybe they think they’re watching a slow train wreck. Or they just want to know what’s on the mind of the world’s most powerful person (or at least one of the world’s most powerful people).

The interactions with my Twitter posts are limited. I don’t “reach” that many people per post, as Twitter is happy to tell me, and the interaction I get is usually people I know or work with in “real” life, or the few people I interact with constantly on the service because our interests align.

So if Dave thinks he has no reach, where does that leave the rest of us with around 1K followers?

One think I learned from Dave and others is to use your voice and own your content. The internet and the open web are gifts, or gift horses, at any rate. I’ve been in media a long time, and I remember when gatekeeping was real, and nobody would see what you wrote — ever — unless you convinced a newspaper or magazine to print it.

The web is a revolution, and the revolution’s purpose wasn’t to create social media silos run by giant corporations intent on vacuuming up your data for marketing purposes.

We have that. But we also have more. Dave invented some of the good stuff, and he has created so much.

I read Dave all the time. He’s a major inspiration for my writing and programming. I even name him as an inspiration and influence in the README to my blogPoster project, a Ruby script that allows me to write quick posts (currently from the command line) and publish them on my own blog, Twitter and Mastodon.

The other inspiration for blogPoster — also listed in the README — is Manton Reece, whose work on microblogging intrigued me. I had a hard time understanding exactly what Manton was doing, but I knew I wanted to do something similar. When his Micro.blog project came out, I still didn’t quite get it. It wasn’t exactly what I wanted to do. But you can see how my microblog site looks much like what Manton and Dave are doing. I just do it in my own way. That’s the power we can tap with free software and the open web.

Back to Dave, who thinks he’s not reaching anybody. I agree that a regular “column” (the word is so 20th century) on a mainstream site like nytimes.com or washingtonpost.com is a platform that has more potential reach than http://passthejoe.net or Scripting.com.

But the freedom to write, edit publish and promote this work as I see fit is worth something. That’s what I learned from Dave, Manton, Matt Mullenweg, John Gruber, Kara Swisher, Rob Reed, Penelope Trunk and many others.

Maybe just writing on the web isn’t enough. Dave is reaching me. He makes me think every day. There’s an amplifying effect. The more he writes about these topics, the sharper the message gets.

Why isn’t Dave on TV six times a week? I can’t believe that TV news isn’t interviewing him on a regular basis. Some “sources” make it so easy to be interviewed that they get called all the time. The more they say “yes,” the more they get called.

Being at journalists’ beck and call can be draining. It helps if you love being on TV. I can tell you that influencing people happens at a greater scale on TV than it does anywhere else. The difference from the 20th century is that we get “TV” so many other ways, mostly digital. Video (and to a lesser — but still significant extent — audio) is how people really get to know you. Even if they don’t really know you, they think they do. You can see this as creepy, or the other thing.

See how I ramble? If you’re still here, congratulations. Who else would publish this? That’s why I have my own site: so I can do what I want.

I’m working on a longer project that is definitely not blog posts where, when I ramble, I make a new file. Call it a new chapter. I’m hoping that the Git versioning system and a public, remote repository will turn all of my rambling on Unix, Linux and Debian into something coherent. How do real people write real books? I have no idea. I’m trying to find what works for me in the 2020s.

I’ve written thousands of blog posts, thousands of tweets. I know how to do it. Or how I do it, at any rate.

News stories ­— especially the kind I write — just roll out of my fingers. I can write about a fire, shooting or car crash in my sleep. Since I get up at 4 a.m. and start working at 5, that’s what happens more often than not.

What has a profound effect on the lives of those involved is often just another breaking news story to me. That’s because I’m writing and editing dozens of them a day. What does that say? I try to think more about that. I have people in my life who remind me of this.

I’ve written thousands of news stories and edited many tens of thousands more.

This is a long way of saying that I’m comfortable blogging, microblogging and writing shortish items. I’m thinking that time will help me write longer things.

I worry about the impermanence of blog posts. I want them on my own site, on my own server (or my own shared hosting account, to be real). But what if WordPress.com, where I still have more than a thousand posts, is the best way to keep my work online as close to forever as possible?

Does anybody care what I thought about Ubuntu in 2008, or how I tried to make an old laptop work?

I worry just like Dave does about whether anybody’s reading, listening, or giving a shit.

I always say I need to write more about what I’m thinking or feeling. More about what’s going on in my life, and not just the tech.

The tech is easy. Just like sizing up a fire or freeway crash from “official” reports. But it’s nothing like getting out to the scene and talking to people. Or creating a software project from the ground up.

I wonder. I worry. And now I know that Dave worries.

I won’t speak for Dave, but I write — and I do — what compels me. If I’m driven, that’s what I do. If I don’t care, nothing.

If I care, I write it. If you care, that’s gravy.

It’s easy to see that Dave cares about what he writes. It’s a valuable thing. He’s sharing what’s on his mind. He works through things over the course of his posts.

I hope I do the same. Nobody’s asking me to do it. Am I moving any needles? I deliberately don’t track how many people read this site. I value your privacy. And my own. When I did track readers, the information was not particularly useful to me.

Should I write more articles like those that are the most popular? What if I’m missing something that could be even more popular? What if nobody’s reading anything at all. I’d rather not know.

In the end, I just write what I want. That’s easier. And better. (Maybe.)

I see the irony in working for a group of news web sites where we monitor audience and think about search-engine optimization all the time. Yet it’s revenue that really matters. Especially subscription revenue. That’s this year.

Dave’s ideas on how news sites should work have really made me think. Any “world” can’t last forever, especially the one we’re in right now.

But it’s not all about the business that I’m still lucky to be a (money-earning) part of. Not even a little.

I still love the internet and the radical democracy that the World Wide Web dropped in each of our hands. I realize there’s a whole spectrum between each of us doing what we want online and how many people we can reach with whatever that may be. Finding those points is part of the game.

Our world has been remade since the WWW was created in 1993. Things were totally different in 2003 (two years after 911) and 2013 (smartphones, Obama). Even today, we don’t know where we’ll be in 2023, even though it’s only three years away. Most of us aren’t looking beyond November 2020 and whenever coronavirus will be over.

(I need a profound thought to go right here, but nothing has come to mind.) I’ll leave you with this:

Dave shares himself through his writing. It’s valuable as hell, and more people should read it and think about it.