Building Fires

There’s been a lot of activity on this blog since Friday night thanks to the post on Bill Gates. I have been posting these blog posts on Hacker News for a while. Hacker News is a news aggregator and essentially, if the circumstances are right, your post could become a superstar post for a day.

That was the case with this post. And the impact was massive, make no mistake. The average numbers on this blog are 150 unique visitors (according to Google Analytics) + 170 odd feed readers and email subscribers. I estimate that to be 250-300 readers a day. And the comment thread generally reflects that as well. The most popular posts have about 10-12 comments.

Hacker news changed this for that post. It’s fascinating to see the impact. The post had about 90 comments, 39 reactions and I was wondering what the visitor count would be.

There you go – ~11,000. (the highest before this was 520)

And that brings me to the point of this post. I was having a short chat yesterday with an important member of this community. He remarked that this post had given this blog quite a readership. And I remember discussing with him the difference between readership and page views for a post.

Real readership would be retaining a small portion of these visitors for the long run. To all our new members, welcome! I hope you enjoy your stay.  :)

This post was an outlier. However, it made for an amazing learning experience as always. Aside from being called ‘gay’ by one commenter, I was screamed at by quite a few and was also asked to examine my values by a couple. I was reminded how difficult it must be to be a child star, having to deal with intense criticism at a very young age. That’s what I realized with Steve Jobs as well – a lot of his crazy neurotic behavior came from the fact that he was in the spotlight at a time he wasn’t ready for it. And dealing with this bashing every day definitely requires a strong set of values and sense of self.

I still remember the early days of this blog. Putting yourself out there is so damn difficult. When people critique your writing and point of view, it feels like a direct attack on you. You feel naked and exposed. And you always remember the ones who critiqued you, conveniently forgetting about the many that did actually have nice things to say.

Luckily, this time, I was ready for this kind of attention. I’ve learnt not to take critiques overly personally. And watching seasoned bloggers like Fred (in particular), Joanne and Mark handle comments on their blog has led me to develop my own style. But, it was interesting nevertheless to be the object of intense criticism – even if that was only the case for a day.

I posted this experience in a comment on AVC and had a couple of interesting replies. Fred said ‘Welcome to the jungle’ (he would know..) and another regular LE sent me a link to this article by Mike Arrington that resonated.

Any blogger will tell you how frustrating the early days are. Getting someone, anyone, to link to you. Your first comment! etc. And as your audience grows you are introduced to the first rule of anonymous human behavior – it’s dark and brutal, and reminds me how thin the veil of civilized behavior really is. If there is something nasty that can be said, someone will say it. Over and over.

A big part of blogging is simply keeping the peace. You set rules on whether or not you’ll allow anonymous commenting, or commenting at all. You decide if/how to moderate comments. You decide if/how to respond to opposing arguments and (more often) personal attacks. And you, involuntarily for the most part, evolve your writing in response to the feedback loop. Those are the days of innocence, simple joys and simple sadnesses.

And this led me to think about the whole concept of Building Fires. I replied to one comment with a quote I’ve posted here before..

There are 3 types of people in this world – some light fires, others tend to them and then there are those who spend their life pissing on the fire. Avoid them at all costs.

JLM’s quote stood me in good stead yesterday. I also realized something different. It takes a fire lighter or a fire tender to be the bigger person in any conversation or argument. It is so easy to criticize, so easy to give advice, so easy to gang up on a person’s idea or execution and make them feel stupid – essentially, it is extremely simple to piss on the fire.

But, the ones who have played their part in lighting fires or tending them know how hard it is to actually go out there and ‘do’. To build is hard. Because the way the world works, you will have opposition even before you start building. And once you begin, you will have many around you letting you know the truth and tell you that you will fail.

But, that’s the way of things. You will always have people pissing on your work and ideas. That’s half the fun, in truth. It would probably be boring without them.

On this blog, and in specific that post, however, I tried hard to let the pissers know they are not welcome in the comments. This is a place for anyone and everyone who is building or tending to fires, or wants to build or tend to fires. Here, we make mistakes. We say a few wrong things once in a while. But we learn. And we are always encouraged. Never shot down. If you are searching for negativity and gloom, then this is not the place for you.

And to all you ‘fire’ people reading this, a passage from Theodore Roosevelt came to mind.

Man in the Arena by Theodore Roosevelt

It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.

The naysayers often have good feedback for you as well. One of them pointed out that the quotes weren’t very readable. I’m experimenting with a highlighter in this post. Do let me know if you have other suggestions..