On December 31, 2004, in Web, by peterb

I started this weblog last January. Originally, it was just meant to be a place for me to keep my notes on my Final Cut Pro projects. My “real writing” was meant to go on the (now defunct) Tea Leaves project of the Danampersanderic art collective. But that project somehow didn’t take off, and I found myself putting more and more content here. Before I knew it there were actually readers.

It was a month later that I published a document meant to summarize my philosophy of writing for this space. It’s still on the sidebar today. The quick summary is: longer, in-depth articles. No “hey, look at this neat link!” items. Keep confessional, overly intimate, or personal details about myself to a minimum, or better yet eliminate them completely. Lastly, and perhaps most significantly, no “blogging about blogging.” If you want to find a weblog where the authors incessantly talk about Movable Type vs. WordPress, or how great or stupid RSS is, or how blogging is going to change the world, you can go practically anywhere else. I find these topics intensely boring. I want to write about stuff. I don’t want to write about writing stuff.

All rules are made to be broken, on occasion. Since it is the end of 2004, this is a good point to suspend the “no blogging about blogging” rule, for one day. I’d like to take a moment to look back at how this space has grown in the past year, and how it will develop in 2005.

Readership has increased dramatically over the past year. What started as a URL handed out to a few friends now gets about 30,000 page visits a month. Lots of people read us via an RSS newsreader, or through bloglines, livejournal, or some other aggregated feed. Eventually, I may need to deploy a new host to handle traffic. At that time, I may transition the site to the (already reserved and working, although not publicized) domain name

In terms of topics covered, the site has a strong emphasis on games with discussions of food, culture, and computers and software development topics coming not far behind. The other topics — racing, filmmaking, and photography — have become unusual digressions. I’m inclined to leave them as such, rather than formally eliminating them.

Early on, I decided that the unwritten goal for frequency of posting was “one good, reasonably long article per weekday.” No excuses, no “I don’t have time to post today” items; silence is preferable to weaseling. We haven’t been 100% successful in meeting this target, but we’ve been closer than I thought we’d get when I set the goal. This has been good in many ways. First and foremost, it has kept me writing at a furious pace, which means I’m continually honing my writing skills. That was always my secret goal for having this space. I think it also benefits the readers. It would give me a warm and fuzzy feeling to know that there were even two or three people out there who say to themselves, once a day, at work, “Hey, I should check and see if there’s a new article at Tea Leaves.” I have a day job that takes precedence over the weblog. But I look forward to writing an article each night. If there’s someone out there who looks forward to reading it, that’s super cool.

Having the “one article per weekday” goal has had some negative effects too. It means that I’ve published some articles on topics that I was only borderline interested in. Worse, it has pushed me to publish articles that weren’t ready; they really needed more work. This has had both micro effects (the occasional typo or clumsy phrase that my volunteer editor yells at me for the day after I’ve posted) and the occasional big effect (where I take what was meant to be a more in-depth article and instead chop it down to be “one day’s worth” of posting.) That latter problem hasn’t happened as much since psu started contributing.

And bringing psu on board was a superb thing. I look forward to reading his articles eagerly, and in more than just an “oh, phew, I don’t have to meet tonight’s deadline” sense. We agree philosophically on many things, yet our interests are just divergent enough to give the site more breadth without having strict conformity of opinion. In the coming year, I hope to bring at least one more author on board, if I can find someone whose style, areas of interest, and willingness to write frequently mesh well with mine. My interests in this are somewhat selfish: as the principal behind Tea Leaves, I feel obligated to provide an article a day. But since this isn’t paying work, I’m realistic about my ability to maintain that pace with so few writers.

So it’s a tricky balance. I have a sense that having a few more writers would improve the quality of each article (because of reduced pressure to “just post it, already”). Having too many writers could reduce the thematic consistency of the site. I’m not sure where, exactly, the line is. But I’m going to continue looking for it.

Even though I view Tea Leaves as a place for writing (as compared to a place for “discussion”), I do read all of the comments and appreciate them, even when I don’t necessarily agree. The most surprising thread of the year for me was in the article about Idlewild, where Snow White and Little Bo Peep yelled at me for (in their eyes) being an insensitive, child-hating clod. On the constructive side of the fence, the comments on the article What Programming Language brought up some interesting points and opinions. I really wished I had thought of some of the items readers came up with in the discussion on Software Development Considered Harmful. So thanks to all of you who participate regularly, or occasionally, and I hope you keep reading — and writing — in 2005.

I’d also like to specifically thank psu for joining me in this little exercise; my volunteer editor for being completely willing to point out every awkward sentence, verb tense disagreement, and boring part of every article I write; and the folks on CMU CS Zephyr for their useful feedback, helpful suggestions, and not stabbing me in the neck every time I post another URL.

See you next year.


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