Content should be modular

One of my most painful experiences as a content marketer was trying to write a really, really comprehensive piece about how to get word-of-mouth. I agonized over it for months, writing and rewriting and rewriting. I was trying to make sure that it was the most comprehensive article about word-of-mouth ever written.

The problem was that it required many different moving parts to come together all at once, and every single time I was saying something, I wanted to say 3 other things as well.

I was unhappy and dissatisfied when I finally published it, but I eventually realized that I would never be happy and satisfied with it.

Paul Valéry once said, “In the eyes of those lovers of perfection, a work is never finished—a word that for them has no sense—but abandoned; and this abandonment, whether to the flames or to the public (and which is the result of weariness or an obligation to deliver) is a kind of an accident to them, like the breaking off of a reflection, which fatigue, irritation, or something similar has made worthless.”

I relate to that deeply. I never finished the work I set out to do with the word-of-mouth post, I merely had to abandon it.

But I realize now that there’s another way. And that’s the model of Constant Beta. Rather than feel overwhelmed and frustrated by the fact that your work will never be done, embrace it. Ship lots of standalone pieces of work that are designed to work together. The great thing about the Internet is that people can open many tabs and read many things all at once. In this age, content should be more like Wikipedia than Encyclopedia Britannica. People should be able to jump to whatever interests them.

I’ve since changed my approach towards answering the question of “how to get word-of-mouth”.  Instead of trying to do a single mega-post that encapsulates everything, I’ve been exploring many different cases separately. I then combined many of the learnings from those different cases into a larger infographic, and this did so well that it got us over 880+ upvotes on /r/entrepreneur. I think this is a superior way of doing things, and I think the responses prove it.

There are a lot of parallels between this approach to content and the “Release Early, Release Often” approach to software development. I’m not a software developer, but I think the fundamental idea is the same. You’ll learn things from releasing little modules that you wouldn’t from working on something massive. I particularly like Venkatesh Rao’s essay “Running Code and Perpetual Beta” and Boz’s essay “The Path Matters“, in which he says “if we had tried to jump straight to the end state, we would have never gotten it right.”

Wish I learned that earlier.

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