2009 Roundup, 2010 Preview

by Venkat on January 2, 2010

Time for the third annual ribbonfarm review/preview post. For you old-timers who haven’t been keeping up, and the newbies who discovered this blog late in the year, this should be a useful post. I summarize 19 notable posts, review the numbers, point out the trends and highlights, and provide a preview of 2010. So here goes. Let’s start by noting that in 2009, ribbonfarm acquired a mascot: Skeletor the junkyard cat.


Notable Commenters

This was definitely the year of the commenter, with comments/post jumping from around 3 to around 15. Of the hundreds (649 to be precise) of people who have posted on ribbonfarm since I started, most have been from 2009.  Tubelite still holds the record with 41 comments. Among those active in 2010, a special shout-out to RG , Xianghang Zhang, Netsp, Frank Hecker, Josh W.,  and Divya Manian, all of whom posted several interesting/substantial comments on multiple posts. Good, meaty conversations are really what makes this whole effort worthwhile, so thank you.

Notable Articles

By my own criteria, 19 of the 59 posts in 2009 were “successful.” Of these I would judge 8 (the starred ones) to be objective successes as well, based on how much you guys liked them (comments, reblogs, tweets, coffees). Note, the list below is chronological (January-Dec), not in order of quality.

  1. Allenism, Taylorism and the Day I Rode the Thundercloud*: A post about a crazy work day that went slightly viral in the GTD community.  When I attended the GTD Summit in March, I actually had strangers approaching me, telling me they liked the post. A first flattering taste of offline impact. Ego-boost aside, it was fun to actually meet readers in person. I’d like to do more of that in 2010.
  2. The Cloudworker, Layoffs and the Disposable American: Probably the longest post of the year, at over 6000 words. The post was a review of Louis Uchitelle’s book “The Disposable American” and was the last post in my Cloudworker series. A critical, if not popular, success. I learned a lot from writing it.
  3. The Tragedy of Wiio’s Law: An exploration of Wiio’s law: communication usually fails, except by accident. In retrospect, a bit esoteric, though a few people seemed to really appreciate it at a very deep level.
  4. Fools and their Money Metaphors*: A short, visual post on how we think about money. The post got quite a few reblogs, lots of tweets, and enjoyed sporadic delayed spikes of traffic through the year.
  5. How to Draw and Judge Quadrant Diagrams*: In this post, I dug ridiculously (and probably unnecessarily) deep into a concept most people take for granted, and then was surprised by readers taking it even more seriously, and posting comments that outdid the original article. Fun all around.
  6. Bay’s Conjecture: The only pure technology post of the year, exploring what happens when automation technology increases in sophistication relative to human capabilities.
  7. Marketing, Innovation and the Creation of Customers*: A post-length riff on the Drucker quote, “Because the purpose of business is to create a customer, the business enterprise has two—and only two—basic functions: marketing and innovation.” Like the money-metaphors post, this post got a lot of re-blog action and delayed spikes of traffic, as well as some very good responses, including this substantial one from Chris Kenton.
  8. The Book as a Social Signal: My first attempt at a really short post format (250 words). You guys apparently loved it, given the enthusiastic comments. I unfortunately, haven’t figured out how to do this reliably and regularly. I would if I could. Until I figure out a formula, this is going to remain primarily a long-feature blog.
  9. The Crucible Effect and the Scarcity of Collective Attention*: This post gets the credit for getting me on the radar of the startup crowd over at Hacker News. A very demanding gang, as their discussion shows. The post is a whistle-stop tour of a series of numbers of rhetorical-symbolic significance in discussions of the social aspects of creativity: 0, 1, 7, 150, 8, 1000 and 10,000, interwoven with my own idea of the “crucible” (effective creative groups).
  10. The Epic Story of Container Shipping: A detailed review of “The Box” by Marc Levinson. Easily the best business book I read in 2009.
  11. The Rhetoric of the Hyperlink*: It is very hard to describe what this post is about, so you can just read it if the title intrigues you. The post is probably responsible for attracting a significant readership for ribbonfarm interested in design thinking. This was supposed to be the start of a longer series, but I never posted Part II. I will be continuing the series in 2010, but on blog.trailmeme.com rather than here. Will post a heads-up when the next part is up.
  12. The Outlaw Sea by William Langewiesche: Another shipping-related book review, this time about the human dimension. Also in my top 10 books for the year.
  13. How to Think Like Hercule Poirot: One of my self-indulgent fun posts that I didn’t expect to be popular. But surprisingly, people did like it.
  14. On Going Feral: Another self-indulgent post that resonated unexpectedly with others. All about the experience of becoming a remote, home-based worker.
  15. Two Manipulative Ways to Close Conversations: The other good short post of the year, and in retrospect, a post that foreshadowed the Gervais Principle series.
  16. On Seeing Like a Cat: This post was probably the most critical one for me personally, since it allowed me to articulate (at least for my own benefit), what this blog is really about. A sort of post-length justification of my tagline, “experiments in refactored perception.”
  17. Your Evil Twins and How to Find Them: A post inspired by Alain de Botton’s “The Pleasures and Sorrows of Work,” which was recommended to me by reader Arjun Ravindran.
  18. The Gervais Principle, or the Office According to “The Office”*: Enough said.
  19. The Gervais Principle II: Posturetalk, Powertalk, Babytalk and Gametalk*: Enough said. Really. Bloody thing is taking over the blog. But I can’t really complain.

There were (fortunately for my sanity) no posts that you guys liked and I hated.

The Betas

It is easy to trot out the line that blogging is “writing in perennial beta” but much harder to actually work up the courage to flush out an incomplete piece before you are satisfied with it. In 2009 I did this with four posts that I personally consider critical to this blog. But true beta posts must pay the costs. You get valuable early feedback, but you don’t necessarily realize the full potential of the ideas you are working with.

  1. Neurotic Leaders, Paternalistic Managers and Self-Absorbed Workers: This post was, in a sense, the beta stage of the first Gervais Principle post. It was a preliminary exploration, and lacked the punch of the latter, but on the other hand, it did contain key ideas that didn’t make it into GP,. I hope the rest of the post’s ideas will make it into other, more finished pieces.
  2. The Allegory of the Stage: Ideas from theater have been a key influence on ribbonfarm, but I haven’t explored them overtly very much. This was my first such attempt, and definitely a beta take. You’ll see more of this in 2010.
  3. The Tragicomic Exasperations of Expertise: Another premature and groping exploration of a set of ideas that fascinate me. Again, you’ll see some finished products out of this exploration in 2010.
  4. Social Objects: Notes on Knitting in America: In terms of scariness of trigger-pulling, this post was the toughest. I am not sure if I’ll develop this material more though.

The Numbers

  1. 59 posts (compared to 93 in 2009 and 50 in 2007, a half-year, since I started in July 2007)
  2. 82,455 Words (compared to 108,083 in 2008, and 81,414 in 2007). For calibration, a standard business book is usually around 45,000 words.
  3. An average of 1379 words per post (compared to 1149 in 2008 and 1596 in 2007). The variance increased (more of both epic-size and bite-sized posts).
  4. 892 comments (out of 1370 comments overall, so 2009 produced 2x more comments than 2007 and 2008 together)
  5. 7.09 comments/post all time, breaking down into…
  6. 15.11 comments/post in 2009, and…
  7. 3.34 comments/post for 2008 and 2009 combined
  8. RSS subscriptions jumped from 250 to about 1500 (6x), compared to a 50-to-250 jump (5x) in 2008.

Caveat for the Numerati: 2007 was anomalously “productive” because I had a lot of pre-blogging writing stored up that I merely flushed out, since I did not write online between 2001-2007.

Trends and Highlights

Here are my 2008 and 2007 roundups. Since I don’t have a consistent format for these annual roundups, I can’t do before-after comparisons. But a quick gut-check combined with a scan of the numbers tells me that…

  1. All grown up: Last year, I said this blog “still doesn’t know what it wants to be when it grows up.” I think that is no longer true. While I still couldn’t put a label on my “theme” or tell you clearly what my “niche” is, I’d say my blog-voice has started to stabilize, and the various themes are starting to cohere. The content is starting to live up to the ambitious tagline, “experiments in refactored perception.”
  2. Quality and quantity: By my personal standards, the quality of my writing (okay, at least the quality of the thinking behind the writing) rose significantly in 2009, so I am not worried about the apparent decline in quantity (both in terms of number of posts and word count).
  3. Book reviews: I did very few book reviews in 2009, compared to 2008, but I put a great deal of effort into the ones I did do. This was partly because of a planned-and-executed shift. A while back, I said I planned to shift my book reviewing towards more domain specific/local books, as opposed to conceptual ones. In the business books category in particular, I said I planned to shift from “horizontal” books to “vertical” books. Though the evidence is slim (the two book reviews on the shipping industry), I actually did manage to make this shift. The results are not yet very visible because of the lag created in book reviewing by, err, actually having to read the books. See the 2010 preview for what’s pipelined.
  4. The Slashdottings: And of course, the big event of the year was the discovery of ribbonfarm by the Slashdot audience, thanks to Black Swan creator Keith Dawson, and the Gervais Principle series.

2010 Preview

  1. Management: Management theory and organizational psychology will continue as a major theme. I know some of you prefer my other themes and probably aren’t too happy with the bandwidth I have been devoting to this theme lately, but I suspect I will be lynched if I don’t keep this thread going. But no, this will never become a pure business/management blog, so no worries there. During 2008 and early 2009, I was misguided enough to change my tagline to “The Business of Innovation.” I am now (thankfully) back to my original “Experiments in Refactored Perception,” and this time I am sticking to it. Specialization be damned.
  2. Verticals: The “verticals” shift foreshadowed in the 2009 shipping-industry book reviews will become more pronounced. Pipelined are a set of book reviews/original posts on the garbage and waste industry, higher education. Look for the reviews in 2010
  3. Social Media: I slowed down on social-media related posts in 2009, moving it partly to the Enterprise 2.0 blog. The theme will basically vanish in 2010, but if you like my writing on the topic, you can follow blog.trailmeme.com (where I blog with my work hat on) and the occasional guest posts on other blogs. I’ll post links here on occasion though.
  4. Fiction and Globalization: I plan on experimenting with two big and difficult themes in 2010: fiction and globalization. We’ll see how that goes. I have no idea what will end up getting bumped as a result.
  5. Design: Rather unexpectedly I seem to have attracted a significant readership interested in “design.” Possibly because of a few decent posts on the theme and my general overuse of metaphor and references to art and narrative. At any rate, I’ll try to do more “design” stuff. No promises though. I enjoy thinking about design, but I am not primarily a “design thinker” (and certainly not a “designer”).
  6. Marketing: Ditto for “Marketing” as a theme. I am flattered that many professional marketers have been attracted to my occasional writing on the subject, but I am not a marketer (though I now have some marketing responsibilities at work). So to the extent I am able (and inspired), you will see marketing-related posts.
  7. Tempo: I will finish the book this year. Promise.

So that’s the roundup for you. Let’s see where we go in 2010. Happy New Year!

Dan January 2, 2010 at 5:08 pm

Great roundup, Ribbonfarm was easily my favorite blog of 2009. I’m really looking forward to your new stuff.

Senthil Gandhi January 6, 2010 at 3:30 pm

Kindly stop hating that Gervais principle article, I came here following that – but I stayed because of all the other interesting stuff. So I guess you can never really complain for anything that got waaay too much attention. I hope the dust settles for you though, and you are left with a bunch of interesting thoughtful people like me in the end :)

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