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Insights From My First 50 Posts

bytebodger profile image Adam Nathaniel Davis Updated on ・7 min read

I've been programming for... a long time. I've been a writer for... even longer. So you might think that I've been blogging for decades. But the simple fact is that I didn't write my first blog until February of this year (2020) - right here on Dev.to.

Since I joined this site, I've noticed multiple articles about the process of dev/tech blogging itself. Now that I've cranked out 50 of these suckers (this is actually my 51st blog), I wanted to share a few insights.


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Audience Expectations

Since February, I believe that I've been fairly prolific on this site. I'm certainly not claiming that I've made (anywhere near) the most posts. Nor that I've published (anywhere near) the most words. But I'm fairly verbose. And I assume that, if we could do some kinda statistical analysis of all the Dev.to bloggers since February, I'd probably be in the top... 10%? Maybe even the top 5%??

Not only have I cranked out 50 posts, but most of those posts have been fairly "beefy" in terms of content. To quantify this, if we take Dev.to's "X min read" metric into account, I've apparently written almost 500 minutes of reading material since I first started. So, if nothing else, that makes me a... talkative chap, no??

So what do you "get" for publishing 50 posts, consisting of almost 500 minutes of reading material, in a half year's time?? Well, these are my "metrics" up to this point:

  • Posts: 50
  • Followers: 4224
  • Views: 45,852
  • "Reactions": 1,808


(If you're not familiar with the Dev.to model, a "reaction" is essentially anyone who "likes" or "unicorns" or "reading list"s your article.)

And what did I "pay" for this return?? Well, this is completely subjective, because I have not tracked my time while I'm writing these posts, but I honestly believe that I've spent an average of about two hours writing each individual post. So if we accept those numbers, then the "returns" above were generated over 100 hours of effort.


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Pros & Cons of Dev.to

I won't lie. I think Dev.to is pretty f**king cool. I appreciate the direction that's communicated (explicitly and implicitly) by their founders. I enjoy the "critical mass" of users they seem to have accumulated. I respect the fact that Dev.to seems to have become a "homepage" for many associated with the dev arts.

So I can't really say anything bad about Dev.to (even if I wanted to). Kudos to them for creating an epic forum for "all things dev".

But let's be honest about what Dev.to really is. It seems to have become (as I stated above), something of a "homepage" for many devs. This means that, if you write a great article today on Dev.to, it could possibly "blow up" in popularity over the next day - or two, or three - and then... it will slide back "into the ether" of countless dev articles that may-or-may-not ever be read again.

Is that a knock on Dev.to??? Of course not. It's a simple acknowledgment of the fact that today, in the 2020s, it's pretty darn difficult to write any article that will "hit" with most devs for more than a week or two.

So I say this fully in Dev.to's favor: If you go out and just start publishing your own standalone blog, and even if you write The Next Great Programming Post, there's an excellent chance that your post will be seen by... dozens of people before it fades into obscurity. If you put that same post on Dev.to, it will still fade into obscurity. But that could be after several hundred - or even, several thousand - people have read your post. So there's a definite value in Dev.to - because it provides a certain "built-in" audience.


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Churn

To some extent, Dev.to is a churn engine. To be absolutely clear, that's not necessarily a bad thing. It's just an acknowledgment that Dev.to will reward the "new". And it will do little to highlight the "old".

What does this mean?? Well... let me explain.

Maybe you think that my list of 4,224 followers sounds impressive. Maybe you even think it means that I write "great" content. But the simple fact is that my follower-count is almost-entirely a product of the fact that I write frequent content.

You see, Dev.to still has a healthy population of "new" devs that are signing up - every day. And when they sign up, the algorithm will try to match you with "like minded" writers. But I've noticed that this algorithm is massively weighted toward those who have written something recently.

To be absolutely clear, I'm not complaining about this algorithm. In fact, I think it makes a ton of sense. But, in a practical sense, it means that, those authors who've been writing stuff recently get auto-suggested as "follows" for the new members.

On a practical level, this means that I get a bunch of new "subscribers" any time I write new content. Does that mean I've "connected" with these so-called "readers" on any visceral level??? Probably not. But it means that, as long as I keep cranking out new content, I'll keep snagging new "subscribers".

Is this "bad"? Or a "weakness" of the Dev.to process in any way?? I don't think so.

But it's an honest acknowledgment of the fact that Dev.to's process is - like almost any other web-based system - designed to drive a constant stream of new "think pieces".


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The Metrics

You might believe that, if you keep writing a bunch of great "new" content, you'll garner ever-more views for an ever-greater audience of followers. But... my experience says otherwise. Specifically, these are my views-by-date:


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Notice that my greatest-viewed post was very early in my blogging "career" - way back in February. Since then, I've had "hits" that occurred in March, and April, and June. But the simple fact is that my "popularity" has not been some uninterrupted march from obscurity-to-popularity. In fact, once I achieved a "basic" level of Dev.to popularity - it seems that most of my posts have fallen into a band between 250 views and 1,000 views.


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Reading Time - Doesn't Matter

I was pretty surprised by this.

I'm... verbose. I admit this. I'm prone to go off... endlessly, when I have the chance. So I'm accustomed to people telling me, "Your content is good - but it's just too long."

But when I examined the metrics from my posts, I was amazed to find that:

There was no relation between the length of my posts, and the number of people who read them.


Some of my earliest posts were my longest. And I thereafter tried to craft posts that were (moderately) shorter. But in the final analysis, I found that that there was basically no correlation between the length of my posts, and their popularity.

To be clear, I'm not claiming that you shouldn't care at all about the length of your posts. But I am saying that you should be much more focused on the quality of your content than the length.

"Crappy" posts will get few readers - even if they're short. And "deep, meaningful" posts will get more readers - even if they're "too long" for public consumption. So keep this in mind when you're creating content. There is still value to be had in "good" content. And "crappy" content will continue to fall by the wayside.


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What It's All About?

My first website was on Geocities. My greybeard is well earned. My point is that... I've probably been doing "this" longer than you have. So standard "metrics" don't apply so much to me.

You see... I'm not really so concerned with "numbers". Every word I write is, more-or-less, written for me.

So why am I doing this? Why did I suddenly start spitting out blogs six months ago??

Well... the simple answer is this:

These blogs are my own, free, self-administered therapy. I could sit on someone's couch for $100/hour, or I can write these blogs. And I prefer to write these blogs.

I won't deign to tell you why you should write (or not write) blog posts. Writing is one of the most sensitive, personal endeavors that anyone can undertake. But I can explain - with absolute certainty - why I have decided to start blogging.


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Dev Therapy

I reached a point - after more than 20 years in this career field - where I realized that I was tired of repeating myself. I reached a point where I realized that, every time I landed in a new gig, I was preaching the same old tired gospel - over and over again. I finally realized that it was time to "codify" some of these rants so I didn't have to keep... ranting.

To be absolutely clear: I'm no idiot. I fully understand that "some" lessons will never be universally understood. And I fully understand that you can never solve all of dev's headaches through a blog. But I've honestly started referring back to this blog as my, umm... my, magna carta.

In fact, when a new dev joined our team a few months ago, we were talking about multiple dev issues. And, over the course of weeks, I ended up sending him multiple links to blogs I'd already written here on Dev.to. And, of course, at some point, he basically said, "What the hell??? I feel like I'm in some kinda pre-ordained 'dev course' in which you're just gonna keep sending me new, pre-written diatribes."

Of course, I told him that I certainly have NOT written blogs for every issue we might face. But for many of the "common" dev issues that we've run into - I have, indeed, already written long diatribes about my exact feelings on these issues.

And you know what??? Having these creeds already printed out feels... pretty good.

Discussion (10)

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fitzycodesthings profile image
John "Fitzy" DeLancey

From a fellow over-verbose dude, great job.

You acknowledged (and had the receipts) for a lot of how I suspected Dev.to works (and I'm glad it does).

(I'm also using Dev-as-therapy, in my case as I "catch up" on modern best practices/patterns/basic syntax 🤣 - not worrying in the slightest about the numbers is very... refreshing.)

Keep it up!

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waylonwalker profile image
Waylon Walker

I started blogging in 2016. A downturn was laying off Engineers in massive groups without even considering who was in the group. I was a bit scared to get cut and have nothing to show. I started a blog, and way overthought what a blog was. I posted a few posts per year that no one read.

In November some big projects finished giving me a bit more time, and I started to double down and cross-post to dev. I started at a monthly frequency, quickly ramped to weekly, and now post several per week. I am now thinking of DEV more as a forum than a blog site. I cross-post full large posts, I cross-post things that are slightly bigger than a twitter thread, I also post discussions that have almost no content in the post body, but generate quite a bit of comments.

My dashboard says I am at 124 posts, but I suspect it's closer to 100 published. It is interesting to compare metrics. I have similar reactions, quite a few more follows, and quite a few fewer views. I suspect I am getting more followers because I am super active in the discussion of other posts.

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bytebodger profile image
Adam Nathaniel Davis Author

I posted a few posts per year that no one read.

I totally get this. Part of the reason that I did not blog for 20+ years in this field was the fact that I understand the massive difficulty in blogging as a means to building your own "brand". It can be done. But it's much more difficult than most people tend to realize.

Furthermore, I don't even recommend blogging for that purpose. To me, it's sorta like asking whether you're an actor because the theatre is your passion? Or are you an actor because you wanna be a rich-and-famous international star? Cuz if fame is your goal, you might find yourself hating the whole acting gig.

I am now thinking of DEV more as a forum than a blog site.

This is a great point. Due to the "ephemeral" nature of many posts, and the fact that many posts are quite short (or "just" cross-posts), and the tendency by many to comment-rather-than-post, it's definitely true that Dev.to is - for many people - more of a dev "social network".

On a (somewhat) related note, I don't really like the way that Dev.to displays your library of past articles to other users. This means that it's challenging to browse the site by author. It's geared much more toward browsing the site by subject, and especially, by latest posts.

My dashboard says I am at 124 posts, but I suspect it's closer to 100 published. It is interesting to compare metrics. I have similar reactions, quite a few more follows, and quite a few fewer views. I suspect I am getting more followers because I am super active in the discussion of other posts.

That basically backs up my own observations. If you make a ton of posts - of almost any type - you'll probably get a lot of followers. This happens mostly because the Dev.to algorithm will then end up recommending you to tons of new people.

As far as I can tell, most of your "followers" on Dev.to aren't your followers because they said, "Oh, man! This person has amazing content and I want to mash that FOLLOW button!" Most of them were kinda "auto-enrolled" under you. I'm not complaining about that. It doesn't bother me. But I think it's good to be realistic about it.

I'm guessing that the short-form content effects your viewer totals though. Every once in a while, I do seem to, occasionally, write something that strikes a note with people. When I do, one post can get between 1,000 - 3,000 views. I'd think that such a reaction would be hard to come by with very-short posts?

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waylonwalker profile image
Waylon Walker

I'm guessing that the short-form content effects your viewer totals though

My highest performing content (view wise) is some of my shortest. I think catchy titles, topics that appeal to a wide audience and writing something that the right people want to share have the most effect on view count. For the most part I am writing about a lot of topics that don't appeal well to the heavy webdev focused DEV community.

This is one of my top-performing posts (4596 views). It actually came directly from a LinkedIn reshare where I maxed their character count for a post. I almost didn't even post it to DEV thinking it was a bit short, but figured I why not.

This one is my #2 most viewed, bu #1 is actually a discussion thread

As far as I can tell, most of your "followers" on Dev.to aren't your followers because they said, "Oh, man! This person has amazing content and I want to mash that FOLLOW button!" Most of them were kinda "auto-enrolled" under you. I'm not complaining about that. It doesn't bother me. But I think it's good to be realistic about it.

I can't agree more. I have made some of my greatest personal connections through DEV, so they arent all that way, but I think quite a few are. I sometimes look through their profiles and see quite a few that have never posted (post or comment), so they are either lurkers or set up an account and don't really come back. I am trying to pull over the folks who really care to my email newsletter. I am not exactly sure where to keep those who really had that "Oh, man!" moment, but this is what I am trying at the moment. I really don't want all followers there, but the ones who really care.

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skaytech profile image
skaytech

Hi Adam.. great post! I started my dev.to journey since June and as of now have around 700 followers 1000+ reactions and 7k+ views and I have to agree on a lot of things that you've pointed out. One of the posts that I had written regarding hiring went crazy viral. That one was a twitter discussion turned into a post and it took me one hour to pen down my thoughts because so much was already discussed and I knew exactly what I wanted to counter it with. It was something I needn't have to think twice and came right from the heart.
I've also been coding since early 2000s and I feel that I'm repeating so many things in my job irrespective of the job switch I do. Currently, I'm on a sabbatical and ventured into blog writing because I could finally find the time to do so. I've also setup my blog on hashnode since it nicely links your post to your subdomain - blog.skay.dev
I enjoy your posts and more importantly can relate to so many rants you have and I would attribute to the length of career we've spent in the industry. At the moment, I'm trying to find some fire in my belly to wake up with a sense of purpose and commitment. This COVID situation has only made it that much more harder. Anyways, I could go on and on cribbing, but I shouldn't highjack your comment section for that :-) thanks once again and keep the long posts coming!!!

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bytebodger profile image
Adam Nathaniel Davis Author

I feel that I'm repeating so many things in my job irrespective of the job switch I do

Absolutely. I have certain diatribes that I've now delivered at, probably, 10 different jobs. But I just got tired of performing those rants over and over - and now I just say, "You should check out this thing I wrote..."

I've also setup my blog on hashnode since it nicely links your post to your subdomain - blog.skay.dev

Interesting. I'll have to check that out.

This COVID situation has only made it that much more harder.

You're not alone in that, I can assure you. The pandemic is as much a psychological drain as a physical threat.

thanks once again and keep the long posts coming!!!

I truly appreciate the feedback!

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juanfrank77 profile image
Juan F Gonzalez

Niceeee. I thought that because you mentioned 50 posts, I assumed you were writing for a couple of years but then you said you started in February of this year. That's interesting considering that I had the intention to start writing more often and started in January.

And then because of this pandemic thing I was forced away from my personal laptop for months until I got access back to it in mid-June. I still have a long way to go and appreciate all these insights from someone much more ahead than me in both tech & writing journeys.

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bytebodger profile image
Adam Nathaniel Davis Author

I had a lot of "pent up" content pinging around my brain. :-D

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Isaac Hagoel

Hello my friend. I had a feeling that this will mark a slowdown at the rate you produce new posts. I've reached a similar conclusion: dev is best for googleable content.

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bytebodger profile image
Adam Nathaniel Davis Author

Haha - yeah. I'll still be doing more blogging. But I've been sunk on other projects lately.

As for googleable content - absolutely. I wouldn't recommend trying to only write googleable content - cuz you could end up chasing subjects that aren't of highest interest to you. But if you manage to blog on something that has a great search profile, you could end up getting residuals views for a long time.