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Large numbers

deciduously profile image Ben Lovy ・3 min read

Sometime last night I clicked over 10k views across the articles I've posted here. Thanks, post analytics! While an arbitrary milestone, it was still pretty jarring to see, and on my drive into work I started trying to unpack why that is. I'm not sure what I expected - I'm writing specifically so that other people would see it. I never excepted to garner that much attention so quickly, though - Dev.to has completely caught me by surprise.

For one, thanks. It's been validating as heck - one tricky thing about self-learning on your own is coming to any sort of understanding about how much you know or don't know. I've been operating under the assumption that I know nothing - and I think that's still more or less true, but it's nice to know I've got something to show for the work I've put in thus far.

Second, I guess I've got to start taking this more seriously. What if I am dead wrong about something? If it's gone uncorrected, I likely don't realize the error myself and I'd hate to lead anyone down a wrong path.

Until I became active on this website nobody except a few bored GitHub explorers had ever seen any code I'd written or heard any thoughts I'd had about the matter. My poor girlfriend has been subjected to a couple of rants here and there (okay, more than a couple - she could probably write her own Clojure at this point if coerced) but beyond that it's been a quiet, solitary hobby.

The simple act of publishing this writing here as opposed to anywhere else means that all of a sudden I'm accountable for it. It will get seen. That's super weird. When writing was done for primarily my own benefit it was a very different game. I wrote to gain a deeper understanding of tools I was using - I figured if I could explain something in English, I pretty much understood it. In certain cases this has uncovered gaps in my understanding of concepts I thought I had a good grasp on, so the act of writing has been reward enough. It's a pretty big mental shift to write for a platform with an audience built-in.

Every time I post something, I do so with the assumption that this community knows more about the subject matter than I do. I expect to be corrected when wrong, it's part of my learning process. And I have been, occasionally, which has been really cool. But mostly I've just thrown this stuff out there and thousands of you have just accepted it at face value, sometimes within just a day or two, as opposed to the dozens I was expecting to come through and tear everything apart. Part of the quick uptick in attention is that I have specifically opted to write about things for which I found little to no material on when I was learning it the first time. Like many of us, I wrote posts I wish I'd had to read and learn from myself. This means, though, that I don't have a huge body of examples to compare to - the responsibility of authority is now mine, and I'm still grappling with how to handle that responsibility...responsibly, while still feeling I have no such actual authority to back it up.

I don't have much in the way of a thrilling conclusion, but seeing that fifth digit definitely gave me cause to step back and think a little about what it means. My takeaway will be that the "Write a Post" button is not at all unlike getting up on a soapbox in front of 10,000 incredibly smart people, perhaps in a way that's more direct than other social blogging platforms - an interesting and intimidating opportunity, and potentially a fantastic way to learn.

I can't wait to see what else you lot have to teach me.

Discussion

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somedood profile image
Basti Ortiz (Some Dood)

Yup, I feel the same, man. I was really taken aback when I saw my analytics. What started out as a small project for me became something that I'm actually putting out into the world for a lot of people to see. It's a strange feeling how a hobby turned into something you'd be accountable for.

As great of a feature analytics are, it only made me realize that what I say will influence the thoughts of the readers. My words will have a lot of weight to a relatively large audience. That's absolutely INTIMIDATING. It's scary even.

Admit it or not, seeing the large numbers makes us feel more obligated to be more professional about our writing. The margin for error is much smaller now. Everything was casual writing until you realize how powerful your words can be.

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Ben Lovy Author

Well put! You're right - it's hard to take anything casually when that many eyes are on it.

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Basti Ortiz (Some Dood)

In the grander scale of things, I think this is why I really love the DEV community. It's a relatively small community (but is gaining popularity really fast) that allows me to be a bit more casual in my writing. I'm pretty comfortable that I can write about the things I've learned before (to confirm my knowledge on that topic) without worrying too much about the people reading my words.

It's nonetheless scary to see those numbers, but I find solace in the fact that this is the DEV community. Behind all of the big numbers are people; the people of the DEV community. This strange feeling of "home" enables me to still write casually despite the larger audience.

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Ben Lovy Author

True as well - this place is just so damn nice

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Basti Ortiz (Some Dood)

Anyway, thanks for the read. I feel relieved to know that I wasn't the only one who thought that way when first seeing their analytics.

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Daniel Golant

On the subject of learning in public, one of my favorite moments of the last week was reading @antogarand on JSON Hijacking, and seeing his edit saying he had been mistaken on something. That's not to say it wasn't a well-researched, interesting, and informative piece, but "correctness" in this field is a moving target much of the time. I've rarely found an interesting blog post from a few years ago on someone's personal site and seen a correction based off audience feedback. That feels not just cool, but important and deeply positive for the industry.

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Anton

That led me to thinking that there are people and companies who have been wrong on a more massive scale. Think about the creator of Null type.

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Ben Lovy Author

That's awesome! I find having someone knowledgable tell you how and why you're wrong is the coolest experience, and it's great this community has managed to foster that sort of exchange.

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Anna Simoroshka

I can relate! I never wrote any articles anywhere else, but dev.to instantly felt like a very cozy and small community, and it felt safe to just spurt out my random thoughts. Now the numbers and amount of feedback hold me back on writing other things I wanted to. It is a bit unexpected and somewhat intimidating. Here comes the impostor syndrome 😅

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Ben Lovy Author

Hah - too true. We still need heavily moderated spaces like SO - there's good reason it's such a high-quality place to get answers, fast. But this website is filling a previously vacant niche.

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Ben Lovy Author

Should that happen, I'd like to formally request one (1) swift kick in the gut.

Thanks!

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Ben Lovy Author

Completely agreed