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Repetition - too much of the same

michaelcurrin profile image Michael ・3 min read

Here's a bit of a rant, from thoughts over the last month or so.

I am getting worn down by the repetition of blog topics, especially on dev.to. This sometimes makes me reluctant to open up my feed or to skip over posts that look unoriginal.

A colleague who is a regular blogger has echoed my sentiments, so I know it's not just me.

Lack of variety in post content

People seem to like writing about the same topics without bringing originality. Like posts on VS Code Themes and top 10 VS Code extensions. See this search.

Or top 50 repos or APIs or resources. These seem to more common recently.

e.g. FREE} Ultimate Resources for Front-End Development in 2021 + Giveaway⚡ with about over 2000 likes. Or 50 free tools and resources you're gonna love (Part 2)

Maybe there's some gold in there but I don't know if I have concentration to look through all 50 on the list with proper attention.

Or intro to git, or JavaScript basics, or intro Deno (the articles don't offer much info beyond what is on the Deno docs or blog).

Or how they went from newbie to junior programmer in so many months. I am glad there are so many success stories but less there is little appeal for me in reading an article targeted at people who haven't started a developer yet. The ones on how to ace your interview are perhaps more useful in practical advice to follow rather than inspiration.

In fact, when I see a post that looks very much like a duplicate but I can see differences between them, I comment with link back to the previous article I read, so that the recent post author can benefit from the content and comments. And also for anyone browsing to be able to compare the facts and opinions in the two articles.

Often dev.to posts are "beginners writing for beginners", as my colleague aptly put it.

I mean, I do like having a platform where anyone can bring their views and experience and there are plenty of articles aimed at beginners if I do need to learn something. It just can make it harder to find the higher quality articles.

The same goes for finding websites - since anyone can make their own blog. And the same goes for trying to find a professional photo or photographer in a world of mostly amateur photographers.

The repetition of beginner articles gets to me when searching online for intermediate use of a tool or language. For example, I have read posts on using Python to get tweets from the Twitter API or how to scrape or visualize data. They usually spend a large chunk of the article going over the basics as if someone had never used Python before. They could rather just link to an external article or docs on how to setup Python on your machine and what a virtual environment and packages are. Some people split the article into parts, where the 1st section covers language fundamentals and then 2nd section is the real heart of the article which is unique, so I like that.

Popular posts

I usually enjoy reading the more popular posts on dev.to (based on emojis and comments) than a random post in my feed. (Having said that, I've also seen some amazing posts with just a few likes and they deserve way more attention). I also trust or weigh the advice more heavily from someone with decades of varied experience vs someone who just discovered a tool or passed their first coding course.

Popular bloggers

I like to follow a respected blogger like Flavio Copes, Martin Fowler or Uncle Bob. The last guy I particularly enjoy - on Youtube he talks about principles which make sense for 1980s as well as the future.

Topic subscriptions

I've already updated my subscribed topics but that didn't help enough. I've just discovered I can adjust the weighting of my feed, so I'm going to try that too.

But a topic like #webdev is still very broad so I could get anything in there.

Images

A gripe on images - I love using Unsplash for the stock images, but it gets annoying to see the exact same stock images coming up in use on dev.to and medium.com. Maybe it just bothers me and no one else notices or cares about the lack of originality? Are people just picking the popular images at the top of the "coding" and "programming" search results.

Discussion (14)

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billraymond profile image
Bill Raymond

When I first started writing [cough] years ago, I looked at popular blogs and articles and noticed there were Top 10 lists everywhere, so I emulated them until I got comfortable writing my own pieces. Of course, "Top x" lists never went away, but they dissipated as more people wrote informed articles or personal thoughts on a particular topic. Then, at the top of 2020, Vulture posted an article where they ranked every Oscar movie:
vulture.com/article/best-oscar-win...

Pretty quickly, it seemed like all the entertainment blogs started emulating Vulture's newfound love of the listicle. Then lockdowns started, where the "49 [not 50] most anticipated shows coming to Netflix" and the "25 shows you must binge before they disappear from Amazon Prime" became super popular with consumers hungry for content.

Just as millions decided to learn how to make sourdough, countless others decided to learn to code, or their employer decided to jump feet first into more modern software development tools, frameworks, web services, eschewing the concept that everything they developed had to be in SharePoint, C#, or SQL Server.

I witnessed this phenomenon as many of my clients I would refer to as "old school". Suddenly they began adopting Git, Kubernetes, and other technologies that were -- and frankly still are -- a mystery to many of them. So with this massive migration, I think listicles found their way from mainstream entertainment to mainstream technology as well. I cannot tell you how many people reach out to me asking the themes and extensions I find most useful in VS Code. It gets me thinking I should write an article about how to think about themes and extensions, rather than list my top ten (I will have to put that on the to-do list).

Thinking back to my first writing, where I emulated the popular "top 10" approach to writing, I believe people are trying to grow an audience, and these are good clickable articles. Chances are the same people making these lists will be writing thoughtful articles later in their career, but with listicles having their moment, I suppose we will have to wait for it. Listicles are useful. I actually read a few recently about no-code solutions and checked them out, and it sent me down a rabbit hole to check out what people are using and what is to come. That said, if you are reading this comment and you are writing listicles only, know that sharing a personal story is what builds your career and engages people to collaborate with you. That advice comes from someone who built a career around building customers through engaging content.

I absolutely love Dev.to and Medium over other sites because people tend to share their stories. There are many great "I built this amazing app, and here is how I did it," or "How I learned to build an AI robot," or whatever the topic is. Going to the home page for a quick perusal every day seems to showcase those articles more than the listicles. In October of last year, I created a list of sites I like to visit and added them to my browser favorites. I go to the site's home page once a day/every few days, and if there is nothing of interest, I move on. The RSS feeds I used to rely upon became far too much for me to handle and kept distracting me because of the issues you document, like too many listicles. If I can recommend one thing, it is to peruse the first few top posts and move on, which is at least what works for me :-)

Okay, Unsplash images. I get it, I really do! My own website, which I wrote myself, was an exciting journey. What was not an exciting journey was to find images I can use. I have access to Adobe's Stock library, and there are so many resources out there. Unfortunately, Unsplash is way too easy, and there are no (or far less) concerns about usage rights and all the things that come with licensing images for a corporate entity. When I write a piece that I really want to call out, I do look for something special, even if on Unsplash, and I recommend others consider that approach as well. Here is an example that I am told got me lots of views simply because the image got their attention:
linkedin.com/pulse/tell-me-somethi...

Nearly every time I go to a GitHub repo, I see the same NPM package dependencies, the same boring readme files, and the same folder structure. It gets me thinking; maybe images are the same for people who put their creativity to use in other places?

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michaelcurrin profile image
Michael Author

I discovered this podcast series.
They have a 45min interview on tech topics.

And they also list out with links all the tech in the podcast. In order.

dev.to/codenewbie/s14-e5-what-is-t...

This is great if you want to learn more about a tool or company or website. And they are in context of a personal story and career. And its hard to say spell something correctly if you only hear it in audio

Or maybe you want to scan the list to see what the podcast is about.

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billraymond profile image
Bill Raymond

Cool, thanks! I’ll check it out. Love me some podcasts :)

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michaelcurrin profile image
Michael Author

Yes it sounds possible that listicles came from something outside like in entertainment.

Yes experience with tools and personal stories is what I like about the posts here. More relatable than tutorials and lists.

I like your idea of a post on how to make a good listicle without being cliché. One tip I am thinking of is to make it themed or specialized. As with any product in marketing, the audience may be smaller but appeal will be greater and it will be differentiated from the boring ones.

Such as top X extensions for React development. Or productivity. Or DevOps.
Even if there are only 3 extensions on the list, if they fit together as a toolset for a job role then they will resonate.

Maybe you can cover what a good number for a listicle is. Like maybe 20 items should be in two top 10 lists and they are logically grouped. There is some psychology I have heard before on choosing multiples of 10 or 5. Maybe going against that like 49 tells people already you're going to be unique but in familiar format.

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billraymond profile image
Bill Raymond

It’s probably the same psychology stores use to price products: buy one, get two free, now only $49.99. You feel like you are investing less, but it’s exactly the point where your brain says it’s okay to spend the money.

In our case, we are just talking about where your are spending your time reading. I never thought of it that way until now.

Anywho, I’ll probably write that article when I get a chance, because it could be a fun little piece to write without being derogatory.

Thread Thread
michaelcurrin profile image
Michael Author • Edited

I actually make includes and layout files in Jekyll to help me focus on YAML data that gets turned into a listicle

github.com/MichaelCurrin/dev-resou...

YAML data github.com/MichaelCurrin/dev-resou...

- title:
  url:
- title:
  url:
Enter fullscreen mode Exit fullscreen mode

Result

michaelcurrin.github.io/dev-resour...

And my blog

github.com/MichaelCurrin/coding-bl...
github.com/MichaelCurrin/coding-bl...
michaelcurrin.github.io/coding-blo...

Thread Thread
billraymond profile image
Bill Raymond

That's a cool idea!

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michaelcurrin profile image
Michael Author

I find myself rushing through image choice so I can get my image out. So I should slow down.

I do put attention into a careful choice though.

If I go for the obvious searches like developer or code. The images are either ones I've actually seen in use before or the images are just unremarkable stock. Some are more flashy or conceptual which I like.

Somethings I go more abstract like "build" or "developing" or "tool" or "create".

I also fave the other images I see so I can use them in future.

I find horizontal images with space for text place on them work well. Putting your blog title and a React / JS icon etc. takes more effort but makes the banner unique and grabs my interest. And I'd probably be more forgiving of the use of a common image.

People choose the same layout for docs and websites and similar NPM packages because they have discovered a pattern or convention used by others that works for them too. And makes their software easy to follow because it is familiar. It is more functional than artistic choice (but you can play with images and badges and alignment in your readme to make it unique or at least not boring). When it comes to images, I guess it is just easy to choose a predictable image that is safe and people will understand and like immediately. And if they don't have the effort or skill to be more creative with an image choice they will fallback to an easy choice and move on. Maybe I've just got a memory for images and annoyance with repetition and others don't know or care about a repeated image. Or they are forgiving (how do I know if the person discovered dev.to yesterday or 5 years ago and whether they had chance to absorb what images others are "taken" by other posts). Then again, maybe someone will skip over a post that looks unoriginal in title and image. Same with any product that looks like a copycat logo and doesn't give you differentiated value in the first impression.

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billraymond profile image
Bill Raymond

I don’t think you are the only one. I see it frequently myself and sometimes when I go to my own website I think about how I should change the images. I know others are using them, so I’m sure people that visit my little site see that. It sends a “this looks like another...” message to your brain, but I think it’s hard now to find images that work unless you are using vectors, which can sometimes look a little odd, especially for a professional post/site.

This is a hard one, But personally I’m trying to train myself to ignore it, probably because I am doing what everyone else is :). I’ll update my site when I get some slow time though.

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michaelcurrin profile image
Michael Author

Thanks for the LinkedIn post
A striking image example and I'm interested to read it based on the title and the title fits with the image

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cappe987 profile image
Casper

I totally agree, there is a lot of repetition. The one I have started getting annoyed about is the "Intro to functional programming in Javascript", which basically covers immutability and map/filter/reduce, often using emojis.

"best vscode extensions" bothers me as well. I do love vscode and I love useful extensions, I have found several good ones through those posts, but like 90% of the time all listed extensions are for javascript/webdev. Webdev in general is a huge part of dev.to. Which is a bit unfortunate for people like me who are not into webdev.

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michaelcurrin profile image
Michael Author

I also get bothered my excessive use of emojis and gifs. I have seen someone had this complaint in their comments as gifs being too distracting and they removed some.

I get that the tone is light rather than serious but it seems too casual or informal for technical writing.

I do like unexpected posts. Like this one saying you don't need that VS Code extension and this is how to use the builtin feature.

dev.to/robole/vs-code-you-don-t-ne...

I've been disabling or removing extensions in general as it slows down my IDE on startup and in the git pane.

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michaelcurrin profile image
Michael Author

Someone told me in a comment that when you edit the topics you follow on dev.to you can set negative weighting for topics. Try a low or negative value for topics like webdev or javascript

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cappe987 profile image
Casper

Cool thanks. It looks like it works because the tag "anti-follow" appeared next to JavaScript haha.

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