I Am Joe’s Blog:

February 18, 2005 • 4:07 PM

Pondering Changes to ITotD

When I re-launched Interesting Thing of the Day on June 1, 2004, I promised that there would be at least one full year of daily articles. Now that we’ve completed nearly 9 months of that year, I figure I have enough data to begin thinking about what happens next.

Originally, my hope (or perhaps fantasy) had been that by the end of that year, ITotD would produce enough income that I could make it my full-time job. But the site’s total revenue has averaged around $300 per month—a figure that has remained relatively consistent even though daily readership has increased markedly. Of that amount, the majority goes toward taxes and business expenses. What’s left is roughly enough to pay for the coffee that keeps me awake while I write the articles.

But it’s not really about money: ITotD has always been a labor of love. The real problem is one of time. The average article takes me about 3–4 hours to research and write. But since ITotD isn’t putting bread on the table, I have to spend my days doing work that does—writing books, ebooks, and articles about computing, and doing technical consulting. That means I usually end up working on ITotD in the evenings, when I’d rather be resting, spending time with my wife, reading, doing t’ai chi, or just having a normal life. To be candid, I’m getting burned out, and something’s got to give.

I think that if I could financially justify spending even half my normal business hours working on ITotD (scaling back my other work proportionately), it would make sense to continue the site in roughly its current form. Although there are undoubtedly some things I could do to increase the site’s readership and income, all these things would require even more of my nonexistent time or money to implement. So I’m not expecting to see such major financial improvements in the next few months that I can reasonably plan to keep spending so much time on this project. One way or another, I have to cut back the number of hours I spend on ITotD, which in turn means the site must change.

I see no point in turning it off altogether; if the content that’s already there is useful to readers, it might as well stay there. On the other hand, barring some miraculous occurrence in the near future, I’m equally certain I can’t continue doing what I’ve been doing, every single day. I’ve been thinking about options for changing the site.

There are many possibilities; here’s a sampling:

Option #1: Drop articles on weekends, holidays, and vacations. Many other “daily” blogs and similar sites run by a small staff post new content only on ordinary business days—and take vacation breaks as needed. As it is, our readership drops significantly on weekends and holidays, so many readers may not even notice the change. Assuming 10 holidays per year and 4 weeks of vacation time, this would mean about 231 articles per year, as opposed to 365.

PROS: I’d have about a third less writing to do. Minimal perceived change for current readers.
CONS: I’d still be spending 3–4 hours working on ITotD on business days, so the hours would continue to seem long. The ratio of time spent to income received would not improve significantly.

Option #2: Change the meaning of “daily”; post articles less frequently. ITotD could change from a strictly daily model to one in which new articles appear at random intervals—perhaps two or three times per week.

PROS: Far less work than current system or Option #1. Less pressure to adhere to a strict schedule. The site can still maintain a fair amount of momentum.
CONS: We may lose some readers when they discover that the site doesn’t have fresh content every single day. Greater temptation for me to get lazy and go long periods of time without posting anything. The “of-the-day” moniker would no longer truly fit.

Option #3: Change the format of the articles. I could continue posting daily, but switch from the current format (expository articles ranging from 600–1500 words, with lots of additional resources listed) to much shorter blurbs—a few sentences, or maybe a couple of paragraphs at most. This would make ITotD more like traditional “commentary-on-stuff-I’ve-seen-on-other-Web-pages” blogs, but would take much less time to write.

PROS: Far less work than current system or Option #1; probably on a par time-wise with Option #2. Maintains continuity of daily articles. Easier and quicker for readers to digest.
CONS: We may lose readers who currently enjoy reading the more extensive articles. It would become much harder to differentiate ITotD from the countless other blogs out there. Subscriptions are unlikely to be perceived as valuable.

Option #4: Combine Option #1 and Option #3. I could change the article format to much shorter blurbs AND drop weekend/holiday/vacation articles.

PROS: A very small, manageable amount of work. Keeps site alive with at least a moderate amount of fresh content. Easier and quicker for readers to digest.
CONS: All the same drawbacks as #3.

Option #5: Make it a museum. I could keep all the existing articles online, but reorganize the site as more of a static museum so that it doesn’t carry the expectation of new content at any particular time. I could still write new articles if and when I felt like it.

PROS: Takes all the time pressure off of me. The site continues to provide useful content for people who find it through a search engine.
CONS: I’d probably have to change the domain name in order for the site to make any sense. RSS feeds and email subscriptions would go away, because fresh content would be so rare. Overall readership would probably slow to a trickle.

As I said, there are other options too, but these are the ones that most readily strike me as sensible.

I briefly considered setting up a little voting script so that readers could tell me which option they like best, but I think I’d prefer more free-form feedback. I’d like to hear about other options you think might work, and I want to allow myself the latitude to choose a less-popular option if circumstances require it. What do you think? Let me know by leaving comments here, or send me a private message by using the ITotD contact page.