iDevBlogADay started about 8 months ago. If you are reading this post you probably know what it is all about, but a quick recap for those new to it: every day of the week, two developers write on their own blogs about whatever they prefer. They need to do it every week, for as long as they can, on the same week day. For example, I am right now sharing Wednesdays with Gareth Jenkins. If for any reason one of the authors doesn’t publish anything on his assigned day by midnight PST, he is put at the end of a “waiting list” (unless he prefers to call it good), and the first person in that list takes his place.

As you can see the rules cannot be simpler. That’s how it was intended from the beginning, mainly because if there was more rules somebody would have to enforce them. Take for example the “you can write about whatever you want” rule. If it was instead “write about this particular subject”, it could be totally open to interpretation; what is good for me may not be good enough for you. I would then become more of an editor, and iDevBlogADay more of an online publication, with schedules, style guides, and who knows what else. At the end it would be less successful in what it really is all about: to make people write. So it was determined that less rules meant less ways things can be unfair. The “you don’t post, you are out” is the kind of cut-and-dried rule that makes it all work with the least possible friction.

But iDevBlogADay has been evolving. With almost 500 posts under its banner, and more than 60 people waiting their turn, is clear that it cannot go any longer without some changes. And those changes, whether I like it or not, are going to require some new rules.

One of my main concerns has always been the people waiting in line. For starters, the more people on the waiting list, the less attractive it is to join the group. What’s the point if you know is going to take forever for it to be your turn? The system was built thinking a dozen people at most would ever be waiting, and the drop rate was expected to be higher, given everybody involved previous experience.

But there are only 2 ways to get people out of the waiting list: either we have more people writing per day, or we impose a time limit after which posters are automatically rotated.

Time Limits & Other Ways to Get Rid of People

Time limits have been proposed in the past to help increase the drop rate. Sometimes this is proposed as a way to get rid of people whose posts are growing stale, or that don’t contribute interesting posts in general. A similar method proposed a number of times is voting each week for the best/worst posts, and kicking whoever gets the less votes.

The reason I don’t like this much is twofold. First, it totally goes against the main goal. The thing is that goal is all about the writers, not so much about the readers. Yes, iDevBlogADay provides a bigger stage than our individual blogs had to start with (well, with exceptions), and we all strive to give readers reasons to come back. But the same way the rules are not about the subject of what you write, they are not about the quality. This is in some aspects the path of less friction for me; I could try the voting system as a way to not only write more, but also write better. And that’s the other reason I don’t care much for this; implementing and managing it seems like a nightmare. Until now I was glad to leave everything as is and trust the old adage of practice makes perfect.

At the same time, time limits can be a boom, if not for getting rid of writers, at least for getting people out of the waiting list; that is the only reason I am even considering it.

More People Per Day

Having 3 or 4 people per day instead of 2 has also been a constant suggestion. Let’s say we started tomorrow with 4 people per day. That would be 14 more people going from the waiting list into the main list, so only… 49 people will be left in the waiting list. That’s only until more join in, of course. I realize this is not a long-term solution either (I don’t think there is actually one). But what I find more interesting is the other reader complain about this: that would make too many post to read every day!

And on this case I am on the reader’s side. I don’t know about you, but I am not gaining spare hours every day. I am not even able to read all is published in iDevBlogADay right now. I would probably care less about the whole thing if there was even more to read, independent of how good the content.

AltDevBlogADay Solution

The “other” blog a day site doesn’t seem to have any of these problems (or at least I have not seen them voiced). They also work slightly different: every participant gets a turn, and when everybody that signed up has written a post they start over from the beginning. Some people asked me why we don’t use the same system then, but it all goes back to the main reason of the existence of iDevBlogADay. If is all about getting in the habit of writing, you need to do it often. In that sense AltDevBlogADay is more about the content, and less about habit formation.

But their system also got me thinking… is a week a good enough time between posts? What about two weeks instead? I immediately liked this solution because it solved a number of problems.

Take the last post from Chris Adamson before handling over his day to the waiting list as an example:

My original plan for being featured on the iDevBlogADay blogroll was to be able to share some of the work I’m doing on the Core Audio book. I figured that as I worked through new material, that would translate into blog entries that could then get the word out about the book.

Unfortunately, I think what’s happening is that I’ve been working on iDevBlogADay entries instead of working on the book.

The thing is a week is not that much time for having something new worth writing about for somebody whose main job is not writing. It happens to me all the time, wondering what the heck to write about, then having to put away my work to do it! And if I had more time to expend on my work, I probably would get more interesting things to write about, no?

So what would be the consequence of having 2 week periods then?

  • For starters, 14 people will get from the waiting list into the main list.
  • I would have way more to manage. It doesn’t happen often, but I am doing the whole getting into or off the list manually. I would have 14 more people to check on.
  • Given that authors will have two full weeks to write their posts, pressure is off. If drop rates were already low, there would be even less reason for anybody to lose its spot.

Future

The plan I have decided to go with is to have both 2 week periods, and a time limit. The 2 weeks will help with having more people in without having more to read per day, and the time limit will help with making the waiting list move faster. My first thought is the limit will be around 10 posts. That’s 20 weeks, or 5 months per author. We will see if that’s not fast enough.

Having to manage more people also makes my need to implement some automatic tools in the backend even more obviously. On my todo list I have:

  • Automatic list handling. If you miss your day or the time limit is up, next person gets your spot, you go to the end of the list. Should have been like that from the very beginning, but since the code was done in a day and has not been touched much since…
  • A “how it works” page. I don’t know how many times I have to explain the rules to new people over Twitter.
  • A sign-up form. Same thing, getting the info from new authors on Twitter is getting old.
  • Multiple admins. It has all been me until now, but I am thinking of recruiting some more individuals that don’t mind solving problems with the site if any appear. If you are a participant with minimal PHP knowledge and don’t mind spending a few minutes now and then (hopefully not many once all the automatic tools are in place), ping me.

Lastly, this also means the new design is not valid anymore. I am probably going to simplify it, get rid of the horizontal scrolling and all the javascript, and have info not only about the 2 authors writing every day, but also about the 2 writing the previous week.

So when? I am planning on next week having the same authors as this one, then introduce the new ones. New authors will start posting then two weeks from now. I will get in contact with whoever is past the time limit too (that may include me now that I think about it). As you can see, the whole thing is a mess of conflicting goals. So my plan for the future may hurt some in favor of others. Hopefully it will all be for the better.

If you have any other ideas, please share.

Screw-up Update #1

To demonstrate once more how on top of my game I am, Mr. Acton points AltDevBlogADay doesn’t work at all as I described! Instead everyone posts every 15 days. The more people they get, the more posts per day. He says:

@mysterycoconut For me (as well), it's about the writers first. The readers can read at any speed they want. It's not live-TV.

He has a point. Maybe we should do that instead.

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