Be Useful


I was in the midst of composing both the “So long and thanks for all the fish!” post and an e-mail to Deitsch explaining that despite the announcement I’d still find a way to take care of him with his Ben & Jerry-ized Skip Bayless tweets if I could*.

*Too many intelligent people have spent way too much time pondering why Deitsch does those tweets. Quibble over why he started all you want, but there’s no doubt about why he persists: people eat that stuff up like it’s Ben & Jerry’s.  Look at the mentions!

Instead, I decided to distract myself from all that for a moment by writing this. I have been at  web/internet publishing for nearly 23 years (23 years!) and I used the same strategy the whole time: whatever else I’m planning on, first be useful and if I prioritize being useful, I’ll wind up in a good spot.

I could prioritize other things like being entertaining or interesting but the problem there is I’m just not that funny or interesting most of the time.

To establish my bona fides here’s this from 1996 from Mary Meeker’s  first annual Internet report:

Cult figure! Many people think I squandered that opportunity but I ultimately leveraged it to get a an executive level job that paid me lots of money and wound up allowing me to be a man of leisure for the first half of my 40s. I don’t care if you judge me. I enjoy leisure!

I let the Online Insider stuff slide long ago, but through the magic of the Internet Archive if you ever reach crazy levels of boredom it’s preserved more or less (at least as of this writing) here.

I didn’t achieve cult-level status as co-founder of TVbytheNumbers (which I was actively engaged in from 2007-2014) but my friend and co-founder Bill Gorman (who I initially met through my 1990s newsletter) did via his anthropomorphic “Cancellation Bear!**” We wound up building a site that millions used every month. We sold it for good money and made decent money the few years prior to selling. That too started from the basic premise of “first be useful then figure out the other stuff”

*While not as cuddly as a bear, Bill has kept his schtick going via @TVGrimReaper

What do I mean by being useful? When I was a kid doing Online Insider the first dozen or more issues were almost entirely aggregation. Aggregation was more useful in 1994 but it’s still useful.

But here’s a very important thing: being useful is also the best way to insert yourself into a conversation. When you’re useful to people they’re more inclined to let you into the conversation and give what you have to say some consideration. Even if they disagree with you. Being useful is unifying! People will be a lot more tolerant/considerate of your opinions if you have established your usefulness with them already.

A lot of folks want to insert themselves into conversations without having been even a little useful first. Fortunately, you can ignore them with impunity. Don’t want to be ignored? Figure out how to be useful. It’s a good system.

I don’t know that I achieved it but deservedly or not I’m taking the STVR cult-figure “W.”

In percentage terms  I hoped whatever I did via web/Twitter would be ~50% data, 30% aggregation/informative, 10% opinion-maker, 10% fun. I’m not sure I pulled it off, but I think it’s a great model in general.

I’ll get around to doing the “So long and thanks for all the fish” post but the one-line version is: I had a fallback  to always be useful no matter what that was very easy for me to manage (the daily tables). Now I do not.



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