I’ve been enjoying reading year review from my blog RSS feed and douban feed. Since 2021 is quite a boring year for me myself, I’d rather write a review about reviews.
The most common thing people talk about in year reviews is plan and execution. It is common that SaaS companies talk about business execution in public posts, but it’s even more fun to read about how personal projects or business play out. My favorite on this topic is people explaining the thought process when doing their signature work https://jvns.ca/blog/2021/12/31/2021–year-in-review/:
The explanation looks something like “the reason many people struggle with TOPIC is because they don’t understand X, here’s what you need to know”
These secret recipes are usually quite easy to spot: they look over-simplified and biased because it’s what we use to remind ourselves of the most important part of our thinking process. It’s a recent popular statement that you can’t really rely on being creative to repeatedly publish good content, rather people figure out practices and frameworks that serve as the limit and container for content at the same time. Despite the fact that these practices are tailored to its purpose, one should still find them easy to transform. The Bartok and Coltrane example https://youtu.be/QCwqnjxqfmY?t=934 says it very well: a problem/constraint is proposed for the author to solve, a design for performers/authors.
Another category of year review is a summary of works https://www.scattered-thoughts.net/writing/2021/. Although the listing can be too dry to read in detail, it can be a perfect index page for revisiting the blog. It’s not a convention for a blogger to write a review of past posts/work, I find these posts far more effective than About pages. It’s sad that the blog, which was invented quite recently and has plenty of opportunies to evolve with the internet, still lacks basic convenience of the ebook or even the physical book: bookmark, good search, index and glossary. If there are things we need to pick up to make blogs great again, making the content more accessible is one of them.
There are also more personal posts https://yufree.cn/cn/2021/12/31/34/ , http://bowarrowstreet.blogspot.com/2021/12/blog-post.html where people talk about moving, traveling, cooking and career choices. These are the most unique topics that can’t really be found in other places. I always appreciate that the authors are willing to share personal life in a way that I usually only get from close friends when we physically visit each other, which is even more rare since the pandemic. If blog wes invented today by big tech, these would definitely be exclusive paid content. There’s a small chance that Substack will keep growing and everyone is onboard, it’ll be sad that people start to put these personal experiences behind a $1 pay wall.
Sadly but naturally, book review is still the best source to randomly pick a book to read, except one believes ML has achieved super human intelligence and relevancy is more important than quality. On the other hand, I’m suprised how bad douban’s effort on book community ended up. They basically abandoned the recommendation algorithm (https://book.douban.com/recommended?icn=index-nav) and a few social media features (https://book.douban.com/updates?icn=index-nav) in book section. The ratings system was also rigged by paid reviews when the publisher figured out how huge the influence of reviews have on sales number.
Tyler’s book reviews https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2021/12/what-ive-been-reading-210.html are quite good, for Chinese books, I got a few good ones from douban https://m.douban.com/note/822990754/, https://www.douban.com/note/823105912/, https://www.douban.com/note/822755021/
Douban’s user size and activity started to shrink since probably 5 years ago, it’s a shame that fewer and fewer people write year review because the book and movie integration and the unique culture are perfect for encouraging people to write year reviews about books and movies.
In 2021 I started to watch a lot more youtube video in various topics that I haven’t consume in video before: cars (Alex on Autos, Engineering Explained), electronics(Applied Science, GreatScott!), OS dev(Andreas Kling), Farm business(Gold Shaw Farm) and even chip making(Sam Zeloof). It’s amazing that nowadays you can use search quite technical terms on youtube and get either personal projects that has <1k views or popular short explainers.
Although year review is not really a thing for youtubers, a few still show up on my subscription feed and they are all quite interesting https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Okqrbwf4tjA, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p0demxxnon0
Besides the part that’s exclusive about youtube, or more specially making them, video year reviews don’t offer too much that has to be presented visually. I’d love to instead read a blog post with plenty of data and analysis about the video making pratice or fighting with platforms.
It’s not a popular idea to make predictions about the near future (i.e. the coming year) and reflect on them, probably because the feedback loop is too long, and in general that, prediction is super hard https://sites.google.com/site/steveyegge2/ten-predictions. The good news is they offer even more insights when proved wrong. The difficult part about reflecting on them is to properly assess them by removing black swan and information that’s not available when they are made. Hence it’s probably worth adding assumptions more than it appears to be needed, just for the convenience of reflecting.
For people who are very conscious about social media’s toxicity, blog is still a good alternative where good quality content can be shared and found, although obvisouly one order of magnitude fewer than social media in terms of quantity and popularity. Fortunatily for certain topics such as computer science, programming, econ and electric engineering, blog is still sort of at its peak mainly because people in these areas share a nerd culture and still appreciate a few not so obvious advantages of blogging https://danluu.com/programming-blogs/.
Blog is in many ways better than institutional media, the two major issues are noise and discovery, which social media is good at. I find whatever combines the elements of these two is interesting in different ways. Tyler’s assorted links https://marginalrevolution.com/marginalrevolution/2021/12/most-popular-mr-posts-of-the-year-2.html doesn’t hesitate to present the relatively raw characteristics. Although its comment section doesn’t appear too informative for me, it does seem to provide meaningful feedback to Tyler. While MR is perfect on its own domain, it’s not really reproducable given it’s very rare a domain expert commits to write blog posts in such a regular basis.
While platforms like Substack and Patreon offer a light solution to noise and discovery, its corporate nature has huge long-term influence on the kind of content creators choose to publish. For minimum influence, I believe the payment and discovery mechanism must be completely independent components.
Monetization, Patreon and Substack
I realize there is now a spectrum of how far monetization can go. Next to all open and free, Sam Harris https://www.samharris.org/ only puts an extra step to all free content ⇒ Patreon allows creators to set quite a few different tiers ⇒ Substack seems to only allow monthly and annual subscription with a fixed charge ⇒ institutional media with pay wall.
Looking at Substack’s top paid on technology https://substack.com/discover/category/technology/paid, specifically the category of posts that are behind the pay wall makes me feel it’s not different from institutional media where the paid wall is designed to maximize revenue and nothing more. I’m certainly not against pay wall or any mechanism that allows authors to monetize their works, it’s the choice of which and how to get audience to pay that matters the most. If the creator has full control over how to monetize, I doubt one would put a constraint on the granularity of paying for content.
However, creator platforms’ decisions are definitely highly influenced by the recent success of monthly subscription. It’s probably under the disguise of “support” according to how Patreon argues per creation payment is almost a legacy feature:
Instead of thinking of your paid posts as things that your patrons have “purchased” try to think about your paid posts as content you’ve created– and your patrons have membership that unlocks access to your content. Patrons value that content at different levels of support.