Lessons learned - 22 days and half a million readers later
Maintaining writing quality at a high throughput, FUD, challenges, and joy.
Finally, we are done with the advent! This is the last post from 0x65.dev for this year. It has been a very rewarding experience, but also a very tiring one. This series has been a collaborative effort by more than 20 people, most of them engineers working at Cliqz. The content, however, is based on the work of more than one hundred people who work, or have at some point worked, at Cliqz over the last 6 years.
The main motivation of this series was not to do marketing. We simply wanted to tell our story: introduce ourselves and our work to the world, and explain our journey to building a search engine and browsers from all angles.
Getting the word out is always nice for the company but also for the people building it. In the past we have made public research and data, have constantly helped identify and fix security and privacy issues in other projects and talked about how we do certain things. But, much of what we do, a lot of what we have built and all of our journey was still unknown to almost anyone who does not work at Cliqz. We felt compelled to write about it.
Another reason, which might look silly but isn’t, is that if Cliqz were to disappear, we would not be able to show what we have been working on so passionately, and no one would be able to learn from our story. Let’s face it, this has been, is, and will continue to be an uphill battle. We are going against what is perhaps the biggest monopoly in the world. Cliqz’s patrons are generous and we all have the same vision, but money is finite. Extinction is always a possibility, so we are leaving some fossils behind.
Let us stop here and go straight to some take-aways that might be obvious to people working on communication and marketing, but were not to us.
1. It is a significant amount of work
For the writers, even if you have half the content written before the start of the advent, editing, reviewing, last minute changes, addressing comments from other reviewers takes a lot of time and effort. It took few hours per day for multiple people to just put everything together. Each draft got no less than 100 comments from reviewers, to the point of reaching the limits of GitHub’s review system, exceeding the maximum number of comments it could handle. We had to open an issue with GitHub. If you try to do something similar, plan ahead or you will regret it, otherwise the quality of your posts will suffer.
For some of the readers, there is some fatigue due to repetition; we covered many different areas: data, search, cryptography, privacy, personalization, monopolies, and more. But still, the theme is similar.
Unless you really have a lot of material and spare time, do not try this format. It is like running a marathon you haven’t trained for, with a hangover.
2. Spreading the word
Besides writing the content, which has value in itself, we also wanted to spread the word out. Getting attention and feedback on your work, particularly on technical matters, has both positive and negative sides:
Most people are great, it was a pleasure to see positive comments about what we have built or people having discussions on topics that we are interested in. This kind of feedback from the public is of great satisfaction to the engineers building these systems.
Increased attention also attracts negative comments. They take time, but negative feedback, when expressed respectfully, deserves an answer.
Negative comments of a trolling nature must be ignored. They take a toll on morale and they create unproductive diversions. We saw over and over new accounts being created to comment negatively about our work. It is human that if one is attacking you feel the need to defend, and even if at the end you do not respond, they manage to steal time. It takes 10 times more energy to refute bullshit than to create it.
Traffic is great, more people read the content and know about what we build. But these people had feedback that needed to be addressed. This means extra work, and if you’re based in Europe it will usually be after-hours since US timezones are much more active than EU or Asia ones.
Not all online communities are the same. Moderators on Hacker News, for instance, were confronted with the dilemma that repetition of sources is bad (understandably) but at the same time the content is relevant. Other outlets, (sub-reddits mostly), seem to be less prone to read the content of the article, and we were even blocked from posting on r/privacy after submitting a couple of articles; do not get us wrong here, there is no conspiracy theory. Never attribute to malice what can be adequately explained by dogmatism.
3. Spreading the word internally
Do not underestimate the value blog posts of this form have for internal consumption. Everything we have been writing about in this blog, has been presented internally in multiple team meetings, talks and brownbags and there have been extensive internal reports on the tech. Yet we found that this format was still successful in disseminating new knowledge between teams.
This blog is all about content. We have refrained from using it as a platform to push readers to use our products. Of course, some levels of self-promotion are there, but we think we kept it well under check. Yet, the blog has brought thousands of daily active users to our new search page on beta.cliqz.com, and thousands of installs to our Cliqz Browser. We are very grateful. Using our tech is the best way to help our mission.
We’d like to thank you for reading up to this point. It has been a tiring process but also a satisfying one. If you liked what we write and what we’re building, subscribe to the RSS, use our search and browser. You help us get better.
Yours, The Cliqz Team