Experimenting is a great way to learn. With an experiment, we learn if we succeed or fail in an environment where success is not a necessary goal. The issue is, many of us conduct experiments in both isolation and in private. While this type of experimentation lets us hide our failures and/or crazy ideas, it also reduces our chances for success and the depth at which we can learn lessons.
Zen of Technology is one of my public experiments. I’m providing all my content for free – via e-mail and then on the web. I include no advertising, and will not be charging for access to the content. I’ve had some good posts where I get positive feedback, and some bad posts that are weak on content. After a string of bad content, people drop off, and I’ve contacted them asking for feedback. That feedback has been wonderful in helping me to shape future content and really see what people’s needs and wants are. None of this would be possible if I simply wrote all this content down in a private Google Doc hoping to turn it into a book at some later date (which is something I do hope to do).
Additionally – I’m building a brand. Even if everyone dropped off the mailing list, in the future, I can point to the content I’ve generated for my resume and talk about my efforts and tangibly demonstrate that I was able to keep a commitment even when there was no financial reward. Also, simply by the act of doing something publicly makes you work a little bit harder. Even though chances are – without marketing – only a few dozen people will see your work, the fact that it will be seen makes you try harder and produce better quality work.
It doesn’t have to cost you anything
I pay for hosting (where Zen of Technology lives, as well as a few of my other experiments) but if you simply want to have a blog, you can get one for free. WordPress, tumblr, and many other blogging platforms allow you to have blogs for free. If you’re looking to create coding projects, things like GitHub have free options and you can get very cheap hosting ($5/month) at a slew of places (such as DreamHost.com whom I’m using for ZoT).
Public allows for easy collaboration
By having a project public, you have the option of enabling quick and easy collaboration. For example, one of my experiments – regexquest.com – had a contributor do a complete design overhaul of the site (because my original design was quick lacking). Blogs allow users to comment, and there are tons of feedback mechanisms for other types of projects that let users communicate directly with you and provide feedback. You may not want collaboration and feedback, and can turn these features off very easily.
You may fail – but you may inspire others
You may start a blog focused on DIY projects – turning IKEA furniture into sculptures, drawing, painting, coding, etc, and give up on it 3 months in. Traffic was low, comments were low, and you lost the inspiration to continue – it happens. But, your content is out there. If you did something unique and provided value, others will eventually find it and extract that value. A personal story may help someone through a difficult time. A programming tutorial may help a programmer solve a problem much quicker. A DIY project may inspire someone to start their own business selling homemade furniture. These things may be impossible to track, but, if your content/experiment was never there, then the chance of it making a positive effect are zero.
Following up – what are your experiments/projects
Share with me (in comments or via e-mail) any experiments you have going on. Why did you start it? Why are you still doing it? Also – let me know if you are OK with me sharing them with the mailing list, I’d love to put together a list for others.