On the ideal length of a blog post
28 November 2023 | 8:11 pm

I find it really interesting how my blog posts usually end up being around 1,000 words. Sometimes 900, sometimes 1300. This realisation got me thinking about what the ideal length for a post on the Jolly Teapot should be.

For some reason, one thousand words seems to be my sweet spot. It’s almost like it just happens naturally. Almost. When I first start writing, my drafts usually have about 500 to 700 words. But then, after I edit and try to make sense of everything I previously wrote, the word count goes up to around 1,000. Maybe that is purely coincidental, maybe this is how my brain works.

Or maybe I’m unconsciously aiming for that word count.

For some time now, I’ve done my best to hide the word count of drafts (because it should not matter), but I’m always curious. This curiosity slowly transformed into a signal or goalpost of sorts: If a draft I am working on is under 1000, I feel like I have more to add to it; If it goes north of 1000, I feel like it’s ready to go to editing.

It reminds me of the original idea of MG Siegler’s blog, 500-ish. Most of his early posts were around 500 words, and the blog description still says: “A collection of posts by M.G. Siegler of around 500 words in length.” It is now just in the name I think — I’m not counting words on other people’s blogs — but I’ve always liked the idea of having a typical, regular format.

My blog could be called “1000-ish,” because that’s usually how long my ideas turn out to be once they are ready to fly off the nest. This is a somewhat recent trend though. In the early days of this blog I could write much shorter articles: simple comments on a few ideas or quotes.

These quick and easy-to-produce posts were only about 200 to 300 words, sometimes even less, but they always felt a bit shallow, halfway between a tweet and a full, proper blog post. Even back then I felt that this format wasn’t ideal, as it felt wrong to eventually bring readers onto my site for so little insight. Such a short format could only work if I had been writing 10 to 20 posts a week, but that wasn’t the case, far from it.

These thoughts on the ideal post length also reminded me of what John Gruber once said, I think, on an episode of The Talk Show.1 I’ve searched for it but I can’t seem to find this episode, which was released maybe 3-4 years ago. If I remember correctly, he was saying that he was fine with really short “link posts” and with really long posts on Daring Fireball.

In the long, proper columns, he felt that he really expressed everything he wanted, while in the short ones, he felt that the quick comment format was a great way to link to something without having to articulate complex ideas. But the posts between something like 400 and 700 words were the ones that he felt were trouble. They were not concise enough to be considered comments, or not detailed enough to convey all he had to say.

I still remember — more or less — him saying something like this, and today it feels more true than ever. When I write around 500 words, it feels like I’m not saying everything I want to say and the post needs more work. If I go beyond that, it usually means I’ve fully expressed my views and I can start editing. But anything shorter just feels too brief for my blog, especially since my homepage only shows summaries and titles, therefore requiring visitors to click on an entry to view the full content. I feel like I need to make it worth their effort to click on an entry.

These days, I seem to be sticking to 1,000-word posts, even though they’re more challenging and time-consuming. That means I don’t publish as many posts in a year. I’m aiming for a pace of one post per week, but I’m closer to a post every ten days. I could definitely write more if the posts were shorter, but this length of 1000 words now feels right. It feels like me.

On the other end, this “format” that I’m now aiming for can also block me from starting to write on certain topics. Sometimes I have a comment to add or a rant to express, but not much more than that, and I know these posts would end up being 400 words or so. This is when I find myself in what I’m now calling “the Gruber dilemma,” and if I don’t feel comfortable writing at least 800-900 words on a topic, I just let the draft die in my “Ideas” folder.2

For example, a few weeks ago, there was this news about how the freshly released Nothing messaging app, which allowed Android phone owners to chat via iMessage, turned out to be a privacy nightmare. I started writing something about it, but then I stopped because I knew it would never reach 1000 words once finished.

This is also why I recently started a new format called “Blends”, where I share 10 links each month with a short comment on each. This format still needs work, but let’s say this is what I would tweet if Twitter was still a thing.

OK, I think I’ve said everything I wanted to say on that topic. How am I doing? Am I close to 1000 words? Look at that: 965 words. That’s a pass; now let’s edit this.

  1. If you remember this episode or if you manage to find a source for this, I’d be eternally grateful. Where is AI when we most need it?
    UPDATE — Reader of the blog Jan-Willem replied to this post telling me about David Smith’s Podcast Search (which uses AI), and I managed to find the quote, from a Talk Show episode back in 2014, at 7min51s (thanks Jan-Willem!).↩︎

  2. Right now, there is a draft called “Web browsers are shite”: let’s hope this one eventually gets published.↩︎

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November blend of links
22 November 2023 | 8:50 pm

Some links don’t call for a full blog post, but sometimes I still want to share some of the good stuff I come across on the web.

BMW, Subaru and Porsche drivers ‘more likely to cause a crash’, study finds・So, you’re saying BMW drivers are more likely to cause a crash due to their reckless driving? What an absolute shocker (!)

4.5 Billion Years in 1 Hour・Incredible work from the excellent YouTube channel Kurzgesagt: I watched it in one sitting and found it both interesting and relaxing.

The Whimsical Web, A curated list of sites with an extra bit of fun.・Now this is another great way to pass the time and find inspiration. Some of these websites have lovely HTML and CSS. (via Kottke)

Vision Pro, Spatial Video, and Panoramic Photos・This “hands-on” experience from John Gruber is the best I’ve read so far, and it describes very well — I imagine — how I would feel if I had the same experience. I can’t wait to try Vision Pro for myself.

People and Blogs・I’m really enjoying this series of interviews by Manu, and as a bonus, I’ve discovered some great bloggers along the way. Ana Rodrigues for instance, who talked about her own interview on the series; I am definitely going to steal this quote: “This reflection and my interview with Manu make me want to hug my blog.”

Enya - Boadicea (in studio)・I am currently totally fascinated by this video and this song, even if the footage is very low quality. This video made me realise how minimal the song actually is, and how the main keys are played on the keyboard using only one hand. Pretty incredible.

David Fincher’s new movie The Killer is sigma cinema・Great analysis of the latest Fincher movie, which I personally enjoyed a lot, even if the main character is indeed very hard to like.

No feature・Excellent, good looking, and well-written post by Oliver Reichenstein, on iA’s blog (the company behind the great iA Writer app), about the use of AI by software companies, and what the landscape looks like today. Consider me now very curious about the next version of the app, iA Writer 7.

Soft Minimal — A Sensory Approach to Architecture & Design・The newest book in my collection, and this one has been on my radar for a while. Not only do I love the work of Norm architects when it comes to interior design — it’s utterly splendid — but the photographs they use are gorgeous too (and can make great desktop wallpapers).

Varia VS3 grinder (2nd generation)・Speaking of gorgeous design, this coffee grinder is so good-looking that I am ready to intentionally break my current grinder and then break the bank to get this one as a replacement.

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How I managed to fit AI into my blogging habits
20 November 2023 | 8:16 pm

Consider me very suspicious of AI, or should I say very cautious. After all, the latest or next generation of AI may eventually render my job useless; why should I embrace this new technology?

My job involves organising the production of content for a brand, writing a few things here and there, proofreading a lot of emails and webpages, ensuring the right tone of voice, defining topics and creating outlines for the brand’s presence through blog posts, webinars, videos, white papers, etc. It’s easy to see where AI could either replace me for 90% of these tasks or render them completely useless: who would read or even download a white paper if an AI could summarise it as a 2-minute audio clip?

All the things I do professionally are already being impacted, accelerated, improved, and transformed by AI. I could either resist AI or learn to harness it and use it to my advantage.

In fact, it was completely impossible — and unprofessional even — for me to turn my back on this new technological revolution. Considering what I do for a living, I simply couldn’t ignore what all this new AI can do. While an analog photographer could somehow continue to work and succeed without ever knowing the first thing about digital photography, a “content manager” like myself better embrace the change and learn how to use this tech quickly.

Long story short, I started looking into how my work could benefit from some of the tools built on this new generation of AI. Reading this post by Om Malik also reassured me.

I’m now becoming more and more confident in how some of them will fit into my daily tasks, without starting the day with the anxiety of seeing my position slowly disappear. The potential is incredible, and in many ways I’m now glad to be able to embrace AI at work after I managed to dissolve my initial instinct of hating it.

We’ve seen this perspective everywhere, and I largely agree with it: AI can be a valuable tool for professionals, rather than a direct competitor for the same jobs. Everything about including AI into our work won’t be great, and there will be difficult moments. But in the grand scheme of things, it should end up being a good thing. I think. At least, I’m now pretty relaxed and optimistic about it. And if it doesn’t work out, I’ll start a pizza place.

One thing I didn’t anticipate, though, is how AI would sneakily find its way into my blogging habits too.

For the past couple of weeks, I’ve been experimenting with a few tools.

1. Editing and proofreading drafts with the help of AI

I love writing. I hate editing.

Editing and proofreading takes a lot of time, and I’m not great at it. When I finish writing a blog post, I’m eager to publish it as fast as possible. Editing feels like a chore to me. I already do a lot of editing during a significant portion of my workdays, and I don’t want to do it in my spare time. I also don’t enjoy editing my own words, especially in a language that is not my first language.

Over the past couple of weeks, I’ve been testing different web services for editing, and right now, the one I prefer using is called EditGPT. The UI is really well done, and using it feels very natural to me.1 I simply use the option to “proofread” my draft, which helps me catch all the typos, mistakes, and grammatical errors I make, without touching the structure of the text. It’s quick and effective, and it doesn’t get too fixated on Markdown link syntax, unlike some other tools. It’s so good in fact that I’m almost tempted to go back to my older posts and fix them one by one.

I rarely use the options that involve more “rewriting.” I’m not very comfortable with letting a bunch of computers take over completely, and I feel like it wouldn’t be my blog if there wasn’t any of my poorly written nonsense it in. I want to preserve my writing “style”, so I only use these options when I’m really unsatisfied with a sentence or a paragraph, or when my English level prevents me from fully expressing what I want to say. The results of these “streamline” or “strong proofread” commands are often good, but when I use one of these options, I usually only keep bits of a paragraph, never the whole thing.

For those of you who are regular readers and native English speakers, you may have noticed an improvement in the writing of recent posts. Well, now you know that these improvements mostly come from one of these new and pretty great AI tools. It’s just so quick. When it used to take me more than half an hour to read and reread a draft to try to find errors and reword awkward sentences, now it takes me less than 5 minutes for a 1000-word post. And the end result is even better I think.

When I see that a paragraph I wrote doesn’t raise any warnings from the tool, I’m very proud. I think that these tools are even helping me understand some of the mistakes I make, so I guess I’m getting better in the process.

2. Creating the first draft

You see, when I work from home, alone, I like to think out loud in order to think clearly. It helps me understand my ideas and sort of listen to myself. This is usually how I start a draft. I think out loud, expressing my thoughts, ideas, rants, or anything that comes to mind. When I feel I have something interesting in mind, I “interrupt” myself and start writing a note, that may or may not become a blog post.

Last week, I thought that maybe AI could help me convert these spoken-out-loud ideas into first drafts more efficiently.

The idea is this:

  • Record a voice note in English via Just Press Record on my phone instead of just rambling out loud alone in my living room.2
  • Give the transcript of this note to ChatGPT and ask it to transform the dictated free-of-punctuation nonsense into proper sentences.
  • Send this new text to EditGPT and make the sentences simpler and more casual so that they are an easier material to work with.

I’ve tried this a couple of times — I currently have two half-finished drafts created like this — and the results are fine. Not great, but fine. I think what I end up with is a great starting point, but I’m not sure I like it.

The thing is, I love writing too much to enjoy this.

Writing is what helps me understand my own thoughts. Without the writing step, my thoughts are all over the place, and this AI process just puts them into text, but it doesn’t do my job, which is to make sense of them.

This alone is why I don’t think this will work for me. I still want and need the writing part to develop my own thoughts.

If a future post originated as a voice note fed to a bunch of AI tools, I’ll make sure to let readers know.

  1. DeepL Write is also pretty good in terms of suggestions and corrections, but I think the UI is not as well-made as EditGPT, or at least not made for proofreading.↩︎

  2. I do all of this in English. I could do it all in French and translate it at the very last moment, but it will be the same problem in the end: I’d still miss the writing part. Maybe this is something I can try one day.↩︎

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