** OK not quite “Good,” but good enough to bat the 90th percentile most of the time, which would technically be “Good by Relationship to Other Startups, Most of Which Totally Suck at Communicating,” but you’ll take it, because you know in your heart that consistent mediocrity is almost like winning.
Let us begin. One of the first things that they tell you when you learn to write is that you must imagine the reader. Sounds like basically a stroke of genius, predicated on the perfectly sound theory that when you write something, you should do it with an audience in mind that is gonna read your shit.
This would be totally fine and you would merrily ascend to startup marketing superstardom except for one tiny little logical fallacy, which is that this whole magical parlor trick of “imagining your audience” assumes there is a “reader”, which of course depends on having someone-who-reads, and pretty soon you are running around like an idiot with this mythical archetype in your head of someone-who-reads, AKA one of the biggest lies in the history of the world since they invented Geocities.
People Do Not Read
How do we know this? People who ostensibly DO READ (hint: people who work at universities), study people like you and me (who DO NOT READ) and figure out stuff like this:
52% of all web page visits, including repeat visits, are shorter than 10 seconds. Almost 50% of visits to new pages are less than 12 seconds. Not Quite the Average: An Empirical Study of Web Use
The other 50%? Not a whole lot better, and made up of lots of people leaving their browsers open while they do other things like take showers. So what are people doing if they aren’t reading your shit? Basically here’s what happens when someone loads something that has words on it:
Looks like a toddler went batshit in some spaghetti. But no. It’s a graph of a ton of aggregate data that tracks eye movement on webpages. If this picture had a caption, it would be: People aren’t reading your shit. In fact, they are barely scanning it. They are looking at anything that is either big, colorful or moving and then they are looking for the next place to click. If you study users at all, you will quickly find out something fundamental about people: They hate to read, but boy, do they love to click shit.
Simple lesson: Stop writing things for people who read. Start writing things for people who don’t read.
Now I hope you’re ready for some more knowledge to get dropped on you. Here it is.
People Want to Get Shit Done
There are only four reasons why people do anything on the internet:
- Fix shit that is broken
- Do shit that already works better *
- Stalk people
- Acquire sex, music or television **
* “faster” is part of “better”
** “food” is covered under the category “sex”
Good news: these things provide the only incentive there could possibly be for anyone to read your stuff in even the half-assed way that typifies “reading” online. (In language theory, we have a fancy word for half-assed called ‘satisficing’. It’s a combination of ‘satisfy’ and ‘suffice’. Amazing.)
Here’s where it gets rough. The Golden Rule of Users (people want to complete TASKS) is in conflict with the Golden Rule of Reading (people don’t want to read), even though you usually have to Read in order to Complete a Task. We can express the resulting behavior in the following graph, where “Pain of the Status Quo” refers to a.) how painful the broken shit is b.) how painful the shit that sortof works is c.) how strong the desire to stalk people or d.) how extreme the compulsion to acquire sex, music or television.
As the graph clearly shows, there is a point at which the pain of reading your
# Ruby gem documentation shit grows so unbearably painful that it
doesn’t matter how much original pain or desire I’m in, I’m going to stop
reading it. Guess what? This threshold is way, way lower than you think.
In summary, your writing only has two possible goals: 1.) Convincing people that your stuff can help them do something they want to do AKA intensifying the pain and desire of the status quo 2.) Give them what they need to finish the job AKA sate the pain and desire of the status quo.
And you must do this WITHOUT making them ragequit (see: Point at Which It Does Not Fucking Matter how Bad the Status Quo Is).
Minor Lesson: Pain and desire. A necessary part of every unhealthy relationship. And you know. reading.
Major Lesson: Your writing must help people get shit done while allowing them to read as little as humanly possible.
I know by now you’ve reached the only logical conclusion there is to reach, which is.
There is never any reason good enough to merit writing a press release.
No seriously. STOP THE MADNESS.
*** thanks to @solidsnack for fixing my dyslexia in this post.