You don’t need to be first

I remember an idea I had when I was in my early twenties. I had just finished university and armed with a shiny certificate and just enough ability to write terrible web apps I came up with the idea for a new site which would allow for reviews of tradespeople.

I worked on building sites for six months in my teens so I had some experience of that world and I was fully aware of the power that a simple recommendation could provide. There are so many horror stories of bodging builders that if someone you trust can provide an honest review for one, chances are that’s who’ll you’ll go for.

The web app in question would allow for users to post verified reviews of builders, electricians, plumbers etc. There would be no cost to the reviewers, instead, revenue would be generated by the tradespeople who would have to pay to be listed on the site.

That was about as far as I got thinking through the concept because I then went on Google and found at least two other sites who were already set up and claiming to achieve the same or similar things. I didn’t look particularly closely because I thought I’d had an original idea, and was crushed to find out it had already been done.

Except in hindsight, it hadn’t. Thinking back, neither site functioned exactly how I thought they should. I gave up not because I didn’t think I could do a better job of the concept. I gave up just because the concept was already out there.

I hadn’t thought about this until recently when a couple of things happened. First, I heard an interview with a now-famous TikToker who claimed that no one would ever be able replicate the way that she’d found success. That struck me as arrogant and a bit deluded.

The second was that upon finishing Clarkson’s Farm, I had the idea for a site that would allow people to search for local farm shops and independent produce sellers. I immediately repeated my trick of several years ago and fired up Google to find out if this idea had also been taken. Alas, I found it had, with multiple sites claiming to list the farm shops in question.

But as I resigned myself to being unoriginal for life, I remembered something. Specifically, I remembered Bebo. Do you remember Bebo? Funnily enough it is back, at least in a closed beta (send me an invite?) Bebo was the first social network I was on, although it was launched a full two years after MySpace. From what I can recall, it had most if not all of the same features as Facebook. I remember posting images, commenting on them, and interacting with friends in similar ways. And yet Facebook.

Bebo officially launched a year after Facebook, but I remember it being incredibly popular in the UK. And even before that we had MSN Messenger, which was effectively a desktop version of WhatsApp. But in the case of Bebo, MySpace, and MSN Messenger, being first, was not particularly the be all and end all.

There are lots of reasons why these different social networking tools failed. Ultimately though, it comes down to the fact that being first is not always as important as being better. What Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and now TikTok have gotten right, is that they’ve simply built better tools. They’ve also marketed themselves better, positioned themselves better, and prioritised better.

So what does that mean for my ideas…and yours? Well, only fools rush in for sure. But what you can take away from these lessons from the recent past is that just because it’s already been done, doesn’t mean you can’t too it too. Just do it…better.

To Script or Not To Script

I’m two months in to creating videos for my YouTube channel. It’s been a great experience, and one that’s prompting me to learn a whole load of new skills not just specific to YouTube.

Before I started filming my own videos, I consumed quite a lot of content and learnt as much as I could without paying for any expensive courses. Whilst I’d filmed and edited video for work previously, I was aware that YouTube was a different game, and I wanted to produce content from the off that I wouldn’t be overly disappointed in a few months down the line.

Something I was particularly interested in learning was the end to end process that the YouTubers I particularly enjoy watching use to create their videos. I was fortunate that Marquees Brownlee released his SkillShare course around the time I was looking to get started, and while over 50% of what he said wasn’t applicable to someone without so much as a DSLR to their name, the fact that he chooses to fully script his videos was really interesting to me. Most creators I had watched up until that point mainly filmed their A-Roll based off of rough notes or outlines of what they wanted to say.

Now, I enjoy watching content from creators who work via both methods. It seems that there is a bit of a trade off between the more casual, informal style of the outliners, and the professional, compact presentations of the scriptwriters. Now, my slots to do the actual filming of videos is limited to time outside of my day job and when I have the house to myself. One of the difficulties with this is when an opportunity presents itself to film a video and I haven’t finished my script.

With this in mind, I decided to try filming a video without a script. I had one particular topic in mind on which I am comfortable talking about without much prior research, and I knew the three main points I wanted to make during the course of the video. I created an outline which consisted of those three points and three subpoints, fired up my camera, and hit record.

I had expected to find this method less stressful. But surprisingly, I found it just created different problems throughout the process. The actual recording time was a bit quicker certainly. I tend to want to stick to my script quite rigidly and so end up doing multiple takes of each paragraph. A seven minute video usually takes me about 20-30 minutes to record as a result. Using the outline method meant that this was effectively halved down to fifteen minutes. Interestingly the actual length of the video itself once edited, was very similar to my scripted videos.

However, I still found the recording process just as stressful, but in a different way. Whereas my current inability to remember my script and consistently deliver it as I want to is annoying, when using an outline I found that I was just as concerned, if not more so, that I simply wasn’t providing enough value in my content.

See, while writing a script is time-consuming, when it comes time to actually sit down and record it, it’s comforting to know at least that the content you’re delivering has been properly thought through. Yes editing out multiple takes is frustrating, but it’s preferable to what I found happened when following an outline, which is that I ended up saying things that I had to edit out because they simply weren’t correct.

So, for me at least, I’ll be sticking with a script for the foreseeable future. It means that I can be sure that I’m happy with the value of my content, and hopefully my ability to deliver it succinctly and with fewer takes will only improve! It’s also a good way of improving my writing, and at the very least I guess it means I can say I have experience with scriptwriting. 🙂

Remember to Like

I remember giving a talk several years ago where I talked about the different types of people on social media.

Of all of these personalities, the one I most identified with as defined in the linked article was ‘The Listener’. For most of my life, this is how I’ve interacted with social media content. Very rarely liking or responding to other’s posts, and my own content was even more scarce.

Bear in mind that I’ve been using social media since the early days of MSN Messenger, MySpace, and Bebo, and that’s a lot of content I’ve consumed, but never voiced my appreciation. Now, my aunts and uncles are probably not too bothered and to be honest, their content is not usually worth the time. But looking back, I do regret not showing my appreciation for the creators that I regularly enjoyed.

As someone who is now continually creating content, I know the value of feeling appreciated. Every single like, retweet, and comment is meant to provide a shot of dopamine I know, but more than that, they can be used as markers to improve the quality of my work. Whilst I know the importance of producing content that I enjoy creating, the feedback gleaned from social media once that content has been published is invaluable. When particular posts perform well or poorly, you get to ask why, learn from it, and move on to the next one.

But the value of liking content is not just for the creator, but also for the consumer. If you actually like content purposefully and follow creators who you consistent like, it allows you to build an understanding of what you as a consumer like. This benefits you in two ways:

First, it improves your online experience. As I’ve intentionally followed photographers, filmmakers, tech creators, and industry experts across a variety of fields, I’ve found it a great place to learn, expand my horizons, and get better at curation itself. At the beginning, I was regularly following people I would later unfollow after finding that I actually only liked one of their several thousands posts. Now, I can judge an Instagram grid, Twitter feed, or YouTube video in a few seconds and know whether this is someone I want to invest my time in.

Second, it makes you a better creator. As you curate your feed to show you content you love, it inspires you to create, and it informs you what you should create. Visualize Value showed me a style of graphic design I would love to emulate, Oliur produces product photography that makes me want to buy everything, and Luke Stackpoole takes landscapes photos that inspire me to pick up a camera every day. This makes these social media apps as much of a learning platform for me as an entertainment portal, which is exactly what I want to get out of all the content I consume online.

So do me a favour, the next time you appreciate something: take a second to smash that like button, comment, and subscribe.