Thoughts on Links

Warning: This post isn’t about Apple per se. Background I started Apple Spotlight many years ago as a Twitter account. I read a lot about Apple and tech, and Twitter turned out to be an easy place for me to share what I found interesting, type tiny bits of commentary, and post tips (although I don’t share tips as often these days). As Apple Spotlight grew, readers encouraged me to expand. I finally gave in to fate and this website was born a few months ago (for more on why it took so long, see my related post "How to create a WordPress site in 1825 days”).

The Issue When I launched the site, I knew that I would face a difficult decision - how to share links on Twitter. I suspect that a big reason why Apple Spotlight had become popular on Twitter was because it linked directly to good stuff. Readers didn’t click on a link just to land on a page that essentially said, “You should read this. Click again."

The Link-blog (skip if you know what this means) Like other popular tech websites, is essentially a link-blog. On a given day 10 posts might look something like this:

  • 7 posts that link to articles on other sites - with no or very little additional value added
  • 2 posts that link to articles on other sites - with added value such as commentary or related links
  • 1 original post

The Link-Blog Twitter Problem Most link-blogs treat Twitter as a RSS feed (it's actually worse since only the headline is fed). When new posts appear on the website, the headline and link is tweeted. It’s easy as this is typically automated, and it drives a lot of traffic to the website. Unfortunately, it often isn't a great reader experience. Specifically, for posts that are links with little or no added value, it looks like this to the reader:

Tweet with link > website with link > article

The website is simply a step that gets in the middle of the reader and the content.

The Value of Curation Let me pause here to say that I place a high value on curation. Good human curation is time-consuming hard work, and it’s increasingly valuable in our noisy online world. Many of my favorite bloggers are good curators, have link-blogs, and are treating Twitter as an RSS feed. It’s helping them drive the visitor and pageview numbers that help them make a living from advertisers and sponsors (yes, even ‘sponsored’ sites need pageviews). That's important.

My Experiment So how would I tweet links for link-blog style posts? During the early weeks of this site, I experimented with three options for sharing links on Twitter:

  1. Link to (like most link-blogs)
  2. Two links in each tweet - one to the original article and one to
  3. Link to original article or when value is added (commentary, related links, etc.)

What I Found Here's what I found for each option:

  1. As expected, option one drove a lot more traffic to the site compared to the other options. I gave it a good run, but ultimately it just didn’t feel right for me.
  2. I had high hopes for option number two (I’m still having a hard time letting go of this option). Logically, it offers a nice middle ground. But it seems more complex for readers, like I’m asking readers to do I a job that I should be doing for them.
  3. Simply put, option three feels right (although the verdict is open on how sustainable this can be if, for example, I would like Apple Spotlight to help put food on the table).

So that’s how I’m handling links on Twitter for now. It’s a little more work, and it drives less traffic. But ultimately ... it just feels right.

Note: To clarify, everything I post on is also posted on Twitter and vice versa. Same for the RSS feed.