One-man band content curation: my pains and gains
Some thoughts on running a more effective curation website
Almost 2 months ago I launched Interfaces.pro, the platform making a search for practical UI inspiration a little bit easier. The concept evolved from a spreadsheet with a bunch of categorized links into a curation project with some ambitions.
As a person responsible for almost every product aspect I’ve learnt a lot in these 2 months. Getting into curating may look like a walk in the park. But if you jump straight into the action, things can get complicated. I was happy to easily deal with problems I spot at ideation or design stages, but as it turned out there was plenty of room for better preparation.
So in this article I’m sharing a few tips and recommendations on how to start and manage a content curation website with less stress and more fun.
1. Get started before getting started
Laser guided delivery of HQ content to the right audience is the cornerstone of curation. So first of all consider focusing on content, building core audience and boosting reach. As for the rest, what could be automated, should be automated. Automate uploading, posting, sharing and other content manipulations to the deepest possible level. Every monkey job badly hurts your effectiveness and gets under the skin pretty quickly. This is where you may want to come up with a thorough description of each step in your content ‘production’ chain. Start with high-level ideas and dig deeper. Shortly you may get to something like this:
- Go to reallygoodemails.com
- Scan posts added no longer than X days ago
- Have Pomodoro timer set for X minutes
- Add selected posts to Pocket favorites
- Add favorited Pocket posts to Buffer queue via Zapier
As soon as the pipeline gets testable — rush to the real battlefield. Consider using a secondary or disposable email to play with those SaaS trials and get your inbox protected from marketing bombardments.
Some mechanisms may fail to work, e.g. you may simply not know you cannot post to Instagram via its API. Some ideas may look great on paper, but in reality leave much to be desired. My pain was to find out that no screenshot API is good enough to guarantee ≈80% success rate for bulk tasks out of the box. In some cases you may even realize that the concept requires way more or too much effort to be implemented and/or maintained. Sometimes not getting started is the right thing to do.
Finally, mapping the whole process in details means discovery: new ideas, solutions, instruments and more. This is how I found Juicer, a service allowing to create a social stream from multiple media in literally minutes. Functionally it covers 95% of what I need to launch another curation project, which means huge time and money savings.
Discover, learn, test and don’t rush the process too much. You are laying a foundation that has to be made of solid, reliable solutions. According to Karl Wiegers, business analysis evangelist, 80% of rework and 50% of project defects can be traced to requirement errors. So gathering your requirements thoroughly and testing them early will help you minimize those risks.
2. Curating on a budget? DIY or think twice
Curating web content for a living may not be the best idea. In reality even keeping it profitable could be hard. Here’s an example: the easiest way to get some coins from Interfaces.pro is to throw in relevant, non-intrusive ads. Carbon Ads, a prominent niche ad network, estimates the earnings of a newly joined partner at $60 — $90 per month for 60k pageviews. With that said to earn ≈75 bucks your Analytics must hit ≈2k sessions/daily. I doubt it will cover hosting and all those SaaS subscriptions you cannot do away with. Of course, there’s a ton of more sophisticated ways to make it more profitable. But all this requires time and effort. Can you REALLY afford it? Vicious circle may close here for many. So as long as you are not absolutely serious about making it your life’s priority, consider doing all the work yourself.
At Interfaces.pro I had hard times hiring a developer. Not only because of expenses, but also because of time burdens and things you have no control over. One of the web dev companies I hired spent a week on moving pixels and giving promises they are only warming up. One more week passes, no miracles happen. I also tried working with 5 different content managers—all of them had pretty high ratings at Upwork. No luck: the overall effectiveness of outsourced labour was going through the floor. Hiring on a budget, you have to take into account many factors:
- A search for a truly decent candidate can take weeks or even months; plus time difference could be a huge issue.
- On average you will have to deal with so-so talent, oftentimes lacking motivation.
- As a rule, you will have to create specs, do a lot of micromanagement and QA.
- Your maximalism and pixel perfection will almost inevitably lead to higher expenses.
- The project becomes more dependent on inconsistent freelance labour.
So unless you don’t have a teammate or a reliable person to delegate tasks to, taking care of everything on your own could be a wise way to go. Squarespace, Webflow, IFTTT, Curata, Product Hunt… it’s 2017—there’s a zillion of tools to arm with. The odds to setup everything on your own are pretty good, but it takes a lot of time, and importantly, patience.
3. Test your sources
Discovery is an integral process of content curation at Interfaces.pro. I do have a bunch of go-to resources, but all in all discovery is still kind of chaotic. It turned out that my curation criteria (high traffic, recognizable brand, innovative product, UI design quality and etc.) limited my choices. After 2–3 weeks of gathering content I started realizing I need more effort to stick to posting schedule without a loss of quality. So consider gathering content for a while to see if the selected sources offer sufficient quantity/quality, and if not, see if discovering new ones is doable. In some cases discovery may turn out to be more complicated then you imagined.
4. Watch who likes you
Sometimes nice opportunities are low hanging fruits. Marketing is a huge topic, so let me just focus on one tiny thing that proved to show nice results. I’ve been reaching out to people that appreciated what we do on Twitter, and roughly every 10th outreach had something more for me. I grew my network and connected with lots of interesting people from all over the world. I’ve managed to get free buzz in relevant social media channels in South-Eastern Asia and Europe. Some people moved Interfaces.pro to featured sections of their websites for no cost which immediately generated more traffic. I’ve met a person who has been sending plenty of bug reports for a while. There will be more I’m pretty much sure.
So here’s a tiny trick that can make this kind of outreach easier:
1. Share new Twitter mentions/keywords in Slack.
2. Set the time to scan the channel.
3. Reach out to people/organizations that like you.
4. If they reply, do a brief research on their activities to see if there’s anything you can propose/ask for.
5. It’s also OK to say you are looking for ways to get more buzz and ask if there’s anything you can work out together.
5. Be ready for the storm
When Interfaces.pro was featured as Editor’s Pick at muz.li, it was a deep night in San Diego, I couldn’t imagine the site is going down. The database just didn’t manage to handle the load, plus we failed to properly configure caching. The website was down for around 12 hours and we had some minor issues in the next few days. Well, doesn’t look like the end of the world.
However, hiring to fight the fire meant rush fees and rushed solutions. And realizing that 90% of subscribers and a large portion of mentions came in less than 48 hours of muz.li hype… The admin I hired to resolve our issues suggested to use this article as a checklist for performance optimization in future. As far as you can reasonably go with optimizing your setup for high loads, go for it.
Hope some of the thoughts I shared appear to be useful. I’m also excited to hear about your fails, wins and thoughts on curating content — it’s comments time! :)