Coding Horror

programming and human factors

Maximizing The Value of Your Keystrokes

I met Jon Udell this year at MIX. I was reading through his excellent blog to flesh out some of the topics we talked about, when I was struck by the powerful message of this particular entry:

When people tell me they're too busy to blog, I ask them to count up their output of keystrokes. How many of those keystrokes flow into email messages? Most. How many people receive those email messages? Few. How many people could usefully benefit from those messages, now or later? More than a few, maybe a lot more.

From this perspective, blogging is a communication pattern that optimizes for the amount of awareness and influence that each keystroke can possibly yield. Some topics, of course, are necessarily private and interpersonal. But a surprising amount of business communication is potentially broader in scope. If your choice is to invest keystrokes in an email to three people, or in a blog entry that could be read by those same three people plus more -- maybe many more -- why not choose the latter? Why not make each keystroke work as hard as it can?

hands blurred, typing on a keyboard

[converting an email to a blog entry] can have powerful network effects. To exploit them, you have to realize that the delivery of a message, and the notification of delivery, do not necessarily coincide. Most of the time, in email, they do. The message is both notification and payload. But a message can also notify and point to a payload which is available to the recipient but also to other people and processes in other contexts. That arrangement costs hardly any extra keystrokes, and hardly any extra time. But it's an optimization that can radically expand influence and awareness.

I covered similar ground in When In Doubt, Make It Public, but Jon's entry is even more compelling. It's a specific example of how you can adapt your behavior to have a much broader impact. What Jon's describing happens to me all the time. I'll be in the middle of composing an email when I suddenly realize that there's no reason to silo this information in a private email exchange. I convert that email into a blog entry. Now, anyone who is interested in the topic can find it and have a public conversation with me-- and everyone else-- about it.

The next time you find yourself typing more than a few sentences on your keyboard, stop and ask: are you maximizing the value of your keystrokes?

Written by Jeff Atwood

Indoor enthusiast. Co-founder of Stack Exchange and Discourse. Disclaimer: I have no idea what I'm talking about. Find me here: