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programming and human factors

The Field of Dreams Strategy

We have a tendency to fetishize audience metrics in the IT industry. Presenters stress out about about their feedback ratings and measure themselves by how many attendees they can attract for a presentation. Bloggers obsessively track their backlinks, pagerank, and traffic numbers. I see it a lot, and it's strange to me. I don't chase those numbers. I couldn't even tell you how many readers I have, or what my presentation ratings were. I don't mean to sound glib, but I don't care. Audience metrics aren't the reason I write, and they aren't the reason I present. They're incidental.

Conan O'Brien made an interesting observation in a recent interview when asked about his audience:

There's a temptation to overthink the whole thing. I've had a Field Of Dreams philosophy to this: If you build it, they will come. I still have no idea.

Baseball Field

I don't look at research. I don't look at who's watching, or when they're watching. I've never been interested in any of that. I'm interested in doing what I think is funny. For the last 13 years, that seems to have worked for me. If I go to 11:30 and do what I think is funny, and someone comes and tells me it isn't getting enough people in the tent, I'd say, "Well, that's all I can do." If I'm looking at spreadsheets and time-lapse studies of viewing patterns, I think I'm wasting my time. What I should be worried about the first night I host The Tonight Show is, "How can I make this a funny show?" The second night, "All right, let's make another funny show doing some different stuff." You do it one show at a time. And if you're lucky, eight years later, you've alienated a nation.

Similarly, Rob Caron once commented:

The day I care about keeping my blog readers happy is the day I'll stop blogging. Who needs the added stress?

There's certainly value in audience metrics. But it's easy to overanalyze, too. Instead of obsessing over who does and doesn't link to you, concentrate on writing a blog entry you'd like to read. Instead of worrying about audience feedback, focus on delivering a presentation you'd like to attend.

You should trust your gut more than any metrics. Build it, and they will come.

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: http://twitter.com/codinghorror