No Niche

There’s a nice email service called Refind that sends a few links to interesting web articles every morning. It’s a nice broad discovery mechanism, being something of a substitute for some of the links I used to find on Twitter.

This morning, this discussion of website niche development had me thinking:

The perils of niching down:

The most ubiquitous piece of advice in the creator economy is to niche down. Immerse yourself in one subculture. Pick a topic. Own it. Specialize. Become known for one thing.

This advice is everywhere because in many ways, it works. Internet media is noisy and competitive, and it’s easier to earn attention when your work is hyper-specialized. When you’re focused on a single subculture or topic, marketing and monetization become more controllable and predictable. If your goal is to create things online, and earn a living in a somewhat reliable fashion, niching down is a smart bet.

I’ve always felt a pull to make this site more focused to build some kind of audience outside of my internet friends and those who come here through a handful of search terms that I happen to rank high on at Google, but stick to the idea that it’s my personal online journal and just reflects my current set of interests, reflected here more or less as time permits.

Interesting to read then:

Over the last few years, I’ve met a surprising number of creators who were outwardly successful, with thriving businesses, but who felt trapped and resentful. They followed all the best practices, niched down, created what they thought their audience wanted, etc. And while it often “worked” for generating income, it rarely resulted in them feeling alive, authentic, connected, free. In fact, it led to the opposite. A feeling of deadness, disconnection from self and others, and a perceived loss of agency and freedom.

I’ve written before how I prefer to read reports of tools and techniques by those who use them in a real way for real purposes. So much of this web niching leads to a kind of navel gazing where the tools are used only for the purpose of posting about the tools. Every time a writer I enjoy quits the day job to run their site, I know that in not too long I’ll lose anything but cursory interest. Since I’ve been working on my photography lately, I’ll point to people like Thom Hogan who runs a big site, writes great books, but is a working photographer both leading trips- where he works too and doing commercial work. So too we get the insights of Vincent Versace and Greg Williams both of whom produces their own personal and commercial work. I admire the work and technique, so take the advice seriously.

It seems to me that the passion to create can’t get subsumed in the marketing and meta-talk about the creating. At its heart is the work and Rob Hardy is right that at the heart of creativity is the freedom to pursuit the paths that the work suggests, not service an audience you’ve created in the short term. It is indeed a long game.

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