Secret projects

I have a secret project.

I mean, it’s not really secret. It’s just that no one knows where it is. I’ve decided not to tell anyone about it, because it’s a long term thing and I haven’t figured out whether I have the stamina for it.

It feels weird, because all the effort I put into it before it’s live will be completely irrelevant by the time anyone sees it. A big part of me wants to abide by the “just ship it” mantra and get something out there. After all, putting things out there for everyone to see is generally big motivator to keep doing them. I mean, I doubt I’d still be writing this site if it was kept in a leather-bound journal in my desk drawer.

At the same time I wish I’d done this for much more projects. It’s challenging, but there are some definite benefits to it.

Joy is the flag

Have you ever had a project that started out as fun but gradually became less and less enjoyable to the point that it was more work than play? That’s happened to me a few times, and the inevitable result is that it languishes. In fact I’d bet that’s how a majority of blogs die. How many of your friends have started a blog only to follow something like this pattern:

  1. Week 1: a good number of posts, mostly discussing what’s going to be discussed in future

  2. Week 2: less posts, but one longish one that’s been brewing for a few months.

  3. Week 3: one post, a picture of a cat with writing on it.

  4. Then a couple of years, punctuated by posts every 3–6 months apologizing for “not posting recently”.

  5. Silence.

I think what happens here is pretty obvious. Something changed between Week 1 and Week 3. Maybe they gradually had less and less time. Maybe they just ran out of ideas. I think the most likely thing that happened was this: it got less fun.

I’ve generally found a week with something is long enough to let me know if the fun is going to leak out of it over time, or if it’ll continue to bring me joy.

A thing for its own sake

The other big benefit to keeping something private for a while is the insight that can be gained from an unobstructed, unbiased view. As soon as you put something out there, the temptation to start focusing on statistics begins to mount. With online projects, I’ve found it’s surprisingly difficult to not want to write what’s going to get clicks.

If you take away the clicks, you can get an idea of direction and tone that’s much less biased towards getting page views, and more biased towards the creation of something with lasting, worthwhile value.

Sometimes it’s better not to ship as soon as possible…