Is it wise spending our time writing for *other* sites?

I’ve been contributing to the Q&A site Quora a lot lately, and it’s pretty neat. I’ve posed questions, answered questions, edited stuff, voted on a lot of answers, and so on.  And in a broader sense, like many of us, I’ve also spent probably hundreds of hours in the aggregate answering questions on Aardvark, posting often rather detailed comments on others’ blogs, giving detailed assistance in various topical forums, writing reviews on Amazon and Hotpot, and so on.  And this got me to thinking…

How does all this compare with the volume of commentary and information I’ve contributed to my own web sites, including this blog and  Ack! Let’s just say that the imbalance is at least initially rather shocking and depressing.

Nearly all of my words… shared not in my cyberhome, but everywhere else?!  At the end of the day, what do I have to show for this, other than a widely scattered smattering of AdamBits here and there, just blips on the planets of giants and potentially-future-giants?

Yet… all of those other sites clearly offer a lot of value, or I and millions of others wouldn’t be spending so much time, contributing so much of our knowledge and so many of our (hopefully useful) opinions to them, right?  Indeed.  Among other benefits, we get…

  • Recs:  Oft-improved (personalized) recommendations based upon our input
  • Visibility:  Seen by interesting / important / attractive people who might be impressed by our brilliant commentary :p
    • …and, more seriously, seen a lot more people than when we post on our own, much less popular blogs
    • …and from the exposure, sometimes extra contract work or even full-time job offers
  • More time to write:  Freed from having to maintain / structure / security-update our own self-hosted site
  • Less friction:  The opportunity to offer contributions in handy little bite-sized chunks (whereas writing even a single blog post can be hard work and take a long time!)
  • Good karma:  A happy feeling from widely sharing our knowledge and opinions with others who are likely to be specifically interested in such topics.  My post reviewing a specific Zürich hotel on my own web site?  Maybe 25 people have seen it.  Had I posted the same review on TripAdvisor, for instance, I bet it would have gotten at least 10-20x the views (and thus helped more people).
In a nutshell, contributing our thoughts on someone else’s site is easy, painless, and often philanthropic in a way.

So what are we giving up by posting elsewhere instead of aggregating our expertise on our own sites? (for the sake of argument, I’m assuming it’s too cumbersome to successfully do both)

  • Ad revenue.
  • Stats/analytics:  More detailed insights into the popularity of our writings.
  • Longevity of our expressions.  What happens if and when Quora goes away, for instance?  Sure, if they’re nice, they’ll enable us to export our contributions ahead of time, but that data set’ll be largely out of context and frankly not all that usable anymore.  In contrast, by forcing ourselves to write coherent, standalone blog posts, we are the ones in control over our words.  Even if Blogger were to go kaput, I could pretty easily export my posts in advance, and they’d be just as valuable posted on another service.  Even service closures aside, on a well-organized site a piece of expression can remain visible and useful for visitors, whereas a post on Twitter or Facebook, for instance, has a half-life of, hmm, maybe three days?
  • Focus.  When we contribute our thoughts on other sites, we’re more typically reactive… responding to others’ questions, replying on an existing forum thread, etc.  If one were to somehow magically compile all of one’s contributions across the web into a big blog, it’d look like… ugh… long-form twitter! :p.  And while blogs (yes, like mine here) can also be all over the place topically, there are also numerous options for creating a thematic blog or site which can ideally be structured and coherent as a whole.
  • Centralized identity.  There’s something positive to be said about having a single “YouHome” where you can direct prospective employers, new friends, buddies you meet at hostels, etc.  Then again, there’s admittedly also a downside to having a conveniently single place where prospective employers, new friends, and so on can GoogleStalk you.
But oh, the hurdle of creating a self-centralized home of expression!  Before embarking on a blog post, I typically torture myself with the questions: “Is this idea compelling enough?  Do I have time to write it?  Will it fit okay with the recent entries or will I look like a [insert negative descriptor here]?”  For each addition to my web site, there’s the issue of actually creating the .htm page, crafting a title, a meta-description, updating any relevant table-of-contents or side-bar navigation, etc. (I could use a hosted CMS like Google Sites and avoid all the aforementioned process hassles but would have significantly less control over my site, not be able to use javascript on my pages, etc.).
So obviously there’s no right answer here.  But at minimum, we should be contributing to the great interwebs with awareness… at least cognizant of the benefits and disadvantages inherent in either building up someone else’s business with our words or “hoarding” our words in a cyberplace we own.
What do you think?  Are you concerned about the tradeoffs described above?  Have I overlooked any pluses or minuses associated with contributing knowledge other other sites vs. one’s own?


  1. I have set up a FriendFeed account where (almost) all my online activity is aggregated. I have published the link on my homepage so visitors can see where I am hanging and what I am writing – including comments on other sites, like this one I am writing right now.

    I am sure I can take this one step forward and store the feed from FriendFeed on my server.

  2. You’re forgetting that partying only OUTSIDE your home increases the likelihood that you’ll wind up drunk and unable to get home (safely), wake up in some strange bed/bathtub/sewer, and/or really offend someone to the core IN THEIR HOME.

    By throwing certain specific parties in your own place, what you get most of is the freedom to be more fully yourself and get as plastered/crazy as you want, to attract and entertain the crowd of your choosing (more or less), and to be profusely thanked at the most random times by people you didn’t realize were even there, or who were very happy to have that epiphanic conversation with you… that… you… don’t… remember… having.

    All in exchange for trying to get up by noon the next day so that the afternoon of hair-of-the-cleaning-products doesn’t completely sap your will to live.

    As far as cheap goes, if you throw fun parties, the BYOB/B/F factor often leaves you with a net income of beverages and comestibles, if not frilly girl panties (all of which seem to fit you, regardless of the size printed on the label).

    Er, metaphorically speaking, of course.

  3. Nah, the search engines are pretty good about de-indexing dupe content… The real risk is that the Quora posts get prioritized OVER your site, or vice versa in google/bing/arethereothers?, in opposition to your desired outcome.

    That said, there are a million ways to reshare/re-edit content in a way that gives props in both directions… Not to mention that filling in your website info in your Quora profile goes a long way towards solving the problem in one direction, at least…

    What it boils down to, for me, is showing some leadership in your areas of interest. Whether you’re posting local or at someone else’s site, you’re posting – honing your online voice, being interesting (hopefully) and starting to be recognized/respected for what you have to say. That kind of power has amazing “real world” crossover potential.

    On a more technical level, by dispersing your content across sites/niches, you’re increasing the fault tolerance of your opinions and personal expression. You’re behaving in a manner consistent with the original design premise of the Internet itself! Nothing wrong with that!

  4. Great post. It’s interesting content presented thoughtfully. Thanks for contributing so much to and Aardvark. These sites blow me away and give me hope for society. And without people like you contributing they’d be non-existent.
    I don’t contribute to other sites often enough and I really should. This post inspires me to, thanks!
    (Also, I saw you work for Google. Neat! I want to work there one day 😛 [I’m Canadian though so I think I’d have to prove I was better for the job than anyone else in the States, which sounds insane.])
    Anyways, thanks for the post.

  5. Agreed. I think the contributing to other blogs adds that extra dimension to your writing expertise. I know i had started to feel quite stagnant and repetitive, so i go about writing here and there or contributing to sites in form of detailed comments, etc. I know it gives more exposure but many think to the contrary.

  6. To much time can be spent on writing on other sites. but unfortunately it has to be done in order to improve a sites PR. How now your can use SEO Services to create content and distribute it out for you. While all the time you gain the rewards. Great post good information thanks.

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