My Top Stories of 2019-2020

Cybertruck, Apple’s M1 chip and the Godot Game Engine where all topics that was popular with my readers these past two years.

I though I’d do a little overview and discussion of the Medium stories I wrote this year and last year that turned out most popular:

  1. Why is Apple’s M1 Chip So Fast? This was the big one. By far my most popular story for me this year. I tried to unpack the microprocessor jargon for the average technology interested reader.

I have published over 600 stories on Medium over the years, but it is really just these last two years where I have seen an uptick in readership. After my M1 story broke all my previous records, I thought it was time to reflect a bit upon what lead me to finally have some success with my writing. Perhaps advice to others writing on Medium who wonder how you capture people’s interest.

I will not claim I have cracked that nut yet, but I have over the years start to see a pattern. What is it that people really like reading. What is common for all the stories that have gotten popular?

My biggest success have always seemed to be about popularizing complicated topics people are interested in. Whether people are interested in Cybertruck, SpaceX rockets, RISC and CISC processors or Apple’s M1 system on a chip, there is always a lot of information out there but often not very easily accessible.

What I write about is actually topics I want to learn myself. So for instance the M1 story came into existence because I wanted to understand why the M1 chip was so fast. Thus I began reading the more technical articles as well as look at discussions between people who seemed to live and breath CPU design. You are not always going to understand what you read and so there will be a lot of googling. That is where the value in writing is. I knew a lot of people wanted to know the same things as me, but they didn’t want to jump around between 5 different articles and read several online discussions to get a clear picture. And thus the M1 story was really a distillation of all that information. The goal was for people to sit and read the story from beginning to end while sipping their morning coffee or evening beer. I don’t know what you guys do…. honestly. I enjoy diet coke in the evening.

Anyway that means one cannot fill an article with endless abbreviations people have to look up such as CPU, SoC, OoO, TDP, ROB, μops and so on. Sadly that is too many stories are like.

The Cybertruck story was very similar. I watched a bunch of youtube videos by actual mechanical engineers explaining how the truck was constructed and what advantages that gave. Then I had to try to read up on how car making actually works. What are the expensive processes.

And an important point I have seen whether writing and Cybertruck, M1 or RISC microprocessors, is that people want to know why things are different today. Such as why didn’t somebody make something like the Cybertruck before? Why is Apple making an SoC, why not Intel e.g? Answering questions like that is an important part of getting the full story. You got to dig in the history. For instance why was the DMC DeLorean a failure which also used stainless steel like the Cybertruck. Why did not more companies use that?

When you try to tell readers about something being smart. They are going to want to ask you: If it is so smart, why haven’t everybody already done it?

You got a similar story with RISC processors. You talk about all the advantages, but then people are going to want to know why Intel bulldozed all the RISC companies in the 1990s and left them all for dead. Why will things be different this time?

Thus this is the pattern I see for successful stories. It is not just about explaining the technology, but it also often about putting it in context and going down memory lane. Looking the the history. What does history tell us?

The Many Paths to Success

I would still not say I have success at Medium, I am just really getting started, and maybe this will just be a fluke. Who knows. But earlier I remember reading one of my favorite authors on Medium Indi Samarajiva who actually has real success writing. He wrote about writing viral stories.

Looking back at his receipt for success is highly ironic now that I had my first story getting some major traction. Indi wrote about how he really polished his articles to make them perfect. And honestly it shows. I am envious. Unfortunately I am quite sloppy about how I write. I am just doing this for fun, and pouring over my writing again and again to perfect it would drain all the fun out of it.

I actually just start hammering out words, and don’t really look back. In fact the Apple M1 article was just hammered out fairly quickly initially, with some breaks because I got sick of the whole thing. In fact I kind of hated the whole story after I was done. I just clicked published because I did not want it hanging over me.

I thought I had made the story way too long. That I wasn’t getting to the key points quickly enough. That the whole thing was all over the place. That I spent far too much time on heterogenous computing, which I wasn’t sure was all that important to talk about.

Next I thought nobody is really going to get my explanation of Out-of-Order execution. I was certain I needed to make an illustration. But I was too lazy to make one. But I still hope to make a proper drawing to show how it works.

But it I guess it turns out sometimes you can be too hard on yourself. As the story got some traction, I decided to go over it again. Reread it and fix up the worst stuff. If a lot people start reading you don’t want to be embarrassed by a mess. Thus I actually refined the story several times later as people started reading it more. Thus in a way I guess I did a lazy version of what Indi did from the start. But at least I eventually managed to convince myself that in fact the story was quite decent after all.

Sometimes the best way to convince yourself that something is good is not focus on how good you think your writing is, because a lot of us will simply never be convinced that we do any good writing. Rather you only really have to convince yourself that everybody else who wrote about the same topic as you that you have read, did a worse job. Sometimes it is just about being the least bad.

Perhaps this is just my a product of me being a Norwegian. After all we have this made up stupid law in all of Scandinavia called “the Law of Jante.” It is basically a fictitious law, mocking some of the uncharming traits of Scandinavian mentality. The law says: “Don’t think you are anything special. Don’t think you are better than the rest of us.” While I think all of us Scandinavians really hate that mentality, we cannot seem to quite escape it.

So that is kind of my advice. Just keep writing. Enjoy writing and don’t give yourself a too hard time. Just publish and if you are Scandinavian just ignore the stupid law of Jante. If you can’t just tell yourself that even if your stuff is crap, what the others make is even worse 😜

Okay, remind me to not ever be a motivational speaker. Hire the American instead. They got the “believe in yourself” thing down.

Geek dad, living in Oslo, Norway with passion for UX, Julia programming, science, teaching, reading and writing.

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