2020 in reviewJanuary 1, 2021
Writing a year-in-review post just hits different this time around, huh? 2020 was a dumpster-fire year in many ways, but not in every way.
This year I spent more time with my family than I have since high school. I explored new neighborhoods in San Francisco on foot, falling in love with new corners of the city along the way. And I was fortunate – in every sense of the word – to be employed, working safely from home, with interesting problems to solve.
This was also a successful year, professionally. We built a lot of fun software at GitHub, I wrote more on this blog than I expected, I iterated regularly on this personal site (Bookmarks, AMA, HN, Stack), and recorded Design Details weekly. In December we retired Spec.fm, and I began working on a new interview side project, Staff Design.
I learned a lot this year: socially, politically, economically, professionally, and personally. In this way, 2020 hasn't been all bad.
Thematically, 2020 was Being Online. My screen time shot up dramatically, I lost myself on Twitter, Reddit, and YouTube. In the summer, I dropped all side projects and played more video games than I have in many years. I watched more TV and movies than I have before, read less than in years past, and doom-scrolled political news in an unhealthy way throughout October and November.
So I want to change these behaviors this year. Not specifically, but generally. The best way I can frame this is in terms of a ratio:
2021 is the year of creating, focused on improving my ratio of creation to consumption.
Moving a ratio, rather than moving some concrete number (like reading x books, or writing y posts), feels correct.
I rebuilt my personal website last December, and somehow managed to keep iterating and writing regularly through 2020. For people working on their own personal sites, I thought it could be useful to share a few things I've learned:
- Standalone pages dramatically outperform my blog posts. This year I wrote a lot of posts, but also published several standalone pages like /bookmarks, /ama, /stack, /hn, and /about. These unique pages seem to have the highest ratio of views to visitors – in other words, they are pages that people seem to check repeatedly over time. In contrast, my blog posts run much closer to a 1:1 views:visitors ratio.
- I'm still figuring out what people want to read. The most popular post I wrote last year was my primer on investing for designers and developers. That makes me happy, I really enjoyed writing that one! Otherwise, there seems to be an inverse relationship between my favorite posts and the ones that are read most frequently. For example, my Tailwind CSS first-impressions post was the third most-viewed post I wrote this year, yet it took the least effort to write. My takeaway isn't to write more first-impression posts. No, it's just that page views are a crappy heuristic for value, and it's okay if my favorite writing doesn't resonate most widely.
- Make content a conversation. With a little sprinkle of JS and a database, it's possible to make a personal website interactive. For me, it's adding the little heart counts on bookmarks and AMA answers. It's also the feedback form underneath each blog post, or the recommendations request at the bottom of my Stack. I've heard from so many people through these forms, received critique, positive feedback, and discovered typos or grammatical errors. I want to make this website more of a conversation and less of a broadcast.
- SEO is still key. Putting even the slightest bit of effort into SEO with good meta tags and open graph integration has an outsized payoff. 20% of visitors to this site come from Google. My list of product design portfolios is the second-most viewed page on my site, thanks to great SEO. One thing that people should keep in mind: fast, responsive websites are also critical to ranking well these days. Build things fast!
Happy New Year, everyone!