Housekeeping: The survey results!

Thanks for the feedback :)

Thank you to everyone who completed the survey! It’s been immensely helpful, and in the spirit of Radical Transparency, here are the results (sorry about the pie charts and the fact that Google Forms hates good visual design.)

As a preamble, my general goal for this newsletter is:

  1. To write about things in tech that I’m not seeing covered in industry, and write about things I care about, in a way I want to read about (informal, conversational, from the perspective of a practitioner versus an industry analyst or a journalist).

    One comment I got was:

    While I love every post, I'm struggling to understand the mental models under Normcore tech. What are the web that connect these things?

    I’m working on a longer piece about my core tenets, but what are the things I generally care about?

    • A nuanced, un-hyped view of technology

    • The way systems of computers and systems of people work

    • How data moves through these systems and how it impacts us

    • Privacy in the context of these systems

    • How money moves through the system

    • The nexus of society and technology

    • People who are important in these systems and a critical analysis of them

    • Random weird books and links that I like

  2. To get enough paid subscribers for the newsletter to be sustainable. What does “sustainable” mean here? I’d love to be able to devote a lot of time to the newsletter, and for it to be around for a long time. The more I’m able to generate in subscriptions (specifically, monthly recurring revenue), the more time I’m able to devote to it.

  3. To start a community around the newsletter that can talk about tech in a reasonable way based on shared experience and share thoughts, jobs, etc across companies. I haven’t done anything with this yet, and it may take a while depending on how long the newsletter takes to unspool.

  4. To make stupid data puns.

I’d say I’m on-track with 1 and 4 for sure. With that in mind, let’s dive into the results!

Sample Size

~120 people answered the survey (thank you!), which is about 10% of all subscribers, so it’s a nice sample, and a number of results I’m comfortable with extrapolating from.

Newsletter Frequency

Most people seem pretty happy with the frequency of the newsletter. However, there is a preference for receiving 1 versus 2 free issues a week.

This makes sense to me. I myself get about 10-11 newsletters a week and always struggle to read them all. The longest and most valuable one is usually Matt’s, but I simply can’t keep up with the volume of stuff he produces.

I’d rather produce less stuff that people read than more that they don’t. I also have a selfish reason: I’m going on maternity leave any day now, and while I have a backlog of newsletters built up, it would be awesome to go at a slower pace while I recover from being a sleepless zombie.

Additionally, a majority of people said they preferred to read in the morning, enough that I’m going to keep sending out around 8/9 EST, which is morning for the US East Coast, early morning for West Coast, and late morning for some of Europe.

Action Items:

  • Reduce newsletter frequency to 1 paid and 1 free per week

  • Maybe also send a much shorter second free post on occasion (a discussion post?)

  • Continue to send in the mornings/late mornings on the East Coast.

Content and Audience

Everyone also seems to be mostly happy with the content of the newsletter, which ranges from sometimes extremely technical, to extremely broad. The audience for the newsletter is, so far, mostly people in tech, and more specifically, in data, engineering and management. This makes complete sense to me, because that’s my Twitter audience, and Twitter so far has been my best place to find subscribers.

My goal is to continue to straddle the line between technical and non-technical and vary up the content, and it sounds like I’m succeeding.

Your comments on “what keeps you coming back to the newsletter”:

I keep coming back to read because I find that most of the topics you write on I either have an interest in and/or your perspective makes it worth reading. While some things are beyond what I'm able to engage with (i.e. Python type hints, which I haven't read but could always return to in the future); this is almost entirely because they're outside the bounds of what I work with. I appreciate that you write on a broad range of technical, technological, and non-tech subjects.

discussions of tech from perspective of its human effects, instead of purely technical discussions i see elsewhere

I work on a very small data science team. Most of my exposure to the greater data science community comes through Twitter, which can be a little...well, Twitter? About everything? The Twitter experience of data science compounds the already omnipresent anxiety that no data scientist has sufficient expertise in python / machine learning / regression / inferential statistics / javascript / D3 / MySQL / PowerPoint / SciComm / etc., etc. I feel like Normcore, possibly because it's a longer format, gives me a more balanced, less anxiogenic view of how other people are thinking about this line of work that is such a big part of my life. So I get all the fun of shop-talk with less of the anxiety :) Plus, I just enjoy your takes on things, Vicki!

Posts like "IT runs on Java 8". I have a boring enterprise job and I like reading about issues that affect people in similar positions rather than HN headlines. I also really enjoy your writing about general life topics. Please keep the mix of topics!

Action Items:

  • Keep a good mix of technical and non-technical content

Improvements

There were a couple of themes in improvements. First was copyediting (aka spellcheck, Vicki!)

Uh, this is gonna sound super lame, but better copy-editing? I feel like most issues there's some small error in spelling or word order or something like that. To be clear, I doubt it would ever make the difference between me continuing to read or not, or between becoming a paid member or not, but it always pulls me out of the stream of what you're saying for just a moment until I figure out what's wrong. Happy to help with that, if possible, and put my money where my mouth is =)

Noted! If anyone knows a good copyeditor, please email me. I’ll also be doing my own search.

Another suggestion:

I’d recommend expanding scope beyond purely technical topics to include career development, work-life balance, etc.

I’ve written some about this, but I have at least a couple of work-life balance posts in the hopper, particularly as I go on maternity leave.

The final ask is an interesting one:

I am not sure how I feel about the subscription model. I don't feel I get enough value to pay for the newsletter yet, and this doesn't seem like a common business model. I would be really interested in a post about your model and why you've decided to go this route, versus leverage ads or an increased web-presence that comes with a wide audience. To be clear, I am not advocating an ad-based model, I'm genuinely curious and could probably be persuaded to subscribe or support through non-recurring donations. Thank you for your work!

This probably needs its own separate post. But the crux of it is that, if you’re paying for a subscription, you’re paying for my ability to devote a lot of time to the newsletter. Ben Thompson of Stratechery fame says it best:

It is very important to clearly define what a subscriptions means. First, it’s not a donation: it is asking a customer to pay money for a product. What, then, is the product? It is not, in fact, any one article (a point that is missed by the misguided focus on micro-transactions). Rather, a subscriber is paying for the regular delivery of well-defined value.

Each of those words is meaningful:

Paying: A subscription is an ongoing commitment to the production of content, not a one-off payment for one piece of content that catches the eye.

Regular Delivery: A subscriber does not need to depend on the random discovery of content; said content can be delivered to the subscriber directly, whether that be email, a bookmark, or an app.

Well-defined Value: A subscriber needs to know what they are paying for, and it needs to be worth it.

The paid issue for subscribers is an incentive. But mostly, if you pay for a subscription, you are voting for the idea of the newsletter existing (and things like copyediting and a logo) the way it is now, and for it to continue. You are paying for ✨The Normcore Idea✨.

It’s like donating to public radio or Wikipedia, with the exception that you can be rest assured that I won’t ever make you listen to a pledge drive or buy canvas totes.

Action Items:

  • Be more diligent in my own copyediting and find a paid copyeditor.

  • Potentially more leadership/work-life posts and continue to balance technical and non-technical content

  • Write a separate newsletter about newsletters, Substack, and the business model.

Final Notes

Thank you to everyone who participated in the survey!

Please keep sending me feedback through comments on the newsletters, email, and Twitter! I read all of it.

One piece of feedback that someone gave me was making sure that the newsletter was still around in a year, and I want it just as much as you. Tell more people about it and subscribe if you can!

Vicki