The problem: I’ve got some ‘splainin to do.
Last week’s email about building a list of followers, which was really about point of view (PoV) and information resources, spurred some discussion in a TEI meeting. I want to share with you how that discussion clarified some things.
The context: A quick recap of last week’s email: Want to build an audience of some kind? If you’re vertically specialized, cultivate a compelling PoV. You’re dead in the water without it. If you’re horizontally specialized in a platform that’s a new “rising star”, build an information resource, like a curated links email list.
This recommendation contained enough truth for me to continue to stand behind it, but it could be framed in a better way, and with more nuance.
The solution: The initial framing was vertical vs. horizontal specialization. That works OK, but I think the more useful framing is immature vs. mature domain.
The tech world is wonderful and weird. I sometimes like to imagine the tech world as 5 parallel Golden Gate Bridges. The first one was built because it was necessary, and each subsequent bridge was sold based on hyped marketing promises about revolutionary new bridge tech, built at great expense, and offers a mix of advantages and drawbacks.
Mainframes -> PC’s -> PC servers -> Virtualized workloads -> Cloud computing.
The tech world is re-creating infrastructure on a nearly constant basis. Some of it is genuine improvement. Regardless of the actual improvement, new whitespace is opening up all the time.
Whitespace is an information gap. Whitespace is what Corey Quinn leveraged when he started his Last Week in AWS newsletter. AWS was growing rapidly, and staying up to date was a challenge. Enter Corey and his weekly list of curated links. Whitespace, meet information resource.
People who succeed at building a valuable information resource become “overnight authorities”.
Not every time, but often enough to make it worth the gamble.
Not literally overnight, but way faster than most other routes to authority.
And critically, you can get there without a PoV.
To be clear, building an information resource that’s filtered through a compelling PoV is really good too! But if your only real filter for your information resource is “best” or “most useful” or “most underrated”, you’re going to be fine as long as the whitespace has sufficient gravity and you do a competent job of addressing the whitespace.
A few current whitespaces with gravity:
- Tech ethics
There are more. Lots more! And those whitespaces will close up as enterprising individuals (it’s usually individuals) build valuable information resources and become overnight authorities. Whitespace is transitory and rewards first/early movers. [^There is a sort of whitespace that’s available to late movers, but it’s a whitespace that only folks with a PoV can really thrive in. I think of Tom Goodwin as occupying that sort of whitespace. I don’t quite have a full grasp on Tom’s perspective, so rather than fail to summarize accurately I’ll point you to his Twitter feed if further self-study is interesting to you: https://twitter.com/tomfgoodwin]
Generally the following is true of whitespace:
- Whitespace is created by the emergence of new technology
- Technology moves rapidly enough that new whitespace is constantly available to colonize
- You colonize whitespace by creating a useful information resource
- Some whitespaces have more “gravity” than others
- A PoV can create new whitespace
- A PoV can amplify an information resource
I need to say more on those last 3 points. But not today.
The takeaway: Immature domains have more naturally-occurring whitespace, and that’s why those are the domains where building a valuable information resource can help you build authority quickly.
These immature domains and their attendant whitespace tend to be horizontal in nature (ex: insurance companies are just as likely to use AWS as manufacturing companies), but there’s no systematic reason they — and your information resource — can’t be vertically defined. For example, if you aimed your information resource at the whitespace created by tech ethics within the legal profession, that could work fine assuming the gravity of that vertically-defined whitespace is sufficient.
Mature domains have less naturally occurring whitespace. The whitespace that was there has been filled with best practices and established ways of doing things. That’s why it’s more likely that you’ll need a compelling PoV to earn attention within more mature domains. The PoV is interesting in its own right, creates fresh whitespace that you can fill with your own information resource, or the PoV has a polarizing/magnetic effect. These all allow you to earn attention within a crowded space.
Finally, I’ll note that building an information resource is not a magic bullet. It’s a lot of work, just like cultivating a PoV is.
It just happens to be more beginner-friendly work. It feels less emotionally risky too, since you are unlikely to polarize your audience with an information resource that’s genuinely just trying to be helpful.