#TIL Side Effects

It has been almost a month since I started the #TIL micro-project — a healthy practice of publishing a daily Tweet about something I’ve learned. If you want to learn more of it, I wrote about the project’s rationale in this post, and also commented on a few side effects during a recent episode of Radio Lanza.

Surprisingly, #TIL has already evolved since its inception and started maturing in its own way. In just five bullets, this post lays out the most surprising and unexpected insights after a month of sharing a daily nugget about something I’ve learned.

  1. It is hard to put something in 280 characters. Despite I don’t consider myself to be a prominent writer, I’ve long maintained the practice since 2012. However, the synthesis of ideas into such a small canvas turned out to be surprisingly challenging. It forces you to distill what you genuinely want to say. While I don’t discard using Tweestorms when discussing more complex topics, for the moment and to keep it simple, I’m sticking to the 280 ceiling.

  2. Setting a baseline of knowledge. This one I found endlessly fascinating. The problem with the aforementioned constraint is not about the ability to convey an idea into such a tiny format. 280 characters are more than enough to share any idea. The problem is the baseline of knowledge, the starting point. What it is safe to assume the reader will know about the topic. But most importantly, how much context needs to be deployed to set up the stage for the idea to be understood. It inevitably reminded me of this magnificent footage when Feynman is asked for how magnets work. To some extent, it feels reassuring to know that even the finest lecturers of all times also struggled with this very problem.

  3. The mental model I initially developed around how it’d work turned out to be flawed. In my mind, I’d find myself walking down the street or cooking dinner while listening to a podcast. All of a sudden, an idea would pop up. Up to this point, so far so good, as it happens quite often. The problem is what would occur next: the plan was to grab the idea, jot the thing down, and tweet it out to the world. Twenty seconds, at most. Well, it doesn’t work like this. Because of one and two, if you want to make this a pleasant and valuable experience for the reader, every single Tweet needs to be properly curated and edited before it is sent. This is not to say I’m spending an hour on each Tweet. Regardless, I rarely do it from my phone, but usually sit down and take some time to think of what I want to say.

  4. Async Sunday. The combination of one, two and three, motivates a product iteration of sorts. Sending succinct, curated content that also meets a certain baseline for shared understanding runs against instant, thoughtless publishing. Ideas strike whenever they want, not when sitting in front of a computer while holding a nice cup of coffee. On top of that, and contrary to the project’s own narrative, they don’t steadily strike every day, sharp, at 6pm. This silly insight (something I should have foreseen in the first place) posed the biggest threat to #TIL’s long term viability. This dependency turned it into an unsustainable practice. The dependency needed to be removed. To put it in operational terms, the now synchronous publishing process, had to become an asynchronous one. Say hi to Buffer: a simple, but quite useful product that queues and schedules posts for future publishing. Exactly what I needed. Now, with Buffer, I just log raw ideas during the week. Then every Sunday I schedule some time to sit down and plan all Tweets for the upcoming week. With Buffer, #TIL just became async, thoughtful and predictable. And if it were not enough, it even has a free plan for social media impaired weirdos like me that covers all my needs.

  5. Trending topic 😂. And to be honest, I didn’t see that one coming.

Besides a handful of kind words of encouragement and a positive reception around the project, some friends (well, just one for now, but let me savor the moment) seemed to like thing and kick-started their own versions of the #TIL.

First published on August 28, 2019