I'm user #96607. Five digits, not six. I've been a member of the site for almost six years now. You might think I know everything there is to know about how Daily Kos works. Not really, although I learned a lot via trial and error after I gained Trusted User status last August. If you learned about your word processing program by trial and error, that's pretty much how I learned how Daily Kos works.
I hope this is useful advice for those of you who have been lurking and perhaps commenting but who want to make an impact on the site with your diaries, and I know you have things to say in them. Since writing holds absolutely no terror for me, this will be more about tactics. So follow me below.
Tactics, or how to get around DKos. Many of you have probably figured this out already, but reminders never hurt. I still need some myself.
First, a pet peeve. Post-and-run diarists, who publish a diary and then leave it and don't look at the response to it in the form of people's comments, are the blog equivalent of ending a speech, looking at an audience and saying "Talk among yourselves." It's dismissive. I know that one of the biggest mistakes I made in my early days here was that I didn't monitor the comments, let alone engage them. I wrote three -- count them, three -- diaries between July 2006 and January 2011, one during the 2008 Democratic primaries, one about the Israeli government in August 2010, and one on Sean Hannity in January 2011. I did EVERYTHING wrong on them. The comment counter on the Hannity diary says 10/10 new even today because I never expanded the comments to read them (even now).
The one about the Israeli government is even worse because I never engaged with the community despite all of the activity in the diary. This was apparently a really high impact diary that nobody agreed with: 319 comments, 8 recommends, 16 recs in the tip jar. The comment thread was contentious, with one LONG discussion about Hide Ratings, and I should really have had some idea that I was supposed to monitor it. People who comment on your diary, especially if they have something positive to say about it, like to be acknowledged, and I think that if I had clarified what I meant it might have been a more satisfying diary for everyone involved.
Since then, I've done somewhat better, although it took a while. Diary #5 on Occupy Wall Street (October 2011), no comments, and 2 recommends, probably because I based it on a column by Mike Lupica in the New York Daily News that was unnecessarily critical of the President. The one in which I took apart a column Nate Silver wrote for the New York Times for almost concern-troll centrism? With the title "Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics?" Nobody recommended it, because nobody was interested in it. Think about how interested the community might be in what you want to write about before you write about it. Trial and error is fine. Also, do some checking to see whether or not someone has already written the diary you want to write. We'll explore that more when we get to the significance of groups at DKos.
Nothing unusual (well, a meta diary sank like a stone, but really nobody wants to see meta diaries from new-ish people) until January 28, 2012, when I published my 26th diary, the first one that made the recommended list: This is for You, It's the Supreme Court, Stupid. This was based on an article Dahlia Lithwick wrote for an issue of Washington Monthly that asked its writers to imagine what would happen if Barack Obama lost his reelection bid. This is how I started it:
Dahlia Lithwick from Slate has an absolutely chilling article [this passage links to the article in the original diary] in this week's cover package, "What if Obama Loses," in Washington Monthly. Her contention, and I find this very difficult to argue with, is that W appointed as many as one-third of the appeals court judges sitting on the bench now, and that four years of a Republican president will tilt the courts to the right for at least the next generation and, since I'm 62, probably for the rest of my life. Details below.I think this might have been sheer blind luck, but it was my first big impact diary, and it also had to do with the topic. 216 comments, 343 recs in the Tip Jar, 401 recommendations overall. Those comments I monitored so closely that I found myself in a flame war over something stupid. When you monitor your comments, be aware that the headline may NOT reflect the real sentiment of the comment, and expand the comments to read them before evaluating them.
From there, it's been relatively smooth, and I published my 72nd diary on Friday. They haven't all done well, but I think I know what the problem has been with each of the ones that received fewer than 10 recommendations (there have been 6 of them). Two have to do with a group I set up called Your Government At Work, which makes fun of especially state governments that overreach, for which I did pretty much everything wrong, so it's probably not a problem you'll have, at least not for a while. Two had obvious title problems: "A paean to social media occasioned by Linsanity" (could NOT have been worse) and "Media Bias - Eye of the Beholder?" which was up for about five hours without the question mark. One was an unnecessary debunking of the so-called Bradley effect in politics, which had absolutely no relevance because nobody was invoking it to explain anything when I published it, and the sixth had to do with another specialized group, Political Language and Messaging, but that one had 9 recommendations and that might not be that bad considering.
I've had over 100 recommendations for two other diaries, and I think the titles will explain both. The first was the second in my US to 1865 series for History for Kossacks: "US to 1865: What's Bugging Me -- The Puritans and the Puritans who settled Massachusetts, 1620-1630" (176 recommendations); the second was ""Pro-Life." STOP IT. "Anti-choice," please" (245 recommendations). Titles are important! I'm not the only one who will tell you that either, as Quequeg's latest ZIP diary, Zero Impact Posts: April 21-27, 2012: Before posting, review your post's title & first words, shows.
This may be specialized, but what I've learned about diaries is that, if you're running a series that isn't fully established, like my US to 1865 diaries, don't publish more than one a week. You're asking too much of this receptive audience if you overdo a subject without announcing you'll be publishing twice a week, which I wasn't prepared to do.
Now, about groups. About three weeks after I became a TU, I received a message that invited me to contribute to the Abolish the Death Penalty group. From that, I somehow decided I had to wait to be asked to join a group, which is absolutely not the case. So I asked in a comment thread, and now I know -- you send a group a message asking to join, and one of the group admins will invite you. That's how I joined twelve of the groups I contribute to. I founded or co-founded three others, and was invited to two groups during a Kosmail message exchange. This is an area where you have to be proactive.
Why is this important? Toward the end of 2011 I was really irritated about some writing that I found homophobic in the New York Times. I wrote a nicely enraged diary, and nothing. Someone else published a similar diary from a group I had hoped would invite me, and it got a response, because it was in more people's streams. That prompted me to ask the group why they hadn't republished mine, and the group's response was that they didn't know about it. That prompted an invitation, and the rest, as they say is history. Republishing a diary to a group gets you additional readers.
It also helps to be an active participant. The more people you engage with on the site, the more readers you may have. I have no idea why anyone started to follow me, but I guess if you write something that someone else finds really interesting, he or she will want to read more of your work. I know I picked up a lot of followers when I started my US to 1865 series, and I've picked up more as I've continued to write.
Eventually, you'll end up writing diaries like these, that contribute to the Kos community and involve the community in ways you might not expect. I dashed off Congratulations, Intolerant Methodists in about 30 minutes after I saw the article in the New York Times and it turned into an open thread for liberal protestants, as you can see by the groups that republished it. You can see from my comments that I have discussed issues with many of the people who commented on the diary, and I didn't intrude very much. Incidentally, the image I used in that diary was picked up by Igor Volsky at thinkprogress.org who used the same image and gave me credit for it.
The second diary, Remembering LGBT History: Sylvester, is just the third new diary we've published in this new group, and since the two previous diaries were fairly long, I thought a short diary would show that we weren't just looking for long pieces. I was much more actively involved in this one, mostly because the diary was based on my own research and also because I'm hoping I can encourage other people to do some of the writing for the group besides me and the other admin. [hint, hint!]
I hope this has been helpful. We're a very helpful group of people here, and we like it when other people do well.