For the past 17 years, I’ve been writing furiously — for fun. School newspapers, op-ed pieces, trade magazines, academic journals, case studies, company profiles, in-depth interviews, blogging, community websites. I am not a professional writer. I do it for fun, and it’s a great way for me to connect with others who are interested in the topics that interest me. Recently, however, I’ve wanted to consolidate my writing under one banner or brand. I had many conversations with great editorial brands over the past two months, and through those conversations, I realized that the change I needed to make was to make that “banner” myself. After many years of writing for other brands, I am now going to write for myself. I am going to pick the content. I am going to edit it. I am going to distribute it. And, I am going to take responsibility for it.
Most recently, I had the privilege to write for The Christian Science Monitor (on policy), India Knowledge@Wharton (on entrepreneurship), and Harvard Business Review (on business in India), which is by far the best platform I’ve ever had. I am very grateful for the opportunity the folks at HBR gave me to share my experiences of building a cross-border life sciences company in the U.S. and India. In writing for Harvard Business Review, my inbox flooded with inquiries, my twitter counts bumped up, and I had access to events and people. I can’t even tell you how many folks sent me friendly emails only to find out that I had no authority to plug their idea or company in HBR. There are pretty strict editorial controls in place at all of these outlets, which is what makes them great to read and why people trust brands like HBR, CSM, and K@W.
The time has come for me to create my own writing presence and no longer rely on brands to prop me up. The biggest influence on me through this decision-making process came from my experience writing for HBR. Each article I posted would generate over 500 messages. People would even introduce me to their friends, or their kids, and say, “Meet Semil. He’s an expert. He writes for HBR.” I’ve always felt awkward in those encounters, and usually if a conversation progressed to something more real, my instinct was to defuse that illusion.
I am not an expert. A reader may think I am because I write for HBR, but in reality, these brands are so successful because they curate knowledge for consumption based on a variety of category topics.
Today, and into the future, I strongly believe that the ability for a brand to prop up experts is over. Instead, I strongly believe that the crowd will determine who the expert is, or what the expert thinking is. Whereas editors used to pick experts and the audience would trust that choice, today and in the future, it’s the audience that will pick the expert, and the editor who will “curate” an online experience that creates a fair opportunity for the best content to bubble to the top. The crowd is smart. They want to pick out who knows best. Editorial has been replaced.
Specifically, I am going to organize my writing as such:
- Personal Blogging on Posterous: semilshah.posterous.com
- Visions on India on WordPress: semilshah.wordpress.com
- Interaction and Sharing on Quora: www.quora.com/semil-shah
I’d like to highlight why I believe in Quora.
I am making a bet to really spend more time writing and interacting and learning on Quora. There are a few reasons for this. One, I believe that the design of the site encourages writing and applies intelligent filters to weed out phony answers and simultaneously prop up good answers. Two, the questions asked encourage excellent discussion and provide inspiration for other posts, or reverse-blogging. Three, I can write quickly and without having to worry about editorial controls, I can trust my gut and put content out there much faster and in return, get feedback and meet knew people faster.
And four, most importantly, I believe that it’s the crowd and the designers behind Quora — not editors — who have become the “new editorial” class. They curate our consumption of knowledge, whether we like it or not. I’m giving up some interesting platforms to try this on my own and to let the crowd decide. I’m taking a big step back, and hopefully, many years from now, it will have been considered a step forward.