After releasing my first blogging article I received some less-than-stellar reviews citing that I "managed to write a blog post that hypes up your proposed solution to "hacking" TV...then don't even have a solution" and that "this must be one of the most content-free blog posts I've read recently". Obviously, for a first time writer, this isn't what I was hoping for and I'm looking to correct these problems so that future posting will be better.

  • Where is my writing lacking in meat? I liked my introduction but I'm inclined to agree that my writing slacks off as the article goes on. Another user mentioned that he/she "can't seem to find more meat than what's already stated in the title".
  • The general consensus seems to be that my argument for removing commercials from television is weak and uninteresting. What would make my defense better?
  • Should sayings such as "OK. I know what you're thinking." be avoided? Perhaps they are a bit lame or cliche?

EDIT: Here's an updated version:

The date is July 1. The year? 1941. As fathers and sons sit down in front of their televisions and prepare to watch a baseball game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the Philadelphia Phillies, they unknowingly witness history in the making. For 10 seconds, the New York station WNBT displays a clock covering a map of the United States, along with the words “America runs on Bulova time.” They don’t know it now, but the watch making company Bulova has started a dastardly trend that will continue for at least the next 70 years. Commercials are television cancer. The life of the TV viewing lazy-bones would be better off without commercials, yet Mr. Couch Potato continues to accept the reality of commercials without question.

After reading about why we should build a future without cars, I began thinking about other norms that need to be disrupted. Television seemed like such an obvious choice. Who actually likes commercials? Not only are they incredibly obnoxious (That Was Easy™), they are also huge timesinks.

OK, I know what you’re thinking. Watching television is probably the most efficient way to waste your time. There are certainly arguments to support this; watching TV requires no mental processes or physical exertion and most television shows don’t teach the viewer anything. But consider this: for every 30 minutes of television you watch, you’re watching approximately 8 minutes of commercials. For hour-long shows the time spent watching commercials increased to 18 minutes. That means that ¼ to ⅓ of time spent watching TV is all commercials. Now consider all of the things you could do with the time you spend watching commercials for products that you care nothing about. For every movie watched, you could have read another chapter of your book, mowed your lawn, or spent an extra half hour with your family.

Disrupting the Television Industry

Now, I’m going to throw something out there that might seem kind of crazy, but just stick with me. Let’s disrupt the television industry by getting rid of all commercials. There, it’s out in the open now. I’ll wait while you take a moment to tell all of your friends not to read Maniacal Science because it’s blasphemous propaganda written by a maniacal (yes, I just did that) nut case.

If you think about it though, it’s really not such a farfetched idea at all. Commercials are justified by television networks that need to make money. What better way to make money companies pay for the right to have their product shoved down viewers’ throats? This must have proved to be an effective model, otherwise it wouldn’t have lasted as long as it has.

Netflix, Grooveshark, and Youtube. Oh my!

One possible solution is a move to more on-demand type programming. Services like Netflix have already jumped on top of this, but $8/mn isn’t enough to satisfy TV networks. They need way more money than that to operate.

For those of you who use Grooveshark, YouTube and Hulu, you’ve probably noticed that advertisements will pop up every so often and you’ll have to watch 10 seconds of the advertisement before you’re given the option to close it. This isn’t nearly as frustrating as being forced to watch the entire advertisement and I’ve actually caught myself watching the entire length of some of the more interesting ones. This is another thing to consider: maybe it’s not that commercials are annoying by nature, but that most commercials are boring and the annoyance stems from being made to watch non-interesting material.

Shifting Paradigms

The reason that companies like YouTube can function for free, without bombarding users with ads could have something to do with the fact that the ads are more effective. Not only are they placed using complex algorithms, it is also reasonable to believe that the user will pay more attention to the ad. The advertisements are short and they aren’t being shoved down the user’s throat. The difference here is that YouTube ads are served based on the number of videos you watch, not the length of the videos. That means you view 10 minute videos and only have to sit through a single 30 second advertisement.

Perhaps a shift to more on-demand programming, supplemented with advertisements a la Grooveshark and Youtube is a solution to this problem. Viewers will save large amounts of time and marketing teams will be happy that viewers are paying more attention to their ads, ultimately resulting in larger revenues for TV networks.

Inventing For The Future

Recently I’ve noticed an influx of people calling for disruptions of huge industries. Where most people consider Facebook to be important (and it is, in some aspects), there are others who believe that it’s time to get past Facebook and invent for the future. What these people all agree on is that there are certain tried-and-true methods that have run their course and are no longer as effective as they once were. These methods need to be hacked. I believe that television commercials fall into this category.

Sure, television is a waste of time. Personally, I try not to watch too much. Luckily I enjoy being outside, so that’s really not a problem for me, but I digress. Like it or not, tens of millions of people around the world spend well over 3 hours a day in front of their TVs. The preferred solution would be to get rid of TV all together, but I think the couch potatoes out there might get upset at the thought. Instead, we need to work towards alternative solutions that save time.

The bottom line is that TV is broken and we need to fix it. Commercials make up 18 minutes out of every hour of television and we are all too busy to allow this to continue. My hope is that the right person will see this article and step up to the plate. The idea has been presented, but we all know that ideas are worthless. If anyone has any thoughts on other ways to disrupt television, I’d be glad to hear them.

  • Welcome to the site! It's great to see more blogging questions here. I've edited your question to remove "Where can I find tips on, and learn more about, technical writing?" since that's more of a separate question. (Search the site and you'll find one already, but feel free to open a variant on that if it's not helpful.) Again, welcome to Writers! – Goodbye Stack Exchange Apr 23 '12 at 14:30
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    Incidentally, you can't skip past the ads on hulu. – Patches Apr 24 '12 at 8:21

I think the main problem is that your article, and the stylistic choices you make to write it, are all setup and no payoff. The first half, which actually is setup and is where you frame the problem, isn't too bad. A neat historical anecdote, a build up that walks the reader though, and deeper, into the problem, topped off with a suspense-building capper - "expect something crazy!"

Really, pretty decent.

But delivering the payoff to all that setup? Not so much. Look, I didn't even realize I was in the solution section of the article until I hit the end -- then I had to go back and hunt for it. I'm still not really clear on what, exactly, it is that you propose we do. Frankly, I was expecting you to plug some software that strips commercials.

Weakness in presenting your solutions
Where you go wrong is from the very first sentence of your solution:

One possible solution is a move to more on-demand type programming.

Now, I'm sure you think your solution starts two paragraphs higher. It does not. Saying "Lets disrupt..." is not a solution, it's a vague, unspecified desire. The solution is how you want to disrupt the industry.

So that brings us to your "One possible solution..." sentence. The problem here is that it's worded in a way that reader (I.e, me), reads it like this:

"Now there are other people, not nearly as crazy as me, and much easier to stick with, that say we should move to on-demand programming. But my solution..."

I kept waiting through the rest of the article for that "but" to drop, but it never came. The reason it comes across this way is because it's so weakly written. If you have a solution, then say it. Put it out there with some confidence. Don't hem and haw around it, with phrases like "One possible" and "to more".

The weakness continues, in a different way, in the next paragraph:

For those of you who use Grooveshark, YouTube and Hulu, you’ve probably noticed that...

Wait. Isn't that your solution? Aren't we all here, waiting breathlessly to hear whatever this marvelous idea is you've had? And yet, with "For those of you who use..." you state that you assume a significant portion, perhaps all, of your audience not only knows about your solution, but are already using it on a regular basis! So why should said audience waste it's time reading you? If you'd just stated it confidently, at least then your grooveshark-using audience could nod sagely along, pleased they're among the few already in the know.

The weaknesses in that paragraph continues with unnecessary words and meandering (though grammatically correct) sentences.

So, all that makes the solution seem like it's still part of the setup. That is, that after defining the problem, you're now setting up other people's poor solutions, so you can knock them down with the awesomeness of your own. Don't do that.

Compare your "Netflix, Grooveshark, and Youtube. Oh my!" section to this one, with my edits:

The solution is to move to on-demand programming. Some services like Netflix have already jumped on this with subscriptions. But $8/mn isn’t enough to satisfy TV networks. They need more money than that to operate.

Other services like Grooveshark, YouTube and Hulu pop up advertisements every so often. You have to watch 10 seconds of the advertisement, but then you’re given the option to close it. This isn’t nearly as frustrating as being forced to watch the entire advertisement. On the contrary, I’ve caught myself watching the entire length of some of the more interesting ones!

This is another thing to consider when thinking about this problem. Maybe it’s not that commercials are annoying by nature, but that most commercials are boring. Maybe the annoyance we all feel stems from being made to watch uninteresting material.

I haven't added much: mostly I just cut words and phrases, and split sentences and paragraphs. I, for one, think it reads much better. Or much clearer, at least.

Balance of power
My second point is very related to my first: in fact, it makes your weak writing stand out in sharper relief. Here, in essence, is what you're saying:

Those stikin' networks, they've been stealing our time! They want us to sit there like ZOMBIES!! This is AN OUTRAGE!!! HOW DARE THEY!!! We'll show them! I've got an idea that'll TAKE THEM OUT! IT'S CRAAAAAZY, BUT AWESOME!!!! WHO'S WITH ME?!? Here's what we do:

We, um, well, you know, we use some of the other products out there. Right, um. Sorta the stuff, uh, that you're already using, you know, if you want. So, yea. Um. There's commercials too, but they're better, see, 'cause they are. Maybe. So, um, yea. Go, uh, go team.

That's not a critique of your ideas, but rather, of the balance in tone, forcefulness and confidence between your setup and your payoff. And I exaggerate, of course, to make my point. But if your setup is: "I'm gonna hit you in the face with a bucket of fish!", then as a reader, I bloody well better be picking fish guts out of my teeth by the time we're done. It's what you promised. And a truly terrible thing to do, as a writer, is to not deliver on what you promise.

  • For what it's worth, the article did make more sense to me the more I (re)read it, and oddly, I liked it better on your blog. Something about the formatting/fonts/background made it easier to read, I think. Point is, this critique is based on my impressions from the first pass. With your most readers, you only get that one shot. – Patches Apr 24 '12 at 8:33
  • Also it's worth mentioning I do like your "voice" in your writing. Take care, as you go through this process of editing, that you preserve and foster that voice. A great voice can cover many writing sins, and more importantly, is what draws people to your work. So don't kill it. – Patches Apr 24 '12 at 8:39
  • That's some pretty good advice you've given there. I especially liked that part about "Those stinkin' networks". :) What you say makes sense and I can see, now, that you're right and I built up a lot of hype a then didn't deliver. I'll make sure to work on this. Cheers! – Maniacal Science Apr 24 '12 at 17:58
  • @Flimzy you're correct. I fixed it. – Patches Jun 8 '12 at 19:36

The paragraph starting "Recently" is where you go vegetarian. You set up your pitch in the first three paras, state your premise in the fourth, play a little devil's advocate in the fifth... and then trail off.

You've removed the status quo, but you haven't replaced it with anything. Yes, commercials exist; yes, they generally bore the viewer; yes, they exist so companies can sell products. You've defined the problem and the reason for the problem. Now you have to present alternatives.

If the problems are "Creating TV ain't free" and "advertisements in the middle of TV shows are boring and disruptive," then you must provide other solutions. What about cable TV? what about streaming TV? what about product placement? what's an entirely different model we haven't seen yet?

Separately, I don't mind the "Okay, I know what you're thinking," because the article is clearly chatty and informal in tone, and it works with that.

  • Would you say that the biggest problem with my writing is the lack of proposed solutions? I'm going to give this some thought and then go back and edit the article. The edited version may not be read much, but maybe a few people will get to see it. – Maniacal Science Apr 23 '12 at 14:35
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    Your edit is an enormous improvement. You provide several solutions and you've broken the article into bits for short attention spans. – Lauren-Clear-Monica-Ipsum Apr 23 '12 at 18:04

I don't think your article is lacking in "meat". It is a blog after all, not a scholarly article. Same for informal language like "Ok, I know what you are thinking". I like blogs that are informal and chatty, as I really don't like being lectured to, unless you are an obvious expert in the field.

I do agree that your blog is unfocussed - what point are you trying to make? Are ads bad? What would you replace them with? You use the word "hack", but outside computer geeks, the word has a negative connotation. Try to avoid it, if possible.

Perhaps you need to make more clear what you stand for, what your solutions are.

And the normal rules of blogging apply. The current text is one dense blob of words. Break it into headings, to make it easier to read. If the text is dense, as it is now, most people just skim over it and make snap judgements.

As for suggestions on what to read, just following other blogs is enough. I don't think you need to read any books for blogging, as it is one of those things one learns by doing.

Finally, do you really care what others think? You need to have a thicker skin if you want to make it in the game. This seems to be your first blog, and you already have 5 comments. Many blogs go years without any comment, as the majority of people are happy to just read, and never comment.

It would seem to me you are already doing a good job. Just make your arguments more focussed, and keep blogging.

  • I try not to care what others think, but I certainly don't want to be considered incompetent. Given your suggestion on the word "hack", I've decided "disrupt" is a more appropriate word. I've also posted an updated version of the article, feel free to check it out and let me know what you think. – Maniacal Science Apr 23 '12 at 15:19
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    Maniacal Science, there will always be people who think you are incompetent. Ignore them, and try to write to your target market, who maybe people like you. Disrupt is a good word. PS: Like the newer version – Shantnu Tiwari Apr 24 '12 at 7:47
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    Maniacal Science, make it possible for ppl to leave comments without registering. I wanted to leave a comment, but am wary of creating yet another account :) – Shantnu Tiwari Apr 24 '12 at 7:51
  • Shantnu Tiwari, I believe you can long in via Twitter and the like. The main reason for this is to block spam, but I'll be sure to check out my alternatives. – Maniacal Science Apr 24 '12 at 18:01

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