In the first dotcom bubble, I had a daily column about startups called Catch of the Day. It was precisely 200 words long, delivered by email every morning to about 150,000 subscribers.
The 200-word discipline evolved from my discovery that writing four paragraphs on one idea was enough to encapsulate any concept, and express an opinion on it, without going off on tangents. It forced me to respect the reader by culling fluff from my work. I settled on writing 200 words exactly as a meditation: I wanted to see how much freedom I could exercise inside this small prison cell.
A lot, it turned out. And it was fun. “Freedom through slavery” became something I drilled into writers working for me when I was editing. When you know the constraints of your box, you stop worrying about the packaging and focus instead on the product. It’s liberating.
In building tech products, it is important to understand where you have your freedom and where there’s none. For example, it can be a waste of energy to mess with users’ ingrained expectations (boneheaded example: red means stop), but once you know these expectations, you can use them to reinforce your mission.
In my job as Evernote’s platform advocate, I’ll be studying this and other development issues. I will also be bringing back the frequent investigations into new tech products in this column, Opportunity Notes. Except it’s 250 words now. I have 25% more to say than I did in 1999.
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