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How to Become "Internet Famous"

In January of 2012, you had no idea who I was. I know this because Google didn't know this Jeff Knupp. If Google doesn't know you, no one else does. Google knew all about the former Penn State wrestler, the lawyer, the musician, and the motocross aficionado Jeff Knupps (all separate Jeffs, I believe), but it knew nothing about me.

I always wanted to be the guy getting calls from recruiters all day (note: you do not want to be that guy; it's terribly annoying) instead of the guy meekly hitting the "submit" button on job forms on company web sites. I wanted to become known. I wanted to be "Internet Famous".

What follows is an account of how I did.

Some Caveats and Qualifications

I would not consider myself "Internet Famous" just yet, but I'm getting there. jeffknupp.com currently receives 112,000+ page-views per month from 161 countries/territories. Back in 2012, I had 22,000 page-views the first month I was up, but that was because I got lucky and one of my articles made it to the top of /r/programming (the subsequent month was 7,000 page-views).

I have 1,125 twitter followers though I follow no-one (I just don't have the time to use Twitter as a way to gather useful info and want to be honest about it, though it seems I'm in the minority). My GitHub account has been the top trending developer account two separate times, and my sandman project is starred by 897 people at the time of this writing. It has twice been the top trending repo on GitHub since its inception a few months ago.

So I'm not a household name, but I'm certainly not annonymous either. Take those numbers for what they're worth. They're simply meant to give you a sense of my progress.

Play To Your Strengths

I started this blog, originally called "Hackers Gonna Hack" (using the stock Octopress theme), in February of 2012. Before then, I essentially did not exist.

Except I did exist

I just hadn't focus on building a digital footprint for myself. I had done nothing publicly noteworthy, and thus no presence on the Internet. In February of 2012, I decided I was no longer happy with Google's results for "Jeff Knupp".

The first thing I set about building was this blog. Even in 2012, blogs seemed so 2005, though. Why did I choose to start a blog rather than hop on Twitter and churn out 140 character pearls of wisdom? I was playing to my strengths. I knew, if I had any talent writing, it lay in long-form prose rather than tweet-sized missives. If pithy one-liners are not in your wheelhouse, don't bet the farm on them.

Realize Everything Takes Time

One thing that I knew was my enemy was time. Like all things worth having, "Internet Fame" takes time to build. And I will tell you right now something I couldn't admit to myself then:

Building your presence takes time. There's no way around it. You can not become famous overnight. Deal with it.

Even though every article/blog post says otherwise, I kept looking for a short-cut. I kept scoured the Internet for something that would give me a leg up: SEO, link exchanges, directories.

They were all worthless in the face of time. Time for your content to be found, time for people to reference your content, time, time, time. Today, links to my content can be found all over Stack Overflow, GitHub, corporate homepages, internal wikis, personal blogs, and everything in between. And my blog is still only PR 4. There's now way to fake it. It's going to take time.

But time passes. For me, it did so in the form of my first dozen or so posts. They were on all sorts of crazy topics. None of them were particularly insightful. I kept plugging away.

In the meantime, I became active on Stack Overflow and GitHub. One thing I've found particularly useful/important was to keep my account names consistent. I was always jeffknupp or jknupp, making it easy for anyone (at that time, no one) to follow me across sites. I put all kinds of projects on GitHub, answered all the Stack Overflow questions I could, and just kept producing.

Become A Content Factory

See, that's the real secret: you've got to be constantly producing content. And here's the even deeper secret: it won't all be good.. In fact, most of it won't be good. But that doesn't mean you stop. It just means you've learned another thing that doesn't work, then keep producing.

During that time, I was producing like mad (and I'd like to think I still am). Oddly, I felt accountable to the (zero) readers of my blog to produce new content, even though my audience (zero) was still rather small. That accountability helped push me to generate more content, and was a good thing. Now, pressure to produce new things comes from me, rather than some perceived group of people hanging on the edge of their seats for Jeff Knupp's next blog post. The latter can actually become so great that people stop blogging. You just need to realize that no one really cares that much about what you do.

For software developers, now is an amazing time to be alive. Thanks to the Open Source Software movement, the focus on API building and openness, cheap processing and storage costs, and wonderful languages at high levels of abstraction, developers can create truly awesome things without investing anything but time.

If you keep busy, keep hustling, keep throwing stuff out there to see what sticks, you're bound to eventually hit on something.

Set Realistic, But Aggressive Goals

Even at 31, my parents still ask if I think I'll ever be millionaire-rich. I say that I do, but not because I have some awesome idea that's guaranteed to make millions. It's because I'm smart and keep plugging away. I've already seen big impacts on my finances from some of the stuff I've tried, and in my mind it's just a matter of time before something, or a set of somethings, "hits big".

But that's not the goal. I say with all sincerity that my goal is not to be rich. My goal is to be self-employed and spending time on things I find interesting, including my family, by 40. Sure, money helps, but I learned early on that there isn't a 1:1 correlation between money and happiness. Keeping that in mind, I created a more measurable (how rich is "rich"?) and meaningful goal.

That's not to say my goal is just going to achieve itself. I'm aware that I'll need to work hard, really hard for the next decade to find the path to freedom, but I'm confident. I've only been at this two years and I've made some incredible progress.

Enjoy The Ride

One thing no one tells you about becoming "Internet Famous" is the kinds of interesting people you'll speak to and meet. I would have striven to be well known if only to meet the people being so has allowed me to meet. But the other thing they don't tell you is that communicating with these people has to be enough of a temporary reward to keep you going, because that's basically all you get until you've reached your goal.

At this point, I get so much email that I've had to "hire" my wife to help me go through it all (it's true, I actually "pay" her). But I wouldn't trade that volume of email for anything. I hear the most interesting and heart-felt stories, talk to really smart people, and, hopefully, help people achieve their dreams through tutoring, seminars, and simple email exchanges.

And, really, you have to be happy with that as a temporary consolation prize. Until you've reached your goal, it's difficult some times to keep up the content production. You may drag your feet and wonder why you started any of this. Then you get that email that reminds you why you started writing in the first place or the tweet from that guy/gal you idolize telling you your project/article interested them. That has to be enough to hold you over until you've reached your goal. You have to enjoy the ride. Otherwise you'll burn out quickly.

Find Your Own Way

Lastly, as you'll see, becoming "Internet Famous" is a deeply personal experience. I say this without hyperbole: you may find becoming well known the most difficult event you've ever had to deal with. It's not for everyone, and certainly there is no blueprint for success.

The suggestions we talked about in the article, that is:

  • Play To Your Strengths
  • Realize Everything Takes Time
  • Become A Content Factory
  • Set Realistic, But Aggressive, Goals
  • Enjoy The Ride

are a list of what worked for me, but that doesn't mean it will work for you, or that some other way wouldn't have worked better for me. But on my journey, I've come to realize what I really love doing (teaching, specifically programming), and I wouldn't have done so on your journey.

So take all of this with a grain of salt. You need to find your own way, but it can be done from scratch. You didn't know me in 2012, but the fact that you're reading this at all means that, in a small way, you know me now. And that's all I really wanted.

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