I hope you’re doing well! It’s been almost a year since I started writing this newsletter. The first edition was sent back in December — it feels like that was a lifetime ago. I’ve really enjoyed the journey thus far, and am proud of myself for sticking to a weekly schedule for this long. It’s definitely the longest I’ve ever kept up a publishing habit, and that’s worth celebrating! ✨😊
More than anything, I’ve cherished the relationships that I’ve built with so many wonderful readers of this newsletter. Of course, there are many of you whom I haven’t connected with yet. Let’s try and change that! Consider this an open call to conversation — I’d love to hear from you. If you’ve been meaning to say hi but never got around to it, now’s the perfect time.
As always, you can reply directly to this email (or if you prefer, you can DM me on Twitter). If it helps kickstart your reply, you could respond to any one (or more!) of these prompts:
What has resonated most with you from these newsletters (e.g. a specific edition, or a certain aspect of the newsletters, etc.)?
Do you like the current newsletter format? If not, what might you change?
Tell me a bit about yourself! Where do you live? What’s your favorite book, podcast or video (and why)?
AMA! What’s a question you’ve always wanted to ask me?
I’m really excited to hear from you!
P.S. We recently surpassed a very special milestone: 1,337 subscribers! 🎉 I have to say, that’s pretty l33t. Thank you to each and every one of you for joining me on this journey. I really appreciate your time and attention. Stay safe, friends ♥️
SEO & The Art of Persuasion
Recently I started to work on improving SEO ranking performance for my site salman.io. I have a bunch of resources I want to work through, but I’m keeping it simple to start and using a tool called ahrefs.com. You can use it to run an ‘audit’ on your site. It will give you a health score and recommend changes to make to fix problematic pages (e.g. missing metadata and such). The other cool feature is it will tell you which keywords your site is ranking with, which can give you a sense of how people are reaching your site from Google.
Additionally, the tool will show you which of your pages is ranking the most. Aside from the high rank for my polymath essay (which was expected given it went viral), I was surprised to see my essay on The Art of Persuasion ranking highly as well. I’m not sure what caused the spike, but it’s good to know folks are getting value out of it. If you haven’t seen the post, I talk about how to use Aristotle’s three modes of persuasion to improve the resonance of your writing. You can read it on my blog here:
In general, your page will rank higher or lower depending on Google’s determination of whether your post “solved the user’s query”. There is some mystery to that (and lots of resources to try and demystify it) but if it’s ranking high you can assume that your post successfully resonates with those specific keywords. This is good information to keep in mind in terms of how folks are getting to your site, and how they get value from your posts. Such analytics can give you feedback about your content semantics (i.e. what it means to your readers), not just the traffic volume.
Overall, I don’t plan to change my writing specifically to optimize for SEO, but I will look to tweak a few things to ensure it’s accessible and available to natural keywords. It didn’t take many changes to see an improvement in the health score, so it’s not a huge investment. These kinds of investments are worth it because they help ensure that your assets get passive traffic via search engines (versus social media which requires active promotion).
Mythology of Progress
When I was a kid, I used to hold the assumption that by default our global society was always going to improve. Technology would evolve, science would advance, and so of course society would move forward too. It just seemed inevitable. I suppose these impressions were partially painted by the depictions in sci-fi shows like Star Trek, where the entire planet had banded together to form a (mostly) rational force for good.
Of course, those were childhood fantasies. There is no such thing as automatic progress. Change needs to be advocated and fought for. But the targets of change we push for may not be ambitious enough.
I recently read a great piece in The Atlantic about the mythology of progress on racial justice in America. The author, Jennifer Richeson, describes how Americans perceive a much greater level of progress than is actually achieved. Effectively, we delude ourselves into thinking things are better than they are, and thus fail to push for the change we need.
This is a uniquely American mythology. Since the nation’s founding, its prevailing cultural sensibility has been optimistic, future-oriented, sure of itself, and convinced of America’s inherent goodness. Despite our tragic racial history, Americans generally believe that the country has made and continues to make steady progress toward racial equality. Broad acceptance of this trajectory underlies the way our leaders talk. It also influences the way racism is treated in popular culture.
Although this particular delusion of racial justice progress is unique to Americans, it made me think of other measures of progress that are similarly overestimated. Many examples come to mind (gender equality, for one), but what’s interesting about this phenomenon is that it’s a side effect of unchecked optimism. Without optimism, it’s virtually impossible to make progress. But with too much optimism, our progress gets impeded by our own delusion.
Progress depends on finding the right balance of optimism.
Almost exactly one year ago, I became an American citizen. Since then, I’ve been eagerly awaiting this moment: my first vote in a presidential election! I did a ton of research on every candidate, measure and proposition on the ballot. It took me a few days to complete, and I really enjoyed the process. Today I biked over to City Hall and dropped off my ballot! It felt really good to do my part.
P.S. If you’re based in the U.S. and are eligible, please exercise your right to vote! You can visit iwillvote.com to check your voter registration and obtain more information about voting.
P.P.S. If you’re voting in California: I shared a few links to voter guides that may help with your decisions (especially with the state propositions).
Singularity: Beautiful reading of a poem by Maria Howe dedicated to Stephen Hawking’s ideas on singularity, presented alongside some wonderful 2D animation. This project was created in collaboration with Maria Popova, author of the wonderful Brain Pickings, so it’s no surprise the result is both touching and thought-provoking.
Sounds of the Forest: Listen to the soundscapes of forests from all around the world! So relaxing to hear the birdsong from each environment. Which is your favorite?
Super Mario Effect: Great TED talk by Mark Rober on the powerful effect that video games can have on learning. Games that are challenging cause players to die early and often. As a result, they become used to it, and build ‘failure tolerance’. This kind of resilience can be incredibly valuable in our work and life. Mark uses the example of Super Mario Bros., but my immediate thought was my recent escapades playing Cuphead. The game is so brutally challenging that it forced me to reframe my view on dying in the game. Instead of seeing it as a failure, I see it as a necessary step to learning, which is a precursor to victory.
I’ll leave you with some beautiful artwork from Angela Sung. I love the style and unique expression in each painting. My favorite is the little truck — the angle, curvature and style gives it such a strong personality!
Until next time,