The Death and Rebirth of Practicing Ruby2011-09-27 22:00, written by Gregory Brown
tl;dr — The original Practicing Ruby newsletter was cancelled after four months because I didn’t realize that it could be anything more than a side project. Recently, I relaunched the service with a better sense of its true potential, and it’s now better than ever. Subscribe now, if you haven’t already. It’s $8/month and new articles are published every Tuesday.
One of the benefits of spending most of my time teaching and mentoring intermediate software developers is that I don’t need to guess at what they want to learn anymore, I just need to listen to their questions and pay attention to the problems they’re running into. I realized this almost a year ago and launched a paid newsletter called “Practicing Ruby” with the goal of having a sustainable funding model to support my volunteer work on Mendicant University.
The newsletter quickly gained in popularity, with 191 subscribers joining within the first week. In less than 3 months, I was closing in on nearly 400 subscribers and the numbers were gradually climbing from week to week. With such great success early on, it came as a huge surprise to folks when I pulled the plug on the project less than four months after I wrote the first issue. In a lot of ways, the success of the project early on was exactly what killed it.
To put it briefly, I wasn’t ready to take Practicing Ruby seriously, even though I didn’t realize it at the time. Mendicant University was still taking up a tremendous amount of my time because I had set an extremely ambitious set of goals for it. I was also transitioning away from doing freelance development work to a strictly project management / consulting role, and that transition was more time consuming than I expected it to be. Being spread so thin would have been enough to kill the project on its own, but I was also experiencing lots of problems with the service I was using to run the newsletter, including major issues with getting paid in a timely manner. All these things combined made me feel like I couldn’t make the project as awesome as I wanted it to be, so I decided to kill it off rather than let it become mediocre.
Because I thought the newsletter was dead for good, and because I like my all content to eventually become free, I decided to gradually release the 26 articles from the Practicing Ruby newsletter here on this blog. Once I did that, I came to realize that it wasn’t just those folks who were dedicated enough to pay for my material that appreciate the work I put into these articles, but the broader Ruby community as well. This filled me with pangs of regret, which gradually wore me down.
In July 2011 out of pure curiousity, I sent an email to the former Practicing Ruby subscribers asking if they would be interested in subscribing again if I relaunched the service. Within an hour, I had received dozens of emails that ranged from “Hell Yeah” to “Yes, but only if you charge more!”. To make a long story short, I made the necessary changes in my life to make it possible for me to start the service up again, and in August I quietly launched it again while promising myself that it would be much, much better than the first iteration.
A month and a half later, I’m now happy to announce that Practicing Ruby is back with a vengeance, and is much better than it ever was. With the help of Jordan Byron, I have built out a custom application for running the service, which we are continuously improving. New articles are published weekly via the web, and subscribers are notified via email when they go live. The benefit of this approach is that I’m able to make revisions and improvements to the articles over time, and readers have access to the full archives which they can browse at their convenience. The articles and conversations about them are located in the same place, similar to a blog. However, the content itself is much deeper than what you’d typically find on a blog, and is designed to be more like book-quality material that you can consume in a single setting.
The real thing that sets Practicing Ruby apart from traditional blogging is that it doesn’t need to be just a side project for me, and I don’t need to use it as an indirect form of self-promotion for something else. I can take real time and effort to research the content for it, and be much more responsive to my readers than would ever be possible if I was just doing this as a hobby. The value of good conversations with a dedicated group of Practicing Rubyists was something that I didn’t anticipate the first time around with this service, but is something I’ve planned for from the very beginning with the relaunched version. I want my readers to feel like I am accessible and willing to give them personalized attention as they work through the content I’m writing. All of this will be possible, and even financially sustainable, with only a couple hundred subscribers.
My goal is to make enough money between Practicing Ruby and the Mendicant Supporter Network to make it so that I can spend most of my time working on Mendicant University and contributing to the open source community. I am getting closer and closer to that goal each day, with the help of many kind folks who believe in the work I do. If you have enjoyed my writing via this blog and want to help keep me going, please consider sending some cash my way so that I can not think about paying the bills and instead think about how to write awesome code and prose that I can share with the world.
Oh, one last thing. There are a lot of people out there who are in developing countries, are out of work or underworked, or otherwise are in a difficult financial situation. If you can’t pay the full price of a Practicing Ruby subscription for any reason, just email me at email@example.com and I’ll give you a free subscription. It doesn’t cost me anything, and you gain something, so I’d be more than happy to hook you up.