“People don't read for content”


When Alessandro Perilli was preparing to launch Synthetic Work, a newsletter about artificial intelligence, he knew that building the community around his writing would be paramount to his success. He had already learned firsthand that creating a community is “one of the hardest jobs in the world”.

“I come from a company that has a business model that depends on communities flourishing, because it's open source,” he begins. As such, he wanted to create a private Discord community with gated access to content on WordPress, which is where his first media project, virtualization.info was hosted, this would enable him to “recycle 20 years of experience”.

He decided to use WordPress, not just because of his knowledge, but because of the flexibility of the platform. “There is a reason why 43% of the websites in the world are using WordPress,” he adds. The maturity of the plugin ecosystem means what you can achieve with WordPress is amazing, and it’s in a fraction of the time with other solutions.”

Do not compromise: the importance of branding

Alessandro continues: “Many newsletter and blogging platforms don't give you much flexibility in terms of creating a brand. They unify the look and feel, and everybody is exactly the same. You can customize the theme a little, and you can add your logo, but these are minimal customizations.

“Every newsletter or blog looks identical. That doesn't work for me. And, as I always say on social media, do not compromise on the solution that is right for you. Do not compromise on doing the best work you can do just to check a box. Compromising on what you do is one of the things that sets you back over and over.”

screengrab of virtualization.info A screengrab of the original virtualization.info website

“I created a brand that people remember from 20 years ago and still write to me about. I need to have the ultimate freedom and flexibility to create and shape every single pixel on this web property so that it is enforcing my brand. I want to advance my own brand, not other publishing brands.”

Becoming valuable: niche and voice

“Two things are incredibly important when you try to create an online publication,” Alessandro continues. “The first one is to find your niche. This is easy to say, difficult to do!” he laughs.

He explains that there is no value in having yet another person who covers the same topics as other people from the same angle. “You can cover the same topics, and that could be cooking or politics or crochet or squash or whatever you like, but you have to have a different angle. And that defines your niche: the way you look at things is different.”

He explains that Synthetic Work is looking at AI from a non-technical perspective, and how it impacts jobs, industries, economy and society. “If you look at cooking, for example, you might be in a niche where your perspective is about the science of it, which is something very few people talk about – maybe how, at the very deep chemical level, why something tastes good.

Then the second thing is to find your own voice. “Human beings learn by emulating: we say, ‘Wow, I like the way this person writes’ and so you try to copy that, which is great – that's the way to learn as fast as possible. But then you need to get to a point where you develop your own voice, which is scary!”

He acknowledges that it’s daunting to think people might not like the way you look at the world, or how you write about it, but that's the only way to stand out from the crowd. “If you have the same voice or the same approach to everybody else, you will be quickly forgotten.”

He continues: “People don't read for content. That sounds counterintuitive but people read because they believe in you: they are interested in you as a person, and that interest percolates to what you have to say.” He encourages people to make sure their personality comes out in the voice they use when you talk about their niche.

Alessandro on stage Alessandro on stage at OpenStack community event in Silicon Valley

Alessandro notes that he’s regularly seen this phenomenon for 20 years and still sees it on a daily basis. For example, I was reading a guide for students who are considering a PhD, written by one of the cofounders of OpenAI. This has nothing to do with artificial intelligence; it is something that he wrote years ago. In this post, he advises going to conferences. He says to look less at the agenda and more at the speakers. Try to go for speakers you know and admire, or people you’ve heard are good – even if what they present is not aligned with your own research.”

Alessandro explains that this is a perfect example of his point: get people interested in who you are and the way you say things, and then what you say can almost become secondary. “Even if they don't agree with you, they will want to listen to what you have to say nonetheless because they have come to respect you and think that they have a valuable role in their life.”

More information on Synthetic Work

Read more about Alessandro Perilli and his Synthetic Work newsletter at synthetic.work.

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