Muffled explosions echoed throughout the neighbourhood. Fireworks.
The lazy cat transmogrified from sleeping beauty to spiky ball of panic in a single heartbeat. Exploding into motion. Demonstrating a turn of speed rarely seen since the days of Chuck Yaegar.
I glanced at the time. 23:50.
Our pyrotechnically inclined neighbours had jumped the gun on celebrating New Years. Again! The harried father having long ago implemented a devious scheme to wrangle his kids out the door on time for school: set the clocks forward.
Backlit by an impressive aerial display of coloured explosions heralding optimism and new beginnings, I hit launch on my new side project.
Sovereign Quest was live. This wasn’t some vague New Year resolution, it was an actual New Year demonstration. In the immortal words of Yoda: “do or do not, there is no try“.
Refresh. Nothing happened.
A couple of weeks later I hit refresh again. No change. What was going on?
I was on one of my sporadic visits to FIREhub, looking at their curated feed of financial independence and early retirement content written by European bloggers. This had long been a fantastic place to discover new writers, and to keep tabs on topical issues that had caught the attention of the European FIRE community.
The feed had been dormant for several weeks.
Had the curators been abducted by aliens? Fallen ill? Gotten fired? Quit?
Maybe FIREhub been acquired? New owners with differing priorities. Succumbing to a similar fate as the community-minded sites that had existed when I began blogging a couple of years ago.
I long ago learned that the best way to have my questions answered was to go directly to the source. Fearing the worst, but hoping for the best, I contacted the nice folks who have tirelessly run FIREhub for several years.
Fortunately, they were still alive and in control. The explanation proved to be far less exciting than alien abduction. Scarce time. Competing priorities. Diverging interests.
Their fire had gone out. They had closed down their blog. FIREhub would continue, but in a less time-consuming form. One that would no longer feature the curated European content feed.
I must confess I was saddened by the demise of the curation. It had provided a valued service to the community, introducing new creators to an established audience. Sharing the love and paying it forward. Helping to overcome that “shouting into the void” feeling that all new creators experience.
Aggregator of ultimate doom
Recently, a fellow blogger recounted a dishearteningly long list of personal finance content aggregators that had launched and subsequently folded in recent years.
For whatever reason, each had failed to meet the expectations of its founders.
A common problem was coping with the sheer volume of new content being produced each day.
Collating content is a straightforward technology problem.
Minimal maintenance required.
The only manual activity required is to identify potential creators. Screen out the worst of the spammy, low-value, affiliate marketing funnels, and multi-level marketing promoters.
An aggregator provides the value-add of convenience. Good ones become a trusted location to discover new talents and follow personal favourites. It can also help new creators to find an audience.
This model works well for small communities. Where voices quickly become familiar.
Sovereign Quest is initially focussing on three such communities. The Personal Finance creators from each of:
One challenge several of the failed aggregators suffered from was one of scale.
As the volume of collated content increased from a trickle to a torrent, individual voices were drowned out. To the consumer, it felt like trying to drink from a firehose. A frustrating, messy, and unenjoyable experience.
Some of the failed aggregators attempted to mitigate the scale problem by using a popularity contest model. The idea was that worthy content would naturally float to the top based on clicks or upvotes.
Inevitably, the popularity model was quickly gamed by attention-seeking self-promoters. The top of the feed became littered with low-value spam that discouraged the audience from repeat visits.
Curated a little
While collation provides convenience, it still suffers from a low signal versus noise ratio.
This can be illustrated with a quick case study. Carolyn Gowen, who produces a long-running weekly curation, recently estimated that “to get the 7 or 8 pieces I link to each week I probably read around 150-200 pieces.”
That translates to a strike rate as low as 3.5%!
A country centric collation combines a disparate range of interests. Active investors journaling their trades. Coupon-clipping frugalistas. Diaries chronicling personal financial journeys. Educational pieces about the importance of unitising portfolios or how to avoid inheritance taxes.
Personal finance creators are, for the most part, a broad and supportive community. However, as individual content consumers, we tend to have more focussed interests.
Some aggregators provide the ability to filter by category at the creator level. This is a useful feature to a point, but raises the question of how a creator should be classified?
How would my random ramblings here at indeedably be categorised? Perhaps “interesting, but irrelevant”!
At Sovereign Quest, I am experimenting with a different approach.
The Sovereign feed is what I would describe as being semi-curated.
It features the collated work of selected creators who consistently produce high-quality general personal finance content. Those are combined with any curated gems discovered amongst the broader Personal Finance content feeds.
This approach will be refined over time, but should provide a significantly higher signal to noise ratio.
When I began blogging, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that one of the most enjoyable aspects of the hobby was interacting with other creators within the community.
Sites like Rockstar Finance were once great at fostering that sense of community engagement. Running competitions and promotions. Charitable initiatives. Themed writing events.
The founders managed to create a welcoming and inclusive community. Highlighting the best content they encountered, which in turn delivered the creator a brief flood of new visitors, a small portion of whom would then become dedicated readers.
I would like to revive some of those traditions that promoted creator interactivity at Sovereign Quest. What form takes will evolve over time, through experimentation to see what works and what doesn’t.
If you have any suggestions for features you would personally use or community activities you would personally participate in, please let me know.
Finally, I have a small request of long term readers:
Please help spread the word about Sovereign Quest!
The goal of Sovereign Quest is to help content consumers discover great new creators, and help those creators build broader audiences. The more Personal Finance consumers who frequent the site, the greater the pay it forward reward for those creators who have their amazing work featured.
Thanks for your support.
- FIREhub (2021)
- Lucasfilm (1980), ‘Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back‘
- Sovereign Quest (2020)