We launched freeCodeCamp.org/news two months ago. And readership has grown much faster than we imagined.
I'll save you the suspense. freeCodeCamp.org is now the 1,755th biggest website on earth. And /news has been a big part of that growth.
/news - like everything else freeCodeCamp does - is completely free. You don't have to sign in. We don't even have ads.
This is all thanks to the 5,000+ thoughtful people who support our nonprofit with donations each month.
And freeCodeCamp doesn't have some boardroom table of investors desperate to "monetize" us the second we get big enough.
Instead, freeCodeCamp is a tax-exempt charity owned by the public. (Even I - the teacher who founded freeCodeCamp - don't own any stock in it.)
Together, the global developer community is building a commons here that will last forever.
Long after the heat death of the universe, our collective efforts here today will continue to reverberate through the fabric of spacetime itself. ?
Let's recap the freecodecamp.org/news story so far.
In 2015 we moved all of our articles off of our Blogger blog and over to our Medium publication.
Medium was great. Really. But we outgrew it.
We used Medium as a Content Management System. That way we didn't have to worry about hosting. Or the occasional "Reddit Hug of Death" when one of our articles made it to the "front page of the internet."
These articles have always been on freeCodeCamp.org, on our Medium subdomain. So when the time came, we were ready to move to our own self-hosted blog.
Then in June 2019 we launched /news.
With /news, we were able to immediately make improvements. Like tearing out all of Medium's social media features and replacing them with more important things. Like code syntax highlighting and better accessibility.
For years, Medium has been blocked in China, Egypt, and Malaysia.
In this single act, we made all of these articles available to the quarter of humanity who hadn't been able to read them before.
/news is not a social media publishing platform.
There are already a ton of great open publishing platforms out there. Shout-out to:
Anyone can create an account on these social media platforms and start publishing within seconds.
They have fun feedback mechanisms. Hearting. Clapping. Unicorns.
And hundreds of people publish articles on these platforms every day.
/news doesn't have any of that.
Instead, we just focus on being useful to readers.
/news is more like an academic journal.
I know, I know. Academic Journals aren't exactly page-turners.
But they do push forward the state of the art.
And when you publish an article in an academic journal, people take your work seriously. They read it. They talk about it.
In designing /news, we took a lot of inspiration from academic journals.
For starters, we're selective. It's hard to get an author account.
Last month, nearly 1,000 developers applied to become authors. We approved less than 13% of them.
(If you applied and didn't get in: hang in there and keep practicing your technical writing. If you stick with it, you'll get there.)
And over the past 2 months I've met one-on-one with hundreds of past authors to personally onboard them to /news.
Second, we have an editorial team who goes through and fine-tunes these articles.
We've laid out our editorial philosophy in this detailed Style Guide.
After authoring hundreds of technical articles - and editing thousands of them - I have a pretty good idea of what works.
And I'll tell you the secret right here.
It's just one word.
We're focusing on substantial articles you can't read anywhere else.
As we established, there are already a ton of places you can cross-post your blog articles. The world doesn't need another one.
So /news isn't going to be another one.
Instead, we're going to focus on articles you can't read anywhere else.
Substantial articles take time to research and to write.
For example, I spent an entire week researching and writing this 6,500-word article about the history of Net Neutrality. A million people read it, and SXSW reached out to me to fly me down to Austin and give a talk about it.
This sort of thing happens all the time. It's common for freeCodeCamp authors to get freelance clients - or even job offers - on the strength of their freeCodeCamp articles.
That's because these authors put in the time. They put in the research. They want to get their article right.
At the end of the day, quality matters so much more than quantity.
Developers are busy. We want to read articles that are worth our time.
If /news only publishes one article a week, that's fine. So be it. As long as that one article is a good article.
/news gives authors megaphones.
We heavily publicize articles through freeCodeCamp's social media.
For example, here's our Twitter analytics for the past 28 days.
And even bigger than Twitter, here are our LinkedIn analytics:
And we don't just share articles when they're new. We keep sharing them over time. We're not chasing headlines. We're writing about things that matter today and will matter tomorrow.
For example, here's a story from a couple years ago that we just shared again this week:
And here are some other ways we optimize for readers:
- Since we don't care about "ad impressions" /news can use Google AMP, meaning /news articles come up much higher in Google search results.
- /news is lightning fast. We use as little of your phone's data as we can. This makes /news a preferred resource for people in countries with less developed IT infrastructure.
- Oh, and I have a mailing list of 2 million people that I use to publicize /news articles each week. Just saying.
/news is under heavy development
I'm a huge fan of Isaac Newton. He keeps me grounded.
You've probably heard his famous 1765 quote:
"If I have seen further it is by standing on the shoulders of Giants."
In designing /news, we stood on the shoulders of giants. We resisted the "not invented here" trap of rolling-our-own everything.
Instead, we're running Ghost, an MIT-licensed self-hosted publishing tool. I've been watching this project since it was founded, and the team has been steadily improving it and building out the features we need.
For comments, we're using our existing Discourse forum. So our moderator team can help keep comments civil and constructive.
This means the freeCodeCamp community is not alone. We have teams of other developers from other projects who are helping us steadily improve the performance and accessibility of /news.
The bottom line: publishing on /news means something.
If you enjoy putting in the work to write substantial articles - and want thoughtful people to read your articles - you are in the right place.
And for all of you developers reading this who are too busy to write articles right now - we appreciate your readership. We will continue to optimize for you in everything we do.