“Writers, remember: the more we play the algorithmic game, the more the algorithmic game plays us.”

James Shelley notes that most articles today are written for algorithms — search engine and social media optimization. The goal of that writing is to maximize search engine placement and get a lot of “likes.”

It’s fine to use algorithms like that, he says. But we need to do it consciously, and be aware of how it’s shaping discourse for good or ill.

I say that as writers we need to also be aware of how writing for the algorithm affects our careers.

Writing for the algorithm turns your writing into a commodity. Your writing becomes interchangeable with others’. Economically, the people who win commodity markets are the ones with the most capital, and who pay their suppliers the least. As a writer, you are the supplier.

The endgame of writing for the algorithm is turning out blog posts for $10 each for a content farm. You can make a living doing that if you’re very fast, work extremely long hours, and can live very modestly.

The best way to achieve value as a writer is to write for readers and use algorithms as tools for finding those readers. Be prepared to sacrifice algorithms if they don’t work for the readers.

Sometimes you write for yourself and put it out there and hope it finds readers. Some of the most successful writers do just that. Also, some of the biggest failures.

1200px-Babbage_Difference_EngineDifference engine, an early computer, built from a 19th Century design by Charles Babbage. Photo by geni  (GFDL CC-BY-SA)

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