I am 100% convinced Observable is the right way to share computational thought. Sometimes though, it feels like notebooks are only read once during their birth on the page. However, I am happy to report you can create long-lasting content with lots of repeat visitors and it is surprisingly straightforward to do. In this article, I will share what I have learned on my Observable journey.
I took a data-driven approach to find out what works. After wiring my pages to Plausible Analytics I could finally get a birds-eye view of my readership. I found the results fascinating! Here are my page views in the last month (Nov. 2021):-
Collaborate and solve a platform need
My #1 content by a long shot is Composing viewofs with the view literal. This is a super useful utility that helps create complex UIs on the Observablehq platform. It fills a gap in the platform primitives, and clearly, I was not the only one who needed it. I collaborated with @mootari and @mbostock on it, and it was developed to support a consulting job that needed a production-level UI.
Now, I have written many libraries for Observable. None of them do as well as this one. I think this one resonated so much harder because it was the product of a business need, and it was refined via conversations with others. So my first tip for creating great content is: talk to others in the community! Use the forum or leave comments on people’s notebooks!
However, most of my other utilities are not in my top ten, which implies that it is actually very hard to develop a library that others will use. It took me 6 months of full-time work on Observable to understand enough to craft that library. So generally, I would say it is not a very easy path. The saas-tutorial and Firebase are other examples of Observable utilities that have done quite well, but again, they took a lot of effort to produce.
My next most popular content was created well over a year ago and is still going strong. The Most favorited Hacker News posts of all time went stratospheric on Hackernews, getting 1260 upvotes and linked to all over the web.