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Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Grand Illusion: The Real Tim Ferriss Speaks

Will the real Slim Shady please stand up?

This is Tim Ferriss. The real Tim Ferriss.

This is the first time I have written a post on this blog since March 30, 2007, 366 days ago, when I penned “How to Live Like a Rock Star in Buenos Aires.”

In the meantime, a virtual pair—Vanhishikha “Van” Mehra and Roger Espinosa—have taken my blog to the Technorati-1000 (around 600 at best) and had their content featured, under my name, in media from The New York Times to CNBC.

I’ve suggested topics and asked explicitly for some when I had photos or video to post, but Van and Roger are the short answer to the common question: how can you work four hours a week if you spend so much time on the blog?

The answer is: I don’t.

The impetus was an on-stage challenge at the 2007 SXSW two weeks earlier, and I resolved to demonstrate just how well the concepts in 4HWW could work. This is one of several pending year-long examples…

Here’s how my longest-term outsourcing experiment to date was executed:

1. Preparation: I used Elance.com to post an online editorial position, and I asked for three writing samples of 250 words on the topics of travel and productivity. There were 11 qualified applicants and four finalists, who further submitted a single 750-word article each.

2. People: Two of the four were selected on a trial basis to produce blog content as a pair.

The first, Vanhishikha “Van” Mehra, an undergrad and computer science major in Bangalore, had an impressive ability to choose topics and spot trends, but her English—learned through private schooling with non-native speakers—contained both British colloquialisms and mistakes common to Indian learners of English. She would be the content originator.

Roger Espinosa, the second, was raised in Chicago until 17 and then educated in Manila to become a systems administrator. He didn’t have the same knack for original content as Van, but his writing was native in appearance and not only grammatically correct but also idiomatically correct (e.g. “peanut butter and jelly sandwich” vs. “jelly and peanut butter sandwich”). He would become Van’s editor and publisher.

3. Process: Roger had sole rights to publish via Wordpress, and their collaborations were were initial proofread by my Canadian assistant Amy, then later spot-checked by her via RSS. There have been fewer than half a dozen corrections after publication. I will often suggest topics on Mondays after checking e-mail and sometimes explicitly request posts that will allow relevant photos and video to be posted.

4. Van is paid $20 per post and Roger $15. Both get 100% performance bonuses if a given post front pages on Digg but must follow a “best practices” spec sheet to avoid violating user rules and getting blacklisted. I offered to increase the bonus to 200% for Van if it was directly applied to private English lessons with a tutor of my choosing, to whom I would remit payment directly. She has elected this since month 3, and it contributed to a more than 20% increase in front paging on Digg and other social ranking sites in the subsequent six months.

5. The “Odds and Ends” updates and miscellaneous are usually selected or created by me but transcribed by Amy after our once-daily 10-minute action item calls.

So, dear reader, there you have what I’ve been dying to tell you all for the last year, but I wanted to see if it was possible to make it to the 365-day mark.

Some of you have noticed TOEFL-esque phrasings here and there, and more than a few have noted the strange inflection of a few comments (Roger has written about 75% of my comments).

Please don’t be upset by this, and I encourage you to view it as I intended it: a major example of how well personal outsourcing and “offchoring” can work.

I’ll be writing at least once per week for the next two months, and we’ll see if my posts are half as popular as Van and Roger’s :) If you have any topic suggestions, please let me know in the comments.

Much more to come,

The Real Tim Ferriss

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Important Postscript!

Happy Japanese April Fool’s Day!

Man, oh, man. I was going to wait until tomorrow, but this post has kicked up some dust, so I wanted to own up. Yessir, it’s an April Fool’s Day prank. Sorry for any confusion! It would have been too obvious on April 1st in the US, so I used the alternate time zone. More to come tomorrow, but I write all the posts (minus attributed guest posts) myself. As _Jon put it in the comments: “a personal blog shouldn’t be work, it should be a passion. If you need to outsource it, you have the wrong motivation.”

I couldn’t agree more. That’s why I’m here writing the posts, including the stupid ones (man crush anyone?).

This little prank has been in my head since Jan. 10th, when the infamous Tucker Max suggested a much better version that I was unable to pull off due to this London trip:

“BTW—I had a hilarious idea for what you need to do for an April Fools prank: Write a post, complete with video, about how you have taken outsourcing to the next level. You’re paying people to workout for you, to eat for you, sleep for you, watch TV for you, do literally everything. The vid would show you sitting in a chair in a white room,
cutting intermittently to people doing things with shirts that have “I am Tim Ferriss” on them. It would be f*ing HILARIOUS. You have to do this.”

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