I started my YouTube channel, A Better Computer in the summer of 2020 and I've recorded 334 videos since then, so it might be a bit strange to say season 2 is just beginning. Still, I do feel like I'm making a turn when it comes to how I work on the channel.
I started A Better Computer in the middle of the pandemic, and I wasn't sure what I wanted to do with it. I announced it here and my initial intention was…vague. I wanted to teach people how to use their computers better, but the specifics were to be determined.
I've always been the sort of person who had computer tips and tricks I could share with people, and I'd been doing video tutorials at work for a few years before that, so I figured I could make tutorials on YouTube in that same style. I wouldn't be on camera, I'd just show you how to do a thing and I'd be a disembodied voice.
This went okay, and over the first 30 or so videos, I gained a couple hundred subscribers.
Matt enters the frame
It didn't take long to see that what I was doing was a little dry, and that the disembodied voice thing wasn't working brilliantly. I was making videos that were helpful, but they certainly weren't super engaging.
One thing I realized from talking to people was that people really connect with people when they can see them in videos like this, so I bucked up the courage and went on camera for the first time in video #29, my review of Dark Noise 2.0.
I just set up my iPhone on a tripod, and recorded an into against a blank wall that was basically the exact same color as my skin. It was horrible, and in retrospect, feels like a bit of a hostage video, but hey, you have to start somewhere!
Yes, it was cringy, but it turned out I could record myself and put it online without turning into dust from embarrassment. That's progress, baby!
A period of wandering
If you take yourself back to 2020, the productivty space was just starting to really ramp up. Roam Research was this hot new note-taking app that really kickstarted the notes app revolution we're still going through, and channels like Ali Abdaal were gaining major momentum.
I tried a few things like talking about productivity concepts and books that I'd read, but these never really felt natural for me, and my analytics showed these videos didn't get as much interest as my normal tutorials. I also did a bunch of Apple-related videos (iPhone reviews, event reactions, etc.) and these did abysmally for me. I think I was hurt here by not having early access to hardware, but honestly I simply wasn't able to make as compelling videos as others in the space. These Apple videos also absolutely tanked for me.
My first viral hit
This was my first video to really get a ton of traction, and it was my 56th published video to the channel. It's currently sitting at 143,000 views, although it got most of those in the first week.
I wouldn't say this was a turning point or anything, as it didn't move the needle a ton in terms of subscribers, but it was a great video to release literally days after monetization was turned on for me, and it drove home the point to me that successful videos weren't always about the highest production values (I recorded my iPad screen for like 10 minutes, edited that down for the next 20 minutes, and uploaded…this was massively low effort), they were more about talking about something people had top of mind and giving them something they couldn't necessarily try themselves. In this case you had to own the brand new iPhone and be running the iOS beta that released hours earlier.
I also had a banger thumbnail, that almost feels like clickbait, but it's actually not.
The next 278 videos
I don't think much changed drastically for the next 278 videos I made. I had a basic formula:
- Think of something cool I enjoy about computers (or see an update released for an app I like)
- Record a video showing off what's cool/new
- Record a quick intro and outro talking head segment
Often I could do all 5 steps in like 2 hours, so I was able to get videos out about new features quicker than anyone else. I hope they don't mind me sharing this, but I got sent this screenshot at one point from the Arc team Slack where they were shocked I had a video out about their new feature effectively before they had even communicated it out to the world.
That was one of my competitive advantages, but it also lead to a lot of videos hitting people's feeds, but that could also be a disadvantage, as some videos just didn't make sense to make in the first place, and others simply didn't resonate with the people who had subscribed to my channel in the first place. Just like marketing people will tell you every newsletter you send out is a new opportunity for people to unsubscribe, each new video I put in my subscribers' feeds is another opportunity for them to unfollow me as well. I want to make sure people who subscribe get something useful out of each video.
I took this summer off from making videos, and it gave me time to think about things a bit. Obviously, I've had a few videos get 100k+ views and I'm closing in on 20k subscribers, so I'm doing something right, but I think that a few things need to change in order for me to push past the ceiling I feel like I've hit with the project.
Fewer, better videos
This is a big one. Over the first 3 years of the channel, I averaged 2 videos released per week. That's BANANAS and it's unsustainable. This isn't my day job, and so this level of output has to end. My hope is that instead of being a constant feed of new videos about everything under the sun, I can transition to fewer videos, and making those videos more impactful.
I guess I'm thinking more full reviews & deep dives into how I use the best apps, and fewer "this update came out an hour ago, here are my first impressions" videos.
Over the first season of ABC, I did one sponsored video (Squash) and I did 2 ad segments (Drafts), but it's fair to say that 99.9% of my income from the channel came from AdSense revenue. That's great, and it has helped fund my tech purchases over the last few years, but it's not "serious money" by any means. When I look at other YouTubers, AdSense is usually like 25% of their income, and they've diversified their income streams much better than I have at the moment.
Change 1 is that I am going to be taking on more ad deals going forward (I already did one with Atlas Coffee Club). I assume most videos will remain ad-free, but I should be less afraid to do these. Of course, I will only do ads for things I actually believe in.
Change 2 is that I'm going to do some affiliate links for products I talk about. I need to make sure I still give my real opinions on the stuff I link to, but if I genuinely like something and I can make a small amount of money if I convince someone else to buy that thing, it seems reasonable for me to do that. Hopefully my reputation has built trust here over the past decade plus of sharing my opinons online.
This is a back end change, but I've managed my work from Notion for the last 3 years, and Obsidian's recent addition of properties (currently in beta, but should release wide soon) have made me try to use it as my project management tool, and it's going pretty well. I'm not 100% sure it'll stick, but expect a video walking through this very exciting new feature very soon.
I love making videos, and I love teaching people new things, so I'd be doing something like this no matter how many people were following along, but I'm lucky to have people like you who are so encouraging, so friendly, and so supportive. I think this new season of A Better Computer will be better for both you and me, and as always, I'm flexible and will continue to tweak things as we go.
Let's have fun 😁