Possible Future Directions for Fight Aging!

So let me start out here by noting that (a) I am eternally unsatisfied with the present, (b) Fight Aging! has been more or less static in traffic, scope, and focus for at least five years, and (c) past changes have come slowly, usually proceeded by a few years of rumbling. Time waits for no man, however, and it is ever the case that the modest efforts I make here could be better, could achieve more, and could consume more of my time than they do.

So without any particular ordering or desire to see anything happen immediately, here are some possible future directions.

Dumb it Down

Fight Aging! is heavy on the raw, undigested science these days: links to papers, quoted research abstracts. Unsurprisingly, there isn't much of a market for that sort of thing falling into your in-box - most people still run the other way when presented with scientific publications. In a way its been something of a surprise to see that the continued level of traffic that does wander past the front door and subscribe to the newsletter.

One time-worn approach to reaching a wider audience is to dumb things down (the uncharitable viewpoint) or replace the raw output of the scientific method with interpretation and explanation (the charitable viewpoint). In the context of Fight Aging!, this would mean posting fewer straight links to papers and quotes from those papers, replacing all of that with short articles that provide analysis and commentary on research - an emphasis on explanations of relevance and place in the growing foundations of tomorrow's biotechnology and medical science.

This would necessarily mean a slower pace of posting; perhaps once-a-day or thrice-a-week sort of schedule. Time is ever at a premium, and the time taken to write and think is time not taken to wade through papers, news, and blogs to discover new and interesting trinkets.

This might wind up more valuable, or it might wind up less valuable. Traffic generally falls off when you slow down, but traffic is an extremely poor measure of engagement or persuasion - in fact, pretty much everything you can measure is a poor representation of engagement or persuasion. I have my doubts that even actual revenue in for-profit businesses is a good proxy for these things.

Take the Advertising / Social Network / Traffic-Growing Path

There is a fairly standard playbook for growing traffic to a web site or subscriptions to a newsletter. At a very basic level it involves selling ads and then plowing that revenue into advertising for new traffic and new subscribers. If you manage it very well and you have something that people want to read, it's possible to grow at breakeven or a manageable cost that might later be recouped by cutting back on the spending.

Involving social networks in this model offers some additional options to replace the use of money with the use of time and cleverness, but follows much the same path: you are running a growth engine that tries to pull in people at one end and uses the fact that they passed through in order to convince more people to try it out.

You might look at Next Big Future or Singularity Hub as examples. Both sites touch on longevity science here and there and have prospered through this sort of mechanism.

But note my comments above on engagement and persuasion. Insofar as I care about anything that results from a visitor's time at Fight Aging!, I am interesting in convincing people to donate to SENS, to buy into engineered longevity as a goal, and then to convince their friends. These things are all exceedingly hard to measure, but if plunging into the traffic-growth business, one has to start by taking it on faith that increased traffic will lead to more of whatever it is you want people to take away from your site.

The flip side here is that you also have to take it on faith that the significant changes made to a site that are necessary in order to take the advertising / social network traffic growth path will not impact the message. The reasons why I have never taken that path in the past relate to this. For example, I'm sure you can imagine the sort of advertisers that would want to have their products touted here; any sort of easily managed integration with an advertising network would produce a deluge of "anti-aging" lies and nonsense. It's impossible to filter those things in a reasonable amount of time, and I'd end up looking just like every other opportunist with a web site.

In a market where fraud is so loud, well funded, and well entrenched that its proponents cause problems for the legitimate research and development community, it requires a significant investment in time (at a minimum) to proceed without being tainted.

Lastly, it should be noted that generating advertising revenue is not a matter of just sticking ads on a site and continuing as you were. You have to chase the most valuable forms of advertising, which means that the content must adapt itself to the advertiser if you wish to have any meaningful success. That again is great way to lose your way as a voice or a viewpoint or a set of goals.

The fundamental challenge here is that there are next to no ethical products and services relating to human longevity. I could probably rattle off a few: calorie restriction self-help materials, exercise gear, medical tourism resources, books from the small number of more reputable authors, and so forth. But I'd be hard pressed to name many more than a dozen categories here. This is an industry still well in its money sink phase: life science research and fundraising is the only meaningful game in town.

Change the Core Message

The core message of Fight Aging!, the one page I want everyone to read, is broadly educational in nature. It is, perhaps naively, intended as a thin bridge across the gaping chasm that lies between (a) someone who knows next to nothing of longevity science, but is vaguely interested in health and longevity, and (b) someone who knows enough to be interested in and a potential supporter of the Strategies for Engineered Negligible Senescence.

A range of assumptions are baked into this, such as the idea that it is a process to get from point (a) to point (b), and that this is an important pathway for people to follow today. Implicit in that are some opinions on where SENS supporters come from in terms of their journey through health matters and an awareness of scientific research - see the community diagram for example, which seems still moderately relevant some eight years later. I may or may not be right about any of this. I might have been right back in 2001, but things may be sufficiently different now that a new approach would be better.

Regardless, insofar as I'm selling SENS, it's a soft and gradual sell. I'm convinced that, at this time and for the next few years at the very least, delivering money to the SENS Foundation and its aura of allied research groups is the best thing we could all be doing for our future wellbeing. Significant extension of our healthy lives will only come from ways to rejuvenate the old and prevent aging - and no-one else is credibly working on that yet. I haven't made a habit of pushing that message until people revolt from the mere mention of it, however. From an intellectual perspective, I'd rather folk came to the same position as I have on their own, given the data and background to think on it.

There is a debate that might be had here on the value of direct and more forceful persuasion versus building the environment within which a much smaller number of people convince themselves - but it's a long one, so I'll pass it over for now.

Nonetheless, Fight Aging! could be reworked as a much harder sell: a fundraising site that also delivers relevant news as opposed to a news and interest site that happens to tout SENS as a charitable cause. This is actually more of a radical change than it might sound when stated that way.

Write a Book

There is certainly enough material here to digest into a book, and then rework the site to focus on it, but books age poorly. A book and its launch is something like a party: something you do once, bask in the glow for fifteen minutes or so, and then move on with life. If you're not drawing much attention with your ongoing writing, then a book is unlikely to change that state of affairs. Good reasons to write a book are (a) because you can't not write it, and (b) you have gathered a lot of attention already and would like to capitalize on that.

So as I see it, writing a book in order to generate more attention in the long term is getting things exactly backwards. About the only argument with merit that I can see for digesting a book from Fight Aging! is to better organize the entire, broader message presented here - but other books, more successful than I could ever reasonably expect to be, already do this, have done this over the past decade, and continue to emerge to do this on an ongoing basis.

Offer Consulting Services

It might be naive, but one has to imagine that by this time everything I've learned and considered on the topic of longevity science might be worth something to someone - if it could be rendered into some sort of palatable form. If you close your eyes it might be possible to envisage a future Fight Aging! that looks like a strategic consultancy, offering white papers and presentations to the corporate risk assessment world, or some other hypothetical customer that doesn't already know all I that I understand about this one facet of technological progress.

This is a venerable market, but the question is whether or not taking this direction - even if successful, which is a big if - helps the bottom line more than what I'm doing now, or more than any of these other hypothetical paths forward. That bottom line of course comes back to engagement, persuasion, and funds raised for SENS.

In Summary

Do I know where I'm going with this? Hell no, and any of the smart long-time readers could do just as well with a course of suggestions, I'm sure. But life is change: you don't change, you don't do better, and I think that Fight Aging! is well past the point at which something should be tried.

Comments

I'm subscribed BECAUSE of the science. Remember that it's not only the amount of readers... it's the quality of those readers.

Who's most likely to contribute an organization that does scientific research? People interested in scientific research.

Of course, you could as you say, dumb it down and call it "The Manhattan Project to End Aging" http://www.fourhourworkweek.com/blog/2012/09/12/nusi/... but I still think the people who donated would be the ones who were a priori interested in the science.

Posted by: Matt at September 24th, 2012 12:09 PM

Have been following your site since 2003 if I remember correctly, it's a great site to keep us updated on the fight on aging. Do keep up the good work, looking forward to your new direction.

Posted by: Jason at September 24th, 2012 6:49 PM

I've been lurking off and on since 2004 and have only asked a few questions (via email) because I didn't think I had enough knowledge to make constructive comments. Although this isn't my background I find the comments to be insightful and yes, I have donated to the SENS cause so Fight Aging serves its function as far as I'm concerned. What I would suggest is some sort of ranking about the importance of the featured research in terms of usefulness. I'm an engineer and as such I'm looking at this from a 'how do you fix it?' point of view. Knowing how to get the most bank for the buck is difficult since the research is constantly evolving. Plus it seems that new findings are constantly changing our old ways of thought. Example: 'Junk' DNA isn't junk at all. I understand that this request might prove to be daunting but sometimes reorganizing thoughts in terms of importance is helpful. Please know that we are out here. It's just that some of us are silent watchers.

Posted by: Nancy at September 24th, 2012 7:04 PM

Everything you say above sounds correct, and admirable.

Have you thought about creating a FAQ? Unlike a book, a FAQ lends itself to being kept up to date, and if successful, becomes an influential and canonical resource for a long term. You kind of have a FAQ in the sidebar composed of links to articles, some of them many years old.

http://www.sens.org/sens-research/faq does exist, but very little detail.

One file in source control would probably do (or another page in your CMS, or a wiki, but those might be under- and overkill respectively).

I don't know anything about the consulting market, but other ways to get you and your summation and analysis to people who aren't going to follow a blog (made cheesy or not; please don't!) would be great. Presentations are one way to do that which complement a website, and probably would complement consulting.

Posted by: Mike Linksvayer at September 24th, 2012 7:21 PM

Hi Reason,

From one eternally unsatisfied transhumanist to another,

RE: Links to undigested science abstracts

I think much of your audience can be expected to have a high degree of scientific literacy. Personally, while I do enjoy the occasional research paper you post here (being fortunate to have unrestricted access to most journals) I think I would also value perhaps 2 – 3 sentences from yourself summarising the work, its importance, and what it will enable, followed by a shorter snippet from the article itself plus link. I get the feeling that this would be more accessible and engaging – at least that is what I find when I write my SciTech Digests every week.

Perhaps this way you can get the best of both worlds?

RE: Directed traffic growth

I also frequent Next Big Future and Singularity Hub, but I think their goals are different to yours. I see NBF and SH as more so news sources than advocacy outlets. The exception of course might be SH and their advocacy of Singularity University. If your goal is advocacy for SENS – and it seems to be that way – rather than pure news then I think advertising does run the risk of detracting from your message and goal. But note this isn’t a particularly strong opinion – I’m not completely sure this is the case; it is more of a hunch.

Personally, I am currently donating a dollar a day to SENS, and have been doing this since the start of this year. It is the birthday present that I bought myself and plan to continue buying myself. I wish I had started earlier and I hope to be able to increase this contribution in future. I can’t remember what the trigger point was for starting this, or even if there was one. But I have no doubt that Fight Aging! and the content that you have produced here played a role.

In addition to the longevity research news analysis, and your more detailed advocacy articles, maybe kick-start the Vegas group into more prominence. I joined the original Google Group but admit I haven’t really revisited it. Choose a project; “The Vegas Group is going to do XXX.” Where XXX might be some simple proof-of-concept such as:

•Put together a reliable (and peer-reviewed?) resource for medical tourism in one or more areas.

•Perform a marketable study (even if the funds are channelled through SENS) on one of the causes of aging in an animal or even human model.

These could be pitched as Kickstarter projects. One could also consider:

•Found a political party like Maria Konovalenko of the Science for Life Extension Foundation in Russia launching the Longevity Party.

Another avenue would be to promote special-interest groups on the major social platforms, for example market, promote, and encourage people to join the “SENS DollarADay Donators” group, have members prove their contributions in some way, and ask members to promote group membership to their friends too.

Just a few ideas for now.

Posted by: Mark Bruce at September 24th, 2012 8:57 PM

I love the science on Fighting Aging, but I think it's more important to get the message out to the general public - and I don't think anyone, SENS included do that very well at the moment.

My suggestion would be keep the RSS feed as is. Go social, but dumb the social network posts down to an understandable level for non-scientists and reference the main article if people want to read more.

Everything else you can do further down the line when the site is better established and you have someone running it for you.

Posted by: Andy at September 24th, 2012 10:04 PM

I too read Fight Aging daily because of the science reporting, which is superior to virtually everything else on the web. Don't dumb it down.

Posted by: Gary at September 24th, 2012 10:51 PM

I like the fact that there are both raw science articles, with a few reading notes, and more in-depth analyses or commentaries (some might call them rants), with 2 news and one article every day.
Some people who come to this site through reposts in social networks find it hard to get to the core of the site's articles, as they are not very organized and not easy to navigate, so some people think it delivers only news.
One thing that does make it slightly harder to spread the FA!'s articles is that there is no share button. Yes, we do copy/paste the url, it's not that hard, but you probably lose some reshares anyway.
Here's another idea, which strikes me as a possibility from your options above but that you didn't quite express: There is also the possibility of becoming a regular contributor to one of the other, better known and already networked, sites that you mention. Singularity Hub has a staff of contributors. NBF has the occasional guest posts, and might be looking for more. It might be easier than to rework the website on your own, and give you more time to post. Just an idea.

Posted by: Hervé Musseau at September 24th, 2012 11:45 PM

Your current content has attracted an audience that understands and appreciates it. You perform a valuable service for that audience. To attract a wider audience, launching a new product that is a dumbed down version of the highlights of the current product might attract a new, less scientifically literate audience. This might be a good thing to help realize your goal of supporting SENS. If would take more effort to do both, but perhaps not a lot more than it would take to produce the dumbed down product by itself. You are going to have to do all the research you already do anyway.

Posted by: Allen Taylor at September 25th, 2012 9:59 PM

Re: Dumbing it down vs providing hard science.

Can't you do both?

I ask because I think you provide a valuable service as is, but can't deny that making the information more digestible would help with advocacy.

What if you were to include the heavier stuff as additional info one might get to by clicking a link? You'd still be giving the detailed information to those who want it, and who knows? In time maybe those who visit for the appetizers will develop an appetite for the main meal. I'm certainly not a scientist, so diving right into heavy literature can be intimidating for me... but as my passion for and understanding of life extension has grown so too has my willingness to do so!

Converts are made via a clear, simple message. Only when one is already among the faithful may they advance to studying their faith in detail.

Posted by: Ben at September 26th, 2012 1:11 AM

I'm torn on this. I read FA for the hard-ish science, and the links to papers and news that I wouldn't easily find elsewhere. I don't want that to go away. But in terms of converting new people or spreading the word, it's a failure. And spreading the word is arguably more important right now.

I just don't have any big ideas on how to do it on a large scale that don't involve a lot of money. A few well placed millions of dollars could really raise awareness, but a website here or there isn't really going to do much unless the market is already near a tipping point.

In the immediate short term, I second some of the above social media suggestions: like/+1/share buttons, but also trackbacks and probably weekly reddit postings summarizing the most important things. While there are a lot of links to other sites here, it doesn't feel like a linked network of like minded individuals. Rather, it feels like a collection of links.

It may be worth taking a look at the pickup-artist community, and how they do their PR and blogs. Guest posts and bloggers are common, and there is extensive referral among members. It really gives a sense of community, of there being a lot of people involved and a lot of activity, even if that isn't necessarily the case. I don't at all get that sense on life extension sites; instead, it feels like a number of independent people all saying similar things and nodding occasionally at each other from across the room.

Honestly, I could probably do more personally. I have a small but captive audience of laypeople, and a few minor web sites and blogs I post on. While this would probably result in a few changes of opinion per year, it's nowhere near the critical mass that is so desperately needed.

Posted by: Dennis Towne at September 26th, 2012 12:49 PM

There is a difference between dumbing it down and writing for the lay person. You can write for the lay person without sacrificing quality.

Posted by: Joe at September 27th, 2012 1:29 AM

I've been visiting this site for years to be up to date with current research. In that way it is invaluable in its current 'smart' form (versus a 'dumbed-down' approach).

If you feel the need to do more, I would suggest to focus on the real issue keeping rejuvenation science back: money.

General public awareness, though desirable, is not a guarantee of increased funding for the cause. Neither is governmental appeals.

The only way to change gears and accelerate is by throwing more money at the problem. As I've said before, medical tourism + novel regenerative medicine is the sustainable way to approach this (the other is to try to convince a few billionaires to invest in their own futures). Sell treatments to the rich and then use that money to research better treatments. Rinse and repeat. Focus at first in relatively simple procedures with visible benefits (especially cosmetic) and scale up from there.

With all your knowledge you need only to decide which therapies could be made to work right now (or with just few trials) and then network and find investors willing to set up such a clinic/research center some place in Latin America (Honduras' RED independent cities might be good options) or a Seasted. Get SENS and people from the Singularity involved, and volunteers from here and other similar sites (I'm sure we all have valuable skills with which we could help).

If we don't do something bold soon, the expected date for the longevity escape velocity will become unattainable for those of us alive and reading this today.

Posted by: PedroC. at September 29th, 2012 12:08 PM

I know a lot of this has been said before, but I'll add my two cents.

It is more work, but adding a good summarizing paragraph to the beginning of your posts (Which you generally do) while keeping links/quotes from the hard science would probably be the best medium in terms of hard-science vs. mass appeal.

The two best ways to increase readership/increase impact would be to 1.) Guest post on both more futurist-tilted- next big future, singularityhub, H+, etc. But also try to make more lay-person specific guest posts for general news, wired, popsci, etc. These readers might not come in with a full understanding of the topics, but you will reach a much larger audience and might attract a surprising amount of new readers.

My second suggestion for getting readership up would be to allow us to share your articles/website much easier with twitter, facebook, reddit, etc. Many of our acquaintances might not be directly interested in this, but could be roped in through a constant sharing of catchily-titled posts in reddit or on facebook.

Similarly, as someone else suggested, you might do well to post a weekly summary of interesting news on a few subreddits on reddit. Some of the communities are small but highly engaged (e.g. r/singularity, r/futurology) and could become avid readers of your site.

Revamping your site to include more summarizations, easier sharing, doing more guest posts, and adding a weekly reddit summary will definitely increase your workload a fair amount but I really do think it would bring in a fair amount of untapped traffic.

On a related note: What do you think we readers can do to promote your message and pull in more visitors? E.g. Targeting other news/information sites and promoting your work from those venues.

Posted by: IvoryTowerScientist at September 30th, 2012 6:34 AM

I am involved with starting a website on health and anti-aging coaching and have contemplated the very problems you seem to be concerned with here, so this discussion is very relevant for me.

Left to my own devices (i.e., without consulting others), I would naturally do a lot of what you are doing. I would write on a topic, explain its relevance to the general field of health and anti-aging, post links to research, cite excerpts from that research, and the site would be commercial-free so as not to become influenced by companies' commercial interests and bias. Because I would want to coach, I would have a part of my site dedicated to that.

But!--

I am not sure this works.

I have been joining Webinars by marketers who are not into "affiliate marketing" where the only goal is traffic exchange and commissions whenever someone buys anything from an affiliate, with no regard for quality, honesty, truthfulness, etc. The Webinars I have attended say much the same things. They are not concerned just with "hits" to the site (which, as you say, do not equate with either revenue or rapport). They are concerned with driving people to the site who share similar needs, aspirations, and values. And, if one is selling something, then these customers, who already feel rapport and trust, are more willing to buy.

What these marketers are saying is this: 1) Find your niche. What do you feel passionate about? That's your niche. 2) How is what you are passionate about an answer to somebody's problem or need? 3) Find the ideal clients who want your unique service or answer to their problem or need. 4) Address these clients in language they understand when showing you have the answer to their need. 5) Say one's message in what I call words that "stick out and stick." In other words, that are memorable. 6) If selling something, give away something for free so that people can get to know and trust you and what you have to offer. Then they will be more inclined to purchase ongoing services or products. 7) Engage in dialogue through a blog and videos.

1), 2), 3) are by far the most important steps. A niche has to be very specific. "Anti-Aging" is very broad. One of the warnings the marketers say is this. They say many people are afraid to pick a niche because they fear it will be too narrow and there will be two few clients. These non-nichers prefer to try to please everybody. The marketers are very clear that trying to reach everybody ends up reaching nobody. I have certainly seen that to be true. They say it is much better to pick a niche that draws a specialized audience or client, and then if one wants a broader spectrum or wider reach, one simply creates a second niche, or third one, or.... But always specialized.

Anti-aging is not a niche: everyone ages. You would think everyone would be interested in anti-aging. It is a growing business, that is for sure; but business is not what this site is talking about. But do most people who are aging think about anti-aging? If they do, do they think of the term "anti-aging"? What word do they use? What consequences of aging are they aware of and what descriptors do they use for those symptoms? Thus: everyone knows obesity. Everyone knows heart disease. Everyone knows insomnia. Does everyone know that these conditions, gone on long enough, cause faster aging? Thus, people with diabetes, heart disease, and insomnia at a certain age might want to know about anti-aging. But they are not likely to think of the words "anti-aging". But they would think of the words "obesity","diabetes", "heart disease", "insomnia". These would be conditions and descriptors to use in finding an ideal client group. Also, anybody who is dedicated to exercise and supplement taking for many years, who thinks of oneself as involved with "fitness", "nutrition", "optimal energy", etc. is an ideal client because, at some age, when exercise and supplements no longer produce optimal energy and signs of aging are happening to one's body, this kind of person is ripe for the anti-aging message. This kind of person has been resisting aging for decades already! So, in line with the Webinar ideas, you would talk about diseases and symptoms that hasten aging, using language that is at the lay level for symptoms and at the medical level when naming diseases, and say simply how those symptoms and diseases hasten aging. And what one can do about it, providing links. From becoming aware of symptoms that lead to aging, to learning how to stop underlying causes: this, you would say, is the process of anti-aging. Now these health-conscious lay people have the concept.

I think Life Extension has found the level of address that neither "dumbs down" nor snows and bores. Their hard copy magazine, Life Extension, is clearly and simply written but with anywhere from 10-120 references to medical research at the end of every article. It is at just such a level that lay people can understand technical subjects and yet their physicians can respect the quality and authority of the very same writing. True, Life Extension is selling their products by way of most of their articles, but their articles seem reputable nonetheless and are a good example of what I think is the level I, at least, want to aim my text for a website that is neither dumb nor boring.

Hope some of this helps.

Posted by: David Dressler, BA, RMT at September 30th, 2012 7:11 PM

I love the webiste the way it is. Please do not change too much.

Posted by: Arthur at October 4th, 2012 3:15 PM

I realize I'm a bit late for input here, but I'll pitch in anyway.

I think you really should dumb it down. A lot.

Now, I understand there's some steady readers who oppose but honestly; those are ones who are already so involved in longevity science, they wouldn't disentangle from it even if you started writing about pony tails.

Your aim should be the uninformed people and thus your core message should always be something along the line of "this (immortality/indefinite lifespan) is ACTUALLY possible, if just funds" and every post are dumbed down examples of justification for that statement. Let discovery channel be your model of approach.

And yes, some different form of spreading the word would be great. A book could be such a solution, a TV appearance would probably be even better.

Posted by: Lars at October 9th, 2012 12:53 PM

From years of reading and from looking at the suggestions, your "product" is explaining research results, why they matter, and what you can do about it. Plus some good editorials.

Perhaps to gain a wider audience you could provide your "product" to other websites/blogs. There are a lot of sites that report or aggregate the same news that you do, but without any perspective or actionable advice. You could continue to produce the newsletter and blog entries as is, but then also provide your snippets (about individual research results) to other sites/blogs.

As for social media, I have found that they next to useless for drumming up support for a cause like life extension and rejuvenation, but a large chunk of the world uses these sites, therefore you should at least have a presence on social media sites - but make it automated. Creating your "product" is much more important (than wasting time on facebook)! For Facebook and Twitter, those accounts can be linked so that an update to one goes to the other. With a little help from a computer programmer you could probably get your updates to go to reddit, google+, and who knows what else. Automate the hell out of it and hopefully you can capture a larger audience (and drive more funding to Methuselah, SENS, Longecity, etc...) without much effort.

Also, use the share buttons/functions fomr some of these sites. Include them in your posts and newsletter. They work. A small portion of your audience will share & "like" and help spread the word.

Posted by: Justin at October 28th, 2012 9:10 AM

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