Posts From February 2008
I always seem to have half-a-dozen ideas for articles floating around in my head. I usally leave them up there until one sparks, and I get a good idea of how to start the article.
The “spark” for my previous article, The Journey, actually came to me about 15 mintues after surgery: Wisdom tooth extraction. I had the dentist put me under, and afterwards — as my wife was driving me home, and while I was still extremely loopy — the spark came. I grabbed my iPhone and thumbed out the idea I had for a weblog article about the feel of an application which later turned into what you read last week.
For fun, I thought I would share verbatim the notes I thumbed out, typos included:
On feel. Its not just about the end result. Its also about the process and experience. Maybe an app does have a few less features than another but if my extra time spent to make up for those missing features is enjoyable then maybe its time well spent and mayebe the other app with with all those features is robbing me instead if helping me.
I’m doing a few updates to the server and database. If you’re seeing this then so far so good, though it’s highly possible that things may be a bit “glitchy” for some people today.
When I was in sixth grade I designed my first printed masterpiece. It was an invitation to my Sixth Grade Blowout Bash.
My mom threw me a party for graduating elementary school. It was one of those events in which a parent decides they want to start a tradition for their kids. Since I’m the oldest I got to do it first. The tradition ended with my sister, who is my only other sibling, and will never be continued.
I carefully crafted the invitation in MS Paint. It had black and white checker border, balloons and confetti, and sported some ancestor of Comic Sans. I printed them on blue card-stock and handed one out to all the other sixth graders. “Yes, I made them myself!”
By the 7th grade it was universally understood that I knew twice as much about computers as anyone else in my family. If my dad was having trouble with his PC at work, I would ride my bike down after school and see what I could do. And by that I mean I would look intently at the File Manager as if I were searching for a very specific piece of information. Then I’d defragment the thing, reboot and tell him he needed a new monitor.
In high school I took both of the programming classes available to budding programmers — toying with the idea of a career in computers. But I’m too social, and the nerds I took those classes with were a little to weird for me — turning me off to a future at a cubicle.
But my interest in computers never waned.
After high school I took all my graduation money and bought a top-of-the-line blue laptop from Dell: A Five hundred megahertz Intel processor; Six gigabyte hard-drive; One-hundred and twenty-eight megabytes of RAM; Fourteen inch display. The thing was smokin’.
In college, my truly tech-savvy roommate laid the smack-down on me and I realized that I knew virtually nothing about my laptop and computers in general. The truth was revealed and I discovered I was a wannabe. (Though I did feel better after installing Winamp, Napster and a Nintendo emulator.)
Sure I knew a bit more about my operating system than the average user, but I found out about an entire community of users who knew way more than me.
After my freshman year, I dropped out of college and moved to Kansas City to join a ministry full-time as a drummer. The band I was playing with decided to start experimenting with drum-loops and other sorts of computer-powered musicianry.
I advised my friend who would be funding the endeavor to buy a Macintosh, saying: “They weren’t good for normal stuff, but they were good for music and graphics stuff.” He bought a 1st generation 12″ PowerBook G4. (It didn’t even come with an Airport back then, thought his 40 gig hard-drive blew the socks off my now aging Dell’s 6GBs.)
When the band’s new computer arrived we all went over to Marcus’ apartment to play with the new setup.
5 minutes with OS X and I was hooked.
I thought to myself, “This is not what I remember.” The colors, the layout, the look of the windows…it was different; it was incredible. It was fun.
It was in the 3rd and 4th and 5th grades that I learned to type on an Apple //e. It was in junior-high that I would play card-games on my grandparent’s Macintosh Classic. To me, Macs were neat little computers but they didn’t have a right mouse-button and seemed a bit “out of date” and “not for the serious user”.
It was that day in 2003 that I was actually introduced to Apple computers.
Now I hated my Dell. It went from “laptop powerhouse” to “clunky junky” in about 5 minutes. It took me two years to save up the money to buy my own 12″ PowerBook, and in 2005 I saw the renewal of that seed which was planted in me as a sixth grade designer and closet nerd.
Since using Apple computers, my perception of what technology can be has changed drastically. Technology is more than a tool to help us accomplish a task better; technology has the potential to improve our lives.
What then is the difference between a mundane task and a pleasant experience? Joy.
If you had the choice to drive to the grocery store in your old Chevy wagon or your friend’s new Dodge Viper, what would you choose? The Viper, right? Both get you to the store and back, but the Viper will plaster a smile on your face.
It goes for working too. If you have a job you love you never have to work a day in your life…the superficial end-goal of “enduring this crummy 9-5 so I can retire with the rich and famous” drifts away.
I read in Southwest’s Spirit Magazine (don’t ask) that 61% of self-employed entrepreneurs would not go back to working for someone else even if they were offered more money than they are currently making. Meaning there are men and women who have a job (9-5 or self-employed), and love what they do.
It’s because when you work a job you love it’s about the experience and the journey. Is that not what life is all about anyway?
When our life is only about the destination we miss out on all that happens and exists from here to there. And that is life itself. That is why the feel of an application means so much to us; it represents enjoyment of the journey which we long for in our own lives.
Part of my job is the opportunity to travel around the country putting on Christian conferences targeted at “young adults” (18 – 25 year olds).
I love to travel. And 16 of us just flew in to Sacramento last night for our first conference of 2008. I’m looking forward to 18 hour days, uncomfortable hotel beds, Pete’s Coffee and (most importantly) the chance to make a difference in 1,200 young adult’s lives.
John Gruber has been writing the often quoted, ever popular Daring Fireball since 2002.
I had the privilege to interview John via email and ask him some questions that don’t seem to get asked. Of course we talked about DF, how the Linked List began and how he got into Macs. But we also talked about writing, what John eats for breakfast and more.
And yes, I also got a lesson in email bottom-posting etiquette.
- SHAWN BLANC: In 2004 you mentioned in your Something Daring article that developer interviews and software reviews were two of your favorite things to write. When I read your interview with Brent Simmons I think it may have been the longest email interview posted to a weblog I had ever read. Fortunately for the three of us it was good, worth reading and even a few years later I’ve found myself going back to it for reference.
What are some elements that you think help to make a good interview? What are some dynamics that you hope to incorporate in the interviews you conduct?
- JOHN GRUBER: You need to be really well-versed, as the interviewer, regarding the work of your interviewee. You must be prepared up-front with questions that you’d like to learn the answers to, but at the same time, I think you have to be ready to let the interview veer into unexpected territory. You want a plan, but you also want to be able to wing it as it goes.
The mistake I see in most interviews conducted over email is that the interviewer simply emails the subject a single list of questions, all at once. Just a two step process: “Here are my questions,” then, “OK, here are my answers.” There’s no room in a simple process like that to ask follow-ups, or to delve into details or pursue interesting but unanticipated digressions.
- SHAWN: Funny you say that, because it is the exact scenario for many of the first interviews I ever tried to conduct. I say “tried” because most people I asked were unwilling to participate.
After reading your interview with Brent I realized that a published interview can and should cause the interviewee to shine. I see it somewhat as the interviewer’s job to draw out information that never would have appeared in a generic list of Q&A.
I know the reason I attempted the two step process was because I assumed an email conversation would be too much of a time requirement for the interviewee — that the two step process would be more convenient. But based on my experience that is obviously not the case. Why do you suppose that?
- JOHN: Well, in some ways it is more convenient. Just set aside time to write one email answering all the questions and you’re done. Maybe it doesn’t seem as worthwhile, though. Personally, I’m more interested in participating in an interview that seems interesting than one that seems easy.
- SHAWN: With the insane amount of email you get why would you prefer to take the time needed to conduct a longer, drawn-out interview such as this rather than the quicker two step style? I’m know you must get hundreds of emails soliciting your attention; how do you handle it all?
- JOHN: I just say no to most requests. Or, I’m sad to say, I never get around to answering some requests. If I answered all my email, I’d have no time to write Daring Fireball. I really believe that — some days I could spend 8-10 hours just answering emails that come in. Part of that, surely, is that I don’t have comments on the site, so when some reader has a remark they just have to get off their chest, email is their only recourse. That’s cool. But it means I treat email more like comments — I look at them all, but I respond to very few.
- SHAWN: On your site you say over 50,000 people subscribe to the feed. My guess would be that most of them keep Daring Fireball at or near the top of their subscription list — because they like what you like, read what you read and want to know your opinion. Thousands of them have never met you but feel like they know you in some way. If they bumped into you one day they may give you a good hand-shake and tell you how much they love reading Daring Fireball.
Some of these guys are developers, some are designers and some are just folks that like their Mac. Whoever they are they read your site and (hopefully) like you; this interview is for them.
Now, correct me if I’m wrong – and please fill in any gaps – but here’s what your story looks like to me:
In 2002 you were doing freelance consulting, web-development and tech writing. Meanwhile, after months of picking out the right “slate blueish background color” you finally launch Daring Fireball and begin writing articles for which your wife was the first reader. Two years later you start offering the membership and also end up working at Bare Bones. Then two years after that, in 2006, you quit your day job and now spend your time publish DF from home.
- JOHN: Your chronology is a bit off. I worked for Bare Bones from 2000 to 2002. I started DF a few months after that. Joyent was the company I worked for while writing DF, from January 2005 through March 2006. When I left Joyent was when I started writing DF full-time.
- SHAWN: After all that journey, is writing DF what you expected or hoped it would be? I’m curious if you still feel like the same guy who five years ago began a weblog because he really just loved to write?
- JOHN: Do I feel like the same guy? Yes.
Is the site what I thought it would be? No.
I didn’t really have a detailed long-term plan for Daring Fireball. I still don’t. It started very simple, and I’ve changed and added things slowly over time. The plan was just to keep improving it steadily over time. That plan remains in effect today.
When I make elaborate, detailed plans, I get too attached to the plans, too reluctant to break with them. Plans aren’t a product. I’m only effective when I’m working directly on a product.
A great example is the Linked List. The Linked List didn’t appear on DF until June 2004, almost two years after the inception of the site. I hadn’t planned on adding the Linked List. My original idea was that DF would consist only of articles. Sometimes short articles, but articles nonetheless. And certainly no more than two or three in a day, tops, and usually just a few per week.
What happened is that I was frustrated by the number of things I wanted to link to, things I wanted to bring to the attention of DF readers, but which I didn’t want to write a full article about. It was also the case that I wanted an easy way keep the site fresh even during stretches when paying work — remember that this was two years before I went full-time with DF — was consuming so much of my time that I didn’t have time to write articles.
The other thing was that the Linked List was largely initiated as a bonus for paying members. Originally, the only way to get live updates to Linked List content was through the members-only RSS feeds — the items didn’t appear on the web until the next day. In hindsight, that certainly seems silly.
Over time, the Linked List has grown from a peripheral gimmick into an essential component of the site.
- SHAWN: What does your average day look like?
- JOHN: My day looks very dull. That’s not to say it is dull — to me at least — but I strongly suspect it would look dull. Writing is a lonely endeavor.
Typical day: I wake up when I wake up. Mid-morning, typically, but if I’m working on a major project or article, I sometimes wake up early because I’m anxious to finish. I get coffee. I go to my office in my home and pick up where I left off the night before. Some days that’s with an article I’m working on, some days that’s with things to read that I might want to post to the Linked List. I’m either writing or reading — or, occasionally, hacking on code for some new feature on the site — all day long.Ernest Hemingway said this:
You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again.
He was talking about writing books, but I find his advice perfectly apt for what I’m doing with Daring Fireball. Without having a boss or editor, I could do anything at the start of the day. Leaving off the day before with something specific in mind for what to do next is an enormous aid to getting going.
- SHAWN: Additionally, my wife wants to know (a) what you eat for breakfast, and (b) if you like to hug your wife?
- JOHN: I’m on an oatmeal kick this week, but usually just a banana. The big thing, though, is coffee, always coffee.
- SHAWN: Coffee black?
- JOHN: Of course. It’s not really coffee otherwise. And who doesn’t like to hug their wife? Is there an anti-hugging contingent out there I’m not aware of?
- SHAWN: No. My wife just likes to know how other wives are treated by their work-from-the-home-office husbands.
About the Linked List: Do you spend the majority of your day reading feeds? Do you skim articles or read every one? How do you decide what makes the cut? Do you have a running tab of sites you want to link to but haven’t yet?
- JOHN: I get links from a variety of sources. For breaking news, things that have just happened or were just announced, the best source is email. If something big happens, I usually get a few emails about it soon thereafter. Other than that, I read voraciously. I almost never post something to the Linked List that I haven’t read entirely.
I try not to spend too much time in NetNewsWire. I usually have it open, but I find I’m more productive if I make fewer (but longer) sweeps through it looking for new stuff. As for what I link to and what I don’t, it’s very much like Justice Stewart’s definition of obscenity: “I know it when I see it.” There’s a certain pace and rhythm to what I’m going for, a mix of the technical, the artful, the thoughtful, and the absurd. In the same way that I strive to achieve a certain voice in my prose, as a writer, I strive for a certain voice with regard to what I link to. No single item I post to the Linked List is all that important. It’s the mix, the gestalt of an entire day’s worth taken together, that matters to me.
- SHAWN: How often do you get requests for a DF link?
- JOHN: Surprisingly, to me at least, I don’t get that many requests for links. I do get many press releases, which I suppose are implicit requests, and a few times a day people will send me links to things they’ve posted on their own weblogs that they think I might be interested in. I very seldom find anything from a press release worth linking to. A lot of times, though, the stuff people email directly — “I wrote this, thought you might like it” — is perfect Linked List material.
- SHAWN: Something else Hemingway said:
All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you: the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.
My point being, at the end of the day it is clear that the bread and butter of Daring Fireball, as well as what you take the most pride in, is the articles. The “Fireballs”. You are a writer.
You have managed to create a tech-based weblog and build a community of readers that not only looks to you for information and opinions, but listen (or read) to everything you have to say. They actually feel ownership of the elements, content and topics on Daring Fireball. You’re like the E.F. Hutton of the Mac community.
Khoi Vinh said publishing Subtraction.com has actually hindered him as a writer. Did you consider yourself a writer before you began blogging? Do you have any personal history in writing, or did you find your voice through publishing DF?
- JOHN: I’ve considered myself a writer ever since college, when I wrote for (and eventually became editor of) the student newspaper at Drexel University. I wrote a regular op-ed column for the paper, and by the time I graduated in 1996, I felt I’d gotten pretty good at it. But then what? A career in journalism? An entry-level job as a reporter working for some publication that I wouldn’t otherwise read? Not for me.
So I waited and thought about it. Somewhere around 2001 or so, it occurred to me that I’d been thinking about what next to write for five years, which was as long again as the time I spent at the paper at Drexel. That was a bit depressing — but really only just a bit, because for some reason it felt to me that my writing skills hadn’t atrophied at all. On the contrary, I felt like I was a better writer than I was in college, even though I hadn’t been writing at all. That struck me as incongruous, because I was also convinced that the reason I was a much better writer when I left college than when I started was simply by writing and editing so much material for the paper. So while I felt like I was still becoming a better writer, I strongly suspected I was deluding myself.
At the time, I was working for Bare Bones Software, and there was a question on the Mailsmith-Talk mailing list from a customer asking for help with a script that would count the number of words in all the messages in a mailbox. So I wrote a script that did that, and I ran it against my own outgoing message archives. The script was smart enough to count only words that weren’t in quoted passages, ignored signatures, etc. I forget the exact result, but the result was just preposterously high. Based on some common rules-of-thumb, I’d written several books worth of email messages over the previous five years — posts to mailing lists and a ton of personal correspondence, all of which I tried to write the hell out of.
Around that same time, it became obvious that the outlet I’d been waiting for was available: I needed to start my own weblog.
I’ve improved significantly as a writer in the last five years, but I feel as though I’m continuing to hone the exact same voice that I started aiming for 15 years ago in college.
- SHAWN: Do you have any advice for writers who are struggling to find their voice?
- JOHN: I honestly don’t know what works for others. The act of writing, like any art, defies description. Some of the best advice I’ve seen regarding how to write essays is from Paul Graham. He says writing is thinking, and, insightfully, that writing forces you to think better. He wrote, “Just as inviting people over forces you to clean up your apartment, writing something that other people will read forces you to think well.”
My other suggestion (also, I think, stolen from Graham) is to concentrate on writing things with lasting value. I’m not sure I’ve been doing a good job of this at all lately — I think too much of what I write currently at DF is about stuff that’s only relevant right now. I’m certain that what helped me make a name for myself, what built the DF readership, were the long pieces I did in the first few years, most of which are still relevant, or at least still interesting.
There are a lot of people writing for the web today; but there aren’t that many at all who are trying to do great writing for the web.
- SHAWN: How has your approach to writing articles on DF changed over years? Have you gotten better at writing something and publishing it or are you more meticulous than you used to be?
- JOHN: That’s hard to put into words. Early on, I had to think about my “voice”. I was conscious of my style. Now, not so much — I “just write”, and the style seems to come naturally. Part of that is that you get used to anything over time, but a bigger part is that the style changed slowly over time — I kept tweaking it until I found the perfect pitch, at which point it became something I didn’t have to think about to achieve.
Put another way: early on, I had to concentrate both on what I was saying and how was I saying it. Now I just concentrate on what I’m saying.
I also find it much easier to write now that I have a regular audience. The hardest thing for me starting out at the very beginning was trying to shake the feeling that I was writing something no one would read. It felt like delivering a speech in an empty auditorium.
- SHAWN: Are there any other weblog articles which have stood out to you over the years as being an exceptional display of online writing?
- JOHN: I object to the adjective “online” in that question. Why not simply weblog articles have stood out as exemplary displays of writing, period? The idea that weblogs are a bastard or lesser medium holds many writers back. I find, in fact, that the opposite is true. Most magazines I read are filled with bland, tepid prose. There’s only one New Yorker, and only a handful of other magazines in the same ballpark.
My two favorite weblog writers are Paul Graham and Dean Allen. They’re the two who’ve written the most things that simultaneously delighted me (as a reader) and filled my heart with jealousy (as a writer).
Paul Graham wrote:
My experience of writing for magazines suggests an explanation. Editors. They control the topics you can write about, and they can generally rewrite whatever you produce. The result is to damp extremes. Editing yields 95th percentile writing â€” 95% of articles are improved by it, but 5% are dragged down.
- SHAWN: What are a few of your personal favorite DF articles?
- JOHN: My favorite articles tend to be the ones that seemingly come out of left field. The first “Anthropomorphized Brushed Metal User Interface Theme” piece, for example. Or the occasional personal piece, like “Vacation, All I Ever Wanted“, which I wrote a year ago. I was going for something very specific with that one, very hard to hit, and I nailed it.
My favorite essays on standard DF topics are probably:
It didn’t really stand out to me when I wrote it, but “Good Journalism” was recently included in a “Best of Technology Writing” compilation, and looking back on it, it strikes me as very effective criticism.
I will add this:
I’ve been thinking a lot that while the overall quality of DF has gone up since I started writing it full-time, that’s mostly because I’ve been writing more items, more regularly. I think the trade-off has been that there have been far fewer extraordinary articles. I.e., I’ve been writing a lot more good stuff than I used to, but less great stuff.
I think I know how to fix that, though.
- SHAWN: How so?
- JOHN: Simply by being self-aware of it.
Pre-Linked List, when DF only consisted of regular articles, there’d occasionally be stretches of a week, sometimes two weeks, where I wouldn’t find time to write anything. During those stretches, I’d feel overwhelmed with the desire to write something good to break the dry spell. Eventually it’d become all-consuming, and I’d just have to write something good.
Even though I now post something to DF nearly every day, and articles a few times a week, I’m starting to get that feeling about posting substantive essays.
- SHAWN: Ah, that’s fantastic. I’m glad you brought up the issue of substantive content. It is something which is constantly on my radar as a writer and a designer.
William Faulkner said something along these lines that I love:
It is [the poet's, the writer's] privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and pride and compassion and pity and sacrifice which have been the glory of his past.
I suppose my question to you is this: as someone who enjoys reading and writing tech news and reviews and opinion pieces — which by nature are usually only relevant for a short time — how do you define and create substance in your own writing? And more than that even; as a writer, John, what do you think makes substantial content?
- JOHN: Something that’s only useful or interesting here and now can still be substantial. The only short definition I can think of is how much talent and time goes into something. The more talent and time, the more substantial.
For me, much of the effort in writing, especially on technical topics, is in creating a narrative. By that I mean writing a piece that reads straight through, pulling the reader along. A perfect example of this is the way John Siracusa writes his epic-length reviews of major new Mac OS X releases for Ars Technica. What makes them so substantial, and so good, is that he crafts them into a narrative. Most reviews of something like Leopard read like bullet lists — a list of features and what the reviewer thinks about them.
What graphic design is to a visual idea, writing is to a verbal idea. My goal is to craft my writing in such a way that makes it as easy and obvious as possible for the reader to “get” exactly what it is I’m hoping they get.
- SHAWN: Speaking of reviews, this leads right to what I wanted to talk about next: reviews…
It seems whenever I read a review you’ve written it basically states the obvious. But it’s the obvious things I didn’t think to check into and discover on my own. When writing a product review what are the things you look for to talk about in your article?
- JOHN: That’s an interesting observation. I’ve never thought of it that way.
Perhaps it’s more “examining the obvious in great detail” than “stating the obvious”. Trying to think about things that don’t get thought about very often.
- SHAWN: “Examining the obvious in great detail”. Ah yes. That is exactly what it’s like. I didn’t mean to make you sound so dull by the way I described it. I think “Full Metal Jacket” is my favorite DF article. It made me want to keep using my PowerBook until it evaporates, or something.
- JOHN: That “Full Metal Jacket” piece is one of my favorites — one that turned out exactly how I wanted it to, and the sort of piece I’d like to do more often.
One of my favorite quotes of all time, probably my very favorite, is this one from Stanley Kubrick: “Sometimes the truth of a thing is not so much in the think of it, as in the feel of it.” A lot of times when I’m reviewing something, what I’m trying to do is capture the feel of it, rather than the think of it.
- SHAWN: What was the first Mac you ever owned?
- JOHN: A Mac LC with 4 MB of RAM and a 16 MHz 68020 CPU. My parents bought it for me for my freshman year at college. It had a 12-inch 512×384 display. I always regretted that I didn’t get an SE/30 instead. I was suckered by the color display.
- SHAWN: What does your current Mac setup look like now?
- JOHN: A 15-inch PowerBook G4, maxed out with 2 GB of RAM. When I’m at my desk, I use a 20-inch Cinema Display.
- SHAWN: How did you end up publishing a “Mac Nerdery, etc.” weblog?
- JOHN: I don’t have an explanation for it other than that I’ve been naturally drawn to computers ever since I was a kid, and when I first started using a Mac in high school, which I think was in 11th grade in 1989, I knew I wanted to own one. If you have an interest in user interface and experience design, I don’t see how you wouldn’t be drawn to the Mac.
I knew coming out of college that I wanted to be a writer. And the type of writing I always felt most suited to was being a columnist. I’ve always enjoyed the way that with good columnists, it’s not just that their individual articles stand on their own, but that there’s something greater than the sum of the parts when you follow them as a regular reader.
The problem with wanting to be columnist, in traditional print publishing, is that it’s a hard gig to get. Typically, at least at newspapers, columnists are promoted out of the ranks of reporters, and I had no desire whatsoever to be a straightforward reporter.
In 2002, when I started Daring Fireball, doing a sort of columnist-style weblog simply felt like something I was compelled to do. I could write whatever I wanted, however I wanted. And, to be blunt, I was certain that I could do it very well.
- SHAWN: Do you suppose you will write DF for years and years to come until you finally retire some day? Maybe sell the domain and pass the reigns to some other witty tech guru?
- JOHN: I can’t see ever passing it on or selling it. But, I can’t see more than a few years ahead of me. Will I still be doing this in another five years? Almost certainly. But, say, 20 years from now? I don’t know.
- SHAWN: Will you for sure continue in a career as an author? Maybe write a book, or movie?
- JOHN: One way or another, I don’t see how I could be doing anything other than writing. It’s the only thing I’ve done in which I’m endlessly engaged.
It would seem like a missed opportunity never to write a book. Most novels are just dreadful; I don’t know if I could do a good one, but I know I could do better than most. But it never seems like the right time to start. I just stumbled across an apt quote from Emerson last week: “We postpone our literary work until we have more ripeness and skill to write, and we one day discover that our literary talent was a youthful effervescence which we have now lost.”
John’s is just one of a handful of interviews with some cool folks.
Thank you to all who took the time to reply to the short Google survey I posted earlier this week. I was expecting about 200 replies and got (at the time I downloaded the stats) 389.
A little bit of context: I posted the survey mostly for fun. I thought it would be a great chance to get some feedback from you guys, and I figured many of you would enjoy filling it out and seeing the final results.
The nature of posting these results for the public necessitates I talk about this site. While I’m sure some people are interested to read the info and my thoughts on it, it is a bit awkward for me.
From my point of view, I always enjoy reading about the statistics and what is going on behind the scenes of the websites I follow, but I always fear when posting my own information it may come across as arrogant; hopefully that will not be the case here.
Of the 389 people who took the survey, here is the general consensus:
- 45% found my site through Daring Fireball.
- 87% are subscribed to the RSS feed. (Which means about 15% of this site’s total subscribers took the survey.)
- 58% of those subscribed to the feed, chose to because of the overall content.
- 48% most like the articles because of my writing style.
- 48% like the link list type posts because they are a good “filter” for other content on the web.
- 41% would most like to see a continued combination of topics on freelancing, reviews, design / web / trendy stuff and interviews.
- 81% are nerds.
I was surprised to see Daring Fireball as the number one referrer. Most of the reviews I’ve been writing lately have been linked to by TUAW and Daring Fireball — but not on the same day. The day after TUAW would link the article my subscriber stats would jump by about two or three hundred. However, the day after a DF link, the numbers would only jump by about one hundred.
My assumption was that the majority of current feed subscribers came from TUAW. I suppose there are two possibilities: (a) Those referred from Daring Fireball are over-represented in the survey, or (b) many found this site via DF and TUAW, and chose the DF affiliation.
But here’s a head-scratcher: as you’ll see in the detailed breakdown below, TUAW came up as the 2nd to least referrer.
Other than that, the rest of the top answers were about what I expected. I am glad to see that most people enjoy my writing style, though I’m bummed that my wit and humor isn’t more dominant. (ha!)
Individual Answer’s Breakdown
I got quite a few emails from readers stating they wish they could have have chosen “all that apply” on certain questions instead of having to pick one. But I did it that way on purpose; I wanted to get just one answer. Since you had to pick just one, which one?
Under each question are the various answers, the number of ‘votes’ each one received and the percentage of the total that number represents.
1. How did you find shawnblanc.net?
- Daring Fireball: 174 (44.73%)
- Don’t Remember: 98 (25.19%)
- Other: 52 (13.37%)
- TUAW: 35 (9.00%)
- The Fight Spot: 30 (7.71%)
2. Are you subscribed to the RSS feed?
- Yes: 338 (86.89%)
- No: 49 (12.60%)
- No answer: 2
3. Why did you subscribe to the RSS feed?
- I liked the overall content and topics: 225 (57.84%)
- I liked the detailed reviews: 84 (21.59%)
- I am not subscribed: 49 (12.60%)
- I liked the site’s design: 19 (4.88%)
- I subscribe to every feed I see: 10 (2.57%)
- No answer: 1
4. What do you like most about the articles?
- Writing style: 186 (47.81%)
- New information: 118 (30.33%)
- Tips and tricks: 49 (12.60%)
- Wit and humor: 27 (6.94%)
- Pictures: 6 (1.54%)
- No answer: 3
5. What do you like most about the shorter link list style posts?
- They are a good “filter” for finding cool new stuff: 188 (48.33%)
- I don’t pay much attention them: 87 (22.37%)
- I like the commentary that goes with them: 83 (21.34%)
- I have N.A.D.D. and need something to click: 27 (6.94%)
- No answer: 4
6. What future topics would you most want to read?
- More software reviews: 84 (21.59%)
- More design / tech / trendy stuff: 58 (14.91%)
- More freelancing advice: 41 (10.54%)
- More interviews: 11 (2.83%)
- All of the above: 161 (41.39%)
- I’m impartial: 33 (8.48%)
- No answer: 1
7. Are you a nerd?
- Yes: 314 [80.72%]
- No: 75 [19.28%] 1
- I did get a few comments that people chose ‘no’ because they consider themselves “geeks” not “nerds”. Oy vey. ↵
Greg Reinacker explains the skinny on how NewsGator subscriber (and NetNewsWire, FeedDemon, NewsGator Inbox, and NewsGator Go!) counts are reported. Basically saying that if you sync your newsreaders then your subscriber count is reported to FeedBurner as one person using NewsGator online.
Before this I tought that individual apps were pinging in addition to the NewsGator online count, and therefore skewing the actual numbers; but that’s not true.
For example, yesterday my FeedBurner stats report 445 subscribers use NetNewsWire and 739 use NewsGator Online. According to Greg, there is no overlap of users in those numbers; 445 subscribers only use NNW on one computer and 739 use more than one computer with syncing turned on. Of course, you always have to take subscriber numbers with a grain of salt. It would be easy for someone with more than one mac to not have syncing turned on, thus counting as two subscribers when they’re actually just one.
Oliver Boermans put together a style sheet hack for NetNewsWire which will show the actual web page for an article instead of just its contents.
I think articles should be read in context to the design of the site they’re published on. It’s like art: looking at a picture a painting is not quite the same as looking at the painting itself. When I checking through NNW and come across an article I’d like to read I’ll arrow out to the article’s permalink and read on the site. Ollie’s little hack may be a good solution for those who insist on doing 100% of their reading directly in NetNewsWire (and who don’t like to use NNW’s tabbed browsing).
I’m taking advantage of Google Docs’ new spreadsheet forms and put together a short, seven-question multiple-choice survey. It will take you about 30 seconds to fill out. The last question on there is my favorite.
UPDATE: Survey Says…
I was thinking that since New England football coach Bill Belichick missed the final second of Super Bowl XLII, since he had already stormed off the field* in what we back in high school might have described as a â€œhissy fit,â€ he might want a quick recap. Hereâ€™s what happened
Even if you didn’t watch the game, and even if you don’t like football read Joe’s post. You’ll like it.
Every time I refresh my Mint page (always open in a tab of its own) I wonder the same thing briefly in the back of my mind, â€œWill this be the day that my site takes off?â€Â And for a few seconds while the page reloads I can imagine what it would be like to see several hundred visits for the day instead of a couple dozen.
Let’s all send Mark some traffic today…
My advice for a good backup strategy? Keep it simple. Keep it safe. Don’t stress the details.
The “you should backup regularly” argument needs little coaxing. Everybody “knows” they should backup the problem is they don’t. A backup plan is only as good as its followthrough – which is why Time Machine is so epic. It backs up every hour for you. You don’t even know it’s running but you hear the hard drive spinning, and watch your system slow down for a few minutes.
Once people jump on the backup regularly bandwagon, the sinkhole that many fall into is to stress the details: the absurd fear that some day there will be some file that they will absolutely have to have. And when that day does come they will discover that they have deleted the file – or overwritten it, or something else catastrophic – and thus, by not having that one file at the theoretical moment of truth they will not impress their fellow nerds in a, “Look what I kept for all these years. What do you mean, “so what?”” moment of glory.
Of course, there are those who do need multiple backups, archive history and the ability to roll back, and you know who you are. But for the average user here is my advice: keep it simple; use SuperDuper to keep a bootable copy of your main startup drive, and let Time Machine do its thing to archive stuff. And hope you never need to use either.
With the advent of Time Machine backup awareness went through the roof. So far I have only used Time Machine once since Leopard came out…
It was while working on the NetNewsWire review. I made a folder with some screenshots and had it sitting on my desktop for a day or two. I moved the folder, and a few weeks later when I was ready for the screenshots I couldn’t remember where I had moved the folder to or what it was even called. What I did remember was that the folder had been on my desktop. So I launched into outer space and found the archived version and restored it.
To recap: the only time I have ever used Time Machine was to find a misplaced folder.
My point? Time Machine makes a better archive system than it does a catastrophic events solution. Not that Time Machine is not a good backup solution, but it’s not the best answer to every data-loss problem. Which is why SuperDuper is the ideal companion to everyone using Leopard and an absolute necessity to everyone on 10.4 and below.
On page 14 of his epic Leopard review, John Siracusa talks about Time Machine and shares some (pre-Leopard) backup stats of Mac users based on a poll Apple took:
Eighty percent of Mac users said they knew they should backup their data. (This is scary already. Only 80 percent?) Twenty-six percent said they do backup their data. That actually doesn’t sound too bad until you get to the next question. Only four percent backup regularly. In a nutshell, this means that if you could snap your fingers and make one Mac user’s main hard drive disappear, there’s a 96 percent chance that you just destroyed files that are completely unrecoverable.
Now, for those of you that know you should backup regularly, but don’t, I’m guessing there are two main reasons:
- Negligence – You just haven’t gotten around to buying a backup hard drive, or if you have you don’t feel like plugging it in to your laptop every. single. night… Ugh.
- Ignorance – I don’t know the real numbers, but before Time Machine came along I’m sure the vast majority of the average Mac user had no idea where to start in regards to setting up a backup plan. I know most of you reading this are much more tech savvy than the average user, but think of how many people you know need help just to sync their iPod. It’s those people who saw backing up as an intimidating venture they didn’t have the energy to figure out, if they thought of it at all.
Time Machine is creating a new mindset for the average user that backing up is important and it can be done without as much effort as they think; arguably making Time Machine the most significant addition to an operating system ever. But not without drawbacks…
SuperDuper’s tag line brags that their software is for “mere mortals”. Meaning people like you and me and even our iPod challenged friends. SuperDuper is not difficult or intimidating. In fact it’s just about as easy to use as Time Machine. But what’s more is that SuperDuper offers some data recovery and emergency response solutions which Time Machine doesn’t.
An Aside About Hardware
To have backups you have to have hard drives. I own four. One in my laptop, two in my Mac Pro and one external firewire.
The HDD in my laptop doesn’t get backed up. It’s my secondary machine, and any important files I may create on it during the day get moved to the Mac Pro. If my laptop dies on me I’m not afraid of losing any vital data. If I do happen to lose some vital file that only exists on my laptop I don’t know what it is anyway, so I’ll let ignorance be bliss.
Of the two HDDs in my tower, one is a 250GB boot disc and the other a 500GB drive for Time Machine. I purposefully bought a smaller backup drive for Time Machine as a way to “hem myself in.” At 500GB it looks like i will get about 6 months worth of archived info, which is more than I need (or want). I don’t want years and years of old files waiting around never to be used like a room in the basement filled with boxes of potentially important keepsakes that most likely belong to my great-aunt twice removed anyway.
My fourth and final hard drive is the most important component of my backup hardware: a Lacie 250GB FireWire400/FireWire800/USB drive dubbed “The Wardrobe”. It sits on the floor behind my Mac Pro and holds the nightly build of my Mac Pro’s boot disc. This is the drive I use with SuperDuper. It will plug into any Mac to give me instant access to my files and operating system. You can buy your own from Amazon.
What I like about the external drive holding the clone of my boot disc is that I can take it with me wherever I want and have an exact copy of my main machine that I can plug into any other Mac. I hardly ever do this, but it’s important to me for two reasons:
Since my laptop is my secondary machine there can be times when it doesn’t have a file I need. Usually it’s not a problem, and I just get the file later in my day when I go home. But if I”m on a long trip I need a different plan. Since Back To My Mac is not exactly reliable yet – and even when it does work it’s less than speedy – having an exact clone of my main hard drive readily available eliminates the possible stress of “client emergencies”.
Secondly, having all my data cloned on the external drive means if I ever sell my Mac Pro, send it to the repair shop or lose it, I am not out of my data. And I’m not sure how you lose a 60 pound tower, but I’m just sayin’…
The Right Tool for the Right Job
For the most part, there are only a few situations when you will be glad you have a backup:
- When you realize you’ve deleted something that was extremely important.
- When your hard drive takes a nose dive and all your info is gone, and you don’t want to pay $2,000 for the guys in space suits to extract your data with tweezers and chewing gum.
- When something else on your computer, unrelated to your hard drive brakes and you have to send your whole computer in for repair, and it conveniently comes back with a clean install of OS X.
- The latest software update or some new application suddenly barfs all over your system and everything is now buggy and unusable. (We’ll get more into this particular situation with SuperDuper’s “Sandboxing” later on.)
Only one of the above four scenarios is best solved by Time Machine; leaving SuperDuper as the ideal solution to the other three.
Like I said earlier, Time Machine makes a better archive system than a backup solution. There are several great reviews of Time Machine already, and there is clearly no need to go into detail on the ins, outs, whats and hows of Time Machine. But for the sake of context here is a brief, laymen’s terms overview of what Time Machine does…
When you first plug in your 2nd hard drive Time Machine asks if you want to use this as your backup drive. You say yes and it copies all your files over to the backup. From that point on Time Machine works in the background.
Every hour it takes a quick look at your whole computer to see if any file, setting or program is new or has changed. If something is new or changed Time Machine backs up those files — thus making “snapshots” of what your computer looked like at any given point in time. (So that’s where they got the name!)
At the end of the day Time Machine will fold your hourly backups into a single backup “snapshot” of that day, and at the end of the month it folds the daily backups into single snapshots for the week.
Time Machine keeps old backups as long as there is room on your backup drive. When the drive gets full, Time Machine starts replacing the oldest snapshots with the newest ones.
So this all comes in to play if you lost, accidentally deleted or (in my case) misplaced a file. You simply open up time machine to get instant access to all the archives. Then use the big arrows to go backward and forward in time, or use the tick marks on the right to select a specific snapshot.
One look at the finder-based interface and it’s clear to anyone that Time Machine’s main purpose is to go back in time to recover lost or missing files.
The biggest problem with Time Machine will arise if and when your startup drive becomes unusable for whatever reason. If all you have is your startup disc and your Time Machine backup then you will need to get a new hard drive, and restore your backup onto it. Even if you can run out to the store and be back lickety-split you’ll still be spending several hours waiting on Time Machine to restore its backup to your new drive.
What then if you need to keep working? Well, if you have a recent backup via SuperDuper you can easily re-start your computer using the backup drive and carry on as you were in a matter of minutes. Minutes! And even suppose you were working on files this morning that you need but you backed up with SuperDuper last night? Once you’re re-booted from your backup, you can then access Time Machine and restore the archived files that Time Machine automatically backed up earlier.
On the Shirt Pocket Watch weblog Dave Nanian explains more on how SuperDuper compliments Time Machine:
Our tagline, Heroic System Recovery for Mere Mortals, tries to sum up the whole idea: SuperDuper! is designed to provide excellent failover support for the all-too-common case where things fail in a pretty catastrophic way, such as when a drive fails, or your system becomes unbootable. We do this by quickly and efficiently creating a fully bootable copy of your source drive. Perhaps more importantly, recovery is near immediate, even if the original drive is completely unusable, because you can start up from your backup and continue working. You can even take your backup to a totally different Macintosh, start up from it, and work while your failed Macintosh is in the shop… then, when it comes back all fresh and shiny, restore things and keep working. And even if the other Mac is a different CPU type, you can still open and edit the files on the backup. You cannot do this with Time Machine: Time Machine copies are not bootable until they’re restored. In SuperDuper!, system recovery is done with a minimum of fuss and bother, and with respect for your time. Yes, Time Machine can restore a full system, but that’s not its strength. Doing so requires you to actually start up from the Leopard DVD (which you’ll need to have with you) and then take the time to restore the backup in full, which interrupts your workflow, requires a working, entirely separate destination device, and takes a lot of your time — at the exact moment when you can least afford it.
The Clearly Time Machine has in no way made SuperDuper insignificant or inconsequential. In fact, if I had to choose between the two I’d stick with SuperDuper. Here’s why…
Over the past fews months as I have been writing these reviews it wasn’t until I was writing about MarsEdit that I realized each application has something in common: feel and depth.
NetNewsWire, Mint, Transmit, Coda, MarsEdit and now SuperDuper; each one is an applications which feels light and easy to use but has a depth of features and ability. Each of these apps are useful; from the most basic users to the most advanced tech savvy Apple gurus.
I have only ever used SuperDuper for one thing: absolute headache free backups of my system.
Those 7 words are the entire reason I’m writing this article. Each night when I’m done at my computer I quit out of everything and launch SuperDuper. (If I wanted to set a schedule I could, but I prefer to just do it manually – I’m a control freak.)
I double check the Copy from and the to. It looks good, o.k. then, Copy Now. Off to bed, and I know that all the work I did that day is safe.
If I wake up tomorrow to find my start-up disc went kaput I can just boot up from the external drive as if there was no problem and get right to work. Then when I have time I can replace my drive and restore from SuperDuper or Time Machine at my own leisure.
The good news with SuperDuper now being Leopard compatible,1 is that it integrates with Time Machine…
Time Machine and SuperDuper!
There are two ways SuperDuper works with Time Machine: One is the ability to copy your Time Machine backup over to another drive without losing the archived history.
Second is the ability to store a bootable backup via SuperDuper along side the same files on the same drive as Time Machine. This means if you already have an external hard drive with your Time Machine backup, you can put bootable clone on there as well without interrupting anything. Or if you only want to own one backup hard drive you can use it simultaneously as a bootable clone and as the Time Machine archives.
Unfortunately there is currently no documentation on how SuperDuper operates in conjunction with Time Machine other than what’s mentioned in the release notes.
So to make things as clear as I understand them, to create a bootable backup along side Time Machine you have to select your startup volume in the Copy menu, your Time Machine drive in the to menu, “Backup – all files” in the using menu and, most importantly, be sure you choose “Smart Update [Time Machine drive] from [Startup Drive]” in the options tab under the During copy menu.
And even when you do have the correct options set up in SuperDuper and are ready to make your bootable backup onto your Time Machine drive the “What’s going to happen?” text is so poorly written it’s not clear what exactly you’re doing. It even sounds as if you may ruin something:
Pressing “Copy Now” will first repair permissions on Macintosh HD. The Time Machine backups on Time Machine will be preserved. [...] Smart Update will copy and erase what’s needed to make Time Machine identical to your selections from Macintosh HD. The result will mimic “Erase Time Machine, then copy files from Macintosh HD”, but will typically take a fraction of the time.
If not for the second sentence in the first paragraph stating the preservation of the Time Machine backups, it sounds like SuperDuper plans on deleting your whole Time Machine drive to make room for the new backup.
Comparing the “Smart Update…” description to the “Erase then Copy…” description does make the former a little more clear:
Pressing “Copy Now” will first repair permissions on Macintosh HD, and then erase Time Machine. The Time Machine backups on Time Machine will be erased as well. To preserve your Time Machine backups, choose Smart Update.
Despite the copy text not being super duper clear, I have no doubt the process can be trusted.
The “Sandbox” is where SuperDuper shows of some serious backup kung-fu. For those who may not be familiar with what the Sandbox is, it’s easiest to explain with a (simplified) drawing: A Sandbox is basically an isolated copy of your system files. SuperDuper will create this for you on a local partition of your startup volume or on an external drive. (If you’re using a laptop SuperDuper recommends partitioning your internal HDD to hold the Sandbox because it has to be always accessible as the start up volume.)
SuperDuper creates the Sandbox by copying over all important system files, then setting the Sandbox as the “startup volume”. Now your computer will boot up and use the Sandbox system files instead of your primary system files. The advantage to this is that you can use your computer just like normal with no worries about installing system updates or new applications. The files will install in the Sandbox and not in the primary system folder.
If a system update or application has a major bug it’s no skin off your back. You can just reboot out of the Sandbox and your back to your clean system files then repair the Sandbox. No harm done, rest easy.
The Sandbox feature is a bit too rich for my blood, and I don’t use. But it is a great testimony to the extent and depth of features that SuperDuper offers for what could be considered a simple “copy and paste” backup utility.
Shirt Pocket’s documentation notes on SuperDuper are quite clear and exhaustive, with much more info on the additional features. I recommend you look there for more details, although as of now it hasn’t been updated with any Leopard specific information.
This is just one of a handful of winded and entertaining software reviews.
- Am I the only one surprised to not see a 512×512 pixel icon accompany the 2.5 Leopard compatible update? Shirt Pocket is still using SuperDuper!’s original 128×128 icon. Additionally there is no mention of Leopard compatibility features (i.e. Time Machine stuff) in their help files or reference manual. ↵
We have the privilege of living in one of the greatest times in human history. No longer does it take millions of dollars to make our voices heard around the world. With the advent of the Internet, people are now connected in ways they never could have been before.
I couldn’t agree more.
The reality that you or I can pound away on our keyboards, click a mouse button and instantly someone in Russia, London, Brazil or anywhere else can read what we have to say is amazing.
Michael makes another great point about the power of the personal weblog: that there is a direct line of communication between the writer and the reader. The thoughts and words of great men and women can shift cultures.
This is exactly the same vein I have talked about on more than one occasion. It’s a plea to conciously push your writing, and to go beyond repetition and rhetoric. To open up a bit, and to truly invite people into something great – something beyond information.
The problem isn’t in the volume of new blogs being started every day. Blogging is a massive opportunity and people have all sorts of motives to jump in: personal, business, pleaser, whatever. The problem is the fear of man. That fear to be ourselves, to speak truthfully and honestly, to stand up for what we know to be right and true and beautiful and wonderful.
I may sound a bit “intense” but I know what I’m saying rings true for many of you. Not everyone cares about their weblog as a means to improve the lives of others, but some of us do. And we can start by using our words to speak (er, type…) life and truth.
Randy Bohlender, and The Death of Voice Mail. -
At the end of the day, visual voice mail helps you do what you want to do with voice mail – ignore them, but with greater flexibility. I’m beyond prioritizing them. I’m ready to ignore them all. [...] So today I killed my voice mail. Actually, I didn’t even give it the dignity of doing the deed myself. I took out a contract on it. I had my assistant kill it for me. She called the cell phone company this afternoon and said “The voice mail….can you just turn it off? Yes. Off. He doesn’t want it.”
Chris Bowler’s new site, The Weekly Review, has a ton of promise. I love his first zinger: A Tale of Two Apps -
Two applications with the same purpose and offered by the same company – Newsgator. One designed for the Mac, one designed for Windows.
And you might want to check out “Communities“. It’s a great read.
There’s a shortage of well-designed tumblelogs on the internets these days. And like a one-man brute squad, designer Cameron Hunt has been putting up an inconceivable fight to help dispairing websites.
Cameron has released several Tumblr themes, and his website, cameron.io, is recognized all over as a well designed website and a pillar example of tumble blogging.
I had the chance to interview Cameron via email and talk with him about tublelogging, web-design and a few other tidbits.
- SHAWN BLANC: Let’s start with the weblog: why did you start publishing?
- CAMERON HUNT: I’ve had a website since I was in high school. I love websites, I love having a website. It’s my passion. For a long time I considered a different career because I love making websites so much, I really didn’t want to make them for anyone other than me. I guess that sounds a little selfish. Both my parents were involved in journalism, and in high school I was heavily involved in my school’s newspaper. I love publishing, and I love writing about what I love. Blogging is all about doing what you love, forget the rest. You blog because you love it, not because you want it as your career, or because Google Adsense might make you rich. It’s like being a rock star, but less cool, and no one knows you.
- SHAWN: Interesting response to your own passion for designing sites: You love it so much you didn’t want to do it. Though oddly, I know just what you mean. And I couldn’t agree more with your thoughts on blogging. I think it’s the passion that makes or breaks a weblog. Of course I’m sure that not everyone who publishes a weblog does so because they love it, there’s always going to be the guy who thinks he can get rich overnight with Adsense. So, besides your Tumblr themes, what other web designing do you do?
- CAMERON: I do freelancing here and there. I’ve done some print design, mostly posters and brochures. I used to work at my college’s Marketing and Communications department; I worked on web and print projects, and I was one of the few people who understood both at my job. I was also one of the only people at Marketing and Communications that understood HTML/CSS and design. I always underestimate my talent and skill for understanding and implementing a design into HTML and CSS, it’s because I know so many web designers online who are good at it. But in the real world, it’s an uncommon skill. A lot of people can design, less can web design, and even less can design a website with beautiful markup. Besides tumblelogs, I haven’t designed much that’s online. I designed Nick Douglas’s tumblelog which was the job that started my freelance tumblelog services. Most of my web design until 2007 were my own personal projects.
- SHAWN: I haven’t studied your code or anything so I can’t say about your developer skills, but you clearly have a great eye for classy design. And you are certainly making a name for yourself lately. I see your name popping up all over the place, and primarily it seems like it’s related to your use of Tumblr and the look of cameron i/o. Why did you pick Tumblr as your CMS?
- CAMERON: There’s a lot of reasons, but I’d have to say the biggest is ease of use. I got interested in tumblelogging in 2006. I ran a website called “shrimpdesign,” it was my portfolio and blog rolled into one. I got interested tumblelogging in late 2006, so I added a tumblelog to my blog. They were just little snippets in my regular blog posts. Eventually I wanted to separate my blog and portfolio, so I set out to make the same kind of website that I have now: a regular blog mixed with a tumblelog. Except I made it with Textpattern, which didn’t work so well. It was hard to update. And I hacked Textpattern to get it to work the way I wanted to, so it was a hatchet job.1 I found Tumblr a couple months after abandoning Shrimpdesign. I was resolute in dropping my silly online identity of “shrimpdesign” in favor of a respectable and mature identity. I played around with Tumblr for a while, and in less than a month, I bought a domain name for my Tumblr powered tumblelog. Tumblr was incredibly simple to use, it was a breeze to theme, a joy to post. Tumblr’s bookmarklet was really the turning point for me. Above all other easy-to-use Tumblr features, the bookmarklet is their pride and joy. The bookmarklet is the easiest way to post something you found. If Steve Jobs demo’d it, he’d say “boom” at least 4 times, and “like butter” at least twice. It’s really good.
- SHAWN: How has cameron.io changed from its original launch to what it is now?
- CAMERON: I’m not sure how to answer that question. In my mind, cameron i/o doesn’t change. I change. This website is a representation of myself on the internet, my endeavors and passions. I change over time, and my website reflects that, but my website will never change in it’s extension of me.
- SHAWN: I can’t think of a better motivation to publish a tubmelog: The concept of a website being an extension of yourself. That would make a fantastic ad campaign for tumblelogs. And not that this is related, but I’m reminded of how parents are now registering their newborn kid’s namesake URL on the day of their birth. Regarding Tumblr, I have to admit that I’ve done virtually zero research. What exactly is Tumblr?
- CAMERON: It’s a tumblelogging engine. “Tumblelog” is a term coined in 2005 by this guy named “Why.” He’s sort of the crazy uncle of the Ruby community. Anyways, he used the term to describe Anarchaia and the term stuck. Wikipedia will tell you that Anarchaia is the first official tumblelog. That’s bull. Tumblelogs have been around, but there’s never been a term. I believe that Daring Fireball and Kottke.org, some of the most popular blogs on the internet, are tumblelogs. I’d even call ShawnBlanc.net a tumblelog. The real definition of tumblelogging is this: different presentation and format for different types of posts. Back to Tumblr. Tumblr is currently the easiest way to start a tumblelog. Although it doesn’t get credit for being the first tumblelogging engine. Ozimodo was probably the first tumblelogging engine, it was written in Ruby. Tumblr is a lot like Kleenex, they are the standard because they set the standard. Every tumblelog engine since Tumblr has pretty much copied them (not in a bad way, mind you, but in a competition-helps-users way).
- SHAWN: Would you recommend Tumblr to someone that ran a primarily ‘article focused’ blog, but still wanted to post a linked list?
- CAMERON: You can use Tumblr for anything you want. You can post text and links exclusively. There’s no way to have a “more” link where some of a post’s content is reserved for the permanent link. I’d recommend Tumblr and Chryp to anyone who wants to start a tumblelog and blog hybrid. Tumblr is the best hosted solution (if you want simplicity and no hassle), Chyrp is a hosted solution with more customization and control.
- SHAWN: What are you doing on your site then when you write an article and post a link to it on your homepage with the “read more…” link? Is that hand coded by you each time, or are you doing something special on cameron i/o?
- CAMERON: Yes, I hand-code it every time I post an article. I’ve got a lot of reasons to switch to Chyrp, and that’s one of them. Nothing against Tumblr, but I need complete control over my website. With Chryp, I’ll be able to customize and automate my site like never before.
- SHAWN: You’re pretty involved in the Tumblr community. How has it grown and evolved since you first started using it?
- CAMERON: I missed the first version of Tumblr. I started using it somewhere between 1.0 and 2.0, it’s hard to tell because Davidville had no official release date for 2.0, my guess is it happened over the summer sometime. There were only small updates before the release of 3.0 on November 1st. Tumblr 3.0 is a great service for anyone starting a tumblelog. Everyone associates me with the Tumblr community. I love tumblelogging, and Tumblr is the biggest tumblelogging community, but I’m not married to Tumblr. I’m planning on moving from Tumblr this year. I love Tumblr, but I’m a complete control freak when it comes to cameron i/o. I’m going to move to Chyrp once it stabilizes and a few key modules are released. I have minimal knowledge of PHP so I can control cameron i/o more fully than Tumblr. Of course I’ll still use Tumblr for some things, and I’ll probably keep releasing themes.
- SHAWN: Like you said earlier, the main idea behind a tumblelog is that different posts have different styles: One style for quotes, another for links, another for articles, etc… Unfortunately, the majority of Tumblr websites I come across look very ugly to me – they are cluttered, choppy and messy. When you design a tumblelog theme, what are some key style guidelines (if any) that you try to implement?
- CAMERON: I am very adamant about distinction between posts. Tumblelogs are jumbled; their content is pulled form a variety of sources, the content itself is varied since you can post several different types of media. The key in tumblelog design is to bring order to the jumble. Since the content is jumbled more than most websites, the design has to compensate. This can be done in a few ways, my favorite would be icons and subtle styles for each post-type. And a good structure that all posts conform to, and normal text sizes. A lot of tumblelogs have different font sizes for different posts, for instance; photo captions would be slight larger than regular text posts. It drives me crazy because it’s all body text. Headers and quotes should be larger, but the body copy should be standard. I’m also very adamant about typography.
- SHAWN: I agree with your views about typography but I don’t share your zeal for distinction between posts. Feel free to talk me out of this point of view, but I honestly don’t see a major need for distinction between posts in a tumblelog. Although I suppose that completely contradicts the definition of what a tumblelog is. I think slight “tip-offs” can add to a tumblelog’s design, but I don’t see it as a necessary component. I would rather see no variation in types of posts than the often gaudy typographic nightmares I usually see; i.e. what I’m pretty sure is the default Tumblr theme.) What I do like are sites such as yours, Sam Brown’s and Phil Bowell’s where colors and icons are used as a tip off for a different post type while the headers and body text are the same. But other than being pretty, is that really necessary? When I am reading a tumblelog I’m not scrolling down looking for “quotes” or “links”. I am just reading it. If something catches my attention it’s not the type or classification of a post, it’s the content which in that post.
- CAMERON: I guess I phrased that wrong and mislead you a bit. I was talking about distinction between posts, not post-types. For instance, I’ve seen some tumblelogs that simply jam everything together, and it’s very hard to tell where one post ends and another begins. I think that’s awful because there’s no structure. No offense to David Karp, but some of the default themes are fairly schizophrentic in their typography.
- SHAWN: “Fairly” may be an understatement, but yes, we’re agreed then. Designs aside for a second, one thing I very much like about Tumblr – and tumblelogs in general – is the easy on-ramp it has created for many people to start blogging. People who used to think, “There is no way I could write an article every day, thus I’ll never start a weblog,” are now realizing that they don’t have to write 500 words or more every day in order to publish their own site. I’ve said before that I think everyone should blog, and so I like what Tumblelogging has done in that regards.
- CAMERON: Exactly! Tumblr takes out almost all the overhead in blogging, and focuses on content.
- SHAWN: True. Of course, on the flip-side of that coin is the issue in which tumblelogging has created a vast amount of insipid weblogs where people simply post links and YouTube videos and random pictures with zero of their own commentary. Thus creating posts and links with no personality.
- CAMERON: There’s the rub. I don’t think there’s any way to stop it, though the Tumblr folk are placing good restrictions to limit misuse. It has always been like that with blogging, there’s no easy answer or cure. It’s comforting to know blogs with good content are always highly respected.
- SHAWN: I’m curious: If you could only post a “link-blog” or an “article-blog” which would you choose, and why?
- CAMERON: I would, without question, choose an article-blog over a link-blog. Articles give me a higher amount of quality than a blog simply filled with links and descriptions. When I post a link, it’s just a link. When I post an article â€” a long form post that I’ve crafted from nothingness â€” I’m downright proud. It’s a greater sense of accomplishment. Not to say posting a link-blog is trivial, I’m just more passionate about my articles.
- SHAWN: When posting links, is there something specific you look for? Is there a “criteria” that has to be met for you to link to or quote something? What’s the deciding factor behind what makes it on your tumblelog and what doesn’t?
- CAMERON: I don’t have any specific criteria, it just needs to be interesting or thoughtful and within the scope of cameron i/o’s topics. It has to be incredibly interesting for me to post outside of my loose topics.
- SHAWN: I notice that your site is almost completely text-only. Do you purposefully not post the common tumblelog elements such as YouTube videos and pictures?
- CAMERON: There’s a good reason for that. I used to post any picture or video I came across and I found interesting. Recently I prefer to only post a video or picture if I’m the creator. If I didn’t make it, I link to it instead of reproducing it. It’s my policy now because that’s how I would like my content treated. Do unto others, and all that.
- SHAWN: Talking more about web-design… As we touched on earlier, you have designed a handful of Tumblr themes. When desiging a theme what are some of the key components you integrate? Also, what impact on your own site have your themes had?
- CAMERON: Well, it’s typically the other way around. I use concepts from my own tumblelog for my themes. For instance, when I began tumblelogging, very few people had a wide-layout for their tumblelog. My tumblelog had a wider layout and smaller text than most. That’s been reflected in my themes. A lot of my themes have the photo description on the side of photos instead of beneath. Other than that, nothing really comes to mind. I’ll be releasing a couple themes soon that use recycled designs from cameron i/o.
- SHAWN: Actually, I was talking about traffic. What sort of impact has releasing Tumblr themes had on getting more readers and “followers” to your site?
- CAMERON: A lot! There’s basically three reasons the majority of Tumblr users follow people: 1) They’re famous, or popular already; 2) Their Tumblr looks cool; or 3) You know them. I fall under number 2. Being a themer actually really made my Technorati rating completely out of proportion because it counted every Tumblr blog using my theme as a link to me, so I’m in the top 10,000 blogs on Technorati, but it doesn’t really matter since Technorati is going downhill.
- SHAWN: I think that makes for an extremely valid argument as to why it’s important to have a well designed site. Of course, I suppose it’s not that people want to have a poorly designed site, they just don’t realize they have one. And I’d say it’s fair to assume the ratio of ugly Tumblr themes is much higher than other blogs ratio of ugly sites.
- CAMERON: At least the majority of Tumblr blogs that are popular are also well designed and maintained. See, that’s another thing. You can have a beautiful theme, but if you format the text in an incoherent way, it looks terrible. A lot of the ugly comes from text formatting.
- SHAWN: Well put. Now regarding Chyrp. With the recent hiccup on the Tumblr servers will you be migrating sooner now? Other than being able to install Chyrp on your own domain, are there any other incentives for switching?
- CAMERON: There’s a lot of incentives. Right now cameron i/o is fractured. I got a Tumblr blog, two Textpattern installs for Articles and Projects, and a plain html file for my Colophon. It’s a bit painful to update. With Chyrp, I can manage my complete website from one Chyrp install. And I can have a search, which is something I really wanted for my tumblelog. And I can make my own post-types with a bit of PHP code. Also, I can finally exit sub-domain hell, and use my website like a normal person. My articles will be at cameron.io/articles, and my Mint will at last be in it’s rightful place at /mint/. Really, it’s all about the control. I can tweak everything with Chyrp, it offers me more control. I’m very picky and particular about my site.
- SHAWN: Why not just use Textpattern for everything, or use Tumblr and put the full post in your main page’s stream?
- CAMERON: First off, currently everything from Articles and Projects gets posted on my Tumblr. I like to keep the front page succinct, and if someone wants to explore an article (or project) further they can click a “more” link. Tumblr doesn’t really have support for the “more” link which is why I use Textpattern to supplement, and then I have to manually post each project and article. As for using Textpattern to power my whole site, there’s problems with that. Like I said, I’ve tried it before and Textpattern just isn’t made for the kind of site I want. First, no bookmarklet for easy posting. I really like Tumblr’s (and by extension Chyrp’s) bookmarklet. Second is post-types. You can fake post-types with Textpattern’s sections, but it’s not a perfect replacement for Tumblr or Chyrp. Third, Textpattern’s admin interface needs an overhaul. You can only edit your theme files in the Admin interface in a textarea. Also, Chyrp has a Tumblr importer. Which means the switch to Chyrp will be seamless, I bet most of my readers won’t even notice.
- SHAWN: I’ve seen you mentioning you want to quit college and start freelancing. What would the ideal situation from here to there look like?
- CAMERON: I’ll finish my current spring semester right now, and then quit. Basically, I’ll do the same thing I’ve always done, just with more of my money staying in my pocket, less debt and more time. There’s a lot of hoops you gotta jump through, and I’m just completely sick of it. Every time I work on a design project for school, I think “I could be designing for a real client right now.” So that’s what I’m going to do.
- SHAWN: What do you want to do in the world of freelance web-design?
- CAMERON: I want to design quality websites. I want to work on projects I’m excited about, and so far I am. I can’t wait to show off the stuff I’ve been working on.
- SHAWN: What would an ideal job look like for you? Front-end design? Back-end development? Both? Weblogs, corporate sites, etc…?
- CAMERON: Most of my design is front-end right now, but I’m trying to learn a few programming languages so I can at the very least understand what is going on behind the scenes. I always dreamed of working at Apple, like many nerd-designers do, but I have a feeling that’s not for me. I don’t think I could work for a large company. The ideal job for me is self-employment; designing, writing and creating what I’m passionate about.
- SHAWN: Do you have any plans to start advertising on cameron i/o?
- CAMERON: If I do, it’ll be small and discrete and not just an ad service. It’ll be catered to my readers and audience.
- SHAWN: How much ‘work’ have you generated from your Tumblr themes? Meaning: Do you spend much time on pro-bono troubleshooting?
- CAMERON: I don’t spend much time on that. I actually get more support requests for Tumblr. For instance, there was a tumblelog currently stealing content from a PS3 themes website, basically copying theme entries and hotlinking. So the owner of the website visited the tumblelog and assumed it was me since my name was in the footer. It happens more than you think.
- SHAWN: Interesting. Cleaning up someone else’s mess is something I never even considered. I’ve thought about releasing a WordPress theme but don’t have the time to support it and don’t have the heart to tell people “sorry, can’t help you.”
- CAMERON: I haven’t done much support. Most people who want to change the theme around do it on their own. I get a few requests, but not probably as much as you think. Although I need to update my themes for new Tumblr features.
Cameron’s is just one of a handful of interviews with some cool folks.
Shirt Pocket’s backup utility for mere mortals was all the buzz today, and rightly so; SuperDuper! rocks. The fact that this update was so talked about seems like proof to me that backing up matters more to people, and that we don’t fully trust Time Machine.
Cameron Hunt has finally migrated his site over to all Chyrp, all the time. (It’s a long story.) His site has a few new tweaks, and still looks sharp, but I have 35 “unread” headlines in my feed reader.
Also, I hate to let the cat out of the bag early, but Cameron and I are just finishing up a great interview. You can watch for it sometime soon.