Interview with Cameron “i/o” Hunt
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.