kottke.org posts about kottke.org
From this piece by Evan Williams, it sounds like Medium is still trying to figure out what it wants to be when it grows up.
So, we are shifting our resources and attention to defining a new model for writers and creators to be rewarded, based on the value they’re creating for people. And toward building a transformational product for curious humans who want to get smarter about the world every day.
It is too soon to say exactly what this will look like. This strategy is more focused but also less proven. It will require time to get it right, as well as some different skills. Which is why we are taking these steps today and saying goodbye to many talented people.
I like Medium and read thoughtful & engaging stuff on there daily, including articles by the many publications that moved their entire publishing operations to Medium and who were caught off-guard by Williams’ announcement:
As part of the strategic pivot, Medium will lay off 50 staffers and close its satellite offices in New York and Washington. It will also stop selling “Promoted Stories,” its native ad unit, and distributing revenue from those sales to publishers.
Medium’s exit from the online ad business was news to some of its publishing partners, many of whom have come to depend on the publishing platform as a key source of revenue. More than two dozen publications are members of Medium’s revenue beta program, which allows them to sell paid subscriptions to readers and to receive a cut of Medium’s native advertising revenue.
Five members of the revenue beta program told POLITICO that they did not receive any advance notice of Medium’s change in strategy before Williams’ public announcement. One publishing partner only learned about the pivot after reading an article about it on the tech news site Recode.
Over the past year, when I was thinking about how best to steward kottke.org into a financially stable future, moving to Medium was definitely an option. But never, in my mind, a very serious option. It was just too many eggs in one basket for a small publisher like me, especially when Medium is still obviously trying to figure out if they’re even in the egg-carrying business. New businesses are unstable…that’s just the way it is.1 In Silicon Valley (and in other startup-rich areas), these unstable businesses have lots of someone else’s money to throw around — which makes them appear more stable in the short term — but they cannot escape the reality of the extreme risk involved in building a new business, particularly a business that needs to grow quickly (as almost all VC-backed startups are required to do). All of which can make it difficult to enter into a business arrangement with a startup…just ask publishers working with Facebook or businesses dependent on Twitter’s API or Vine or Tumblr, not to mention the thousands of startups that have ceased to exist over the years.
With kottke.org, even though it hasn’t been easy, I’ve opted for independence and control over a potential rocketship ride. Instead of moving the site to Medium or Tumblr or focusing my activities on one social network or another, I use third-party services like The Deck, Amazon Associates, Stripe, and Memberful that plug in to the site. Small pieces loosely joined, not a monolithic solution. If necessary, I can switch any of them out for a comparable service and am therefore not as subject to any potential change in business goals by these companies. Given the news out of Medium, I’m increasingly happy that I’ve decided to do it this way (with your very kind assistance).
For the past few years, I’ve featured the season’s best gift guides from other sites and pulled out a few things from each that I think you might be interested in. 2016 has been a rough year for some of us, so getting in a festive mood might be asking too much. But my determination to give is off the charts this year, and if you’re feeling similarly, maybe this will help you. Let’s dig in.
Charity is going to be a big part of people’s giving this year. If you have the means, please find a worthy place to spread the wealth at GiveWell or Charity Navigator. A kottke.org reader recently pointed me toward GiveDirectly as well. Find volunteer opportunities in your area, give to your local food shelf, and look for holiday toy drives. On the way to lunch today, the kids and I noticed a Toys for Tots donation box outside a store. I gave each of them some money to spend on toys to put in the box…we’re working hard to make giving back part of our family routine.
The Kid Should See This is a true gem of the web and their gift guide is always top-notch. This year, I sat down with my kids and they each picked out two things from the list. Ollie chose The LEGO Architect book and this wind-powered Strandbeest. (As a fan of Strandbeests and their inventor Theo Jansen from way back, I was tickled by that choice.) Minna picked out these colorful playing cards (which we have and use often) and the littleBits Gizmos & Gadget kit. She got one of the littleBits kits from Santa1 last year and really liked it — it’s seen a resurgence in use over the past couple weeks as well. Perhaps another installment from St. Nick is in order.
Jodi Ettenberg of Legal Nomads has compiled a list of Great, Affordable Gifts for Travelers, including portable chopsticks, Appetites (a new cookbook from Anthony Bourdain), and Speakeasy Travel Scarves that have hidden pockets big enough to carry a phone, passport, and some cash. Sneaky! And the Altas Obscura book, duh.
Last year, Quartz did my favorite holiday gift guide: they asked a bunch of notable folks about the best gift they’d ever received. Unexpectedly poignant. This year, they’re publishing a story every day until Dec 25th (Advent-style) on different aspects of holiday gift-giving.
If you haven’t bought your partner an Instant Pot pressure cooker yet, now’s your chance. Goes from zero to risotto in just a few minutes.
Every year, The Wirecutter and The Sweethome bring it with the holiday recommendations…my entire house is basically a Wirecutter/Sweethome showroom. Among their extensive recs are littleBits Rule Your Room Kit, the Electric Objects EO2 Digital Art Display, Regarding Cocktails by Sasha Petraske, and this Bosch cordless drill (yo, Santa, I need one of these). Also, you can buy bulk movie tickets? Huh.
Stop reading, this is the best gift: Die Hard: The Authorized Coloring and Activity Book. Yippie ki-yay, motherfestivusers!
Boing Boing has three separate gift lists this year — for gadgets, books, and toys. Among the picks are the NES Classic Edition (hahaha good luck finding one of these before next year), a disposable hand-crank lantern, the Womanizer sex toy, blank playing cards, and What’s It Like in Space?: Stories from Astronauts Who’ve Been There by Ariel Waldman.
The Kindle Paperwhite remains my favorite gadget recommendation. I love mine…my entire library slips into a pocket now.
Did you know that Muji and Uniqlo both have online stores now? From Muji I recommend the ultrasonic aroma diffuser (and some essential oils to use with it) and these amazing sock/slipper things I bought there last year but now they don’t have them anymore, sorry! And point Grandma toward Uniqlo so she can get you some socks and underwear you’ll actually wear.
Find the readers in your life some books on the best books of 2016 lists.
Food52 and Serious Eats have your food picks covered. Fancy cheese knives! Olive oil fresh from a small Italian grove! The Food Lab Cookbook! Eco Planter Herb Kit! Tacos: Recipes and Provocations by Alex Stupak and Jordana Rothman! The Uuni wood-fired oven (“cooks a pizza in 60 seconds”)!
Speaking of food, did you know you can order Katz’s famous pastrami and they’ll ship it anywhere in the country? Get a loaf of rye bread and some mustard while you’re at it.
Friends of kottke.org who make cool products include Tattly, Tinybop, Stowaway Cosmetics, Kingston Stockade FC merch, Hoefler & Co, Wait But Why merch, Hella Cocktail Co, Storq maternity wear, Electric Objects, 20x200, Dead Bookstore, and Field Notes.
For years, I recommended this Tovolo King Cube tray for making big ice cubes for cocktails…until mine got the freezer stank on it and my old fashioneds started tasting like freezer stank. Yuck. No one seems to make non-silicon big cube trays though. Business opportunity? (See update below…)
I helped 20x200 out with their gift guide this year, editing the Geek Chic section. Selections across all their sections include the AWB OneSky Telescope, Craig Kanarick’s Animals prints, and Steve Lambert’s Drawings for 3 Rooms in Your Home: #1.
For the serious nerds in your life, check out the 2016 Engineering Gift Guide from the engineering department at Purdue University. Their picks include Thames & Kosmos Electronics Learning Circuits and Simple Machines from Learning Resources.
More gift guides and curated shops: Canopy, The Colossal Shop, The Cup of Jo Holiday Gift Guide, Photojojo’s holiday gift guide, The Digg Holiday Gift Shop, The Tools & Toys 2016 Christmas Catalog, Slate Picks, #holiday on Kit, the NY Times 2016 Holiday Gift Guide, and the Brooklyn Holiday Gift Guide.
You can also check out past kottke.org gift guides: 2012, 2013, 2014, and 2015.
Update: Several people recommended dealing with freezer stank by putting the silicon cube tray into a 350° oven for an hour. Bibulous recommends highjacking these OXO frozen baby food containers for the production of stank-free cocktail cubes.
Update: One Perfect Shot offers their list of 41 Perfect Gifts for the Movie Lover in Your Life. The Gannet’s gift guide offers guidance on objects, food & drink, and books. StoryWorth is offering a unique gift: a bound book of stories from a loved one. New site The Outline published A Gift Guide for Picky Nerds (including this Czech non-smartphone). Wink has a listing of good book gifts. Cool Tools has a selection of good gift ideas. The Stripe has a gift guide for the person who hated 2016. And from The Fox is Black, a gift guide featuring only products that are black.
Last Tuesday, I asked the regular readers of kottke.org to support the site by purchasing an annual membership. The response, I am pleased and a little shocked to say, was overwhelming. If this were a Kickstarter campaign, it would be firmly in “stretch goals” territory. I’ve definitely found my 1000 True Fans. A big heart-felt thank you to all those who chose to support the site and for all your emails.1 The first members mailing should be going out sooooon.
If you haven’t had a chance to contribute yet, you can check out the post and the membership page to see if it’s something you’d be interested in.
[I’m not going to be releasing any stats, at least not right now, but I will give you a breakdown of the memberships by amount contributed by level:1 $30/yr: 52%, $60/yr: 42%, with the rest split between the $3/mo and $600/yr options.]
If you are a regular reader and appreciate what I do here, please support kottke.org by purchasing an annual membership. It only takes a minute (or about 20 seconds on iOS w/ Apple Pay) and your collective support will mean a lot to the future of kottke.org. This has been in the works for a while now and I have a lot to say about it, but go check it out first, subscribe, and then come back. I’ll wait.
All set? Ok. A couple of recent catalysts have set this into motion, but I’ve been thinking about it for the last few years. So here’s why I feel this is necessary now, in four interconnected main points.
Focus on dedicated readers. Anyone who relies on an audience of some kind — artists, writers, businesses, etc. — has to focus on serving regulars while keeping an eye on attracting new readers/customers/users. As much as I feel that everyone in the world would enjoy reading the world’s best blog — I mean, who wouldn’t? — it’s difficult for me to take time out from writing the site to reach out to potential new readers.1 I love being a regular myself and at this point in the site’s evolution, it makes sense to focus mostly on the people who read and love the site. Part of that focus is building up the financial link between us. In an ideal world: I write for you, you pay me, I write some more. No middlemen. I’m not sure that’s an entirely feasible arrangement at this point, but we can get part of the way there and work on the rest.
Revisiting an old idea. Some of you may remember that I’ve asked for support directly from readers before.2 A few months ago, I went out to lunch with Tim Urban from Wait But Why. We’d hardly said hello when he said something like “my goal for this lunch is by the end of the meal, you’ll agree to ask your readers to financially support kottke.org”. Tim was very clear that asking his readers for support on Patreon had been game-changing for his site. Project creators and potential backers have become comfortable with directly funding creative efforts online, particularly through Kickstarter & Patreon and I’m curious to see how it works for kottke.org in 2016.3
A changed media landscape. It’s been 11+ years since I quit my job to do kottke.org full-time. Online media has changed a lot since then. Hell, it’s changed a lot in the past few years. Blogs are dead — long live blogs! — and the open web is struggling. If you ask around to the creators of other established independent sites on the web (and I have talked to many of them), you’ll hear that traffic and display ad revenue have been falling for the last few years. Many factors have contributed — Facebook, readers switching to mobile, the rise of apps, social overtaking search for discovery, ad blockers, Google Reader’s shutdown, VC money flooding into online media — and smaller sites without dedicated content marketing and mobile/social development teams can’t keep up. Other strategies are necessary.
Diversification. The site currently has two main sources of revenue: advertising via The Deck & the We Work Remotely job board and affiliate income from Amazon & iTunes. In an effort to diversify revenue, I’ve tried several things — RSS sponsorships, sponsored posts for Kickstarter projects, consulting for startups, and speaking — and none of them have stuck. I’ve thought about writing a book, putting on a conference, or doing a podcast. But that all feels like it’s beside the point and not what I really want to do, which is just to write here, for you. A recent (hopefully temporary) hiccup in one of these revenue sources4 has driven home the need for not putting all my eggs in one basket. I would love for reader support to become a healthy third leg on the ol’ revenue stool.
I could go on — and in several previous drafts, boy, did I! — but here’s what it boils down to for me: I’m proud of what I’ve built here at kottke.org over the past 18 years and I’m committed to publishing here regularly and operating independently as long as I am able. Even though the site is primarily a one-person operation, I’ve never done it alone. You have always been an essential part of this site — providing me with feedback, counsel, encouragement, pushback, and many great links and ideas for posts — and I’d love your help in taking this next step. As always, thanks for reading and thanks for the support!
For the first time in more than four years, kottke.org is sporting a new design this morning. Since you should never launch anything completely finished,1 there are probably still some things that need to be ironed out, but I hope most of it works. (Drop me a note if you notice something amiss?) Let’s hop right into what’s new and why. (For reference, here’s what the site looked like until late yesterday, here’s what I said about that design, and here’s what some of the previous designs looked like.)
Design. Gone is the now-beloved blue gradient (which ppl didn’t like when I introduced it), replaced with a colorful rainbow banner thingie. The site title and the old school tagline — “home of fine hypertext products” — are both making a comeback. The march toward simplicity continues…every remaining design element serves a purpose. The type is a bit bigger to offset ever increasing display resolutions (which somewhat paradoxically makes everything smaller). Post titles are quite a bit larger. Media embeds and images are much larger, especially if it’s right at the top of the post. Check out this post and this one for examples of what I’m talking about. Tweaked the footnote style.2 More tweaks to come. (Including moving to some even faster new servers at Arcustech, the fantastic hosts of kottke.org for years now. Big thanks to them for all their support!)
The layout of the site is responsive — not fully so, but if you resize your browser window, it’ll change and flow and do all of the neat things that responsive design does. The type is still my favorite Whitney ScreenSmart by Hoefler & Co (designed by Tobias Frere-Jones), but I finally (FINALLY!!!) turned on smart quotes and such — you know, like “opening and closing quotes around this text” and apostrophes’ apostrophes and the proper m-dash right heeeeeere — so now the designers who read the site can finally stop tutting about it. (And Hoefler and Frere-Jones can stop tearing their hair out about seeing text rendered with their point-perfect typeface littered with dumb quotes. Enjoy your tresses, fellows!)
Mobile. This was the main impetus behind the redesign. Over 40% of you read kottke.org on a mobile device of some kind. The old site worked fine on phones and tablets, but not great. Now, the site looks and works great on mobile. (At least I think it does.)
Tags. Some of my favorite things about kottke.org are the tags and tag pages. Looking at the site through the lens of tags, it becomes apparent that kottke.org is actually a collection of hundreds of small blogs about introversion, Stanley Kubrick, time travel, early color photography, economics, crying at work, and all sorts of other things. For the redesign, I made them more visible on the site and I’m hoping to find more ways to improve their involvement in the site soon. You’ll now find tags at the end of posts no matter where you find them on the site; previously they were only on the individual post pages. Tag pages are now paginated so you can go back through hundreds and even thousands of posts on each topic. I’ve also included a list of related tags at the top of each tag page…which is incredibly addictive for surfing around aimlessly.
Biography. With the help of some friends (aka the kottke.org board of advisors), I rewrote the about page. I liked the brevity of the old version, but in the words of one friend, “the previous version undersold the site so much it was almost inaccurate”. This is the first bio I’ve ever written that takes seriously what the site is and what I’ve done in my career…and as such it makes me really uncomfortable. Taking credit, particularly in public, has never been my thing. But I wanted to have a chance at explaining kottke.org to people who might not know the whole story. Everyone here has an opinion about kottke.org, this is mine.
When I started the site in 1998, people expressing their ideas & beliefs through links and attempting to stitch technology & the liberal arts together were not commonplace pursuits. In many ways, media on the web has come to resemble, in form and function, what kottke.org and other early blogs were doing back then. The largest social media companies in the world are now centered around people collecting and showing each other cool/interesting/funny links in order to say something about what they believe. I’m proud that kottke.org and I have played a role in that (r)evolution.
Future. The past 2.5 years have been the most challenging out of the 18+ years I’ve been doing the site. (Translation: they sucked.) I’ve been working, with many loooong periods of inactivity, on this redesign for more than 2 years. It’s not a cure for cancer or the world’s best design work, but to have it finally be out in the world feels amazing. Like a bad chapter in my life is ending. Like I’m still alive. Vital. A start of something. Like I’m finally investing in myself and my future for the first time in a long while. It feels like hope. And I hope you like it. It’s a genuine pleasure being able to share myself with you like this, and I don’t know what I’d do without it.
Hi there. My name is Jason, the host of this here thing. How was your 2015? Mine was…not good and not bad. Challenging? Interesting? Uneven? Unparalleled? (You don’t want to know. And I’m not going to tell you anyway.) This is my last post to kottke.org this year. I’m leaving on the first proper capital-V vacation I’ve had in years. I am unplugging. No email, no Facebook, no Twitter, very little Instagram. This week, the site will be in the good hands of Susannah Breslin, who guest edited back in March. And next week, the site will be on vacation until January 4. (At least I think it will. A bunch of past editors still have working logins so who know what will happen.) Thanks, and I’ll see you in Jan. And now, Susannah…
For the past few years, I’ve featured the season’s best gift guides from other sites and pulled out a few things from each that I think you might be interested in. Let’s get right to it.
As usual, my #1 gift guide suggestion is: make like Zuck and give to charity this holiday season. Volunteer in your area, find a worthy charity via GiveWell or Charity Navigator, or help people around the world help themselves with Kiva micro-lending. (You don’t have to worry about structuring your giving as an LLC though because you’re not rich. Just pony up regular-like.) Nicholas Kristof also shared some Gifts With Meaning recently.
Whenever I need something for my home, my first stops are always The Wirecutter and The Sweethome. The Wirecutter’s holiday guides are the best place to find the best technology buys. This food smoker, a 2Tb wireless backup drive, and a Weber grill are among this year’s picks. I am also trying to justify spending $400 on headphones because these Oppo PM-3s sound amazing.
Every household will be getting at least one of the following this year: a hoverboard self-balancing scooter, a drone, a selfie stick, an adult coloring book, or Ta-Nehesi Coates’ Between the World and Me.
My favorite gift guide this year is from Quartz. They asked a number of notable people, including Junot Diaz and Melinda Gates: what’s the best gift you’ve ever received? The result is not so much a list of products for purchase as it is a way of thinking about how to give people you love what they need and want. Unexpectedly moving. [Runner-up: Motherboard’s Best Black Friday Deals accompanied by the full text of the Communist Manifesto. Which BTW is available for purchase… ;) ]
If you’ve got kids, The Kid Should See This Gift Guide should be your gifting spirit animal. I leaned heavily on this guide in the past year for Xmas and two birthdays. Choice picks this year include LittleBits’ Gizmos & Gadgets Kit, The Roald Dahl Audio Collection, the Sprout Pencil (a pencil that grows real plants when it’s spent), and this Maps book.
I’m so sorry. You’ve missed out on the season’s best holiday gift: Edmund Halley’s personal copy of Isaac Newton’s Opticks, given to him by Newton himself. It was recently sold at auction for $1.33 million. Instead, perhaps a copy of Thing Explainer: Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by Randall Munroe?
For the aspiring Gob Bluth in the family, the Pyro Mini fireshooter (“turn your boring wrists into flamethrowers”). And some accompanying music.
Cookbooks are always good gifts: Crossroads: Extraordinary Recipes from the Restaurant That Is Reinventing Vegan Cuisine, Yotam Ottolenghi’s latest Nopi: The Cookbook (he’s the author of the outstanding Plenty), Lucky Peach Presents 101 Easy Asian Recipes, and Kenji Lopez-Alt’s magnum opus The Food Lab. Cooking is the main thing I feel like I should be doing more of in 2016.
Some old favorites that I recommend almost every year: the Tovolo King Cube Ice Tray, Tattly temporary tattoos, the KitchenAid Professional 600 Series 6-Quart Stand Mixer, Palomino Blackwing pencils, the Kindle Paperwhite, and a 55-gallon drum of personal lubricant. (If you’re getting that last one for that special someone, you’d best get a massive bow for it.)
If you have too much stuff already or if you’re shopping for the person who has everything, perhaps Marie Kondo’s bestselling The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up: The Japanese Art of Decluttering and Organizing would be appropriate?
From Eater’s 2015 Holiday Gift Guide, Maker’s Mark X Woodzee Sunglasses (made from old whiskey barrels), Pleasant Ridge Reserve Extra Aged (award winning cheese from Wisconsin!!), and a young readers edition of Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma. Speaking of whiskey barrels, I did not find these “white oak tools that turn drinking whiskey into top-shelf occasion whiskey” on Eater’s list but am intrigued. Do they work? Or would a small barrel for aging work better?
The Verge 2015 Holiday Gift Guide recommends the Loch Ness Monster soup ladle, Solitaire Cards designed by Susan Kare, and The Art of Lego Scale Modeling.
Friends of kottke.org who make cool products include Field Notes, Tattly, Stowaway Cosmetics, Hella Bitters, printmaker David Bull, Storq maternity wear, and Cabin Porn.
From the gang at Boing Boing comes their 2015 gift guide. On it, I spotted Mark Frauenfelder’s own Trick Decks: How to Hack Playing Cards for Extraordinary Magic, Haflinger wool moccasins, the Sphero BB-8 Droid from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Lauren Ipsum: A Story About Computer Science and Other Improbable Things.
And a few miscellaneous things I’ve noted recently: a 200-year-old bonsai tree (for $28,000…how do they ship this thing?), the 1M Hauly Heist (for the “discreet, comfortable carry of up to US$1 Million in used bank notes while minimising the risk of radio frequency tracking”), the Google Cardboard VR viewer (for the DIYers, you can even make your own), the complete set of Minecraft handbooks (my 8-year-old has read the whole set from cover-to-cover about 12 times), and Ken Burns’ restored 25th anniversary version of The Civil War on Blu-ray.
Moar liszts und zhoppin sourzus!! (Sorry, I’m getting a little punchy…) Slate Picks, Canopy, Digg Store, The Colossal Shop, Tools & Toys 2015 Christmas Catalog, Kit, Tinybop’s Loves, The Brooklyn Holiday Gift Guide, and the Food52 Holiday Gift Guide. You can also look back at past guides from this site: 2012, 2013, 2014.
Update: As a public service, here are some things you shouldn’t buy your loved ones for the holidays. Deadspin presents The 2015 Hater’s Guide To The Williams-Sonoma Catalog, which includes a $1000 bar cart. But the worst holiday gift idea I’ve seen,1 hilariously demonstrated by Alton Brown at the end of this video of Amazon’s dumbest kitchen gadgets, is the Rollie Hands-Free Automatic Electric Vertical Nonstick Easy Quick Egg Cooker. You crack some eggs into the device’s hole and many minutes later, a phallic cooked egg tube comes rising out of it. I mean…
Update: A couple of additional sources of bad gifts for the holidays. Megan Amram imagined a Goop gift guide from Gwyneth Paltrow including a $4000 pair of floor-length jean shorts, a $100 bill (price: $1000), and a yoga mat made out of a Picasso painting ($106M). There’s also The Worst Things for Sale blog which features things like fart-filtering underwear, the hot dog bucket hat, and George Takei’s Eau My cologne.
Update: Phil Plait of Bad Astronomer wrote up A Holiday Telescope Buying Guide. For the casual beginner, he recommends the OneSky scope from Astronomers Without Borders. For the more advanced star hustler, Plait himself uses the Celestron C8 S-GT Advanced Computerized Telescope.
What began as an inside joke over email for bloop, a version of “Gwyneth Paltrow’s goop were written exclusively by and for black women”, is now available for all. Aminatou Sow and Jenna Wortham present the 2015 Bloop Holiday Gift Guide. Among the picks are Lenny Kravitz’s ridiculously huge scarf and the Carry-On Cocktail Kit.
I am not a watch person. Haven’t worn one since high school, no interest in getting an Apple Watch, etc. But this post on We Made This about watches that appeal to graphic designers lists a few watches I would consider wearing. The Braun is a classic, of course:
But this one from Instrmnt is also quite nice, although I would prefer slightly larger numbers:
And for kottke.org superfans only, I would recommend the Timex Weekender.
PS to the superfans: if you don’t like watches, may I interest you in a Vancouver bridge?
Crafted is a 25-minute documentary from Morgan Spurlock about artisanship in the contemporary age, profiling knife makers, potters, and restaurateurs who still do things more or less manually. A trailer:
The documentary was created to explore the mindset of today’s artisan and determine how artisanship has evolved along with — or, at times, in spite of — new technologies that allow instantaneous sharing of knowledge and sourcing of ingredients. Brave creators are breaking from the norm and returning to their roots to master age-old art forms that are more relevant than ever in today’s world.
I have often joked about what I do here at kottke.org as being artisanal or handcrafted. (Free range links! Ha!) But watching the trailer the other day, I realized that maybe it’s not so much of a joke. Compared to the industrialized information factories of Buzzfeed, Facebook, and Twitter (or even the NY Times or Gawker), what I do is handcrafted. There’s no assembly line. I read a bunch of stuff and then write about just a few relevant things. It’s inefficient as hell, but most of the time, it results in a good product. (I hope!) In the site’s best moments, it really does feel, to me, like I’m treating people “like they’re in my house” rather than just pumping out content widgets.
The moment in the trailer that particularly resonated with me was the discussion of risk.
A single injury can have far-reaching consequences. If I injure my hands, I can’t feed my family.
I worried we’d be forced to quit from bankruptcy.
“If I injure my hands, I can’t feed my family”; I don’t handcraft knives, but that applies to me as well. If my wrists go, goodbye computer time. And I’ve been thinking a lot about how sustainable my business is in the age of industrialized content…my job seems a lot riskier to me than it did just a couple of years ago. But there’s still room in the world for handcrafted knives and food in a world of Henckels and McDonald’s, so maybe it’s possible for a small handcrafted information service like kottke.org to survive and even thrive in the age of Facebook and Buzzfeed. (via @mathowie)
Hello! I’m going to be off for the next week and Susannah Breslin will be editing the site in my stead. From her bio:
I created one of the internet’s first sex blogs, The Reverse Cowgirl, and I’ve been called a “modern-age Studs Terkel.” In 2008, TIME named me one of the top 25 bloggers of the year. I’m best known for my longform investigation of the Great Recession’s impact on the porn industry: “They Shoot Porn Stars, Don’t They?” I’ve written for Harper’s Bazaar, Details, Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Daily Beast, Marie Claire, Variety, The San Francisco Chronicle, and The LA Weekly. I’ve appeared on CNN, NPR, and “Politically Incorrect.”
Her newest work is a new short story called The Tumor that was drawn from her breast cancer diagnosis a few years ago. Susannah has long sent me interesting links and emails, so I’m excited to see what she gets up to this week. Welcome, Susannah!
Alastair Humphreys writes about making his living as an adventurer. But really, this advice works for anyone who wants to turn their hobby into a job. For instance, this list of reasons he’s an adventurer is pretty much why I did the same thing with kottke.org almost 10 years ago.
- I love almost every aspect of what I do.
- I love being self-employed: the freedom and the responsibility and the pressure.
- I think I’m probably now un-employable.
- I love being creative.
- I appreciate that building a profile helps generate exciting opportunities. (And I have come to accept — though not enjoy — the weird world of relentless self-promotion that being a career adventurer requires. I remain uncomfortable with people praising me more than I deserve, and I continue to get very angry and upset with the inevitable haters that your self-promotion will attract.)
Notice I don’t mention “going on adventures”, because there are loads of ways to do that in life. Don’t become a career adventurer solely because you want to go off on fun trips. There’s easier ways to do that.
That third point is a real double-edged sword. I can’t imagine what other job I would be even remotely qualified for other than this one. Feels like walking a tightrope without a safety net sometimes. (via @polarben)
I’ve started posting more links to the @kottke Twitter account and including them on the front page of the site (pinned to the second post on the page). Read on for an explanation of why and where this is (maybe) going.
More than 12 years ago, before kottke.org became my full-time job, I made 2-3 posts per day. Maaaybe up to 5 on a good day. For whatever reason, in December of 2002 I started posting a bunch of links to the site every day. Like 10-12 per day…sometimes up to 20.1 The next month, I stuck that link blog in the sidebar of the site and called them “remaindered links”. I kept at it, posting a few things to the main blog each week and dozens of remaindered links every week. Eventually, I pulled the remaindered links out of the sidebar and into the main column. The link descriptions became longer, I started pulling short quotes from the articles I was linking to, and eventually, these links became full-fledged posts. These remaindered links, these leftovers, they are kottke.org now.
The links gave the site a velocity it didn’t previously have. I hadn’t really thought about it until I sat down to write this post, but that increase in velocity made it possible, more than two years later, for me to quit my job and do kottke.org full-time. But the web has changed. Sites like Reddit, Digg, and Hacker News and services like Facebook and Twitter are so much faster than this one man band…trying to keep pace is like racing an F1 car on roller skates. So, I’ve traded that velocity for quality (or, if you’d prefer, fussiness). I no longer post 10-12 things per day. Instead I post 4-6 of the most interesting things I can share with you on that given day.2 That means there’s a ton of very interesting but not-quite-right-for-whatever-reason stuff that I see but don’t have time to share. And that’s been frustrating me lately.
So, I’ve begun posting those extra links, those remainders, to the @kottke Twitter account. Then I pull those links in from Twitter and publish them to the front page of kottke.org. There’s no permanent archive, I might stop at any time, they’re not gonna show up in RSS, on Facebook, or on Tumblr, and there are no plans beyond what I’ve already done. I wanted to start with the simplest possible thing and see if it sticks or goes anywhere.
I do have a few ideas on where it could go, however. As my remaindered links experience shows, going fast without a plan can be beneficial in unexpected ways. With different tools and media delivery channels available to me now, I wonder: how fast can a one-person site go while still maintaining that choosiness? Using those new tools, 13 people built Instagram into a $1 billion company with millions of users. I’m not after billions, but I’d settle for making kottke.org sustainable in the future and not having to get a regular job again.
Anyway, your thoughts, questions, and feedback are always welcome.
Jason Snell on the supreme uncoolness of Movable Type, the outdated blogging software that powers Snell’s site, Daring Fireball, and also kottke.org.
Regardless, it turns out that software can also be considered uncool, even if it still works. Not only is Movable Type uncool —the equivalent of ’80s hair metal, but the language it’s written in, Perl, is supremely uncool. Like, New Kids on the Block uncool. The razzing John Siracusa takes about being a Perl developer isn’t really because Perl is old, or bad, but because it’s just not what the cool kids are talking about. The world has moved on.
And yet, sometimes that old stuff still works, and is still the best tool for the job.
Movable Type is often maddening and frustrating, but it’s familiar, behaves consistently, and I know it better than any other piece of software. In other words, MT is like a member of my family.
Last year, I did a meta holiday gift guide where I picked some of the best items off of the best gift guides out there. Since we’re getting down to the wire here on shopping time (not that you should buy anything for anyone this holiday season or any other time of the year), let’s crank up this year’s version.
Consider giving to charity this year. If you can’t spare the time to volunteer (look here or Google for specific opportunities in your area), go on Charity Navigator or Give Well to find an organization worth your attention. Or go on Kiva and give small loans to dozens of families around the world.
For their list this year, The Wirecutter did a list of The Things We Want to Give. Items include The Neat Ice Kit, Benton’s ham, and The Flavor Thesaurus. Hmm, I picked all food stuff there. I must be hungry.
I recommend these every year: the Tovolo King Cube Ice Tray and the KitchenAid Professional 600 Series 6-Quart Stand Mixer.
From Boing Boing’s Happy Mutant’s Gift Guide 2014, the excellent Eyes on the Prize documentary on DVD, the LifeSpan TR1200-DT5 Treadmill Desk, a Lodge 10.5-inch round skillet (can personally vouch for this), and perhaps my favorite Amazon item of all time, the 55-gallon drum of personal lubricant. Don’t worry, the latter item includes a lube pump so you don’t need to buy it separately.
For the sports fan in your life, SB Nation’s 2014 Holiday Gift Guide includes Zubaz pants (!!), Big League Chew, the Bluetooth Gramophone, and a home beer brewing kit. Throwback-errific!
Among the items on the Tools & Toys Christmas Catalog, Bartlett’s Familiar Quotations and the Bellroy Slim Sleeve Wallet (which is my own personal wallet).
Nothing on Mat Honan’s 8 Perfect Gift Ideas for ‘Twitter Dads’ really grabbed me (even though I am an official Twitter Dad), except for the Bugaboo Bee. We had the first iteration of that stroller and it was the absolute best thing. We wore out two sets of wheels strollering Ollie and Minna around the city in that thing.
But I’ll take one of everything off of The Kid Should See This Gift Guide. Especially Animalium,
the Crosley portable turntable, My Neighbor Totoro on Blu-ray, and a vintage typewriter. [Update: My friend Dan says to avoid Crosley turntables: “They use ceramic cartridges that track 3x as heavy as standard carts, permanently damaging records.” I have no idea what that means, but Dan knows things about turntables so you might want to make another choice.]
Good year for science-ish nonfiction books: How We Got to Now by Steven Johnson, What If? by Randall Munroe, Being Mortal by Atul Gawande, Superintelligence by Nick Bostrom, and Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull.
And cookbooks: Plenty More from Yotam Ottolenghi, MEAT by Pat LaFrieda, Tartine Bread by Chad Robertson, Michael Ruhlman’s Egg, Death & Co: Modern Classic Cocktails, My Paris Kitchen from David Lebovitz (whose Paris dining recommendations are top notch), and Jeffrey Morgenthaler’s The Bar Book.
The Brooklyn Holiday Gift Guide features products made locally in Brooklyn, including bracelets with subways maps and kottke.org favorite, Tattly.
Tom Bihn’s What We’re Giving list includes Fairbault wool blankets and their own Shop Bag. (via @widepipe)
One of many holiday lists from Food52, the Under $25 Gift Guide features Heirloom Seed Art Packets and this Water Bottle with Charcoal Filter.
The Continuous Lean went on a serious listing bender with The Epic ACL Holiday Gift Guide 2014. The stylish selections include the Whiskey Wedge, the Jaguar F-Type Project 7, and the Lego Architecture Fallingwater set.
Josh Rives made a list of gifts that don’t suck. Among the non-suckage is The Dangerous Book for Boys, Coudal and Draplin’s excellent Field Notes, and Cards Against Humanity.
Many many things on the NY Times Holiday Gift Guide, including Julia, Child these awesome cement stair planters, and History of the World in 1,000 Objects.
Since their acquisition by Vox, Eater has been better than ever. Their Holiday Gift Ideas 2014 package is overflowing with good choices, among them are sausages from Butcher & the Boar (smoooooked cheddarwurst!!!) and Fictitious Dishes.
Speaking of Vox, The Verge has a load of tech-oriented picks, including a selection under . They recommend MUJI notebooks and David Mitchell’s The Bone Clocks. One of The Verge’s more baller picks is the Nintendo Wii U Mario Kart 8 Deluxe Set. Which, droooooool. Santa, you got me covered on this?
Misc: the Good Web Bundle gives you subscriptions to five indie services/sites for one low price. You can get 8GB flash drives in necklace form now. From Haruki Murakami, a recently released short novel about “a boy imprisoned in a nightmarish library”. I have no idea if they are actually vintage or just made to look so, but you can find several vintage Soviet chess sets on Etsy (like this one); I bought one recently and if someone faked it, they did a good job. (Even if it’s fake, it’s real, etc.) You can buy Post-It Notes that are almost two-feet across.
Update: Added the guide from Tools & Toys and added a warning about the portable turntable. Added giant Post-It Notes. Added The Brooklyn Holiday Gift Guide. Added Tom Bihn’s list. Added Food52 list. Added The Continuous Lean set. Added a list of gifts that don’t suck. Added lists from the NY Times, Eater, and The Verge.
Today is the last day you can order the limited edition kottke.org t-shirt. Get yours now or forever be, um, something.
After much futzing about in Photoshop, I came up with the perfect simple design for the limited edition kottke.org tee shirt, featuring the familiar blue gradient that wraps all the way around the shirt. The shirt is made of fabric, has sleeves, and features a hole for your head. It’s everything you need in a shirt.
More info here.
For about 50 years now, I’ve wanted to do a kottke.org t-shirt. But I could never decide on a design I liked enough to wear. A few months back, I came across a service called Print All Over Me, which uses a process called “reactive dye digital printing” to seamlessly cover an entire t-shirt with a design, and I had a tiny eureka moment. After much futzing about in Photoshop, I came up with the perfect simple design for the limited edition kottke.org tee shirt, featuring the familiar blue gradient that wraps all the way around the shirt.
The shirt is made of fabric, has sleeves, and features a hole for your head. It’s everything you need in a shirt. Due to the unique printing process, the shirts are custom-dyed, cut & sewn to order, cost $38 plus shipping, and will only be available to order for the next two weeks. After that, poof. Order yours today.
(BTW, when ordering, select the “Print” option under “Back”. For some of the other shirts PAOM offers, it might make sense to not get the print on the back, but for this shirt, it’s the whole point.)
Today I’m launching something new on kottke.org. It’s been gestating for a long time, so I’m excited to finally get it out here. It’s called Boost and it’s an opportunity to promote individual Kickstarter campaigns on kottke.org through sponsored posts.
A week to go and a little short of your goal? Looking to add some of kottke.org’s fun and clever bunch of readers to your project’s emerging backer community? Reaching for that second stretch goal to provide even more value to your backers? Get your Kickstarter project in front of kottke.org’s readers with a Boost for Kickstarter.
The sponsored posts will obviously be clearly marked on the site (and in RSS, on Twitter, etc.) and only one project will be featured each week. And for Kickstarter project creators thinking about buying a Boost, here’s an interesting little wrinkle: if your campaign doesn’t meet its goal, you don’t pay anything for your Boost, just like with Kickstarter. So if you’re currently running a KS campaign or have one planned for the future, check out the Boost page and get in touch.
The first Boost will run on the site (and in RSS, Twitter, Facebook, & Tumblr) a little later today and is for a project called Monikers. I contributed slightly to the project and am a backer myself, and I would like to thank Alex for letting me use Monikers as a guinea pig for this new service.
Note: As much as I love their service, neither kottke.org nor the Boost service is endorsed by or affiliated with Kickstarter.
Things have been a little more hectic than usual while I deal with some non-work issues, which means I haven’t been spending as much time as I’d like on kottke.org. You may have noticed it’s been a little rough around the edges lately. (Or maybe you haven’t…but I’ve noticed.) Apologies for that and hopefully I’ll be able to focus on the site more in the coming weeks.
I’d like to take this opportunity to thank some of the folks and organizations who keep the site running so smoothly even when I’m off worrying about other things:
- EngineHosting for worry-free, responsive, robust hosting.
- Hoefler & Frere-Jones for the fantastic webfonts.
- The Deck ad network for providing one of the simplest ad experiences on the web.
- Gmail, GitHub, Dropbox, and AWS for hosting various files in various formats.
- Greg Knauss for cheerfully answering my occasional sysadmin queries and even logging in every once in awhile to fix problems (after sufficient pleading on my part). He’s not as heartless as he seems.
- The guest editors, lately including Sarah, Aaron, and Tim. And Chris Piascik for the occasional editorial illustration.
And, not least, everyone out there who takes the time to read, write in with comments & links, shares posts on social media, and recommends the site to friends. Thanks, everyone.
In thinking about what sort of holiday gift guide (I know, I know) to do, I settled upon doing what I usually do here: highlight other people’s guides and sprinkle in a bit of my own perspective here and there. Here goes.
Somewhat awkwardly, I’m gonna lead with my friend Jake’s advice: don’t buy anything for anyone for the holidays. Instead, give something to charity in their name/stead/honor/whatever. Check out Charity Navigator or GiveWell for good donation options or make a microloan. Any family or friends who think you’re a jerk for doing this are annoying and you should make new friends and find a different family. (To be fair, Jake also recommends these two powered skateboards, Boosted Board ($1300) and Z-Board ($649+) so he’s not entirely a Scrooge McBlog.)
If you have little kids, put Tattly temporary tattoos ($5) in their stockings. They even have a yearly subscription ($60/yr) available for the holidays. These are always a big hit around our house.
When I do feel the need to buy things (which I rarely do), The Wirecutter is my spirit guide. This year, they have a proper gift guide and a list of the best holiday deals available on the Internet; both are great. Too much on these lists to pick just a few items but here goes: WD My Passport Ultra 2TB Portable External Hard Drive ($115), Geek Dad: Awesomely Geeky Projects and Activities for Dads and Kids to Share ($10), The Wes Anderson Collection ($24) is a no-brainer, and the Blade Nano QX RTF quadracopter ($90).
Star Wars fans, you can buy the actual blaster used by Han Solo in Empire and Jedi ($200,000+). Hey, it’s cheaper than the Death Star.
Tinybop’s Things We Love highlights many great things for the younger set. Two items that popped out at me from this list are James Mollison’s Where Children Sleep ($22), a collection of large-format photographs of children’s bedrooms from around the world, and Who Needs Donuts? ($14), a reissue from the year of my birth.
Two things I love recommending as gifts for food & drink folks: Tovolo King Cube Ice Tray ($9) for making those big cocktail ice cubes at home and the KitchenAid Professional 600 Series 6-Quart Stand Mixer ($400). This year, I’ll add two more: Hella Bitter Salt & Pepper pack of aromatic and citrus bitters ($19) and the Anova Sous Vide Immersion Circulator ($205), which The Sweethome recommends as the best budget sous vide thinger out there.
Boing Boing Gift Guide 2013 is full of the expected quirky gifts. Among them are Palomino Blackwing 602 pencils ($23 for 12)…I have some of these and they are great, LifeSpan Fitness TR1200-DT5 Treadmill desk ($2350+), and a 55-gallon drum of Passion Natural Water-Based Lubricant ($1250) previously highlighted here on kottke.org.
If I read more books, I’d definitely pick up a Kindle Paperwhite ($119+). Is there any way to buy more time to read books? Can someone get me that for the holidays?
For your sportsball friends and family, rely on the 2013 SB Nation Holiday Gift Guide. Some items of note include a motorized Cooler Scooter ($400+) for tailgating and Flip Flop Fly Ball: An Infographic Baseball Adventure ($19).
You’ve likely seen the (probably staged) letter to Santa that’s mostly a long Amazon URL written out in crayon. Here’s what the kid wanted: Kid Galaxy Morphibians Killer Whale ($21), a remote-controlled car.
For the booze hound in your life, get a bottle of W.L. Weller 12 Year Kentucky Straight Wheated Bourbon Whiskey ($29). According to these guys, it’s the same stuff as the highly coveted Pappy Van Winkle 15 Year ($890) but aged three fewer years and a whole lot cheaper.
By a wide margin, the thing that has provided me with the most joy in 2013 is Rdio ($5+/mo). This musical buffet has big-time rekindled my interest in music of all shapes and sizes. My musical diet, a bloated spreadsheet of old favorites, had grown stale over the past few years. Now I love playing stuff on Rdio for the kids in the morning while they have breakfast and I make their lunch…we sing along to Burl Ives, Mary Poppins, and Lorde. I listen all day at work to writing/coding music. Dinners are accompanied by music tuned to the food (I found a corny Italian dinner playlist to go along with some homemade gnocchi; it was perfect). I’m filling in the gaps in my musical listening, including post-Chronic rap & hip-hop. I’d happily pay $50/mo for Rdio…it’s that valuable to me.
I don’t have a lot of time for many magazines anymore, but Lucky Peach ($28 for 4 issues) continues to knock it out of the park. Runners up: subscriptions for National Geographic ($15/yr) and Wired ($5 for 6 mo of print/digital) at Amazon are super reasonable.
If — among a certain and increasingly geriatric set of bloggers — you say the words, “a little girl was riding her bike,” the response you’ll get will be some combination of wistful nostalgia and the belligerent pride of the old-school. Back in the day, man, when people edited their sites by hand.
Memes have always dropped out of the Web, with the regularity and frequency of fertilizer from a well-fed horse. Witness your Dancing Babies, your Mahirs, your Hamster Dances. But the little girl thing — and only the most obtuse definition of “thing” does it justice — was the first time I’d seen something just… go. By itself. From and among people I knew, and counted (a bit desperately) as peers. Viewed today, it’s infinitely small, undocumented by even the obsessive completists who obsessively complete documentation, but among the tight-knit community of early bloggers (modulo rivalries and jealousies and pettiness; it was still the Internet), it seemed like something new.
From this distance, a billion Web-years later, it’s difficult to fully explain, except in the most rote way possible: Almost a decade and a half ago, a bunch of bloggers copied a post from kottke.org (and megnut.com), spreading it from site to site to site, for no reason whatsoever, except that nobody had bothered before. What started as the smallest conspiratorial joke possible quickly took on a life of its own, moving out of the house and getting drunk and causing trouble. Looking back, this random bit of Command-C, Command-V presaged reblogs and questions of attribution; the coordination of metadata to establish narrative; anonymous, poker-faced net.art; even the public pointlessness of telling the world about your lunch. It was people in a small community in a new medium pushing against the sides of the womb, seeing if there was a way out into a larger world.
That’s an awful lot of half-assed deep-think for a single paragraph about a little girl riding a bike, but this long-lost bit of serendipity is exactly the sort of thing that Jason Kottke has been doing with the Web almost every day, year in and year out and year in and year out and year in and year out: experimenting, playing, refining, honing, perfecting. Jason was the first person I knew to suffer a cease and desist; the first to run a comment thread out to a thousand entires; the first to ask his audience to support him financially.
Blogging has changed a hell of a lot over these past thirteen years — only the most wild-eyed optimists and glower-faced doom-sayers were anywhere close to being right about how things would turn out — but one rock-steady constant has been the work Jason Kottke has done. Early bloggers, dressed in animal skins and flung forward in time, would be dizzy with the technologies and economics of Internet publishing today. But they’d eventually find their footing, load up kottke.org, and discover some small improvement, some new touch, some tiny experiment, another little girl riding another bike, improving blogging and the Web along with it. Still.
My favorite of Jason’s posts are the ones that are wrong. I love the spirited debate, looking at the @messages directed to him, and I especially love the “Post Updates” feature and its self-documenting “wha?” Kottke.org is not about viral videos or amazing facts (although it has those, too), it’s about Jason saying: “Look at this cool thing,” and starting a conversation around it. Jason has worked for almost fifteen years as programmer, editor, designer and of course blogger of the site with sharing at its core.
I’ve always loved how he thinks and talks about the way the site works:
Stellar is the natural extension of Jason’s work. The site is an enthusiasm engine, allowing you to see the best of the Internet through the eyes of friends and trusted strangers. It’s one of the Top Five pieces of software of all time.1 Jason’s fine hypertext products buy us time by filtering out the crap. If you want something good to read or look at or retweet, Stellar won’t let you down. And it’s made Kottke.org better too.
Last night I swung by Jason’s neighborhood place to raise a glass in Jason’s honor. Meg generously offered me a few glasses more and soon I was telling strangers to buy the Stellar fun pass. Some people are angry drunks, I tell strangers about Stellar. But I do want to take this (sober!) moment to encourage you to buy the stellar fun pass, it helps Jason do what Jason does best - he does it better than anyone else, and it makes all of us better at internet.
Jason was way ahead of his time with his Micropatronage project, which has been a huge influence on how I work and think about the web ever since. I also love How Cranberries are Harvested, NFL maps, God Fave the Queen,
Hilarious bad lip reading of NFL players, Megway, the old domain “yoink.org,” kottke.org/random, and kottke.org posts tagged kottke.org. I love kottke.org.
Happy Birthday, Jason!
1. I am tweaking this list in my head almost weekly, but Stellar is always on it.
Kottke loves maps. My favorite of last few years is “Local vs Tourists,” but so, so many are fantastic & so is the fact that Kottke loves maps. So there’s that to get out of the way: I would be a rabid Kottke fan just for the maps.
But he also loves, among others, Eggers and Tufte and Morris (if you missed this, go back and read the series) and generally keeps his smart-o-meter well-calibrated and active. There’s also design and sports and computing and po — well, no, not politics, but that’s just not his thing. Jason can sometimes be snarky (this take-down was epic), but he never throws elbows and what’s politics about if not elbows?
I sometimes ask myself, “What don’t I get introduced to by Kottke anymore?” A lot, I suppose (I thought I was introduced to parkour by him, but checked and his first post on the sport was a link to a piece in The New Yorker by Alec Wilkinson, which I would have read) — but what does it say that even if he didn’t introduce me to something, it feels like he did? That is the secret ingredient of Kottke — which will not, must not, ever be distilled or revealed. It certainly can’t be imitated, as those of us posting today learned as one-or-another-time guest-bloggers here on Kottke.org.
And now Jason is 40. Can’t believe how far back on the Wayback Machine I went to write this post, but hope it continues to go Wayforward: Happy Birthday, Jason!
The one piece of advice Jason had for me when I started guest editing was don’t write about politics. kottke.org is usually a pretty apolitical site and politics coming from a guest editor would be especially weird so that made sense. But I think Jason and kottke.org were at their best and most relevant in December 2012 deep in national politics.
In the wake of the Newtown school shooting, Jason spent the next week adding context and perspective to what was a very untethered national conversation.
His informative, thoughtful posts on gun culture, talking to children about violence, and the media’s role in shaping these events were a rallying point for a lot of people looking to make sense of what was going on and have a productive dialogue.
It’s been 10 months since Newtown and, nationally, we still haven’t stopped the flow of guns in general or even into schools specifically. But maybe the pragmatic empathy kottke.org and others have may be one way of stopping further tragedy.
“I just started talking to him … and let him know what was going on with me and that it would be OK,” the clerk, Antoinette Tuff, told Atlanta’s Channel 2 Action News during a lengthy sit-down interview. Tuff described Hill as “a young man that was ready to kill anybody that he could.”
School staff have regular run-throughs of scenarios like this one and Tuff was one of three staff members who were specifically trained to handle shooters. In fact, “the training is so often and extensive,” a district spokesman told reporters, that Tuff “thought it was a drill” at first. “Let me tell you something, babe, I’ve never been so scared in all the days of my life.”
Wired published its first issue 20 years ago and the most recent issue is a collection of stories “for, by, and about the people who have shaped the planet’s past 20 years”. I am pleased and proud to have been included in this issue; I wrote a piece about kottke.org.
One of the first pages I ever visited in the fall of 1994 was the National Center for Supercomputing Applications’ “What’s New” page. Every time someone added a new homepage to the web, the NCSA would publish it on this page. In hindsight, that was the first blog — published reverse-chronologically, colloquial, and full of links. It was the family encyclopedia with velocity.
“Pleased and proud” is a slight understatement. I first ran across Wired at college. A friend had an early issue and I had never seen anything like it. (He also had a copy of 2600…the pairing of the two was irresistible to a culturally isolated midwestern kid raised on Time and Newsweek.) When I got on the web in 1994, HotWired was the coolest site out there. HotWired begat Suck and became the nexus of a bunch of the coolest online writing, culture, and design. The way people discuss the cultural and technical influence of Facebook and Twitter today, that position was occupied by Wired and HotWired back in the mid-1990s.
After I dropped out of grad school to teach myself web design, I applied for an internship at HotWired but never heard back. I wanted to work there so bad, to be at the center of all the excitement of the web, but I’m sure it was an easy decision for them to pass over an unemployed grad school drop-out living with his dad on a farm in rural Wisconsin in favor of any one of the thousands of other applicants who had likely taken more than zero design, programming, or even art classes. So yeah, to have written an article for the 20th anniversary issue of Wired about a project I created…well, 1995 Jason’s head would have exploded.
You may have heard by now that Google is shutting down Google Reader, their RSS reading service. It’ll be gone by July 4. Fortunately you can export your subscriptions and use another service…here are some suggestions from Matt Haughey and Gizmodo. Or you can wait for Digg’s reader.
If you want to forego RSS readers altogether but still want to keep up with kottke.org without having to visit the site regularly, try following kottke.org on Twitter, Facebook, or Tumblr.
Since Thanksgiving is all about remembering what and who we’re thankful for I thought it would be appropriate to celebrate Thanksgiving by gathering and sharing stories from readers about how kottke.org, and the internet generally, connected them with people. Thank you so much to everyone who shared their stories.
Happy Thanksgiving, all!
Jason’s blog was the first I ever read and what inspired me to start my own in February 2001. I was really stupid back then (as opposed to now? SHUSH) and wrote a lot of what I thought were funny stories about my family that were in fact kind of horrific. A few months into it I wrote Jason an email asking for advice and he responded! He was like, “Hi. You’re kind of funny. But your family is totally going to find your website, you know this, right?” My mom didn’t know how to turn on a computer at the time, so I just laughed and laughed, and then they all found my website the day after I wrote a scathing diatribe against the religion my parents had raised me in. The whole family exploded.
Jason, he is wise.
Then he linked to my site. My traffic tripled. That was the first bump in visitors I ever saw. Now my website supports my family and two employees.
When I visit New York I try to stop in and say hi to Jason and Meg and their two beautiful kids.
Around twenty years ago, I was sitting at my home desk looking at my first ever personal computer. This was a particularly sad time in my life and the thoughts running through my head were leaning towards the end of things rather than beginnings. I happened to click on a story about web communication and one click led to another and I ended up at a telnet chat site called, “Spacebar”. There were but a few people there as it was after midnight here in Texas, and one with a name of, “shena” happened to be in the same chat room as I was. I sent shena a chat request which was ignored and thought I was doing something wrong, then I sent the message, “do you want to chat or are you just lurking” and shena began a conversation with me that lasted a few hours. We made plans to chat the next day and then the day after.
Shena turned out to be a lovely girl living in Australia who chatted with me for about two years on a daily basis before one Christmas holiday when I called her to wish her a happy holiday. Now twenty years have gone by and we have grown to know each other very well, chatting nearly daily sometimes for many hours and sharing each others very different lives. I consider her my closest friend and confidant and now cannot imagine a life without her in it. We’ve shared so many important moments in each of our lives growing closer with each new communication invention from telnet chat and email, to ICQ then AIM, VOIP phone calls to Skype where we can talk and see each others reactions to our statements. If technology had given me just this without all the rest I would have been satisfied so without the Internet I would not have this lovely lady in my life.
I remember exactly how and when I found kottke.org. It was Saturday, February 12, 2005. I had a Flickr meetup with several Flickr friends for the opening of The Gates in NYC’s Central Park. My Flickr friend Gene Han (whom I had known from Flickr for a while, but never met in person until then) told me about kottke.org. The rest is history.
Last week Jason wrote a post about My American Lemonade — my book about my family’s 18-year (and counting) US immigration ordeal. I am looking for a publisher, and Jason’s post has already resulted in several inquiries. Connecting people.
My tale of people connecting starts many years ago in the nineties.
There is a six year age difference between my brother and I and I was 12 when he went away to University, first in Canberra (I was living in Sydney) and then overseas in Rochester, New York before he finally settled in Boston. We had never been close but when we both had access to email in 1991 we started a correspondence that created a real relationship that we had never had before. It got to the point where we would correspond at least once a week or so.
On top of this I have the usual tale of finding long lost friends via social media. One friend I hadn’t seen since we both lived in Newcastle, NSW when I was 12 who now lives in Los Angeles, we hadn’t been in contact in almost forty years until I found him on LinkedIn.
I recently had coffee with a bloke I hadn’t seen in thirty nine years who found me on Facebook.
I read your post and i was like, OMG kottke.org was my people connector and led to my work life for the past five years. I’ve been following kottke.org since 2003, maybe? at least. I’m definitely more of a lurker. In 2007 Jason posted about a job at Serious Eats and I applied. I didn’t get the job, but through Alaina (the general manager) I was introduced to David Jacobs and John Emerson. Long story short, I started working at their company (Apperceptive) and then Six Apart, and consequently met everyone IRL (Jason, Meg, David, Adriana, Alaina, Anil) and became friends with them. All because I answered a job posting on Jason’s site! And to come full circle I’ve been working on Serious Eats for the past two years as their designer.
The internet is an amazing place for sure.
My people connection started way back in 1997, when I moved from Ohio to Florida in the middle of my junior year of high school. My parents felt terrible about it, and tried to make me feel better by installing AOL to the brand new computer they had bought to put in my new bedroom (they were REALLY trying to make me feel better). I had just made friends with a girl named Becky, who sat in front of me in our homeroom. She was one of the first people I met and had a lot in common with. One day when I told her I had AOL, she said she also had it, and had made friends with a lot of people online. She got my screenname, and that night, Instant Messaged me and gave my screen name to two guys she frequently talked to, Chad and Tim. She had met them through a couple “topic” chat rooms on AOL. She met Chad through a comic chat room, Tim through another one I can’t remember. She told me they were a ton of fun to talk to, and would cheer me up. So I started talking to both Tim (from Seattle) and Chad (from North Carolina), both around my same age. Over the years, I lost contact with Becky, but kept in great contact with Tim and Chad, talking on the phone every so often with both of them throughout all of college (I graduated in 2002).
In late 2003, Chad asked me if I was planning on staying in FL, which I wasn’t sure at the time. He was looking to move to Raleigh to look for a career in the technology field he had studied in college, needed to find a place and a roommate, and thought I would be perfect. So, I flew up to NC in January 2004, had a great time, and we started dating soon after. He found us a great place in Raleigh, flew down to FL to get me, drove back up here with me and we’ve been together ever since. We bought our first house together a couple years ago nearer to his family after we got our careers settled, and couldn’t be happier. Tim is still a good friend of mine, although we don’t talk as much as we used to. I’ve also never met him in person, as strange as that is. Chad and I found out a few years ago that Becky had moved to Charlotte, NC! Small world. We travel down to FL to visit my fam about twice a year.
Anyway, that was my fun story I wanted to share! Every time we’re watching TV and see a commercial for one of those dating sites, I always say we made dating online cool before it was acceptably cool to do so.
I used to write regularly for SeriousEats.com which does an annual cookie swap at the holidays. At that event a few years ago, I met Ollie Kottke, Jason’s son. He was standing by one of the cookie tables, and I said “Hey guy, how’s it going?” He did what most toddlers would do: looked at me with a fearful stare for a moment, then ran to his mother and wrapped his arms around her leg. I was introduced to Meg, Ollie’s mom and Jason’s wife, and I think I gave her a fist bump, because my hands were covered in chocolate. They told me she helped get Serious Eats off of the ground, and that her husband was a famous internet guy. I continued to munch my cookies.
Through Serious Eats, I met Adam Kuban, the founder of Slice. He would always comment on my posts on Serious Eats, and say constructive, positive things about my work. We traded tweets (and still do) and he often favorites my random musings, something I must say is a tremendous confidence boost. Honestly, receiving the “Adam Kuban favorited your tweet” email is a sheer pleasure. He was one of the most delightful and encouraging people I’ve ever met on the internet, even though in person he can appear grumpy.
In August of last year, Adam Kuban tweeted something about having Stellar invites. I had seen @yo_stellar mentioned many times on Twitter, but I didn’t know what it was. I visited stellar.io, and was intrigued by what I found. I read about it, Jason, and kottke.org.
I told Adam I wanted an invite to Stellar, and he gave me one. I evangelized Stellar to my coworkers at a tech startup. You know, the type of people who like internet things. One of them and I started regularly favoriting things to fill our Stellar feeds. We also became daily readers of kottke.org, and traded links to things we found.
In March/April, I decided to leave my job. I didn’t know what I wanted to do next, so I asked myself “what would I do if I didn’t have to do anything?” The first thought in my mind was “work as a developer on Stellar. Like an intern.”
So I cold-emailed Jason. I tried to be as nice as possible, and I explained why I wanted to work on Stellar. Bear in mind, I had never met him, I had never seen him, I had never spoken with him. He was just this person tangentially in the Serious Eats world that I kept hearing about. Surprisingly, he agreed to meet me, saying he’d been thinking about having a Stellar intern, but wasn’t sure what that person would do.
Surprisingly, about a week later, an email popped into my box accepting me as an intern, and showing me the basic steps of how to get a version of Stellar running on my local machine.
Jason is a laid-back guy, and it has been fun to work with him.
Lauren von Gogh:
I found out about kottke.org through Jon Bernad. It is his favorite website. I’m not sure how he first came across it. I met Jon through the internet. He had one post on a really bad blog he had made with a brown and beige background and curly writing. It offered a free Birthright Trip for someone who had never been to L.A. before and who had never met Jon. I emailed him from Johannesburg, where I live, sharing some anecdotes about my life that would hopefully put me in line for the trip. I didn’t hear anything back from him, and forgot about it completely.
9 months later I received an email congratulating me, telling me I had been chosen! Birthright Trip transformed to Leap Trip, which started on February 29th. I flew to Washington D.C., where Jon grew up. We met at the airport for the first time, without ever having been in direct contact with each other. We stayed with his dad for a couple of nights and then his mom, before driving the car his dad gave him across the country, back to L.A. where he lives now.
The idea of driving across the USA was so wild, and something I’d never expected to have done in my life. To meet a complete stranger, and then drive across the country together isn’t something I could’ve ever dreamed up. That this complete stranger was not a psychopath, but rather the most enthusiastic, generous and mysterious character I’ve ever met, was a bonus. It was a life changing experience.
I flew out of L.A. on April 1st after spending two weeks there and the two weeks before passing through D.C., Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Knoxville, Boaz (Alabama), New Orleans, Houston, Austin, Marfa, and the White Sands National Park.
I completely fell in love with L.A. and actually went back for the summer. And Jon and I still speak every day
Before the World Wide Web, there was a thing called USENET. You can get a small sense of its sensibilities here.
I was highly active on the newsgroup rec.juggling; indeed in ‘92 or ‘93 I was its biggest loudmouth (somebody was keeping track on a yearly basis). When I decided I wanted to go to the 1993 European Juggling Convention, and before that to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival, I put out a “Can I sleep on your couch?” to thousands of people I didn’t know, but who apparently felt knew me. Some said yes, and I got to stay in a house of young jugglers *with net access* (no small thing then!).
I met my best friend Isaac Watson via Livejournal in 2005. We both needed roommates and upon meeting clicked in a way that I’ve experienced with so few people. I introduced Isaac to Google Reader and to Kottke… or did he introduce me? I don’t know but we bonded over sending each other different Kottke posts that we’d each already read in our own feeds. The intersection of our interests—the Liberal Arts 2.0 concept—curated on the site allowed us many hours of discussion and exploration of the interests we share . And after I moved away, Isaac and I used the shared links feature in Google Reader too. The discontinuation of that feature was very unfortunate.
I made my first webpage in middle school (1997) about a video game called EarthBound. Within a few years it had grown into a small online community, so I convinced my parents to let me hold a ‘convention’. Four friends from the site traveled to my family’s farm in Indiana to hang out for a weekend, and virtually every aspect of my life has been subsequently shaped by that website/community.
The conventions grew quickly, and within a few years became a yearly weeklong group vacation. In 2004 I married an awesome girl who attended that first convention (our first child is due in January). In 2008 I teamed up with a bunch of other friends from the community to start a business making merchandise inspired by old video games (like/including EarthBound). I now work with nearly a dozen friends and family, virtually all of whom are EarthBound fans I met through that website.
I too don’t remember how I was connected with Kottke, but most likely it was a result of some cross-linkage between his site and Daring Fireball, my two most frequented sites.
Kottke turned me on to clusterflock via their first iPhone Giveaway. I thought it was a really cool idea: everyone pitch in a few bucks, and if they made enough money to pay for an iPhone, one of the contributors would get it. I was a student at the time the first iPhone was being released and couldn’t afford a $500 phone, so I figured either I’d get an iPhone for next to nothing, or at least help someone else get one. Win-win.
Lo-and-behold, I was chosen as one of the winners! I was so excited. I actually received $500 in my PayPal account. Crazy. I was already a fan of Apple, but this cemented my love and I’ve purchased every damn iPhone every year since. :)
Around about 2005 I learned of this thing called National Novel Writing Month. Through that I found the chat room and it became a second home, at least for a while. Among the people I met in this chat room, a few of us met up sometime later when a bunch of us happened to be in Hawaii at the same time. And, even more important I met the gal who is now my roommate, who moved halfway across the country in the hopes of finding a job and did within three weeks after a year of searching. She’s now lived with hubby and I for a year, and we don’t mind her staying.
It all started with an album cover, really: “Electric Pocket Radio” by The Incredible Moses Leroy. I was killing time at Barnes & Noble so I took a listen. I loved it so much that I bought it and a few days later decided to start a page for them on Orkut (remember Orkut?). The only other person who joined was a girl in Indiana named Jamie. We became very close friends despite the fact that I lived in Arkansas. We sent each other CDs and zips of mp3s and my favorite disc of the bunch was for a band called Spiraling. By then she and I had moved over to MySpace, and we connected with Spiraling. I pestered a local club owner to give them a gig, and eventually they came through town and played some shows. I took them to a house party and we became friends; they’d stay over at my house. Eventually I got them hooked up with a gig opening for Switchfoot at the annual Arkansas Riverfest.
In 2006, I went to New York City for a short vacation, and caught up with the Spiraling guys (they’re from NJ and Brooklyn). I went to a Halloween party at the bass player’s apartment. Somebody said they thought I was from NYC, and that got me thinking that I could be. I figured I could give it a try, since I have friends in the area and by that time Facebook was on the ascendant, so I could stay in touch with everybody in Arkansas. And my music collection was so digital by then I could take my massive music collection with me. So I moved to NYC in 2008. I thought maybe I would be a temp for a year and hate it and go home, but that was 5 years ago. I have a great job in web project management at a major credit card company, one that allows me to work remotely from Arkansas whenever I want so I’ve been going back and forth.
From an album cover to a girl to a band to a city and back again. Thanks, Internet.
For about six years now, I’ve been a big fan of the musician Amanda Palmer. About a year into my obsession with her, I realized she was using Twitter a lot, so I opened an account to follow her. One Friday night, she made a joke about her and her fans all being active and chatting with each other being the Losers Of Friday Night On Their Computers. This VERY quickly turned into the hashtag #LOFNOTC, a T-shirt design was drawn up using Sharpie and they started presales that night, and it formed a large group of her fans under the #LOFNOTC tag who continued to get together every Friday night whether or not she was involved, not just chatting over Twitter but even opening up video chat rooms on Tinychat. I became a part of this group, which, over time, lost numbers, but grew even more tightly knit because of it.
The people I met through #LOFNOTC introduced me to other interests and, in turn, other people. Through my friend Katy, I found a fantastic Sherlock Holmes roleplay all done on Twitter (@SHolmesEsq and @MyDearestWatson, if anyone is curious), and through them, I met other people. There are dozens of people I am proud to call friends who I never would have met if it were not for Amanda Palmer and her accidental creation. The last time I got to speak to her in person (she tries to do meet-and-greets after every single show), I thanked her for creating #LOFNOTC and bringing all these wonderful people into my life. Sadly I’ve lost most contact with a lot of them over the past couple of years, but I still am rather close with quite a few of them and of course to the people I’ve met through them. It’s hard to stay close with an entire group of 30+ people for so long. All of them, and her as well, have changed me for the better. I simply wouldn’t be who I am today without those experiences.
I’m a former educational publishing editor who used to spend way too much of his time on google reader reading about baseball. I ended up befriending a particularly awesome little corner of the formerly superlative google reader social circle, one that was often referred to as the Google Mafia or the Sharebros more self-deprecatingly. Mostly headed by Jonah Keri (now of Grantland.com on ESPN), the group shared the most interesting writing, inspiring me to work harder on my then-hobby of baseball writing. I also grew closer to many of the people in that group, often when using the formerly sweet social functions of google reader sharing — I argued and shot the shit over kottke posts when I should have been creating three-word sentences with rhyming words. Since those days, I’ve left my comfortable job and struck out into freelance sports writing, and with the help of many of those sharebros, I’ve managed to cobble together a (more personally rewarding, if not quite financially lucrative) living. I hope I’m living up to those standards that would have gotten me a share among the mafia back in those days. Without sites like twitter, breaking into the scene wouldn’t have been possible, and back in the pre-twitter days, many of the obstacles to becoming a sports writer would have (once again) sent me in the wrong direction. Lowered boundaries to access, easier networking, and more rewarding content — that’s how the internets (and kottke and twitter and the old google reader specifically) have helped connect me to a better job.
I’m sure your response bag must contain stories from Craigslist. [ED: Surprisingly no! Cause I’ve also made some great friends through CL.] I’ve found no greater tool in the United States for solving your needs that also threads you to some other side of the Universe to connect with random new people.
Several years ago I decided to start building websites for other people. I would hunt the Gigs section for projects and first met Abe. Abe wanted to build a website, Abe’s Apartments, to provide an easy online listing service for apartment seekers in Austin. I couldn’t build him what what he wanted and told him as much. Years later my business partner would help him out. Abe and I connected over shared experiences and outlook on travel and have become great friends.
Another time I wasn’t qualified to build the website for a Craigslist ad, I interviewed to design the web content management system for the Center for Non Linear Dynamics in the Physics school at UT Austin. Two of the grad students who interviewed me would go on to cofound our company, Infochimps, where the 3 of us have been partners for nearly 4 years. They are some of my best friends and we consider it a great irony that after I interviewed to build them a website they spent the next 3 years building our original site at infochimps.com.
At some point one of my cofounders would build for Abe the prototype of Abe’s Apartments. In the end we got all our needs met and are connected, thanks to Craigslist.
In 2011 I started a Minecraft server so that my son and a few coworkers could play with me and eventually I decided to open it to the public, just to see what happened. I expected to find a few parent/kid groups at most.
Although I’ve recently decided to stop the server for many reasons, this little server grew into a behemoth with between 350-500 players every single day, over 18,000 in about 18 months. It’s just blown my mind how many countries, timezones, and cultures were represented on the server and even though it’s all digital and still mainly anonymous, many of our players made some really good friends.
The sheer volume of responses with people saying how great a job I had done, how this server had such a large impact on their lives, was fairly overwhelming.
Last year at this time, I was in education teaching art + design. There was a great piece I thought students would respond to ‘An Open Letter to Graphic Design Students: Don’t Follow the Web, Follow Your Heart’ by one Timothy O Goodman. The piece was great, and lead me to another piece by him, New York vs California.
I decided to reach out to Tim on Twitter and via his site’s email address to see if he would share a meal with us in the city the following March when I would be bringing a small group of students with me to NYC for our 3rd annual ‘Design Junket’ where we introduce students to creative professionals across several disciplines.
Tim’s not only talented, he’s super friendly and said ‘yes’ to my request. We took him to lunch to dine finely on the rooftop of Eataly, where he patiently and enthusiastically sat among 10 students from high school and community college for about an hour and a half.
The internet (and generous community support) made that possible. That trip always changes students’ perspectives and shows them how big and wonderful the planet is. You can live in rural Virginia and arrange a lunch in NYC with a world class professional. That’s pretty cool.
As a junior in high school, social media has really been an interesting “people connector.” Because I moved from the East to the West coast after freshman year, I like having friends from both areas in one place on facebook. All of my AP classes have facebook groups, which makes it easy to collaborate and ask questions (without risk of cheating, since nobody is going to use a public forum to cheat). Because I go to a huge high school now, sometimes I meet people once at a party or something and really connect with them, but I rarely get to see them around school. For these kind of acquaintances, facebook is enough to connect with each other. However, social media isn’t that great for actually forging close relationships or having real conversations. Specifically for twitter, which I think is a great medium for sharing ideas and thoughts, I feel like it’s not really a people connector since tweeting is more talking at people than to people.
I found kottke.org on a list of blogs to follow in Time magazine. It hasn’t really helped me connect with people (haha, I don’t really talk to people about, say, kottke and Time because typical high school students aren’t really into this kind of thing) but it introduced me to David Foster Wallace and Infinite Jest, which is definitely one of my favorite books now. :]
There’s a saying that Facebook is for finding old friends, and Twitter is for finding new ones, and it has definitely worked that way for me. Last night is the perfect example of this: i went to a friends house for dinner and drinks, and the 4 other people there were all folks the host knew initially through Twitter. I got to meet a local journalist, an elementary teacher at a controversial charter school, and an entrepreneur starting up a new brand of Akvavit, all fun and interesting folks. I initially met the host when a mutual Twitter friend had invited us both to a meetup several months ago to celebrate a new work venture he was starting. This year i have been on bike rides and happy hours and fish frys and housewarming parties for people i never would have met without Twitter because our circles in real live wouldn’t otherwise overlap.
Just saw your post on Kottke (via Reader). A colleague and I actually wrote an article about lightweight blogging + Reader + Twitter as a people connector for extending undergraduate classrooms back in 2010.
It was cowritten by me (in Indiana at the time), a colleague (in New Jersey at the time), two undergraduate students at my institution (one was an enrolled student, one wasn’t), and a community member and contributor to the class (located in Kansas City, and unaffiliated with any of us in any way, save for connections through Reader and Twitter, and a shared interested in the things we mutually shared).
I don’t spend a lot of time lamenting the loss of Reader’s social features (companies create these things, we use them for free, and sometimes they go in a different direction—meh), but I do have to say that it was probably my favorite SNS ever (and I’ve been adopting and studying how people use SNSs since 2007).
My mom, Susan Pavis, emailed me a story that had slipped my mind & goes a ways to explaining why I’m so interested in this stuff:
This story shows that nothing is ever gone from the internet. My daughter (the now famous Sarah Pavis [ED: ugh! mom…]) was doing a project on earthquakes when she was in the 4th or 5th grade. One of the components of the project was to survey people on the topic. Living on the east coast we had never been in nor knew anyone who had experienced an earthquake. The Kobe Japan earthquake in 1995 had just occurred. We used a couple of different earthquake newsgroups (yes, there was more than one newsgroup devoted to earthquakes) to post a survey with some basic questions. This was cutting edge back then and she even got props from her teachers that she had used a ‘new medium’ to gather her information. We had a wonderful response from people from all over the world. I was very impressed that so many people responded to the survey - we even received a couple of responses from people in Kobe. My email was used to have people send back their completed survey. I can remember after about 10 years still getting email responses to the survey!!!
And in a surprising twist, requesting people connections reconnected me with someone I haven’t seen in years: my childhood neighbor, Liam Aiello.
I’ve been reading kottke for some years now, so perhaps you can imagine my surprise when your name appeared in my feed. Sarah Pavis, guest editor? Didn’t she grow up in Middletown CT? If so, what a fine coincidence.
My name is Liam, and I grew up on the same street. There were a handful of us, as I recall: all approximately the same age, terrible delinquents and ne’er-do-wells, riding our bikes from driveway to driveway. It’s good to learn that a kid from the crime-ridden favelas of Wesleyan Hills overcame so much - and rose to such Internet heights! Well played, Sarah.
Truly, we who grew up on Connecticut cul-de-sacs should be celebrated for our rags to riches stories.
Thanks again to everyone who emailed!
P.S. Sorry for murdering the kottke.org homepage with this crazy long post.
I am in [PARtially undIscloSed location] for vacation this week so I’ve asked Sarah Pavis to fill in. Her Tumblr says she’s “a mechanical engineer & writer living in Chicago” and when I met her briefly at XOXO in September she didn’t seem like a dishonest person so I believe that she actually is those things. Sarah has also done some writing for Buzzfeed and some tweeting for herself. She’s also active on Stellar, which is where I noticed that she had a good eye for whatever the hell it is I do here, an eye that spotted this video, which goes from sexy robot to terrifyingly fast insect death machine in about 45 seconds.
Anyway, welcome Sarah!
Emeril Lagasse made an appearance on Treme on Sunday. I watched a clip of his scene a few days ago and have been thinking about it on and off ever since. In the scene written by Anthony Bourdain, Emeril takes a fellow chef to the building that used to house Uglesich’s, a small-but-beloved New Orleans restaurant that closed back in 2005. The chef is having misgivings about expanding her business, particularly about all the non-cooking things you have to do, and Emeril explains that the way the owners of Uglesich’s did it was one way forward:
You see, they kept it small, just one spot, just a few tables. There’d be a line around the corner by 10 am. You see, they made a choice. Anthony and Gail made a choice to stay on Baronne Street and keep their hands on what they were serving. They cooked, everyday they cooked, until they could cook no more.
But there’s also another way to approach your business:
The other choice is that you can build something big but keep it the way that you wanna keep it. Take those ideas and try to execute them to the highest level. You got a lotta people around you, right? You’re the captain of the ship. Or what I should say is that you’re the ship. And all these people that look up to you and wanna be around you, they’re living in the ship. And they’re saying, “Oh, the ship is doing good. Oh, the ship is going to some interesting places. Oh, this ship isn’t going down just like all the other fucking ships I’ve been on.” […] You’ve got a chance to do your restaurant and to take care of these people. Just do it.
kottke.org has always been a one-person thing. Sure, Aaron posts here regularly now and I have guest editors on occasion, but for the most part, I keep my ass in the chair and my hands on what I am serving. I’ve always resisted attempts at expanding the site because, I have reasoned, that would mean that the site wouldn’t be exactly what I wanted it to be. And people come here for exactly what I want it to be. Doing the site with other people involved has always seemed unnatural. It would be selling out…that’s how I’ve thought about it, as opposed to blowing up.
But Emeril’s “until they could cook no more” and “you’re the ship”…that got to me. I am a ship. I don’t have employees but I have a family that relies on the income from my business and someday, when I am unable to do this work or people stop reading blogs or all online advertising moves to Facebook or Twitter, what happens then? Don’t I owe it to myself and to them to build something that’s going to last beyond my interest and ability to sit in a chair finding interesting things for people to look at? Or is it enough to just work by yourself and produce the best work you can?
Or can you do both? John Gruber’s Daring Fireball remains a one-man operation…as far as I know, he’s never even had an intern. I don’t have any inside knowledge of DF’s finances, but from the RSS sponsorship rate and the rate for sponsoring Gruber’s podcast, my conservative estimate is that DF grosses around $650,000 per year. And with a single employee/owner and relatively low expenses, a large amount of that is profit. So maybe that route is possible?
I don’t have any answers to these questions, but man, it’s got me thinking. Emeril got me thinking…who saw that coming? Bam!
Publishing on kottke.org is suspended until further notice. The situation in New York and New Jersey is still dire** so posting stupid crap seems frivolous and posting about the Sandy aftermath seems exploitive. Information is not what people need right now; people need flashlights, candles, drinking water, safety, food, access to emergency medical care, a warm place to sleep, etc.
Anyway, we’ll be back in a few days hopefully.
** I say “still dire” because I think the perception among people not in the NY/NJ area is one of “oh, the storm has passed, the flooding is subsiding, and everything is getting back to normal”. But that’s not what I’m hearing. What I’m hearing is that there are large areas that have been without power for 4-5 days, people are running out of food and gas, food and gas deliveries are not happening, etc. Things are getting worse (or certainly have the potential to get worse), not better, especially for those without the resources to care about which cool restaurants are open or how much an iPhone car service is gouging its customers or which Midtown office they’re gonna work on their startup from.
A month ago, I launched a redesign of kottke.org. While there are still a few issues to iron out1, I am overall very happy with it so far.
If you’re actually reading this on the site and not in RSS (guys, come on in from the cold, don’t be shy), you’ll already have noticed that I changed the “look and feel” of the site. In doing the design, I focused on three things: simplicity, the reading/viewing experience, and sharing.
Aside from those three things, one of my unstated goals with the redesign was to increase the number of people reading kottke.org2 and I had a hunch that the focus on simplicity, sharing, the reading experience would do just that. Using Google Analytics and a couple of other sources, I compared the traffic stats from the past 30 days (I didn’t include the day of launch because that was an outlier day, traffic-wise) to that of the previous 30 days. Here are some of the results. (Except where noted, when I say “traffic”, I mean visits.)
- Overall traffic to kottke.org was up 14%. And February was a pretty good month itself so that’s a nice bump.
- As I hoped, the two areas that saw the most improvement were mobile and referral traffic. Mobile was the lowest-hanging fruit I addressed with the redesign…kottke.org’s previous mobile experience sucked. It’s better now. And the focus on sharing boosted referral traffic.
- Mobile traffic now accounts for 19% of kottke.org’s traffic and increased by 25% over the past 30 days. iPad usage in particular shot up 40% and iPad users are spending longer on the site than they previously were. iPhone and iPod touch traffic both showed double digit percentage increases as well.
- Referral traffic now accounts for 45% of kottke.org’s traffic and increased by 28% over the past 30 days. Most of this increase come from social network sharing. Traffic from Facebook increased by 45%, Facebook mobile was up 43%, Twitter increased by 6% (I already did Twitter sharing pretty well before, so not a huge jump here), and Tumblr referrals went up 125%.
- That big Tumblr increase was due to kottke.org’s new Tumblr blog. Having kottke.org posts be properly rebloggable is paying off. In addition, it’s got over 800 followers that are reading along in the dashboard. I’d like to see that number increase, but I’d probably need to engage a bit more on Tumblr for that to happen.
- For reference, kottke.org’s Twitter account added 1000 followers over the same period, about 20% more than the previous month.
- One of the small changes I made was to stop using post titles for posting to Twitter. I had hoped that using more descriptive text would make the tweets more easily retweetable…look at this tweet for example and compare to the title of the post it links to. This hasn’t really happened, which is surprising and disappointing.
- I also removed the links to the tag pages (like this and this) from the front page. I had a hunch that very few people were using those links compared to the real estate they took up and the traffic numbers bear that out…traffic to tag pages decreased only 3%.
That’s enough for now…I very rarely dig into the traffic stats so it’s difficult to stop when I do. That and it’s rewarding when you redesign something and it actually works out the way you thought it was going to.
 Like this weird Safari bug that results in overlapping link text. Many people have reported this but it only happens sporadically (and usually goes away with a refresh) and I can’t reproduce it or find any other sites/designers who are having the same issue. Oh, and it seems like it only happens on OS X Lion. I have no idea if it’s the web fonts or something in my CSS. Anyone have any ideas? ↩
 Not for $$$ reasons, although that is certainly a consideration. No, it’s more that I believe there are literally millions of people out there who are not reading kottke.org that would love it. I put a lot of myself into the site, I’m proud of it, and I want people to see it. That’s pretty much it. Oh, and I would also like the unlimited power that comes with millions of readers. evil cackle and cat stroking noises And the money. even more cat stroking noises And the chicks. expensive champagne cork popping noises And my kids’ love and respect. surprisingly loud whining noise that you can’t even believe came from someone less than 40 inches tall oh come on you just watched Wallace and Gromit for the past hour and you want more orange juice jesus come on give it a rest and now there’s a surprisingly loud whining noise coming from a 38-year-old man that should know better… ↩