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Weird Internet Careers

posted by Jason Kottke   Mar 09, 2020

Gretchen McCulloch, author of Because Internet, has developed a Weird Internet Career as an internet linguist. In the first installment in a series on such jobs, McCulloch explains what they are:

Weird Internet Careers are the kinds of jobs that are impossible to explain to your parents, people who somehow make a living from the internet, generally involving a changing mix of revenue streams. Weird Internet Career is a term I made up (it had no google results in quotes before I started using it), but once you start noticing them, you’ll see them everywhere.

Weird Internet Careers are weird because there is no one else who does exactly what they do. They’re internet because they rely on the internet as a cornerstone, such as bloggers, webcomics, youtubers, artists, podcasters, writers, developers, subject-matter experts, and other people in very specific niches. And they’re careers because they somehow manage to support themselves, often making money from some combination of ad revenue, t-shirt sales, other merch, ongoing membership/subscription (Patreon, Substack), crowdfunding (Kickstarter, Indiegogo, Ko-Fi), sponsorship deals, conventional book deals, self-published ebooks, selling online courses, selling products or apps or services, public speaking, and consulting.

I’ve had a Weird Internet Career for more than 15 years and even though it’s much more normalized now than when I started (folks generally know that people make money from being popular on YouTube or Instagram), it’s still a struggle to explain. Usually someone will ask me what I do and I tell them. Them, wide-eyed: “That’s your job?!” Then there’s a long pause and eventually their curiosity overwhelms their politeness and they tentatively say: “Can I ask…uh…how do you make money doing that?”

For awhile, in an attempt to have more symmetrical relationships with new friends — because 5 minutes of googling yields so much about who I am, leading to weird information imbalances — I would be vague about my profession, saying that I managed a website and not offering any further information. This approach often backfired because you’ve essentially given people a mystery, and mysteries must be solved. More than one person looked at me with a cocked eyebrow and asked, “Do you run a porn site? Is that why you don’t want to tell me?” *facepalm*