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  • Michael Krakovskiy 2:17 am on June 3, 2009 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: B. White, , , BoingBoing.net, , Corporate blog, , daringfireball.net, , , , Homer Simpson, , , , , , , , kottke.org, Louise Bourgeois, , , , , Nick Denton, , online articles, Oster, , , , Steve Yegge,   

    Homer Simpson’s Toothpick Method of Blogging 

    There’s something that has been bothering me for a while, something that I call “Homer Simpson’s toothpick school of blogging”. In one of the Simpsons episodes Homer is marauding a grocery store at brunch, making a meal out of free samples. He proceeds to eat a few non-sample items by proclaming that “if it has a toothpick in it, it’s free” and sticking his toothpic into a variety of items. He even drinks a beer, piercing it with a toothpick. The most successful blogs are basically like that: they either paraphrase or directly quote juiciest pieces of online articles. There might be a little bit of commentary (the snarkier – the better), but the meat of these blogs is in the quotes.

    This is known as “curating” – the successful toothpickers have excellent taste in content. The people they quote and take images from are very glad to receive traffic from these A-listers. BoingBoing.net, kottke.org, daringfireball.net are like that: short, high volume (once you get the hang of it, it does not take much to turn that interesting site in your firefox tab into a pithy little wrapper around a juicy quote), very enjoyable. More so than mechanized versions of the same thing like digg.com and stumbleupon.com. For one, submitters don’t do a very good job of quoting or paraphrasing, and you find yourself clicking on links more. Very successful blogs stick their toothpics into so much content that you don’t really need to click through to the originals much: I can read BoingBoing, Gothamist or Lifehacker without clicking too much – the juiciest stuff is already there. In fact Gothamist seems to be almost completely pulled from from New York Times and New York Post headlines. It’s a bit like a segment on some NY TV news stations where they read the latest headlines from local papers.

    Now, there isn’t anything unethical about quoting and paraphrasing – it’s all squarely in the realm of fair use. These blogs are a bit like suckerfish that attach themselves to whales or sharks in that they benefit immensely from their hosts. Well, actually, unlike suckerfish they repay the favor by driving traffic.

    In fact, I owe most of my readers to the low point in my blogging career, when after failing to submit my post about the Starbucks Siren to BoingBoing through their official black hole form, I begged Cory Doctorow to post it in a personal email. He did, I received tons of traffic and literally thousands of links from BB readers. Now that article shows up at the very top of Google search results for Starbucks logo.

    Therein lies a problem: good content on the Internet does not always bubble up to the top on it’s own. Blogosphere is a bit like the Black Sea, which has a layer of very active and vibrant biosphere at low depths. But it’s very deep, and below 200 meters the depths are full of poisonous hydrogen sulfide, which luckily does not circulate very much (unless there’s a particularly strong storm). Think about digg.com or StackOverflow.com– at the top stuff circulates, gets upvoted and downvoted. But below, there’s a poisonous cesspool of Sturgeon’s Law’s 90 percent. And most of the time, new and worthwhile content starts not at the top, but at the bottom, or flutters briefly in above the mediocrity and the bad, does not get noticed and gets buried.

    Speaking of StackOverflow, Joel Spolsky and Jeff Atwood recently touched on the topic of blogging success in their excellent podcast. They were discussing Steve Yegge’s retirement from blogging, and tried to pinpoint what it meant to be a successful blogger. “Perhaps one metric of success is getting people you respect and admire to link to your writing in an organic, natural way (that is, without asking them to).” I am a miserable failure on this front. Sure, I have some high profile readers, but their link love is rare, while I’m not really below begging for links.

    Jason Kottke, an A-list blogger and a primo toothpick sampler, was reflecting on the monetary success. He likened business blogging to shining shoes: there might be some individuals who can get rich by running a chain of shoe shining stores (Jason Calacanis, Nick Denton), and maybe even some individual outstanding shoeshiners (Dooce) who can make a decent living, but for the majority of shoeshiners it’s not a very good career choice.

    I’ve read somewhere about my hometown’s “king of shoeshiners”, a very colorful character. He was the best shoeshiner Odessa has ever seen, famous and loved by all, but he died poor and miserable. On his monument there was a short quote: “life is waksa” (waksa is a Russian word for shoe polish with a connotation of something pitch-black).

    For me blogging takes a good deal of effort. In the immortal words of E.B. White “writing is never ‘fun'”. (White almost rejected an assignment to write an article that became the finest piece ever written about New York when an editor suggested that he might ‘have fun’). What makes blogging less fun for me is looking at server statistics, number of comments, ad revenue, and thinking about payoff and success. And feeling like that I maybe should have done something else with my time.

    My high school Economics teacher, Mr. Oster, taught me one very valuable concept: “opportunity cost“. Whenever you make a decision do something, you almost always pay the opportunity cost – the difference in value you might have gotten by doing something better. Oh, there could be hundreds of things that have a better payoff than not very successful blogging.

    I personally do not blog for money, and certainly don’t blog professionally (the ads on my site cover my hosting expenses). Well, not yet, anyway – I am preparing stuff for a commercial venture that I’ll soon announce. I blog in order to meet people (hanging out a Web 2.0 events and meetups would probably have been more productive), but mostly to get things out of my head. In that sense I’m a bit like Louise Bourgeois. I’ve recently seen an exhibition of her work, and I’m pretty sure that if she did not create all those sculptures and paintings, the inspiration for them (which must have been glipses of extra dimensions, cellular automata that drive our reality, and super disturbing things that can’t even be described) would have made her a raving lunatic and not a lucid and sane 97 year old woman that she is.

    I don’t really intend on changing the format of deadprogrammer.com – the intricate, long, winding, interconnected posts about obscure topics. I probably would have had a lot more success if I just kept a photo blog about New York City. If I’d just stick to one popular topic and posted every day – I know I would have attracted a lot more readers. Instead, I’m going to start a new, for-profit blog. You’ll hear about it soon. I think I should be able to make some shekels with my mad shoeshining skills. And while I agree with Mr. White about writing not being fun, the fund is in having written.

     
  • Michael Krakovskiy 1:43 am on February 29, 2008 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Festivals, Homer Simpson, Human geography, May Day, New Year celebrations, New Year's Eve, , New York Giants, Parades, St. Patrick's Day in the United States, , , , , , Time Square, Urban geography, Walking   

    The Anatomy of a NYC Parade 

    New York City is well known for two types of public celebrations: New Year’s Eve in Time Square and Ticker-Tape parades.

    New York City streets are like a 300 pound person in McDonalds: it seems that his or her arteries are so clogged with cholesterol that it’s impossible to clog them any more. Watching NYC streets during a celebration it’s like watching Homer Simpson eat 100 ribwiches. But New York City’s Finest and Strongest have crowd control down to a science, and people and garbage clots get dislodged very fast.

    There are three major groups in an NYC public celebration: tourists, local shmoes, pros, and those who work there. Four major groups.

    Let’s take a look at the following picture that I took out of my new workplace during the ticker tape parade thrown for the New York Giants.

    Arrow with the letter A points to the actual parade: a float with football players going down the Canyon of Heroes. Number 1 denotes the group that came prepared and staked out spots right along the parade path. These are the pros: the showed up long before NYPD blocked the exits and stuck it out for the next several hours. Group number 2 is the clueless parade goers who showed up late, had to walk for a dozen of blocks that were blocked by police looking for a way to get closer to the parade, finally giving up and standing shoulder to shoulder in a humongous mass of people. They can’t see anything interesting.

    During New Year’s eve this group is held in place by mounted policemen who, believe it or not pack the crowd in by backing their horses in sideways.

    Group number 3 is all the people looking for a path to get into group 2 and those who are late for work and are trying to see a break in the police barricade.

    Arrow B points to a more civilized way to enjoy the parade, but it required employment in one of the building next to a celebration.

    NYC celebrations remind me of the Soviet times and the May Day parades. The trick was to leave from about 3/4 from the end of the parade, otherwise you reached a fenced in area and could not leave for hours having to listen to communist functionaries giving speech  after speech.

    I have some advice for those who want to enjoy a ticker tape parade or an NYE celebration in Manhattan:

    • Reconsider: you will be crowded by people on all ends and freezing cold for hours. Definitely reconsider if you are claustrophobic, germophobic, have a weak bladder, or don’t like to come into contact with police horse’s ass.
    • Show up before the cops block the street. This means at least 3 hours before the start. The best way to do so is to find a restaurant and spend your time there: remember – it will likely be cold.
    • If you are a bit late, your best bet is getting out of a subway station right on the parade’s path: these get blocked off pretty late.
    • Have a meal somewhere nearby and show up when most of the people left and the cleanup crews have arrived: this is usually more fun than the main event: you can take all the pictures and watch tons of confetti and garbage cleaned up in a matter of minutes.
    • Do not reach out with your hand and scratch police horse’s ass. Just believe me on this one.
     
  • Michael Krakovskiy 8:45 am on August 29, 2005 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , Homer Simpson, , , ,   

    Freedom Cuts 

    I have a friend who likes to remind me that my taste is highly atypical and should not be taken into consideration when coming up with new products. For instance, Fox cancels any show that I start to really like. Firefly, The $treet, Futurama – all mistreated and gone. The Simpsons weren’t cancelled, but somehow changed by Fox to become unappealing to me. Strange but true.

    Right now Fox is promoting a new show, Prison Break. Recently they turned a little raised plaza in front of the Newscorp Building into a “Fox River State Penitentiary”, complete with signs, a barbed wire fence, and a whole bunch of dudes in prison jumpsuits handing out nailfiles and fake tattoos with the show’s logo.

    There were also free henna tattoos as well as free buzzcuts. I was very much surprised at how popular the buzzcuts were with the office crowd.


    Ad:
    You know what’s missing from The Simpsons today? Bite. There’s no bite left in them. And I don’t know, something else too. It’s still there in the old seasons, but somewhere along the way either Homer jumped the shark both literally and figuratevely.

    A relatively well known fact is that Groening started his career with a “Life Is Hell” comic which was about bulgy eyed rabbits instead of bulgy eyed humans. It had what the Simpsons is missing these days.

     
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