July 09, 2007
An interview with Alex of "Neatorama" fame
Neatorama is a well-liked link blog, which features daily posts on science, technology, art, and odd news. Since the first post on August 9th, 2005, Neatorama had become extremely popular: It quickly climbed to join the top 50 blogs on Technorati, garnished thousands of shares on del.icio.us and had been highlighted many times on digg, reddit, Boing Boing and other blogs.
Of the many special elements that Neatorama successfully uses are the longer Neatorama Exclusive Lists, often composed in cooperation with others. There are also on-going collaborations with other blogs and websites like What is It? Blog, Cellar Image of the Day, Videosift, as well as cartoonist Dan Piraro, the writers of Mental Floss and Bathroom Readers Institute.
I asked Alex Santoso, Neatorama’s webmaster: What gave you the Idea to start a blog?
Actually, I wanted to do a fun project and blogging about neat stuff seemed like a good idea! I’ve always been interested in neat trivia, odd news, unusual art, and weird science – the stuff you see posted on Neatorama everyday – so why not share that with the world through a blog? And thus Neatorama was born.
There are more than 70 million blogs. What do you attribute your incredible success, and how did Neatorama become so popular so quickly?
A lot of that is luck - blogging on the right topic at the right time, but I do have to thank Neatorama’s authors, collaborators and readers. Last year, I started to invite other bloggers to write for Neatorama. They’ve added a lot to the blog: besides increased frequency of postings, they’ve added a lot of perspectives by writing about things I didn’t even know existed. This makes the blog really fun for me to visit – I can’t wait to find out what they write about!
Neatorama owes a lot to its readers – a lot of people told me that they found the blog through their friends. More than anything else, word-of-mouth really helped Neatorama grow quickly.
How did you manage to become such a favorite with the reddit /dig /Boing Boing’s of the world? How much of your popularity comes from those relationships?
I have no idea – obviously I don’t have any control over what redditors, diggers, or other bloggers write about Neatorama.
I like digg’s yellow “digg me” button, but I try to use that sparingly on contents that you’ll find only on Neatorama – I discourage people from digging a post on the blog if they can visit and promote the original author’s website instead. Although social networking sites can give a website a huge influx in traffic, these “spikes” are usually temporary. I find that regular word-of-mouth works best in growing a blog.
Do you manage to read all the comments readers leave?
I try to read most of the comments, but this is actually quite a difficult task due to the sheer volume. Currently, Neatorama has nearly 30,000 comments – we hit about 10,000 comments in January 2007 and had since added 20,000 more!
I like an open comment policy, so I try to make it easy for people to comment (for instance, no registration or pre-approval required). Blog comments are a great way to interact with readers and to get new ideas for future posts. But there is a downside: one has to remain watchful for spam and hateful comments. Wordpress, the blogging engine behind Neatorama, has a really nice spam and “keyword” filters built-in. From time to time, however, things do slip through the cracks – then I get email complaints about a nasty comment someone left, so I’d have to take care of that.
What are your favorite post(s), or ones that made you proud by having the greatest effect on others? What is your favorite subject to write about? What do you think about bloggers as influencers?
Ah, if I have to pick a favorite, I’d say “10 Most Magnificent Trees in the World” is my favorite post, followed closely by “30 Strangest Animal Mating Habits” and the “Top 10 Coolest BBQ Grills (And Then Some!)”
I think bloggers can be a great influence: the “rise” in blogging is akin to the advent of the printing press – it allows information to flow more easily. Influence coattails information, so yes, bloggers can greatly influence things (either positively or negatively) in real life. For example, it’s interesting to see how bloggers and the Internet (for example, through sites like YouTube) will influence the upcoming presidential election.
You often write (or at least edit. i.e. “copy & paste”) longer articles & descriptions. How much time do spend every day on the surf & search of material VS. the composing itself? How much of your interesting links come from reader submissions?
Many of the longer articles come from the good folks at mental floss and Bathroom Readers Institute. These articles don’t take up much time for me to prepare (although the long ones are a bear to type up!) and are a lot of fun to read. If I have to pick two things I really, really like about the blog, these two collaborations would be them.
In the beginning, I did a lot more surfing to search for materials. Now, I’d say reader submissions make up about a third to a half of my posts. After close to two years of blogging, I’ve developed quite a long list of blogs in my bookmarks that I visit regularly – this really helped speed up gathering materials for posts.
You post little about politics. Obviously your site is “clean” and kid friendly. What are your rules of subject matter?
Simple: don’t post things you wouldn’t want your parents to read. I don’t tell Neatorama’s authors what to post or not to post (well, actually with this exception: I did ask them not to post nudity or inappropriate contents).
How do your wife & family tolerate your blogging time? How’s your baby daughter?
Oh, they’re fine about it – I get a lot of crazy ideas in my head and creating Neatorama is actually one of the saner ones. My wife is a loving, caring and wonderful woman (Hi Tiffany!) and my baby is much too young to understand why her Dad is always sitting in front of the computer in his spare time.
Maddy is 11 months old and is happy as a clam scooting her cute little tushy all over the house. Her favorite activity? Banging on my keyboard to mess up whatever Neatorama article that I was working on! (And thanks for asking, Hanan!)
Has the extensive advertising on the blog become a significant source of income for you? What other opportunities present themselves from running a successful blog? Do you see yourself retiring soon & becoming a full-time “blogger”, and if so, how?
Advertising is a necessary evil when it comes to running any large blog. The flipside of having a popular blog is that it takes a lot of computer power to run it: Neatorama uses a dedicated server to serve up the HTML and a separate image server for the pictures. Bandwidth is also extremely expensive - for instance, the Magnificent Tree post I wrote about above, gobbled up 1 terabyte in bandwidth in just 2 days!
I wish I could become a millionaire blogger and live in a tropical island somewhere sipping Margaritas while blogging, but for now, I’m content with my job and can’t see myself retiring just yet!
What are your other non-virtual interests?
Actually, I really like building things – besides virtual bits and bytes of the blog, I like to work on a myriad of home improvement projects. If only I understood electronics and not actually afraid of fire, then I’d be making a giant robot that shoots flame from its mouth.
What’s next for Neatorama? Where do you see yourself in two or three years? Do you have a bigger goal / dream related to the internet?
In two or three years, I’ll be two or three years older, but probably none the wiser (LOL). I have a couple of things neat expansions planned for Neatorama, but it’s hush hush for now, so stay tuned!
Thank you, Alex, for your time. Continual success to you and your blog.
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Very interesting interview
Posted by: Ana at Jul 9, 2007 3:32:19 AM
What a great interview! Alex seems like a nice guy and deserving of all the success Neatorama has experienced.
Posted by: Hsien Lei at Jul 9, 2007 4:28:00 AM
Neatorama, Grow-a-brain, and 3Quarksdaily... the three best sites on the internet!
Posted by: beajerry at Jul 9, 2007 8:27:46 AM
Great interview with the owner of a fantastic website!
Posted by: Lee at Jul 9, 2007 4:33:53 PM
I tend to disagree on that,
Kings don't kiss asses. They fuck 'em.
Viva la revolution!
Posted by: hemaworstje at Jul 16, 2007 6:56:40 PM
nice information.. good to read..
Posted by: negeflessygap at Feb 6, 2009 10:47:36 PM