What does BoingBoing.net, the blog that has the attention of 7.5 million readers a day, which rakes in more than a million dollars a year in advertising, which arguably informs more Internet users about the world than The Los Angeles Times and The Wall Street Journal, and which is largely recognized as an icon of Web 2.0 culture, publish in its award-winning and world-famous media outlet?
Basically, whatever ...
it feels like.
During a telephone interview with Boing Boing co-founder Mark Frauenfelder, he spoke simply and humbly about a hobby he never imagined would become a web sensation.
“We blog stuff that we enjoy,” he said. “And we’re fortunate … that there are enough people out there who share our interests that we can make a business out of it.”
Frauenfelder works for that business from his home in the Tarzana district of Los Angeles, one of the only areas in the city still zoned for farm animals.
“We live in a farmhouse that was built in 1930,” he said. “We actually don’t have any chickens but we’re thinking of getting some.”
Living with chickens in L.A. is exactly the kind of odd juxtaposition that Frauenfelder seems to enjoy, and that definitely manifests in the pages of Boing Boing.
Although largely known as a tech blog, Boing Boing topics range from news about AT&T’s cooperation with the government’s warrantless surveillance program to pictures of a random woman in a subway station who looks like Carmen Sandiego.
Boing Boing subheads its homepage with the phrase “A Directory of Wonderful Things.”
Frauenfelder said the blog doesn't use the first dictionary definition of “wonderful,” as in something positive, and that it instead defines a “wonderful thing” as, “anything that evokes a sense of wonder in us personally. ... Stuff that sticks out, things that are salient and change our worldview.”
A large amount of BoingBoing's advertising revenue right now is paying for bandwidth as well as a systems administrator and community manager. “We’re not getting rich off it,” Frauenfelder said. “But I will say that the advertising revenue is growing pretty quickly.”
The editors of Boing Boing are spread throughout the world, but it was here in San Francisco’s Marina District, in an apartment on the corner of Octavia and Bay streets, that the blog had its humble beginnings. From 1993 to 1998, Frauenfelder’s wife and collaborator, Carla Sinclair, helped maintain the Boing Boing site from home while Frauenfelder worked as an editor at Wired.
Boing Boing recruited most of its editors from Wired — David Pescovitz was an intern, and Corey Doctorow and Xeni Jardin were contributors. These well-connected members of the geek world helped bolster Boing Boing’s fame.
Before the blog, Boing Boing was actually a zany print magazine Frauenfelder and Sinclair started in 1988. Fraunfelder’s first brush with fame came when punk rocker Billy Idol saw the magazine and hired Frauenfelder to draw the illustrations for his 1993 album Cyberpunk. (See samples of his work, including his masterpiece, naked ukulele girl.)
While other online media gurus like Fark.com’s Drew Curtis have criticized the media’s obsession with puerile and ridiculous news, Frauenfelder does not think Boing Boing will abandon its silly side, and feels that the site’s strength is its ability to present fun gadgetry and world issues in one place.
“It’s similar to a conversation at a fun dinner party,” he said. “When you talk to somebody … odds are you’re probably going to bounce back and forth between serious issues, trivial issues, light stuff, heavy stuff.”
No matter what Boing Boing chooses to publish, the fact remains that ridiculous news stories attract a huge number of clicks, as The Seattle Times observed when it discovered after analyzing its Web traffic that the story that got the most clicks was about a man who died while having sex with a horse. Boing Boing also gave a nod to The Seattle Times’ interesting observation in a blog post.
But Boing Boing will continue to be “a directory of wonderful things.” Frauenfelder is confident in the public’s ability to decipher what’s important and the media’s ability to challenge the way we think.
“I love to have my mind changed,” he said. “I love to have information that makes me reconsider my mental model of the way the world works.”