Blog of the Week:

July 31, 2006 | Post Archive

HSW: What is TechCrunch all about?

Michael Arrington: TechCrunch is a blog about startups -- usually, consumer facing Web applications. There is a lot of innovation occurring on the Web right now. I write about that innovation.

HSW: Why did you start blogging and how long have you been at it?

MA: At first, just to try it out because I had read a few blogs and was curious. Later, it became an addiction. It still is. I've maintained a personal blog for family and close friends for a few years. Even when I had just three or four readers (my parents and a friend or two), they said I was a little obsessive about it because I'd post multiple times a day about whatever was on my mind.

Something about blogging just appealed to me right away. I think the fact that it was public encouraged me to write more often than I would in a private journal. If I skipped a day, my dad would e-mail me and ask when I'd be writing again.

I started TechCrunch last year, on June 11, 2005.

HSW: What's the most challenging aspect of maintaining TechCrunch?

MA: At this point, it's the fact checking. If I post something that's inaccurate, I hear about it right away in the comments (or worse, on another blog) and it's embarrassing.

Often I’m learning about something as I write, which means I'm not an expert on that particular subject or company. I spend a lot of time researching to get things right, but I still make mistakes all the time.

HSW: How much time do you spend working on your site every day?

MA: I spend three to six hours on average writing every day, seven days a week. Going through e-mail, interviewing entrepreneurs and companies, and researching takes up a lot more time. I’d say I spend 12 to 14 hours a day maintaining TechCrunch and our other blogs.

HSW: How often do you write new posts?

MA: I have no set rule. If there's nothing interesting going on I won't post that day, although I have a huge backlog of stuff that isn't time sensitive and usually have plenty to write about (weekends are often a good time to catch up, too, because there are hardly any launches or announcements). Then some days there will be a ton of interesting things happening and I'll write six or more posts. On average, about two to three posts per day on TechCrunch, and a post or two on one of the other blogs.

HSW: How do you go about choosing your subject matter?

MA: It's always hard to pick the right things to write about. The most popular posts, by far, are about new product launches by Google, Yahoo, Skype, Microsoft, etc. – the big guys. I've gotten to know many of the people building new products at those companies, and enjoy being pinged when they launch something new.

But the most exciting stuff to me is around new startups. There's usually a dramatic story around the founding team – job and salary sacrifices, fundraising woes, et cetera. And I love the products. These people give up their jobs and often their family life to follow a dream and build something they are deeply passionate about. Usually no one else really gets what they are doing for months or years, but they stick with it. I love to hear their stories and get deep into the product to see what's interesting about it. Even if I think it will fail, I'll often write anyway because they have an interesting new way of looking at things.

So in the end, I write about the big companies, which draws traffic, and reward myself with a post or two about a new startup I like.

HSW: How does TechCrunch affect your life away from blogging?

MA: It's hard. I don't have as much contact with my pre-TechCrunch friends as I want to. They don’t always understand what I'm really doing, or why I do it. I have a whole new set of friends that I've made since starting TechCrunch, of course, but my personal life has definitely suffered.

This weekend is a good example. I flew to London to stay with good friends there that I met when I lived there in 2001. We did normal London stuff during the day and evening – site seeing, hanging out in pubs, dinners, talking, et cetera. But TechCrunch was always on my mind. What news was breaking? I better pull out my laptop and see. That annoyed them endlessly. And when everyone else went to bed, I stayed up for hours writing. I'm on the plane back to the United States now, and I'm a bit tired.

While I was in London I put up a post on CrunchNotes, the TechCrunch companion blog, to have a quick entrepreneur meet-up at a pub in Soho. I invited my "normal" friends along. I think they were surprised when more than 100 passionate entrepreneurs (and, of course, venture capitalists) showed up to meet, hang out and exchange ideas. I think it gave them a glimpse of the craziness that's going on right now.

HSW: In your opinion, what makes a good blog?

MA: This is easy. The writer has to be very passionate about what he or she is writing about. That's it. Being a good writer helps, but unless you love what you are writing about, it'll show and you won't have many readers.

HSW: Do you read any blogs?

MA: I used to read hundreds of blogs every day, but I just don't have the time any more. There are 20 or so blogs that I still read religiously, but most of my news comes via my e-mail inbox or though my cell phone, from the source. I do check multiple times a day to see if I've missed anything (it aggregates blog posts based on what's being heavily linked to, so highly linked stuff rises very fast).

HSW: Do you have any other writing projects you're working on?

MA: I've just accepted a job to write a monthly 500-word column for a UK tech magazine, but I haven't written the first one yet. Nothing else for now. I've considered writing another book (I wrote a book on initial public offerings when I was a practicing lawyer), but frankly, it takes a lot of time and books are often dated long before they hit the shelves. Someday I'd like to write fiction, but that's a ways off.

HSW: When not in front of the computer, where are you most likely to be found?

MA: In bed? I don’t have a good answer for this. My computer is with me at all times.

HSW: Do you have any thoughts on the future of blogging?

MA: Yeah, a lot. One thing that is crucially important about blogs are the comments. They are my direct feedback mechanism, telling me if what I wrote is popular, factually correct, controversial, etc. The comments keep me going.

But there's a dark side to comments that has a huge draining effect, too. Comments can be anonymous. And when people can say something anonymously, a percentage of them will say incredibly nasty and hateful things. And it gets worse as readership grows. I've received numerous, almost weekly death threats, people threatening to hurt or kill my dog, and worse. I also just get nasty messages. The really bad stuff I delete, but most of it stays.

One or two comments is no big deal. But when I get hundreds of comments a week telling me I'm a liar, or unethical, or a jerk, or an idiot, et cetera, it adds up. Most bloggers know exactly what I'm talking about, and a number have quit just because they couldn’t handle it anymore. I'm hanging in there, but my biggest fear is the day I stop caring when I get these – I don't want to turn into that kind of person.

My advice to people is this. Before you leave a hateful comment, remember that there is another human being receiving that comment, and that they really do take what you have to say to heart. By default, try kindness.

And blogs need to change over time to adapt to this phenomenon. We need a way to identify ourselves so that eventually anonymous comments can be turned off. In general, people aren’t going to become nicer. But we can force them to say who they are, or not have the right to publish on our blogs.

HSW: Lastly, what advice do you have for other bloggers?

MA: Engage in intelligent debate. Link to others often and give credit where it is due. Be thoughtful and be quick to apologize when you make mistakes.

Remember that when you hit "publish," it's forever.

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