Friday, January 2, 2009

Bloggers of Interest: Cromely and his World

I wanted to learn more about some of the people behind some of my favorite blogs, so I'm starting a series I call "Bloggers of Interest." Cromely of Cromely's World was kind enough to get the ball rolling by answering a few of my questions.

He's from Seattle and works in the tech industry. His blog has book reviews, Seattle politics, technology, business travel, TV, Star Trek, and the current state of of the world. It's a random collection of thoughts, rants, raves, and trivia, which is what makes it so much fun to read.

Does it really rain all that much in Seattle?

Yes and no. You could say we have two seasons—wet and not quite so wet but still pretty darn moist. Basically it's overcast for about 8 months out of the year and in a seemingly perpetual drizzle. So it's gray. A lot. You don't get all that green in the hills without an awful lot of gray. If you can handle the gray, Seattle is a great place.

Despite the gray, it's still a very outdoorsy kind of town. Not that I'm a particularly outdoorsy kind of person, but it's nice to have options. Generally, June through September is simply fantastic.

So, to answer the question: Sorta.

What about Seattle’s other two stereotypes, coffee shops and tech companies?

The gray makes Seattle ideal for writing and for the coffee renaissance of the past 15 years. Cool, drizzly weather makes people want warm beverages—which also explains the prevalence of Pho shops. Also, the coffee shop has always been a center of literary evolution throughout history (that spills over nicely into the blogging world, where the literary and the technological collide).

In any given (independent) coffee shop, after the morning rush, easily 70% of people will be using laptops to do whatever it is they are doing. In those 4 months of the year when the sun comes out—they're sill in there. But if they do come out, it's absolutely gorgeous.

I'm not sure why both Seattle and the San Jose area spawn so many tech companies. Aside from that they appear to have very little in common.

What got you into blogging?

About three years ago, I realized I hadn't written anything that wasn’t work related in more than 5 years. I decided that it wasn't healthy, and worried that I might be getting dumber about the world because those muscles weren't getting used.

Around that time, my friend Jon started his blog and I found myself leaving long comments there. After I spent half an hour commenting on the musical stylings of Weird Al, I knew I needed to get my own blog.

Weird Al is pretty awesome. It’s only through superhuman effort that I am able to restrain myself from writing a detailed literary analysis of his song, “Stuck in a Closet with Vanna White.” So what gets you excited? Are there some things you can't wait to write about?

A good William Shatner story will always get a fairly good writeup. Shatner-Palooza was one of my early themes. I'll comment on the stupid things I do if I think they might be entertaining. Unusual travel stories are also good, but I try to avoid the airline commentary that stand up comedians beat into the ground in early nineties (We’re looking at YOU, Jerry Seinfeld! -S!). I also rant about stupid or offensive things the government does, if no one else it ranting about them.

I try not be a “me too” blogger. There is so much other stuff to talk about. If I do talk about something that everyone else is talking about, I try to find an aspect of it that doesn't get nearly enough attention.

Other topics I get excited about include document management (getting rid of paper) technology in general, public speaking, the power of reading, personal finance and other topics. They don't always fit a post, but those topics become sort of meta-themes for what I do.

What aspects of blogging do you find most fulfilling?

I enjoy releasing my book reviews into the wild. They're lengthy and I know most people never read through them to the end, but I write them for people that are really interested in the books. I also write them so I remember what the book was about. It's easy to forget the details of even an awesome book two years down the road. The process of writing the reviews makes the books stick in my memory because of the effort involved, and it gives me something I can go back and review in the future.

I also enjoy the posts where I "write" instead of just post. I do the occasional piece where I focus on the creative writing side of it and really try to put the reader inside of it. Time and energy constraints don’t let me do that often, so when I can do it, I get a nice sense of accomplishment.

Is there anything you won’t blog about?

I don't write about anything I wouldn't want my mother to know. After all, she's one of my regular readers. About two years ago she even started her own blog.

I also won't write about my employer, my industry, or items relating directly to my job. I will write about my business trips and generic corporate things on occasion—it’s not that my whole work life is off limits—but not about my company.

Was it your choice to avoid job-specific subjects, or does your company have rules about blogging?

My employer doesn't have an employee bloging policy (that I know of), and I prefer not to be the reason they create one. Plus, I spend enough time writing about work during the work day. Cromely's World is my alternative to that.

On a related note, I don't blog under my IRL name. It's not really about guaranteeing anonymity, because there is really no such thing when someone can look up my real name with a bit of work. Rather, it's about discretion. It's about building a separate blogging world. It's about not associating my blog with my employer in the minds of my employer’s customers.

At this point, Cromely is almost a brand in its own right. It raises the interesting question of how I introduce myself when I actually meet bloggers or tweeters in meat space.

Credit card arbitrage is an unusual subject to tackle. What gave you the idea of writing about it?

I made several thousand dollars doing it for relatively little labor, and wanted to share the process. I've been a long time member of the Motley Fool and used to hang out on the credit card forums quite a bit. I lurked mainly, but posted when I had something to contribute. It was a helpful tool while I was getting my own financial life straightened away.

As I started to think about the topic, I realized it was more than one post. So I split it up into multiple posts that I could just publish during the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). I work at CES and have no energy by the time I get back to my hotel room. I wrote the arbitrage series several weeks before, spent just about 5 minutes on my blog each day during the show, and still provided (what I hope is) high quality, useful content. CES also gave birth to Star Trek Book Review Week last January, and Star Trek Book Review Week Part II this January.

Are we the only two people who think that the Lincoln MKS ads connecting their cars with space disasters were completely insane?

There are a few others, but sadly, most people don't even know the song anymore. And most people don't stop to think about these things. This is not a new phenomenon, though.

I remember hearing a story in the 80s about how one New Jersey town wanted to pay tribute to their town and Bruce Springsteen by naming "Born To Run" as their official song. They almost got to a vote before someone read the lyrics and realized it was about how they had to get out of the town because it was deathtrap.

In a similar vein, and awful lot of people think "Born in the USA" is a patriotic song, when really it's about how the Viet Nam–era military was filled with people whose alternative was jail, and when they came back from war their life sucked. Yet people still see it as a rally around the flag song.

I don't usually talk this much about Springsteen. I'm more of a Billy Joel fan.

Fun fact: Allentown, Pennsylvania bears very little resemblance to the town described in Billy Joel’s song. In fact, the tales of woe and steel mill closings are much more applicable to Allentown’s neighbor, Bethlehem.

What do you think the Blogosphere needs more of?

I suppose it could use more RSS conent and fewer blogrolls. The great thing about blogs is the ability to always have fresh content, and I'm not sure that static blogrolls are the best way to do that. Blogger’s Following tool is interesting and helps promote this shift. I've been using Feed Digest to accomplish the same thing in my side bar. Alan just launched an entire blog of RSS feeds.

What I find really interesting is that blogs were not originally designed to be a writing/publishing platform. They were intended to make it easy to highlight cool things on the web and provide brief commentary. The format evolved away from that.

Go back even further to the early nineties, and you encounter the early homepages on the web. When people first started creating homepages, it was more to organize daily links. Your home page would be where you started your web journey that day by clicking on your favorites. Eventually, home pages turned into individual platforms for self expression. Suddenly, they were intended to be seen by the general public and not just the creator. At the same time, the web portals (Excite, Yahoo!, etc.) started filling the traditional homepage role of organizing customer content, and they took over the Home button in the browser. Google broke that trend with its simplified search page.

What could it do without?

Fewer blogs about blogging. The meta level is interesting, but most of those blogs bring nothing new to the table. They post the same tips and slap a bunch of ads on them. The “Make Money Blog” genre has been done to death.

Blogs about blogs can be useful when they are specific. Some are specific to the Blogger platform, or specific to Wordpress hacks. Those kinds of things get beyond the basics and beyond the cliched hype you see a lot of places.

I guess my point is that even in an overexposed content area there is still room for a niche, but the author needs to be passionate about that niche.

The blogosphere could do without some pretension. I'm not sure that's what I mean here, but when I hear someone in real life say, "I'm a Blogger," I can't help but roll my eyes. Somehow it strikes me as too self-important. Maybe it's the self identification rather than saying, "I blog." I feel the same way when someone tells me they're an artist. If they tell me they're a painter or a sculptor or that they dance, or paint, or sculpt, it doesn't bother me. But claiming a label like Artist or Blogger just puts me off. (I realize I'm describing this reaction very poorly.)

The blogospere needs greater social acceptance in the non-blogging world, but that’s less likely to happen the more it seeks self acceptance. It's almost like the blogospere is a little yippy dog jumping up and down around the knees of journalists, writers and the non-tech world, saying, "See, I'm jsut like you! I'm cool! I'm cool!" The rest of the world scratches it behind the ears, smiles, and says, "Sure you are."

I'm not sure how to address that, but I do think that the harder you argue for legitimacy, they less likely you are to achieve it.

Where do you see yourself (and your blog) in 3 years?

I have very little idea. Most of my projects are on a six month time frame. At work that means involving more Web 2.0 technologies in what we do. IRL, it means interacting with more people who blog and Tweet in the Seattle area.

For my blog, I don't see a lot of change coming. I might transition over to Wordpress to take advantage of threaded comments. Right now, I think that's the only thing I'd like to do that I can't do with Blogger. It might be nice to transition to a three column template, but that's all little stuff.

My traffic is growing slowly, and of course I'd like to see it higher. But aside from the Powells affiliate program (through which I've made $0) I doubt I'll monetize. It just doesn't seem worth it given the time required and the results people see. Besides, I didn't get into this for money. It's about the writing.

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Kathy said...

I love this idea of "Bloggers of Interest." Left my comments over at Cromely's place.

Sandee (Comedy +) said...

Great job. I visit Cromely every day. :)

iPentimento | Genealogy and More said...

What a great start for this blogging idea. I visit Cromely as often as possible too. I recently tried to get a friend of mine to do a guest post on my genealogy blog and she replied, "oh, I don't blog". I will have to explain to her that she just has to write, I'll do the blogging for her. ;)

Stanley! said...

Hi, Kathy!
I'm glad you like it! Cromely was nice enough to be my first interviewee, and he was great to work with.

Hi, Sandee!
I appreciate the compliment! Cromely does run a good site that's worth visiting regularly.

Hi, iPentimento!
It's funny how people who can write don't think they can blog. It sounds like you might have a persuasive argument to introduce your friend to the blogosphere.

Thanks to all of you for visiting!

C said...

I, too, am excited about your great idea to interview bloggers. I look forward to further blogs!

The header image is adapted from a photo taken by Bill McChesney and used under a creative commons license.
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