Inside the World of Boing Boing

It’s hard to argue against Boing Boing’s, the happy mutant collective blog, influence over geek culture and internet curation at large.  It’s also nice to see an independent blog, remain independent and successful, while the principle editors (Mark Frauenfelder, Cory Doctorow, Xeni Jardin, David Pescovitz, Rob Beschizza and Maggie Koerth-Baker) still post all the strange and weird stories that made it successful in the first place.

Say what you want about Boing Boing, but in the age of corporate-backed blogs driving the conversation, they remain a compelling force for good.  Rob Walker goes inside their wacky, profitable business, for Fast Company:

It isn’t that Pescovitz doesn’t understand what the blog business has become; he just figures that however it works now is anathema to what’s made Boing Boing popular in the first place. The editorial policy is just what it’s always been: The principals post whatever they want, whenever they feel like it. They don’t bother to copyedit in advance, let alone vet or discuss one another’s contributions. Material from outsiders tends to flow onto the site through whichever Boing Boinger liked the idea. It’s essentially the same personal take on what’s interesting as it was 10 years ago. “We’ve never thought, Who is our demographic and are we reaching our demographic?” Pescovitz says. “I think it would be a mistake for us to do that. Anything that we do, first and foremost, is to please ourselves.”

That’s not to say it’s all trivial. Doctorow regularly pushes an aggressive digital-rights-management agenda, lately slamming what he sees as Apple’s needlessly draconian practices. Managing editor Beschizza’s recent skewering of the data Wired used to declare that “The Web Is Dead” was picked up by The New York Times. A featured interview with a Mexican student who writes a widely read blog on narco crimes was a tougher look at the subject than you’ll find in most traditional media. A Jardin post about an apparent photo manipulation of a Ralph Lauren model drew legal threats (which the fashion company eventually backed away from, admitting responsibility for a Photoshop disaster). A gadget maker stung by a Boing Boing critique sued and eventually had to cough up more than $50,000 to cover the site’s legal fees when the case was dismissed. Clearly the site’s self-description — “a directory of wonderful things” — doesn’t quite cover everything it publishes.

But if Boing Boing doesn’t avoid controversy, it also doesn’t avoid the supremely quotidian. “What is this thing in the wall?” asks a headline from earlier this year, over an item in which Frauenfelder explains that while visiting friends, he’d noticed an odd niche built into their staircase, the purpose of which was unclear. He posted a picture and asked, “What do you think it is?”

The success of Boing Boing has always been the combination of the intelligent and mundanely stupid — they mix up their posts and links fairly well, so that if someone comes for the trivial someone else might come for the meaty.

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