Ben Cohen, founder of The Daily Banter
Ben Cohen just couldn’t seem to catch a break.
It was 2015 and The Daily Banter, the political commentary site Cohen runs, kept crashing. “Bill Maher was sharing quite a bit of our stuff on Facebook,” he told me as we sat together on the rooftop of a Washington, DC office building. “And we’d get huge amounts of traffic when he’d share stuff, because it would then go viral.” The Daily Banter ran on WordPress, an open source content management system that relies on various plugins created by its developer community, and huge traffic spikes would cause the plugins to break if they weren’t maintained properly. “We were freaking out because we’re getting millions of readers on one article, and the site’s gone down, and that’s potentially thousands of dollars of ad revenue that’s disappeared. That happened several times, so we probably lost, I would say, tens of thousands of dollars in advertising revenue because the site would keep breaking.” Continue reading
Jamie Golden and Knox McCoy, hosts of Popcast.
Two years after Jamie Golden and Knox McCoy launched Popcast, a pop culture podcast they host once a week, they still couldn’t attract high quality advertisers despite the show’s loyal and growing audience. “We found the advertisers who were approaching us weren’t quantifying our value in any kind of tangible way,” said Golden in an interview. “And yet we had these fans who would just go to bat for us. Whatever we asked of them, they would do, and they were supportive and stayed consistent. We never saw a decrease in downloads, not one month we’ve been in existence. It’s been growth, growth, growth.”
In November 2006, Mignon Fogarty’s phone rang. She didn’t recognize the number, but rather than letting it go to voicemail, as many of us do with unknown callers, she picked up. On the other end of the line was John Sterling, the president and publisher of Henry Holt, an imprint of Macmillan. He’d seen a recent item in the Wall Street Journal about Grammar Girl, a hit podcast Fogarty had launched a few months prior that was already receiving nearly a hundred thousand downloads per episode. “He originally called me to talk about doing a book deal,” she told me. But she had already set her sights much higher.
The Penny Hoarder staff. Photo credit: Samantha Dumbscombe / The Penny Hoarder
Kyle Taylor knew almost nothing about blogging when, in 2010, he opened up a free Blogspot account. He just wanted a place to write about his attempts to make and save money.
Dan Acton remembers the exact moment when he became sold on A/B testing Facebook content.
Acton is the social media manager for DramaFever, a video streaming company owned by Warner Bros that uses a Hulu-like model to license and stream Korean and other Asian TV content for an English-speaking audience. Many (though not all) of these shows are romantic comedies. To promote the shows DramaFever licenses, Acton and his team produce short videos they then upload to Facebook. “Sometimes it’ll be clips from shows, or trailers and teasers for upcoming episodes.” he told me. “We also get a lot of original content produced from Korea, like shout outs from the actors or behind-the-scenes footage that nobody else has.”
Mignon Fogarty, creator of Grammar Girl
It’s hard to blame Kameron Hurley for her wariness of Reddit prior to joining it. When non-users hear about the site, it’s often within the context of some recent controversy that originated in one of its communities. As a writer who often blogs about feminist and progressive issues, Hurley is likely aware that Reddit once hosted message boards known for posting images of underage girls and that it serves as a popular watering hole for the misogynist “men’s rights” and Gamergate movements. “I generally would stay away from Reddit,” she told me in a phone interview. “I wrote a book called The Geek Feminist Revolution, and Reddit is not known as a nice and happy loving place.”
Quincy Larson (center) has amassed over 13,000 followers and cumulatively generated more than 14 million views on Quora.
For Quincy Larson, the lightbulb moment when he realized the power of Quora came during a trip to New York City in May 2015. It certainly wasn’t the first time he’d encountered the QandA platform. That had come much earlier when he was working as a software engineer and, as engineers invariably do when they encounter problems they’ve never seen before, turned to Google to troubleshoot. Time and again he’d find himself landing on Quora articles (or rather, “answers,” as they’re referred to on the site) written by seasoned engineers and successful entrepreneurs. “I was impressed by how high quality the answers were,” he told me in a phone interview. “If you look at other question-and-answer sites like Yahoo Answers or Answers.com, their answers just seem very throwaway compared to Quora. People seem to put immense thought into what they’re writing, almost from a journalistic or literary approach.”
Pacific Standard editor-in-chief Nicholas Jackson (left) with senior editor Ted Scheinman.
In December 2011, on the night the news broke that Christopher Hitchens had died, Nicholas Jackson was in an Austin hotel room. Jackson, then an editor at the Atlantic, had just returned from drinking scotch at the hotel bar and was “slightly intoxicated,” as he put it to me, when he read the news of the author’s death. He’d been following Hitchens’s work for quite some time and had been particularly moved by the pugnacious writer’s Vanity Fair essays about his battle with esophageal cancer. His passing had reduced Jackson to tears. Continue reading
Billy the Fridge
William Berry always knew he wanted to work in entertainment. For years, he had aspirations to have a career as a professional wrestler and even began to train for it, but the wrestling scene in Seattle, the city where he’d grown up, was small. There was, however, a strong local hip-hop community, with artists like Macklemore, Grieves, Blue Scholars, and Grayskul reaching national fame, and in the early 2000s Berry found himself working behind the scenes at recording studios and live events. “I wasn’t really trying to be another white rapper,” he told me recently. “I was working with all these guys and we’d go out to these shows and then people started getting me in on their songs because they thought I was funny. It was just something I enjoyed, so I went with it.” Continue reading
Evan Puschak, host of The Nerdwriter
To understand how J. Matthew Turner ended up creating a viral YouTube essay arguing that Daniel LaRusso, the young hero of the 1984 film The Karate Kid, was actually the villain of the movie, you first need to know the story behind the video he posted to YouTube a month before that one. For years, Turner, a video editor from New York, harbored a conviction that the movie Mortal Kombat was so similar in plot and themes to the Bruce Lee cult classic Enter the Dragon that they were virtually the same movie. “It was in the background of my head for a long, long time,” he told me recently. “And for whatever reason, I happened to think of it again last year and I suddenly saw how it should be done.” He had always envisioned a 15-minute video in which he would methodically build a case for his thesis, but he knew it would be difficult to keep viewers entertained for that long. “But now I realized that I should just show all the shots side by side and then try to explain the plot of both movies as one movie at the same time.” Continue reading