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STYLE & CULTURE

Behold, the wizard of blogs

April 10, 2005|Gina Piccalo | Times Staff Writer

That talent was readily apparent at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology (E-Tech) conference last month in San Diego, an annual gathering of "alpha geeks, innovators and developers," as billed in the event program. Here, newspapers are "dinosaur blogs," fast-moving ideas are "memes" and those unfamiliar with http scalability, character encoding or collaborative atom hacking might find themselves studying the sugar packets on the coffee caddy as vigorous chatter moves around them. That's where Jardin comes in, using her ear for language, her ability to empathize and her curiosity about culture to bridge the two worlds.

"The task of making the abstract concrete, and bringing foreign things into focus seems like a worthwhile task," says Jardin. "It is a task that involves an endless amount of discovery and play.... Simply knowing a subject isn't as valuable to the world as knowing how to make that subject accessible to others. So, this is what I try to do."

Jardin acknowledges that she's grown dependent on the energy and the immediacy of the Internet. It is, she says, her "home." But the very aspects of the Web that fuel Jardin also trouble her as she contemplates its legacy.

"I'm spoiled in the sense that this medium provides what was only 10 years ago an unimaginably broad, instant reach," she writes in an e-mail. "But, then, my dad's paintings are still here, after his death. They endure. I don't know that anyone will really care much about a blog or an archived NPR radio segment 10 years from now. The speed that makes this medium so magical is also what makes it fragile, weak, fleeting. So, I wonder if what I'm doing has the same value. Or if people will remember anything I did after I'm gone."

Building the e-team

Boing BOING started in 1988 in San Francisco as a self-published magazine that Frauenfelder and his wife, writer Carla Sinclair, created to cover emerging technology, geek culture and other oddities. In 1995, Sinclair and Frauenfelder, then the editor in chief of Wired Online, launched a Boing Boing website. In January 2000, BoingBoing.net debuted as a blog.

Initially, Frauenfelder was the only blogger, but when he went on vacation, he recruited Boing Boing fan Cory Doctorow, who then ran his own start-up, to fill in for him. Doctorow stayed and a few months later, Boing Boing zine writer David Pescovitz joined him. After Frauenfelder met Jardin in mid-2002, he invited her to blog as well and the team was complete.

With four co-editors, the posts were more frequent and varied and readers flocked to the site. It became, as described by fan Jason Schultz, an attorney with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, "the perfect 30-second escape from work."

Since February 2004, the online readership has jumped tenfold. "It astounds me that there are so many people in the world who seem to have this bizarre collection of interests," says Pescovitz, now a freelance journalist and media producer living in San Francisco. "It's shocking."

The site, which describes itself as "a directory of wonderful things," houses all manner of cultural ephemera -- a link to porn star Ron Jeremy's new cellphone "groantones" and the latest in translucent tombstones -- oddities in nature -- "Large catfish attempts to swallow small basketball" -- and tech news that is ignored or misunderstood by MSM (mainstream media).

"In the beginning, it was strictly for fun," Jardin says of blogging. "But once it sort of gets under your skin, your day becomes incomplete without it."

Boing Boing's arty, hip, tech-savvy intellectualism is not especially unique among blogs. But the site's posts are often more plentiful, more contagious and consequently, more widely read. Readers from all over the globe flood the e-mail in-boxes of Jardin and her co-editors with URLs and ideas, hoping to prompt a post. (Each contributor is credited.) Sifting through them requires several hours each day.

Consequently, Jardin lives online and often answers e-mail instantly, from anywhere. When she's not researching her own items, she's checking the competition on blog-centric search engines such as Technorati.com, Blogdex.net, Daypop.com, Feedster.com and Popdex.com. That's because, she says, those who stay "plugged in" get first pick of the best stories.

Jardin's pieces often prove to be memes with a longer shelf life. A story on the copyright dispute between Sony and Beatallica, a Milwaukee band that performs Beatles songs Metallica-style, led Metallica's drummer Lars Ulrich to defend the tribute band. And when the Korean Friendship Assn. launched a Flash film on its website beckoning vacationers to North Korea, Jardin posted a link to the site. Within an hour, the KFA blocked access to that Flash file and in its place was a note chastising the "inconsiderate people" -- many of whom were undoubtedly Boing Boing fans -- for overloading their system.

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