How do you become an internet phenomenon?
January 6, 2004 4:34 PM   Subscribe

How do you become an internet phenomenon? I am a writer who wants exposure and my friends keep telling me to start a website. I've started many a blog--all dismal failures--and need perhaps good advice on how to (a) construct a unique, functional website that is easy to post on and (b) get exposure. Figured this was a good place to ask. Thanks!
posted by adrober to Computers & Internet (32 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
Have "something" no one else has. Like a good salesman needs not making "cold calls", the sales call him, which usually come by him listening, not doing the talking.
posted by thomcatspike at 4:40 PM on January 6, 2004

I've found nudity helps.
posted by keswick at 5:03 PM on January 6, 2004

In short, offer something worth reading every day.

That said, optimism as a revolutionary act will get you far--way too many blogs in the world that are gloom and doom. The site doesn't have to be designed super well (the blog I most care about is as dry, design-wise, as can be), but yes, a simple interface is important.

Be consistent in quality and delivery--don't leave months without an entry (which the above linked site has done, unfortunately) as it's a killer (killed me, that's for sure). Though you don't have to take yourself seriously, I think you should take your responsibility, once you get readers, seriously.

Write about what's important to you and make me care. Be sincere.
posted by dobbs at 5:27 PM on January 6, 2004

Setting reasonable expectations is a good idea as well. did your old blog projects fail because no one read them, your hitcounts were low, you stopped being interested in them, or they didn't make you net.famous? My personal feeling is that there's an integrity to it. If you say you're going to try to post once a week/month/year, then do it. No one minds if you don't post every day as long as they're not expecting you to. If you want people to read your writing, ask yourself what's in it for them... can they give you feedback, help you get published, find you a place to go do a reading, what? It may be that a blog isn't the best way to get noticed the way you want to be, be open to other ideas. Jeffrey over at Bookmouth has some great low-cost promotional ideas for writers.

Also, consider if you're doing it for yourself, or others. If it's for others, figure out who they are and what they want. If it's for you, well then you don't need my advice. There are some books on blogging that are worthwhile. I've always liked Rebecca Blood's Weblog Handbook is a good solid overview without too much hype. I find also that not fighting with software is useful for keeping me interested. Find a platform that works and learn to use it. Find one your friends use, then they can help you learn to use it. If you're bad at design, have someone else design the site, at least then you'll have one more person you're responsible for, in terms of keeping the site up.

Also, if you're looking for readers, nothing helps more than sincerely being a reader of others' sites and joining in a community of like minded people. Do you read the sites of other writers? Do you communicate with them? Create the sort of site that would interest you, one that does interest you, and let other people know about it in sincere and polite fashion. I generally check links people send me if it's clear that they sent them to me, jessamyn, not just me, the person who is number 47 on their People to Spam list. Being part of a community beforehand can really make a website a useful tool to facilitate that community, not just a big ad for yourself.
posted by jessamyn at 5:45 PM on January 6, 2004

Response by poster: Thanks dobbs. That was a great answer.
On a more technical/practical level, should I just go to and start another blog? Do I register a domain? I guess I'm also looking for basic site creation advice.
posted by adrober at 5:46 PM on January 6, 2004

Definitely get your own domain - and put some thought into the name. It's ridiculously cheap ($8/yr at, so there's no reason not to. Call it elitist, but there are some people who regard BlogSpot-hosted sites as "kiddy-stuff" and don't them as "seriously" as domain-registered sites.

Select an appropriate blogging tool: Movable Type, TypePad, Blogger, GreyMatter, etc. Make sure that you have comments...comments are great for feedback, and allow you to "interact" with readers and friends -- which will also help to attract more readers.

Visit other sites that interest you -- and leave THOUGHTFUL comments. If they are reasoned, or humorous while staying on topic, the blogger is more likely to pay a visit to YOUR site...and so on. Do not, obviously, engage in any kind of "comment-spam" -- most bloggers will immediately delete it and never visit your site more than once.

Good luck.
posted by davidmsc at 6:01 PM on January 6, 2004

Having a single, narrowly-focused topic (assuming it's an interesting single topic) will draw people more consistantly than a hodgepodge of random things that interest you. That, I think, is a big driving force behind the success of blogs like Gizmodo, PVRBlog, and Personal blogs are well and good (hell, I have one myself), but I wouldn't count on one for a quick path to fame -- you need to do something that stands out.

But dobbs is right -- the most important thing is to be passionate, doesn't matter so much what you're passionate about. (See also oblivio.)

Then again, this guy seems pretty popular, judging by the number of comments. Who knows.
posted by Aaorn at 6:05 PM on January 6, 2004

Domain names are cooler. My bro. just registered one for $6.00. They give you better brand recognition.

I'd be happy if I wrote honestly and ten people read it consistently.
posted by mecran01 at 6:13 PM on January 6, 2004

Hehe. How To Become An A-Lister, 101.

Adrober, can I just ask why you considered your previous blogs "failures"? Did they not make you happy? Did they not serve a purpose? I've had my weblog for close on four years now, and I haven't had much "exposure", but that doesn't stop me posting to it.

Maybe a "blog" isn't what you're after - despite popular opinion to the contrary, they aren't the be-all-and-end-all of web publishing. Domain name is important, of course, and getting people to link to you is important (and difficult, but having a good selection of friends out there on the net to do your promotion is a good start).

What sort of "writer" are you? Fiction? Journalist? Given the current flood of weblogs, there ain't much room at the top - so a different format (weekly essays?) might attract more attention. I've always found it important to keep new content constantly on your site. If you post a short story or essay once a week, people will come back once a week to check it out. If you do something really radical, like keep no archive of your content past the end of the week, people have to visit you all the time to read it. This is all assuming, of course, that you're creating good and interesting content, which is up to you, not me.
posted by Jimbob at 6:55 PM on January 6, 2004

Have, or develop, your own voice.

By this I mean not so much stylistically - although that certainly helps, and is a pleasure to read as a bonus - but in terms of a recognizable take on things. You want this perspective to consistently undergird and knit together your commentary on otherwise unrelated topics.

If your viewpoint is even mildly original, even mildly well-expressed, it will get noticed. Humans are a novelty-seeking species and that subset of us that has colonized the Web are even more so, so we're always on the lookout for someone new and engaging to link to and start discussions with. (This, incidentally, is why I've never bought notions of an "A-list" of blog types.)

I should point out that it's possible to deploy this "recognizable take" either cheaply, e.g. knee-jerk political commentary of whatever sadly predictable stripe, or with a little class. Either way will garner you attention over time; you choose which you'd rather be known for.

Pay no attention to relatively trivial matters (whether or not you're hosted by blogspot, have your own domain, are standards-compliant, etc. etc.) for now. Finesse and elaboration can come later; for the present, as long as your content is worthwhile, people will link to it and read it with pleasure.

Finally, never be afraid to change your mind. Never was the thing about foolish consistency being the hobgoblin of little minds truer. A sudden course correction - with integrity and a proper explanation - will redound to your benefit.
posted by adamgreenfield at 7:09 PM on January 6, 2004

WebMaster World (you need to register - it's free) is a forum place where you can get a lot of advice and information about managing a site.

The information on how to get yourself a site that Google will "like" is good information (information is available for most search engines).

It helped me a lot with my husband's site, which Google seems to love. I must have done something right :)

The big thing is it all takes time. Your site won't be popular right off the bat (unless you know some high profile site that can link to you).
posted by evening at 7:10 PM on January 6, 2004

There is also the Ben Brown approach: tell everyone you meet you're really big on the internet. Tell people on the internet that you're already really popular. Exude an aura of popularity -- the actual popularity will follow.
posted by majick at 7:35 PM on January 6, 2004

Response by poster: Thank you all so much. This was incredibly helpful.
I think my niche is food writing. I enjoyed some popularity on when I wrote a scathing review of Charlie Trotter's in Chicago. I think over 6000 people read it and there were 11 pages of responses, including ones from Anthony Bourdain which was way cool. So that gave me confidence and made me want to make a website. I think I can do one where I write as an amateur foodie, trying to cook and eat in the world of fine dining. All I need is a clever name and I'm set! Thanks Metafilter! (By the way I think Ask metafilter is the best thing ever. I'm addicted.)
posted by adrober at 8:00 PM on January 6, 2004

adrober - You've got me with that one : my wife has been campaigning for a 2,000 mile round trip pilgrimage to Charlie Trotter's for dinner since she heard his cooking talked up on the "Christopher Lydon Show" (AKA "The Connection" (WBUR, Boston), except that Lydon got canned for being uppity and greedy) and I've been telling her that I suspect this Trotter thingus is overblown.

I'll urge her to read your review.

Meanwhile, I was shocked to see that my non-website non-blog had 33,000 odd hits in the last year or so. No effort on my part - I haven't updated the links since I posted the first pages.

People seem to especially like the "Nonlinear Climate Change" page but - seeing that I haven't updated the links and material in a damn long internet time - I'd say that my niche is fair game for a takeover.

You'd have to tie that to gourmet food, somehow.

Worried about the end of the world? Why not eat at Charlie Trotter's? - Well, let me give you a few reasons.......
posted by troutfishing at 9:27 PM on January 6, 2004

The folks who've commented that it's better to have few readers that are truly appreciative than tens of thousands when you're turning out dreck are exactly correct. I used to run Victory Shag, something that would never have gotten me "famous" by A-List standards but hell if I didn't get the greatest fan mail you ever did see. It was a pleasure opening my mail every day.

It's one thing to get lots of comments in your blog from people saying "Word!" and "Funny stuff, keep it coming". It's something completely other to get mail from strangers thanking you for showing them some hope or getting them to evaluate/appreciate their life and loves. This leads me to the one suggestion I have which I forgot to mention above: once you win people over, don't take them for granted. This is something that I think is very easy to do on the web. It's painful to learn this lesson the hard way.

As for software to use on your site, I recommend pMachine, which is simple and great. For hosts, I recommend Dreamhost, especially if you plan on running any kind of mailing list. (Purchase a year of hosting with them and your domain is free.)

Best of luck with it, Adam.
posted by dobbs at 10:04 PM on January 6, 2004

if buying your own domain or paying for hosting is not in your current budget check to see if any popular domains are taking on hostees... you can get some added traffic by being part of a larger site. with that in mind i am at your service if you'd like a subdomain with all the perks, just email me and let me know. the offer stands so you don't have to accept asap. you'd be keeping company with the likes of dong resin, which is not at all a bad thing.

my best advice is make yourself happy first and worry about your visitors second. i get a modest 50,000 visitors per month without ever catering to anyone's needs but my own; you might want to be more accommodating but if you listen to your email too much you'll end up being inconsistent, compromising the things about you that make you memorable and worth a revisit. you also might want to offer bonus features (such as a small collection of your fave fonts) for your visitors to download. people love taking away a freebie, even if they initially came to just read you, and will come back to see if there's more.
posted by t r a c y at 10:29 PM on January 6, 2004

Number 1's "Blogging for Dollars" raises some good points about making the process profitable, which is part of the equation.
posted by elphTeq at 10:36 PM on January 6, 2004

I personally have become a huge internet phenomenon mostly through judicious use of the word 'fuck' and a winning smile. I have no other explanation.
posted by stavrosthewonderchicken at 4:20 AM on January 7, 2004

be an idiot. people like it. trust me on this.
posted by quonsar at 6:04 AM on January 7, 2004

Create bizarre, obscure, quirky in-jokes - then refer to them cryptically on your blog.

People will want to know what they're missing out on.
posted by troutfishing at 6:42 AM on January 7, 2004

Pretend you're dying of cancer.
posted by bondcliff at 7:25 AM on January 7, 2004

And you can always advertise. Buy adwords on Google. If you use Blogger, you can buy text ads that appear on the Blogger front page. You can buy text ads here on MeFi and probably lots of other places.

Of course, that might get a bunch of people to look at your page once; you need something to keep them coming back. For which I recommend nudie pix of hot chicks.

But I'm with Jimbob: do it for your own satisfaction, not for fame.
posted by adamrice at 7:31 AM on January 7, 2004

re: adwords, I consistently had the best results from The Mirror Project (upwards of 8 percent clickthru), though it's been a few years so maybe things have changed.
posted by dobbs at 8:52 AM on January 7, 2004

Response by poster: In case any one's still reading this: I just registered the domain at What do I do next? I have to get a webhost right? Is that what you were offering me t r a c y? And then once I get a webhost what do I do: how do I craft the webpage? I tried downloading pMachine but it didn't work on my mac. Am I doing something wrong?
Thanks everyone,
posted by adrober at 11:33 AM on January 7, 2004

I have my site hosted at -- the trusted host of Wil Wheaton. They're incredibly accessible, competent and inexpensive.
posted by grabbingsand at 11:52 AM on January 7, 2004

i was offering you something more basic (a subdomain is not an autonomous domain, it's a directory on another domain) but i can also host separate domains and would be happy to do that for you, still for free. you would have to understand ftp and be able to upload your own files and do most of your own troubleshooting - or have friends who can help you - because hosting is not what i do for a living so i'm only able to watch over my hostees in a very limited way. if all of this is totally brand new to you, you might be better off paying for hosting at a company that has full customer support... but if you'd like one of my webhosting accounts email me and i will set one up for you and then walk you thru' the process of setting up your nameservers.

i don't know anything about html editors for macs but i'm sure there are loads of tutorial sites out there, if you do some googling.
posted by t r a c y at 11:56 AM on January 7, 2004

adrober, yes, next step is getting a web host or someone to host your site. I should stress that this is not something you should rush into (don't go with the cheapest or first host you check out without investigating further). There are a lot of variables and a bad choice can be a major pain. Search the askme archives--there's a post further down that asks about hosts.

The upsides of getting a host or subhosting via someone's kind offer will vary depending on the places you check out. I would only recommend taking tracy up on her offer if it's a cost issue for you (saving the approx $120 a year you're going to spend on a host) as you will still have to be familiar with ftp, etc., or you risk becoming a nuisance.

pMachine and Movable type are php/mysql blogging tools. They don't "work" on a Mac or Wintel machine, so to speak. They will work on your web host (assuming they allow php and mysql, something Dreamhost, who I recommended above, does, as do many other hosts).

Once you have a tool like pMachine installed on your host, you can then use templates for your site and all new entries to your blog are done through a web interface (similar to how you add an entry to MeFi--you fill in the appropriate box(es) and hit submit.)

pMachne and Movable Type both have instructions for how to install them on your host--you'll have to read the manuals. Movable Type offers installation for a fee ($20 I think). Not sure if pMachine does.

You may also find Typepad useful--it's created by the people who make Movable Type, but is for people who don't have their own web space or much experience with these things. I can't speak for the quality as I've never used it--nor do I know if you can use your own domain there (though I'd be surprised if you couldn't).

Logjamming, which grabbingsand recommends, says quite clearly that they'll host Movable Type sites at $5 a month and pMachine at $10.

pMachine itself offers hosting for $10 and they will set up the pMachine software for you for free. However, you still would have to get someone to design a site for you, or use a standard template--again, I cannot endorse pMachine's hosting service as I've never used it. Some sample pMachine templates here.The same goes for Movable Type and most other blogging tools.

The good news is that once you're set up with one of these blogging tools, you won't have to worry about it anymore. You can concentrate on your writing.

If you end up going with pMachine and Dreamhost, I'll set up the pMachine software for you if you can't figure it out yourself (it takes about 15 minutes when you know what you're doing), but again, you'll still have to get someone to design the look of your site. I won't offer to set up if you use a diff tool or host as I wouldn't be familiar with how they work and can't afford the time to learn, sorry.

You are really best to do a little research on the different tools and hosts, though admittedly this step can be a bit baffling if you're not familiar with the terms used. Feel free to email me if you have specific questions about pMachine or Dreamhost or are completely lost as to what all this stuff is.

As for html editors on Mac, the most used (and my recommendation) is BBEdit. For FTP, I recommend Transmit.
posted by dobbs at 12:30 PM on January 7, 2004

TypePad offers a fair amount of hand-holding for the beginner, so it might be a good way to get started. They have a 30-day free trial and offer domain mapping as part of their "Plus" plan.
posted by sad_otter at 3:56 PM on January 7, 2004

Movable Type is Perl, not PHP, just to be a pedant. And TypePad does allow you to use your own domain name.

I'd strongly recommend having your own domain name, but also be sure to have an attractive, distinctive design. If you're not using a service like TypePad that offers tools for customizing your design, it's worth hiring someone to create a professional design and identity for your online presence.

The most important thing, of course, is what you write. Speak about what you know, discuss things you care about, and let your passion for those subjects show. If they're things you truly are invested in, you'll have no trouble updating frequently, which is another requisite to having a popular site.

Network relentlessly. Promote your site to people you know, both online and off. Link generously to ideas that relate to yours, whether they're in agreement or not. Participate in as many online communities as you have time for. (This one's a good place to start.)

Make sure your setup doesn't require you to mess with technical details or server technology after the initial setup. Nothing will frustrate your muse more than having to debug a problem or getting what you think is fanmail from someone that actually turns out to be a bug report.

Write often, and review what you've written so that you get better at it. Read a *lot*, especially the work of writers whom you admire. Throw out half of what you write, and get in the habit of writing twice as much.

Favor media like television, newspapers, magazines, and radio with your attention. They won't bring in as many readers as you'd expect, but it will broaden your audience past the immediate online community you belong to, while enhancing your credibiliy with your existing readers.

That's all I can think off of the top of my head. :)
posted by anildash at 3:56 PM on January 7, 2004 [1 favorite]

adrober, if you want an "imaginative" domain name, I have the never-used which was reg'd at godaddy for $7.95 and is a month or two from expiration that you can take over for nuttin' and then renew yourself... I came up with the name for an idea for a 'downscale' foodie site, so I don't know if it fits your needs...

I could go on about how not to run a successful site, but I'm depressed enough already.
posted by wendell at 4:03 PM on January 7, 2004

Favor media like television, newspapers, magazines, and radio with your attention. They won't bring in as many readers as you'd expect, but it will broaden your audience past the immediate online community you belong to, while enhancing your credibiliy with your existing readers.

This is the first thing I've read here that puzzles me. What do you mean by "favor with your attention"? Talk about them? How will that broaden your audience or enhance credibility? There are few things that bore me quicker than some blogger going on about the media they've been exposed to lately. "Hey, I saw the same movie everybody else saw last week, and here are my thoughts about it!" Of course, if you have something interesting to say about any of the media you mention, they're as worthy of attention as anything else, but I don't understand recommending that they be discussed purely for the sake of discussing them. Or am I misunderstanding you?
posted by languagehat at 4:45 PM on January 7, 2004

I think it has to depend on how you define success or failure, as others have pointed out. Are you trying to get buzz? Hit counts? Media mentions? People buying you drinks in bars?

One of the most sensible pieces of advice I've seen is I believe from Rebecca Blood, who I'm sure stated this much more elegantly than I'm about to put it:

Write your weblog to please yourself. If you had no readers, would you still have fun working on it?

(but I get approx. 75 hits/day, not exactly A-list territory, so grain of salt, yadda yadda.)
posted by Vidiot at 6:36 PM on January 7, 2004

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