I interviewed Max Swisher and Millie Garfield on their respective blogs and how they’ve cultivated such strong followings.
Max is all of 12 years old.
Millie is in her 80s.
In spite of the age gap, the two interviews revealed several common themes, not the least being it’s the personal stuff that makes a difference.
I hope you enjoy their stories.
There are thousands of tech blogs out there.
Few are manned by a 12-year-old.
But “Good Morning Geek” from Max Swisher isn’t a gimmick that challenges child labor laws.
Max knows his stuff and has developed his own voice.
In the case of the latter, I wanted to learn more about how Max tells his stories. An e-mail exchange and the green light from his mom Val led to a late-morning meeting at Great Bear Coffee in Los Gatos.
After repeated coaxing — I said I don’t like to drink alone — Max joined me with my drink of choice, a hot coco, no whip.
Here’s the first half of the conversation that ensued:
Q: Let’s start with the cliché kick-off question; what led to you to start your blog?
A: I came across Blogspot (now known as Blogger) from Google and thought this is cool. I started off blogging about random things. After a while, I decided the blog would be more interesting if I focused on technology.
Q: Because you have a passion for technology?
A: Right. My dad is an IT manager and my mom’s company does technical documentation, so you could say technology runs in the family. I got a used Compaq computer running Windows 98 for my fourth birthday which got me started in tech.
Q: At four years old?
Q: How do you capture your own voice in your blog?
A: When I’m writing, I just let it go. It goes straight from my brain to the blog.
Q: But once you write the first draft, you don’t just hit the publish button?
A: Yes, I do … after I use the spell checker. If I analyze things too much, it won’t be an original thought.
Q: Who do you consider the audience for your blog?
A: Anyone interested in tech. I’ve noticed lately that I’m getting more teens coming to the blog, but I have all types of readers. I get e-mails from businesspeople who say that my blog has helped them figure something out. That’s a good feeling.
Q: How do you decide what you’re going to write about?
A: Whenever I get a new product, I write about it. I like free stuff. There’s a lot of software out there that’s free.
Q: I noticed your review of MindNode. I’ve been looking for a mind-mapping product, so should I check it out?
A: You should. It’s a good product and simple to use.
Sidenote: How does he know my technical acuity borders on sad?
Q: Are you familiar with the reviews on CNET?
A: Of course. I love CNET.
Q: How do your reviews differ from those on CNET?
A: My review style is more personal.
Q: I think all bloggers share a common plight to get more reader interaction. l saw your post when you “asked” readers to add comments.
Did it work?
Q: That’s going to make a lot of bloggers feel better. It’s not just them.
A: Later, I did a giveaway of a signed 4×6 print of Spewing Star to the fifth person who e-mailed me, and that got a decent response.
Q: What blogs do you pay attention to?
A: TechCrunch and Mashable and people like Robert Scoble.
Q: Robert Scoble follows you on Twitter, which is a compliment.
A: I’d like to interview him.
Q: You should DM him. I bet he’d be open to talking with you (even though he won’t return my e-mails). If Scoble was 12 years old, I suspect his blog would resemble yours.
We’ll publish the second half of the interview with Mr. Swisher on Thursday.
Technorati lists over 24,000 tech blogs.
I think I’m on safe ground in saying that only a few were started by 10-year-olds.
Now at the seasoned age of 12, Max Swisher sat down with me at Great Bear Coffee in Los Gatos for an on-the-record discussion of his blog, “Good Morning Geek.”
I published the first half of an interview with Max on Tuesday.
Here’s the second half of the conversation:
Q: I got a kick out of your Windows jab when you attended the Dolby event.
Do you feel an obligation to only say positive things if someone invites you to an event or gives you a product to review?
A: Not at all. You can’t hide stuff. That wouldn’t be honest.
Q: I know you spent time with HP’s CTO Phil McKinney. What did you take away from this meeting?
A: That it’s tough to get your ideas used in a huge company like HP.
Q: So you’re probably more suited for a startup?
A: Yes. Right now I have an internship with Cooliris. It’s a fun place to work.
Q: How’s your seventh-grade English class?
A: I get OK grades. Here’s the thing: I hate structured writing. In English class, everything has to fit into a box. That’s what I like about blogging. There is no box.
Q: Does your English teacher read your blog?
A: My teachers aren’t interested in the blog. But they do come to me for technical help with the school’s computers.
Side note: For a second I thought he was going to say “but they did stay at a Holiday Inn.”
Q: Does your middle school offer any classes in computing?
A: There is one class called “tech,” but it only teaches applications. They don’t teach anything about the actual computer. I talked to a kid who took the class and he didn’t even know what RAM is.
Q: Your YouTube video on the iPhone antennae fiasco generated over 40,000 views and counting. Tell me how this came about.
A: I put the video and post out the same day that Apple held a press conference on the iPhone antennae. It was cool … every time I hit refresh there were more views. I had a few hundred views over the next couple days and then it became 1,000 and just kept growing.
Q: So you made a conscious effort to leverage a high-profile event?
A: Not exactly. I was just curious. If Apple was having this problem with the iPhone, does the same problem exist with other phones? So I took my Droid to see if it had the same problem and it did. It turns out the people making fun of Apple were wrong. Of course, the Droid now has a new baseline version so it doesn’t have this problem anymore.
Q: Keep seizing the mouse.
Spend 10 minutes cruising the Net on what makes for a winning blog and you’ll find the same advice repeated again and again.
Develop a distinctive voice.
Share personal experiences.
Communicate a point of view.
And, of course, the mantra of the digirati: Be authentic.
If you want to see these theories put into practice, bookmark “My Mom’s Blog.” I had the pleasure of talking with Millie Garfield, the 85-year-old voice behind the blog. Like the interview with Master Swisher, Millie offered a mix of insights, wisdom and common sense that can benefit any blogger.
Q: What was your inspiration to start blogging?
A: My son Steve. He said I should I try it. He gave me an old computer and two weeks later I was blogging.
Q: So you didn’t have a computer before you started blogging?
A: No. I wasn’t even on e-mail.
Q: Did you start your blog with a particular audience in mind?
A: I didn’t know what to expect – Who the readers would be or if they would even be interested in what I have to say.
Now I know who they are, what they like to read about – I can tell by their response to my posts. They like personal stories, movie reviews, simple recipes, funny experiences, down-to-earth life experiences.
Q: I noticed in your early posts that you would ask readers for comments but no one was responding. How did you cultivate engagement with readers? Did you get frustrated?
A: I did get a little frustrated. Finally, I asked in my blog, is there anyone out there? I mentioned I was a 70-something-year-old blogger, which got some attention.
Later, Ronni Bennett noticed me. She’s been a producer for TV shows and works with celebrities. She wrote about me so her readers became interested in me. That was my big break. To this day, I stay in touch with Ronnie who’s a friend.
Q: So that got more of your readers involved with your blog?
A: That’s right. On my last birthday, I got so many comments posted on my blog.
Side note: Millie’s blog is a poster child for engagement. What I especially admire about Millie is she continues to push forward with experiments. Her latest is a twist on advice columns called “Dear Millie.”
Q: I know you’ve been in magazines and on TV which also generates attention and more readers.
Even Ellen DeGeneres’ people called me. They wanted me to come out to the West Coast, but the timing didn’t work out.
I don’t watch her show anymore. She comes out on stage and people applaud for five straight minutes, which isn’t very entertaining.
Q: But you’ve been on TV.
A: When CBS interviewed me, the main point that got on the air was my life would be boring without blogging.
Here I am going out with friends who might not know how the TV business works. I don’t want them to think they’re boring. Fortunately, they understood the situation.
Blogging enriches my life, but it’s not the only thing.
Q: How do you decide what topic to write about on your blog?
A: When I first started blogging, I spent most of the time talking about my youth. But after so many years, I ran out of youth stories, so I needed to be open to other topics.
Q: What posts generate the most interest from readers?
A: It’s definitely the personal stories … the background stories in my life. That’s what people enjoy the most.
People like the humor.
I didn’t know I was funny until I started blogging.
Q: Are there any writers you admire?
A: I’ve read all of the LaVyrle Spencer books. I didn’t care for the Swedish guy.
Q: You mean the Stieg Larsson trilogy?
A: Right. I pushed my way through his first book but that was it.
We’ll publish the second half of the interview with Millie tomorrow (Wednesday).
You’ll learn about her favorite post, a trick for improving hospital food and more.
I’m not a fan of the phrase “be authentic.”
It sounds too clinical.
Can’t we just say “be yourself.”
That’s exactly how Millie Garfield approaches her blog, which has served the 85-year-old blogger well.
Millie was kind enough to talk with me about her writing. I published the first half of the interview yesterday; here’s the second half of the conversation:
Q: I noticed that you typically post once per week. Do you have a routine?
A: My routine is to write for the blog on Sunday. Sometimes I write on Saturday. Then, Steve [son] will take the post and make it look good with formatting and photos.
Q: So Steve is an integral part of the process?
A: Yes, one of the best things about blogging is it’s something I do with my son.
Side note: Steve Garfield is a nationally known video blogger and author of “Get Seen: Online Video Secrets to Building Your Business.”
Q: What do you think of Twitter?
A: I don’t use Twitter a lot. Steve does a lot of tweeting. I enjoy reading his tweets so I know where he is and what he’s doing. A few months ago I tweeted about “Mad Men.”
Q: Is there a post that you’re particularly proud of?
A: “My Trip from 65 to 81.”
I just reread it – That one took more thought and time than any other post I ever made. I really told it just the way it was.
Q: You often write about things people can relate to, like hospital food.
A: That’s how I look at things. That food was horrible … but I’m not a complainer. I figured out ways to survive like ordering two entrees which increased the likelihood of getting something decent.
Q: What do you enjoy about blogging? Is it the opportunity to express yourself?
A: That’s true.
When I’m writing no one interrupts me. I can get out what’s on my mind.
When I’m talking with someone, sometimes that person can start talking before I’m finished.
But blogging is more than writing.
Q: What do you mean?
A: It can be a form of storytelling to share who you are with your children and grandchildren.
My mother or father didn’t share much about their youth.
And I didn’t ask questions.
Before they were parents they had a life.
But I don’t know much about that life.
My kid sure knows about his mom’s past.
Q: Any closing thoughts we didn’t touch on through the questions?
A: More seniors should blog. Don’t be afraid you’re going to break something. There’s nothing to break.
Like I already mentioned, blogging enriches my life.
Here’s one last thing.
I wanted to print all of my posts but my printer wasn’t working. Steve said he would make copies with his printer. Every so often I would ask him about it. I didn’t want to push. Then my birthday arrived and he gave me one of the best gifts I’ve ever received –
All of my posts put together as a hardcopy book called “My Mom’s Blog.”
It had me in tears.