Gear Diary v1.0 circa 2006, courtesy of the WayBack Machine
Five years ago, I stepped off a virtual precipice and left the safety of my regular writing gig at The Gadgeteer to start my own personal blog, an idea that was born while riding on the back of an elephant in Thailand. With the help of Joel Evans, formerly of Geek.com and now with CronkSoftware.com, I learned how to work with WordPress, a relatively new blogging platform that was totally different from the “Ruby on Rails” system I was used to.
My first Hello World post on Gear Diary ran late at night, on September 30, 2006 …
I have had a fascination with all types of gadgets and gizmos since I was a child. One of my earliest gadget memories was a Christmas when I was given yet another doll, and my brother got the coolest toy robot in the world. It didn’t take me too long to convince him that he wanted to trade…really!
And thus, the monster was born.
I never expected to become a prolific writer, it just kind of happened. I got my start in late 1999 after answering a software reviewer request at the now defunct smaller.com. By mid 2000 I knew that I wanted my reviews to focus not only on software, but also on the PDA hardware which I found so fascinating.
I soon became an occasional reviewer at The Gadgeteer, back when it was a much smaller site – basically run single-handedly by its editor-in-chief, Julie Strietelmeier. Within six months I was Julie’s writing partner, and for the next six years I had the privilege of being part of something truly amazing. As part of our team, I made a direct contribution to the Gadgeteer’s enormous growth from a well regarded enthusiast’s site into a world-wide recognized authority on gadgets, gizmos and their accessories. Due to my work at the Gadgeteer, I have earned a solid reputation as a respected consumer reviewer.
However, I am first and foremost a gadget enthusiast as well as an actual consumer.
I’ve wasted more money than I care to recount on devices that promised performance which was never delivered, and I have had the pleasure of discovering little known gadgets that performed so well, I couldn’t wait to share my happy discovery.
I’ve always had topics which I wanted to write about that didn’t quite fit into the confines of the typical structured gadget review, so for five and a half years I kept a blog on The Gadgeteer called ‘Judie’s Gear Diary’, often telling people to “read about it in my gear diary”. Which is why it only seemed natural that when I considered starting my own site, I continued with the name Gear Diary.
So welcome to my Gear Diary, a place where I will continue to write about the gadgets and other types of gear that we all love to collect and carry. I will also serve a healthy dose of the more chatty diary entries that Gadgeteer readers have grown to expect. I’ll even be making occasional guest reviewer appearances at several respected gadget and PDA sites – so watch for me!
For those of you that aren’t familiar with me from past writing gigs, all you need to know is that my specialty is writing in-depth reviews. These will usually include lots of touchy-feely observations which can only be made after thoroughly using a particular item.
I have never claimed to be an Information Technology guru; I would never make the mistake of telling anyone that I understand how everything works; believe me – even after all these years I can still get stumped by a poorly designed gadget or a mystifying bit of software! I won’t spit acronyms at you, talk down to you, or make you feel like you should have read the manual before reading my review. I have an international reputation for using a product until I have gained a full understanding of what it does, what its limitations are, and then using layman’s terms to write about whether the item excels in its particular purpose…or not.
I’d love to hear from you all, either through comments here or via email.
When I started Gear Diary, Jenneth Orantia was also starting her new blog, the now defunct Girls Gone Mobile. We had a blast in those early days talking about the latest plugins, our newest gear, making plans for our sites, contributing posts on each others sites and elsewhere, and challenging each other in the ways that only two friendly competitors can. For anyone who has ever considered starting a blog, you’ll find that having a competitive writing buddy is a great way to stay motivated, especially in the earliest days.
Shortly after Gear Diary went live, I got a call from Michael Hess, owner of Skooba Design, offering to pay for a banner at the top of the site. I remembering stammering as I talked to him, because I had no idea what to charge. I didn’t want to ask for too much because money wasn’t the reason I was doing this … but at the same time, the site was growing and I knew I was going to have to come up with a business plan pretty quickly. We agreed upon an amount, and that’s how Skooba became Gear Diary’s first (and longest running) sponsor. Thanks Michael! =)
Within weeks of starting Gear Diary, it became evident that this site was not going to be a personal blog as much as it was going to be a collaboration of voices. Some of the earliest contributors to this site were Mitchell Oke, Kerry Woo, Allen Hong, Doug Moran, Larry Liaw, Chris Spera, Joel McLaughlin, Jerry Raia, and Chris Chamberlain.
Vincent Nguyen from SlashGear reached out early on and offered his friendship and support, which is how I got to know Ewdi Then and Chris Davies (also from SlashGear) and many of their staff. Talk about having strong allies and good friends in your corner — Vincent, Ewdi and Chris have always been that, and I am grateful.
I had this idea when I started Gear Diary that it would be “cool” to list every single person who contributed an article, even if it was a one time thing; I guess I didn’t realize how many people would want to be a part of Gear Diary. Some wrote one post, others wrote much more frequently — even daily. Some of our contributors from this era included Aura Mae, Debra Brown, Molly Antos, Ellen Beeman, Stephen Dean, Bjenk Ellefsen, Stan Lau, Catherine Fitch, Brandon Miniman, William Rodriguez, Sean Sheehan, and two writers who wished to stay anonymous because of the tips that they provided — echo and Torturous Trevor.
By the end of 2007, regular contributors — those writers who would eventually be called Team — included Chris Chamberlain, Clinton Fitch, Allen Hong, Doug Goldring, Mitchell Oke, Joel McLaughlin, Jenneth Orantia, Jerry Raia, Kerry Woo, Doug Goldring, Larry Liaw, and Wayne Schulz — a force of nature who would eventually become Gear Diary’s first Senior Editor. By now we had picked up a few more sponsors, including Beyza Cases and PDair. Thanks Ali, Mingo and Eva! =)
That Christmas was the first time that I was able to provide the entire Gear Diary Team with a logo’d SCOTTEVEST Fleece. I do believe that they would be considered collectors items now.
On March 1st, 2008, Gear Diary suffered what at the time seemed like a catastrophic data loss. I can remember wanting to curl up and die when I realized that we had lost well over 1000 posts, more than 8 months worth of work … trying to explain what had happened was hard.
As you may have noticed, Gear Diary suffered a massive server crash on Saturday, March 1st. If you didn’t know it, then it is only a testament to how awesome the Gear Diary Team is, because we all immediately scrambled to get things back to normal as quickly as possible. Things aren’t quite there yet, and for better or worse they will never be quite the same again, but as usual I am getting ahead of myself…
The night before everything happened, I had posted about my MacBook Pro order, and I had already started to receive informative post comments as well as private emails from you all about what I should do to make the transition from Vista smooth. I was excited, on top of the world, and tired…I had stayed up way too late yet again, but I planned on sleeping in the next morning to make up for it.
About 9:30 I finally crawled out of the world’s most comfortable bed, had some cereal, played with Avah [my cat], watched CNN for a bit, and then sat in front of my computer to take a look at the morning’s email. I noticed that there were a bunch of comments pending moderation, so instead of doing them individually through the email interface, I logged into our Admin panel. I approved the first comment, and got a database error. Anyone who has ever used WordPress has seen errors before, and many times a quick refresh will right them. I backed up and tried approving comments again, and got the same error.
As I always do when something back-end happens that I can’t figure out, I called Ewdi – website code guru extraordinaire – catching him at lunch. He said he would get online as soon as he returned home. So in the meantime, I sat here waiting…hoping against hope that the site would come back online. Hoping that when Ewdi came on I could laughingly tell him “never mind, and I’m truly sorry for disturbing your lunch!”
But instead, I got to go through one of the most frustrating, depressing, and mind-numbing events any web-master could possibly endure.
No matter how badly I felt about the loss, quitting was never an option.
Through the magic of Google Cache and the tireless work of Gear Diary’s Team, we were able to reconstruct much of what had been lost, although there are some things that will forever be gone — like the photos that went to quite a few of the reviews from that time. I am reminded of the quality of our reviews every time I get an email from a concerned person who just Googled a product and found our review … but the pictures won’t load. Inevitably, when I look at the link, I’ll see that the date the article originally appeared was pre-crash. Every time that happens, the lessons learned during the server meltdown are driven home for me again.
It wasn’t long before Gear Diary was back in high gear (pun intended), and we were burning the candle at both ends to compensate for what had been lost. The word TEAM took on new meaning for all of us who were present then, as we worked to rebuild and move on. Ewdi even gave us a fresh look to celebrate!
By mid 2008, along with the regulars we continued to add new Team Members including Dan Cohen, Christopher Gavula and David Goodspeed. We also enjoyed posts contributed by Jack Cook, Adrian Leibas, Lex Strickland, and Rob Tripp among others. [In case you can’t tell, I am really trying not to leave anyone out, but it is inevitable that I will. If I forgot you, just drop me an email and I’ll be happy to mention you! =) ]
About a year after our crash, Gear Diary was fully recovered and we felt that we had emerged even stronger — due in no small part to the prolific offbeat posts made by Wayne. In a series of behind the scene chats, Wayne convinced me that it was time to make Gear Diary staffing a bit more formal, and that in doing so we could take the site to the next level. He was right.
We cleaned up the Team and Contributor pages and took stock of who was truly contributing regularly, and then we put out our first “Help Wanted” post. I said at the time, and it still holds true …
You don’t have to have prior writing experience, and you don’t have to have an English degree; the main requirements are that you have an outspoken passion for technology, that you be able to explain sometimes complicated concepts (or products) in language that everyone can understand, that you know how to use spell check, and that you be able to make a deadline.
The hours are terrible, the pay is non-existent, and you would have to be absolutely crazy to submit to this torture. But the payoff (assuming that you make it through the hazing period) is the interaction you’ll have with thousands of other like-minded individuals daily.
If you are a self-starter, a prolific writer, and you manage to impress me and the team, then the odds are that we will ask you to join as a regular team member. That’s where the torture really begins.
What type of person writes for Gear Diary? Wayne told his story …
My regular day job is accounting software consulting…. I know – hard to believe I don’t write for a living, huh!?
I’ve spent the last year writing for Gear Diary — at least I call it writing…
… really what I’ve been doing is learning to use WordPress (the web based software that powers most blogs like Gear Diary), learning how to find stories that attract web visitors, and learning the discipline to write regularly and often.
I’ve translated that skill to my business. And this ability to write online keeps my company from spending a dime on expensive Google Adwords campaigns. I now have the unusual skill (in my boring industry) of being able to knock out 5 or 6 interesting articles PER DAY on my company web site (which I converted to WordPress myself after Judie taught me how easy it was).
These articles on my company site live on forever. I use them in my newsletter (saving writing time), and customers use them to find and most importantly hire me (typically on the spot with no bidding).
What I’m getting at is this.
Though you won’t make money – you will learn a skill that is priceless. Knowing how to find, publish and edit articles that ultimately show up easily in searches is invaluable. While my colleagues are complaining about the recession and how hard it is to find work – I’m attracting paying clients to my company web site.
This position is great for marketing folks, sales folks, or just about anyone who wants to learn. Judie’s a great teacher – and she has connections to lots of big brains in the blogging world. You’d be foolish to overlook this opportunity to learn. I’m just hopeful none of my competitors take Judie up on her offer.
Based on that want ad, we added a huge crop of new writers to the site — over 20 of them! As expected, some people quit after finding out that they would actually be expected to contribute. Heh. But in that group we found some incredibly talented writers including Michael Anderson, Carly Z, Jeff Frantz, Jason Reese, Travis Ehrlich, Jessica Fritsche, Larry Greenberg, and Allistair Lee. Adding all of those writers brought on a new era for me as an editor; I no longer had the time to write as often as I had in the past, but I was getting great personal satisfaction watching new talent emerge. We went into 2009 like a cyclone!
At the beginning of 2010 Wayne left to concentrate on other projects, and Dan was promoted to Senior Editor. Our Team was now made up of Dan, Carly, Larry, Joel, Jason, Michael, Chris G, Travis, Jeff, Jessica, Thomas, and Allistair. Regular and recognized contributors included David Goodspeed, Douglas Moran, and Francis Scardino.
In 2010, we once again got a major facelift thanks to Ewdi; we also added full feeds and got rid of the obnoxious pop-up text ads that would show if you accidentally moused over one of the “special” links. Advertising is necessary, but you know it is bad when the people who run a site can’t stand it, either! =P
Which brings us to 2011 … we are a leaner and meaner crew, and we work extremely well together. I dare say that in many ways we have become like family, and although one could argue that there is some disfunction, for the most part it’s all warm fuzzies.
Our editorial staff consists of Dan Cohen, my right hand man and Senior Editor (I haven’t scared him off, yet!), while Michael Anderson is our gaming guru and recently outed musical expert. Carly Z provides unparalleled eBook coverage and human interest stories. The four of us together are something special, if I do say so myself. =)
Our Team consists of Joel McLaughlin, who has been with me since nearly the beginning and is our resident Linux expert; Jason Reese, who keeps us updated on all things BlackBerry (when his day job isn’t running him ragged!); Christopher Gavula, who can always be counted upon to have a sensible opinion on everything; David Goodspeed, new grandpa and baby product tester as well as our resident auto expert; Travis Ehrlich, founder of the Blue Plate Special app reviews and coach of the 2010 Fall’s City Texas State Champion Football Team (he has the ring to prove it!); Jeff Frantz, our soft-spoken software reviewer who can always be counted on in a pinch; Thomas R. Hall, one of the smartest and most generous people I’ve ever known; Doug Moran, who can always be counted on to nail a news post and find something witty to say about any product, no matter how dry; Francis Scardino, one of our IT gurus who gave writing a try after a conversation he and I had on Twitter; and Michael Siebenaler, our newest gaming contributor who is still getting through the hazing period. We have contributions coming in occasionally from Mitchell Oke, who is now a professional auto writer and videographer in Australia, as well as Gary Bunker, William Hebert, and Jamie Poster.
Which brings us to today. As of this evening we have posted 13,362 times, and we have had 33,165 comments. Gear Diary has been viewed 18,356,100 times, and the number keeps growing. My YouTube video of Avah & the Litter-Robot has received 115,643 views over the past 3 years (which is pretty funny when you consider the subject matter), and Thomas’ How To View PDF Files on an iPad has been read an astonishing 310,895 times.
What started as my personal blog has grown into a dynamic and well-regarded site with ties to numerous other sites as well as many of the companies that are shaping the gear we use today (and will use tomorrow). Many of the people who would eventually write with us started as readers; their passion to tell others about mobile tech, gadgets and the gear that they use daily was their motivation … but of course that has never been all we cared to post about. Gear Diary is not and has never been a strictly tech site, even though that is one interest we all seem to share.
I’ve always had a clear idea of what I wanted Gear Diary to be, which was that it not be an easily labeled site. But if I had to label what I was after, I’d say that more than anything I was hoping to create a Lifestyle site. We write about automobiles, music, games, toys, robots, mobile phones, kitchen gadgets, travel supplies, trips we take, tech clothing, BBQ implements … you name it! I’ve always told the writers that if something interests them, it will likely interest at least a few readers. So far you all seem to agree, and we appreciate that!
Our mission (or to use Simon Sinek’s term, our “WHY”) was clear from the beginning. I’m proud to say that five years later, while much has changed, our WHY is still just as relevant.
I started Gear Diary on September 30, 2006, and my goal was that this not be an easily labeled site. We all have gear that we use daily – some of it electronic and some of it organic. I think it is fascinating to explore the equipment that makes our lives easier, more entertaining, more productive, and more manageable.
My hope is that Gear Diary visitors will find this site to be a comfortable and friendly place to discuss interesting topics – and not only those that are tech related, as well as a location to discover various types of gear – whatever that term may end up implying – that they never knew existed.
Of course, while we all love to write and enjoy sharing our thoughts with the world, once we hit “Post” we’ve done our part. What happens next is beyond our control and in the hands of you, our readers. Thank you for reading this site, sharing your thoughts, giving us your feedback, and making it worth taking on what often feels like a second full-time job. After all, a site without readers is… Well, fortunately — and thanks to all of you — that is somewhere we have NEVER had to go. We hope that you all will stick with us for the next five years and beyond!
Which brings me to the next thing: We want to do more than just say THANK YOU for being part of the site for the past five years, so keep your eye out for what will begin tomorrow morning … =D