New York Times and More…

By now, many people have seen the New York Times article about me and my quitting medicine to pursue a career on my websites. Overall, the response has been amazing, and generally very positive. The article itself was amongst the most emailed articles at the New York Times for that day. Besides being a surprising story (‘M.D. quits medicine to blog’), I think it struck a chord in a lot of people.

Job and career satisfaction are always hot issues and I suspect there are a lot of people have that secret career in the back-of-their-mind that they wished they had pursued.

Understandably, there was a lot of coverage in the blogs and especially from those with similar aspirations. Several people had emailed me about thoughts and advice on building a site. I don’t know if there’s a magic formula, but I’ll share some thoughts in a later post.

Finally, there were a few people who found offense to my career switch. I understand some of the issues surrounding it, but I think the best thing I can say is it was a very difficult decision for me at the time, and also a very personal one. Some people are focusing on the money, but in reality, it was a lifestyle and family choice. I suspect that given the same options, most people would have made the same decision.

Posted in The Web | 12 Comments

I Quit My Job

Yesterday was my last day at my full time job as a physician. I plan to work on MacRumors.com and other web projects full time.

The most likely reaction I expect from regular MacRumors readers is “You weren’t working on MacRumors full time already?”

As crazy as it seems, for these past 8 years, MacRumors has been a hobby or part-time job. I think most people would have made this move long before me, but the momentum of my “other” career made it difficult for me to break free.

I started MacRumors.com in February of 2000. I was in my 4th and last year of medical school. I had been dabbling in the web for fun and decided to focus a natural interest of mine (Apple) into a website. My work on the site has since had its ups and downs. Over the next 8 years, I completed medical school, an Internal Medicine residency, a fellowship in Nephrology and even worked two years in private practice as a physician (Nephrologist).

During that time, I’ve been fortunate enough that my hobby has become successful enough that I am able to transition it into my career. While the trend may have been clear for past couple of years, I was slow to recognize it.

One of the most frustrating things over the years, however, has been my inability to dedicate the proper time to improve MacRumors as I might have wanted. In addition, as a web-tech-guy I constantly have ideas and plans for other web projects that I’ve never had the time to pursue. By settling on this as my career, I will be able to execute some long standing plans.

Wish me luck!

Follow Me

Twitter: http://twitter.com/arnoldkim
RSS Feed: http://normalkid.com/feed/

My Active Sites

Normalkid – my personal blog
MacRumors.com – Mac news and rumors
TouchArcade.com – iPhone games

Contact Me

arn@normalkid.com

Posted in Normalkid.com, The Web | 82 Comments

Used to Be a Real Programmer (Need an Old Mac)

Once upon a time, I was actually a non-web programmer.

I had an interest in game development and the demoscene. This was mostly done at the hobby level. I did write one screen saver module for After Dark 4.0 (‘Points of View’ was mine).

I wrote a few graphical demos in C and 68000 assembly back in my college days on a Mac IIsi. I spent a lot of my free time on these demos during one summer. The big problem now is that they were written under Mac OS 9 Mac OS 7-9 on 680×0 processor machines, and I believe they specifically targeted 256 color displays.

I was hoping that someone out there would have a Mac that could actually run these old apps, and be able to record them as digital videos. I would love to have video copies of these since I’m unlikely to be able to run them in the future. Here are the download links:

Chrystar Demo
Flag Day
Chaosmint

If anyone could actually do this, I’d greatly appreciate it. You can contact me via the Forums contact form. Thanks.

Posted in Normalkid.com | 4 Comments

Traffic = Power = Money

The secret to success on the internet can be boiled down to one simple accomplishment: building traffic.

That’s it. If you have a site that attracts a lot of visitors, you will be able to make money. On the internet, traffic equals power, which subsequently equals money.

Depending on the topic of your site, however, it may be easier and harder to generate that money. But even a seemingly ridiculous site such as HotorNot.com has a revenue of $5-$10 million a year (with the bulk of it being profit). If you aren’t familiar with the site, the premise is simple: rate other users on how “hot” they are on a scale of 1 to 10. That’s it. You vote, and get sent to the next photo. When I first saw it, I thought it was amusing but saw no way they could make money from it. As it turns out, they managed to turn it into a casual dating site with a simple subscription service that allowed you to make connections. This simple $6/month revenue stream added up to a revenue stream of up to $10 million a year,

Now, generating revenue might not be enough if your expenses are high. One notable site that has never made a profit is YouTube. To be fair, I don’t think generating a steady profit was part of the original game plan. As a venture capital funded site, millions of dollars were invested in the infrastructure, employees and bandwidth to create what became a “killer app” for the Internet. In the end, the founders and investors did make an enormous profit on the site through its sale to Google for $1.6 billion dollars. Why did Google pay $1.6 billion to buy a site that has never made a profit? Because Google understands more than anyone the value of traffic, and truly believes that traffic = power = money.

As the founder of a well trafficked site, and with plans to establish other sites, the concept of building traffic is always on my mind. I have ideas of how other sites established their user base, but here are a few reasons MacRumors has grown to be as popular as it has:

Good domain – I was fortunate to be able to pick up “MacRumors.com” as an expired domain in 2000. It’s a generic keyword-rich domain which perfectly encapsulates the topic of the site. It’s easy to remember, and well ranked in searches related to rumors.

Addictive Content – it’s no coincidence that I started a web site surrounding rumors about Apple and the Mac. I was already an addict. I scoured messageboards and news sites around the web for hints about future Apple products. I don’t expect everyone to understand how this particular topic is as addictive as it is… but clearly it’s not just me.

Little Competition – We weren’t the first rumor site on the scene. But what was interesting was that there used to be a clear divide between rumor sites and news sites in the Mac web. “News sites” would not report on rumors. They purposefully ignored the entire subcommunity. That seems ridiculous now, as the lines have since blurred, with even mainstream media covering Apple rumors. But I’d say that gave us a 4 year head start over other Mac sites. They weren’t willing to cater to the rumor-audience, so MacRumors was one of only a few rumor destinations for those intervening years.

Posted in Mac Web, The Web, Uncategorized | 20 Comments

Launch of TouchArcade.com

I’ve owned an Apple computer since the age of 12 or so. My first Apple was an Apple //c. I later moved on to the Apple //gs, a Mac IIsi, PowerMac 7500 and so on. I’m presently on a Mac Pro Quad Xeon.

During those 20 or so years, one thing has remained pretty constant… Apple has had very little interest in encouraging game development on their platforms. I can’t find any original references, but there’s an underlying belief that Steve Jobs hates games. Whether or not that’s true… that’s how Apple has acted over the years. Even to my then teenage mind, it seemed crazy that Apple would actively discourage such a popular use of their computers.

All that may have changed with the introduction of the iPhone and iPod Touch SDK. At the launch event, Apple invited Electronic Arts and SEGA to demonstrate their latest games running on the iPhone and iPod Touch… could it be that Apple has finally changed their attitude?

It seems so… but even without Apple’s blessing, I believe the iPhone and iPod Touch will become a huge gaming platform. The potential market is just too large and the desire for casual gaming on your mobile phone is just too great. By the end of 2008, Apple expects to have seeded at least 10 million iPhones to the world.

Everyone finds themselves in situations where they are just killing time and all they have is their mobile phone. Text messaging, browsing the web, and playing the latest iPhone game are the activities that people will increasingly turn to.

Based on this belief, Blake Patterson and I have launched a new site catering to those interested in gaming on the iPhone and iPod Touch.

Touch Arcade: iPod and iPhone Games

We’ve been filling out content and formatting over the past few weeks. News stories will obviously pick up after the official launch of the iPhone SDK in June, so we have just been ramping it up in the meanwhile. I can’t be certain what the future holds, but I believe this site addresses a very loyal and expanding topic of interest.

Posted in Mac Web | 2 Comments

The Business of XKCD

XKCD is a web comic created by 23-year-old physics major and programmer Randall Munroe who is actually making a living off his web-comic. Here’s a sample comic that I found particularly funny… but you have to be a programmer to appreciate it:

The New York Times just did a profile on Mr. Munroe and revealed some interesting stats with regard to making a living as a web comic-strip writer.

XKCD.com attracts 500,000 unique visitors a day and delivers over 80 million page views in a month. There are no ads, however. Instead, Munroe appears to make a living off T-shirt sales. They reportedly sell “thousands” of T-shirts a month, which supports him and his partner “reasonably well.” It’s apparently not that easy to find this success since Munroe estimates he’s one of only two dozen web comic authors who actually make a living off of their comics.

If we wildly guess at $10 profit per T-shirt, that gives us a range of $20,000-$99,000 (2000-9999 T-shirts) revenue a month which projects out to $240,000 to $1,188,000 a year in revenue. So, the duo probably pull in the mid-hundreds-of-thousands a year. Not bad at all, and a surprising revenue stream. In some ways it makes sense, in that advertising revenue for comics can’t be very lucrative. Regardless, it’s refreshing to see someone have a non-advertising revenue stream.

Another interesting tidbit from the article is that Munroe talks about the power of the Internet with respect to niche markets:

On the Internet, he said, “You can draw something that appeals to 1 percent of the audience — 1 percent of United States, that is three million people, that is more readers than small cartoons can have.”

He’s built a business succeeding in his niche market, despite the fact that “mass appeal” of a technical comic strip is relatively small.

It would seem a physically bound book would be an obvious step to take, and it appears its in the works in some form.

Posted in The Web

Ars Gets Bought.

From my point of view, the biggest news this week is that ArsTechnica was purchased by Conde Nast for a rumored $25 million. The acquisition itself has been verified, but the price will likely never be publicly confirmed.

For those who aren’t familiar with ArsTechnica, it’s a technology news site that has distinguished itself over the years by offering intelligent and thoughtful articles. With the recent trend of rapid-fire blogs and “breaking” news blurbs, it’s to their credit they’ve been able to sustain their audience and reputation.

I don’t know the founders of Ars personally, but am certainly aware of their work. The story goes that it was started in 1998 by Ken Fisher (and Jon Stokes) out of “boredom” in graduate school and apparently stayed a hobby for the first 6 years. Ken Fisher touched a bit on the start of Ars in a recent video interview with Kara Swisher. I’m not sure the exact sequence of events, but today Ars is reported to have a staff of 8 people who will now be working for Conde Nast (publisher of Wired).

Their decision to sell is interesting. Online ad revenue has been on the rise over the past 5 years, and I’m certain they are benefiting from this phenomenon. With their technical audience, they should be able to attract very favorable ad rates and sponsors.

Assuming the founders were making a solid profit on a yearly basis in-line with a $25 million valuation (let’s assume they didn’t get a “can’t refuse” offer), what are the motivations for selling a self-sufficient business that from-all-that-I’ve-read has been their “baby”?

10 years is a long time, so I suppose they were ready to move on for various reasons. While the writers are moving to Conde Nast, I don’t see how the co-founders would stay there beyond a compulsory period of time with $25 million in their pockets. I’ll be very curious to see what they do next, and wish them luck.

Update: Fisher explains the motivation… they want to built the site up further which requires corporate backing. And it appears he will be staying to continue building the site.

Posted in The Web

Engadget vs Gizmodo Stats

Hitwise publishes stats comparing Gizmodo and Engadget — two of the most popular “gadget blogs”. The stats are interesting… with Engadget supposedly receiving 6x larger a share of visits than Gizmodo. By “visit”, I presume they mean unique visitor rather than page view based on how they describe the term later on.

On the surface, this surprised me, as I always felt Gizmodo and Engadget were of comparable size… but as with all 3rd party traffic data, you have to be suspicious about their methods of collection and how this might skew the result. Hitwise apparently draws from a pool of national Internet Service Providers (ISP) and generates traffic data based on this. On the surface, it seems like a reasonable method, but I still can’t wrap my head around the belief that Engadget draws 6x the visitors as Gizmodo.

Compete’s records show that they have roughly the same amount of traffic, but their methodology is also subject to error.

Fortunately, we do have direct traffic stats for Gizmodo that is directly measured which shows that Gizmodo draws 5,097,121 unique visitors from the U.S. in one month. If we assume this 6x the visitors stat holds true over a month, that means Engadget should be getting 30,000,000 uniques over a month.

To put that in perspective, that would make Engadget twice as large as Digg (whose stats we also have direct measurements) who “only” attracts ~15 million unique U.S. visitors a month. I don’t think that adds up, and while I have no solid proof, I don’t see how the 6x multiple could be accurate.

Posted in The Web | 2 Comments

Twitter as a Traffic Referral Source

In case you don’t follow web, tech, and social news sites, there’s a vocal minority that claims that Twitter is the next best thing since sliced bread.

One of the arguments of pro-Twitter bloggers is that Twitter is quickly becoming one of their top traffic referrers based on their web logs. A particularly noteworthy graph is from Calacanis who describes that Twitter has sent ~45,000 people to his startup (Mahalo) in the past 6 months.

That’s an impressive number, of course, and helps drive interested entrepreneurs and bloggers to start their own twitter accounts to try to recreate this effect. And before I get to my point, Twitter is certainly a great self promotional tool, and I think it’s a great tool to interact with your peers and others interested in you and your business. However… that being said, there’s some fine print to these statistics.

The way Twitter works is that people “follow” you to see your updates. So you tell your friends, your fans, your customers to “follow” you on twitter. It’s kinda like a private RSS feed for them. They see updates from you and anyone else they follow. (me on twitter)

So, of course, if you link to your site, people who follow you might click through. That’s great… but it’s a closed pool of people. A closed pool of people who already know who you are and were interested enough to “Follow” you on Twitter.

So, how many of those ~45,000 visitors to Mahalo were actually unique individuals? No more than 21,000 (or whatever number of followers Calacanis had at the time). And these are people who already have an active interest in Calacanis. Realistically the 45,000 may represent only 4000 distinct people clicking on multiple links over those 6 months. In many ways, you are preaching to the choir. And while there is value in that, perhaps not as much as the raw numbers would lead you to believe.

As a comparison, I think there’s more (different?) value in 45,000 visitors from Google or scattered across multiple other sites, as those possibly represent “fresh” visitors.

That being said, I think Calacanis is doing it right, in that he’s driving traffic to his startup rather than his blog (where he recruited his Followers). I think if you are simply trying to drive Twitter traffic back to your blog (or where ever you recruited your Followers), then you are simply driving the same people back to the site who would have gone their anyway (via Web or RSS). There’s no harm in that, but then the warm-fuzzy feeling you get from your Twitter referrals may be even more misleading.

Posted in The Web | 1 Comment

On Attribution and Links

As a blogger or site owner, you are keenly aware of the activities of other sites on the internet, especially in your field. In particular, you might notice when other sites properly credit your site for either original news or even finding a particularly unique link. This business, however, can get messy with sites accusing other sites of wrongdoing or simply poor sportsmanship. As a result proper attribution can become a big issue. It comes to my mind now as TheInquisitr wrote an excellent summary of their linking and attribution policy.

In some cases the offense is clear: exclusive content or screenshots that are simply “lifted”, republished and no attribution given to you. Of course, this is the most offensive of actions, and fortunately, it is a relatively rare occurrence. Ironically, this used to be a bigger problem with mainstream news sites. As blogs were just emerging as a news source, I’d frequently see “legitimate” news sites reference emerging news with a wave-of-the-hands “word on the internet is…” and refuse to link to the original sources. Fortunately, this trend has dwindled as the line between blogs and media have blurred.

An equally deceptive, yet growing trend I’ve noticed is one where sites will rewrite original content and even include a link back to the original source, but hide the link in a way that makes it entirely un-obvious that the original site even exists.

Instead of writing “BlogXYZ.com writes…”, they might just report the news “We’ve heard that ABC is going to be great…” and then maybe link one obscure word later in the text back to the original source. While they’ve technically linked back to the source, the end result is the same as the first scenario, taking credit for the information.

I can’t really offer a great solution on this issue. I do know what the end result: you are far less likely to link to them, which, in turn, over time, will result in them being far less likely to link to you. This circle tends to feed on itself.

So, in the end, play nice and attribute properly.

Posted in The Web | 1 Comment