Thursday, January 3, 2008

Interview - Michael A. Banks, author of Blogging Heroes

Today's 5 Q&A is with Michael A. Banks, author of Blogging Heroes.

1.) Who are you?
Michael A. Banks got his first glimpse of the online world in 1979. By 1984 he was so involved with the early online services that he was forced to write about them in books and magazines to justify the connect time. In addition to Blogging Heroes, he is the author of three dozen other non-fiction books, plus several novels. He has written for Byte, PC, PC World, and a couple dozen other computing magazines, and served as a columnist for Windows Magazine and Computer Shopper. His next book is On the Way to the Web: The Secret History of the Internet (APress, June, 2008). He can be contacted through his Web site, or any of his blogs.

2.) Where did the idea for Blogging Heroes come from?
Joe Wikert (a Vice President and Executive Publisher at John Wiley & Sons) came up with the idea of interviewing the world’s top bloggers in a book. The basic idea was to find out how they got started, why they are successful, and how other bloggers might emulate them.

From my viewpoint, each interview had to be more than “Why are you blogging, and how do you get so many readers?” I worked to personalize each interview with the backgrounders I wrote, and through the flow of conversation during the interviews. With some bloggers, the why of blogging was more important than the how. With others, the reverse was true, and each interview emphasizes what is more important to the subject.

3.) It would seem that the bloggers you interviewed were both generous and forthcoming with their time and answers. Did this surprise you?
Yes and no. “Yes,” because most of the people I interviewed were extremely busy and breaking away from their schedules was often a sacrifice. Chris Anderson was running Wired, traveling, keeping up The Long Tail blog, and experimenting with UAVs and who knows what else. Mark Frauenfelder was of course very busy with, family life, and MAKE magazine; most of his interview was conducted as he was driving to visit a friend in the hospital.

These things and the fact that a couple dozen others were, as Owen Thomas of Valleywag put it, “too busy blogging to talk about blogging” made me appreciate those who did take the time to be interviewed. Getting a complete interview with several bloggers required multiple contacts because their lives kept intruding on our conversations. (I interviewed Robert Scoble the day after the iPhone was released, so he was very busy with that. And in the middle of things he had to break away to dash to the market. We wrapped up the interview as he completed preparations for a child’s birthday party.)

“No,” because just about everyone’s favorite subject is their job or hobby. Getting people to talk about something that fascinates them--and blogging by definition is a fascination--isn't difficult, as long as you can get them to stop blogging to talk at all.

Incidentally, more than one person has asked me how I selected the bloggers I interviewed. I had several criteria. I wanted bloggers who had a lot of traffic, but I didn’t want them all to be from one field (gadgets and computers, for instance). So I intentionally chose some bloggers who didn’t show up on Technorati or Digg, but who were interesting and popular nonetheless. A few bloggers were selected because of what they were doing, the subjects they were covering. Not all are making big money, though many are. And, as you might guess from my earlier remark, answering my email was a major factor in selection. Lots of people didn’t.

4.) Why do you blog? What do you get out of it? What advice do you have for bloggers?
I started blogging for the same reason I write: because I’m a compulsive communicator. I always have something to say, but it’s not always something a magazine would publish, and usually not important enough for a book. It could be a comment on how screwed-up AM radio is today, or a mini-review of a book. Or maybe I want to share a dialogue technique, but don’t want to build a full-length magazine article around it. So I drop it into one of my blogs.

I also use blogs to promote my books. I don’t know how many books blogging sells, but that’s okay. I get a lot from just putting my thoughts out there and knowing that they’re being considered. If I get a comment or an email from a reader, it’s a bonus.

When I sell a short story or an article to a magazine, I get paid, and that’s good, but what I get from blogging fills a need. Before blogging, I fulfilled that need through posts on online BBSes and Forums (like those on CompuServe, The Source, BIX, and DELPHI). Before the online world existed, I wrote letters to the editors of newspapers and magazines, and wrote for and published science fiction fanzines. Each of these venues has in common with blogging the fact that they are a personal mode of communication. People expect to see material in blogs that they’d never see in traditional public media.

Advice ... as most of the most popular bloggers say: blog about something for which you have passion. Post regularly; don’t disappear for a month and expect readers to still be there when you come back.

And pay attention to what you write. Make sure your writing reads well, and says what you mean in the way you want to say it. I suggest that you print out a blog post, read it, then wait a day and read it again. Then edit and re-read it before you post.

I of course don’t do that every time--which is why you’re likely to find different versions of my posts in Google’s cache. I get excited about a subject and want to post right now; I often compose online, hit the post button, and then have to go back and change something. Mark Frauenfelder tells me he has the same problem. But it’s still better to let a post age for a little while before letting it go.

5.) What's next?
Well, I’ll continue blogging, focusing on my blog The REAL Writing Life ( I have another blog that started out as an extension of a book I wrote (the biography of radio pioneer Powel Crosley, Jr., at That one has evolved into sort of a chronicle of broadcast history, and a hobby. Both promote my books, and this summer I’ll have another one up to support a new book (a business history of the Internet).

I would like to do another book like Blogging Heroes. If it sells well enough, I suppose there could be a Blogging Heroes II. If I have time, I may put some interviews that aren’t in the book online, too.

Thank you so much, Michael!

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