April 4, 2007

The Fourth Anniversary of ITotD

Good things come in fours

Sunday, April 1, 2007, was the fourth anniversary of Interesting Thing of the Day. In honor of the occasion, I’d like to interrupt our regular programming and provide a small glimpse into the history and thinking behind the site for the benefit of new readers and old friends alike.

This Is Joe’s Brain on Interesting Things
My original idea for this site was simply to have a series of pages describing cool things I’d come across in my travels that captured my imagination and that I thought other people might enjoy knowing about too. Literalist that I tend to be, I chose the title “Interesting Thing of the Day” because I couldn’t think of any clearer description of what this was: a thing—any kind of thing—that’s interesting (according to me), every day. I decided I didn’t want to cover people or news events, and I’ve tried to choose topics that will still be interesting years in the future, but other than that, pretty much anything is fair game. Astute readers will have noticed that the site’s name has become a bit of a misnomer in that we no longer have a new thing every single day, but I’ll say more about that in a moment.

I quickly realized that what I found interesting was not just the things themselves, but how they fit into my experience. So I started using personal stories to introduce most articles. If you’re looking for an encyclopedia, this is not the site for you, but most readers seem to find the stories entertaining as well as informative. I’ve written the majority of the content myself, but I’m always delighted to publish contributions from guest authors. (My wife, Morgen Jahnke, has become such a frequent contributor that she no longer gets the “guest author” byline.)

Coloring Outside the Lines: For better or worse, Interesting Thing of the Day has always defied categorization. Is it a blog or not? I don’t know. Is it a reference site or an entertainment site? Is it about food, travel, technology, or triva? Yes and no to all of the above. The site doesn’t fall into any well-defined box. But then, neither do I.

Good to the Last Click
Lots of people make a habit of coming to the site every day; lots more get our news feeds using an RSS reader or other news aggregator. If you haven’t taken the time to examine every pixel and link of the site—not that I blame you!—you may not be aware of some of our lesser-known, but still groovy features:

  • Each article is also available as an audio recording (click the link just below the main body of any article).
  • For a wafer-thin fee, you can also opt to receive Interesting Thing of the Day by email; paid subscriptions also include access to full-text, ad-free RSS feeds with podcasts of every article.
  • If you want to learn more about any day’s topic, see the “More Information” section at the end of each article, which contains references, related items such as books and movies, and other resources.
  • For lists of related articles on this site, of which there are usually quite a few, check the sidebar.
Interesting Factoid: The music that plays at the beginning and end of each Interesting Thing of the Day podcast was composed by my sister-in-law, Cat Jahnke, and her partner, Darren Johnston. I didn’t realize it at the time, but their anniversary is the same as that of this site—April 1, 2003. Please go buy her CDs!

A Brief History of Things
Working on this site has certainly been a learning experience. (You can read more about the site’s history on my personal blog in Further Thoughts on ITotD’s 4th Anniversary.) The site has gone through a couple of significant redesigns as well as numerous smaller updates, all of which have had tremendously positive results. During the past ten months or so, we’ve worked much harder at promoting Interesting Thing of the Day. We’ve also launched a couple of new blogs, SenseList and The Geeky Gourmet, which have led to a lot of helpful cross-pollination. Readership has grown rapidly, a fact that pleases me tremendously.

I want to say, too, how grateful I am for those of you who have written to me with comments, suggestions, praise, and constructive criticism. When I get an email from someone who says they’ve enjoyed reading an article, it really makes my day. It’s easy to think of stuff on a Web site as being isolated from an actual human author, but we truly do thrive on praise, and it means a lot to me whenever someone takes the time to write in. That little boost makes this sometimes difficult work much easier!

The biggest challenge has been solving the familiar equation of time and money. Writing these articles takes a lot of time, but doesn’t generate a lot of income. That means I have to spend most of my time making money in other ways, which for me means writing books and articles about computers. That’s a nice profession too, of course, but my “day job” is so time-consuming that I often have little time left to devote to this site. And round it goes. It was only to preserve my health and sanity that I cut back from daily articles to one or two a week. Which brings me to…

Show Me the Money
When I launched Interesting Thing of the Day, I had a dream that one day it would become my full-time job. Although years have passed and that hasn’t happened yet, that’s still my dream. I’d love to go back to posting new articles every day (or at least every weekday) and devote my full attention to the site, but the site’s income will have to increase significantly before that can happen. So, in the best tradition of all those annoying fund drives on public radio and TV stations, let me put it to you this way: if you like what you see here and want to see more, make a donation today! [My apologies: that link was broken earlier, but is now fixed!] (Any amount is appreciated, but in honor of our fourth anniversary and the 4th of April, $44 would be an especially nice figure.) It’s not tax-deductible and we can’t send you a free tote bag as a thank-you gift. But you will have our undying gratitude, and you’ll significantly increase the likelihood that I’ll spend more time writing about interesting things here. Instead of making an outright donation, or in addition, you can subscribe to the audio edition of Interesting Thing of the Day or buy some spiffy ITotD merchandise. Thanks for your support!

Introducing Spectatrix
With that business out of the way, today I’m pleased to announce the latest addition to the alt concepts family: Spectatrix, a new blog that looks at the world through the eyes of a (passionate) introvert. Spectatrix is Morgen’s project, and although I may pop in to comment from time to time, she’ll be doing the vast majority of the writing. If you’ve enjoyed her articles here, I suspect you’ll like reading what she has to say about life from an introvert’s point of view. The notion of an introvert running a blog may seem cognitively dissonant, but speaking as an introvert myself, it makes perfect sense: it’s a way to be with people without actually being with people—the best of both worlds! I myself am often mistaken for an extrovert, especially when I’m giving a presentation in front of a crowd or promoting my latest book in a radio interview. But the fact is, I’d almost always prefer to be alone than with other people. And I’ve often been frustrated that extroverts—the majority of people out there—don’t understand my frequent need for silence and solitude. So I couldn’t be more thrilled that we introverts now have a blog to rally around (quietly and calmly, of course). If you’re an introvert, or if you have trouble understanding a friend or family member who is, you’ll appreciate Morgen’s insights.

The last four years have been exciting, exhausting, and interesting. As always, we have even more impressive things planned for the future. We’ll see you there! —Joe Kissell

More Information about The Fourth Anniversary of ITotD…

Over the years I’ve written a number of posts on I Am Joe’s Blog that deal with Interesting Thing of the Day in one way or another. You can read them all in the site’s ITotD category.