For this interview we have as a guest a very popular but also a very anonymous character – the one and only “How-To Geek”. He and his team managed to build in a few months, one of the best and biggest computer help sites on the internet. This is why their work is featured very often on famous sites such as LifeHacker, Digg or Reddit.
If you want to know more about the “How-To Geek” and his success story, just click on Read More.
I know you want to remain anonymous, but could you please talk a bit about yourself? I’m sure there are plenty of people who want to know more about the How-To Geek.
I’m 30 years old, and I’ve been a programmer for a large company for the last 8 years, which is why I prefer to remain anonymous. When I finally quit my job to work on How-To Geek fulltime, I’ll consider revealing my identity… or not.
At work, I do mostly b2b automation programming like routing electronic invoices and purchase orders, but I’ve also done plenty of web programming as well. I started working straight out of high school, and haven’t looked back or bothered to get a degree.
On a more personal note, I’m a vegetarian, divorced, my music tastes include Depeche Mode and Orbital, and I dislike wasting time on repetitive tasks that I could automate instead.
How did you come up with the name for the site?
It occurred to me one day in September of 2006 that I type “how to (whatever)” into Google an awful lot, and the name just came to me. I was so surprised that it was available that I just registered it on the spot with no intentions of doing anything with it at that moment.
What about the logo. Did you draw that yourself?
I’ve always enjoyed drawing, and the logo was derived from a picture I had drawn about 15 years ago. I’ve been working on the concepts for a comic strip featuring the geek character, and hopefully I’ll be able to pull that off… drawing a comic strip is much more difficult than you might think.
The How-To Geek site covers lots of products, ranging from Apple to Linux and ending with Windows Vista. How do you manage to cover so many products and topics?
The tricky thing is not to cover so many topics, but to keep the site focused mostly on Vista, Linux, Office, and Firefox. The temptation is to write articles about anything and everything that I come across.
I keep track of potential article ideas using an outliner application called ActionOutline. It’s really nothing more than notepad with a tree view, so it suits my purpose perfectly. I have a very organized set of folders with every idea for an article stored in there by category. At present, there’s about 800 ideas in the list.
When did you launch the site?
I think it was September of 2006, but there was really no content at all until Nov/Dec of 2006. It was in December that I decided to start focusing on Vista articles, since I had a copy of the RTM release and it hadn’t been released yet.
What were your biggest challenges?
It’s extremely difficult to post content on a daily basis, instead of writing and posting ten articles once a week. This is still my biggest challenge, of trying to be consistent.
The other challenge is responding to the great volumes of email that I receive. Literally 20-30 emails from readers come in every day, and I try to answer at least most of them. Hopefully the upcoming forums will solve this problem for me.
Do you think it was worth your efforts?
Absolutely. The site has grown to the point where anything I write is instantly read by thousands of people, which is enjoyable all by itself. We are also often featured on Lifehacker, which is much more rewarding to me than being featured on Digg.
Having a full time job in a big corporation usually means that you don’t have too much spare time. How do you manage to update your site so often? Do you work alone or do you have a team of editors that contribute with content?
I quite literally spend all my waking hours working. Between work, HowToGeek, and my other upcoming project I end up with no time for anything. I actually feel that I could get more work done if I’d be more organized. The goal is to ramp up to averaging 5 articles every single day.
As the main editor of the site, I touch every single article before it’s published to make sure that we keep a consistent tone. Out of 520 articles so far, I’ve written about 85% of them myself and the others were submitted by two other people.
I’d like to make a special mention of Mysticgeek, who has been helping for the last 3 months and has written 71 articles so far, mostly about Microsoft Office. He’s been a huge help in generating content, and I can’t thank him enough. He’s now also got a personal blog hosted at blogs.howtogeek.com/mysticgeek which is worth checking out.
Let’s talk a bit about Windows Vista. Do you like this Operating System?
I do like Vista, but perhaps not for the same reasons that most people do… I’m not entirely fond of all the new features, but I like that the inner core of Vista is much more scalable on a dual-core machine than XP could ever be, and the UI is much more responsive than either XP or Ubuntu.
What is your favorite feature?
The Vista Sleep mode is much improved over XP, which is very important to me as I’m using it on my laptop.
Do you think it can pass the “grandma test”?
I’m not really sure that it can pass that test… but then I’m not sure that any computer can pass that test by itself. I think that family members should take the time to help the computer illiterate.
Would you recommend it to your readers?
I’d only really recommend Vista to power users at this point, or people that barely use their computer for anything other than web browsing. There are too many problems with software compatibility for everybody to upgrade.
On your site you have lots of tutorials about Ubuntu Linux. Which OS you prefer: Windows Vista or Ubuntu?
Why choose between them when you can have both? Both have their strong points, so I run them side-by-side and use synergy to share the mouse and keyboard between them. It’s like having one gigantic computer that runs both operating systems.
I use Vista for the daily stuff, email, instant messaging, web, writing articles, and all my development stuff for work. I’ve got a VMware virtual machine running Ubuntu server that goes with me everywhere my laptop goes.
I use Kubuntu for anything media related, as a file server, a music server, and I have a number of virtual machines running on it as well.
Do you have any interesting plans for the future?
Of course. The most important next step is to put up some forums so that readers can interact with each other. I’d also like to get my comic strip going…
Thank you for sharing your story with us. We wish you and your team the best of luck.