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10 Questions with Jason Goldman

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If you have a blog or read blogs regularily and enjoy it, you can thank Jason Goldman. When Pyra, the company that developed Blogger.com, was bought by Google a few years ago it was very small group. Nearly everyone was named Jason. And they were all helping spark a revolution. For the last three-and-a-half years Goldman has been wearing many hats as Blogger Product Manager and yesterday he stepped down at Google just as Blogger Beta had launched. But before he plucked the last Post-It from his cubicle he sat down and answered a few questions with one of his biggest fans: LAist.

1. when did you start working for Blogger/Pyra?

November 5, 2002. I got there in the morning to meet with my predecessor. The first thing he said was "You should probably know that we just started talking to Google about getting acquired."

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2. At what point did you start to realize the effect that Blogger.com was making on the Internet?

Blogger was well-established as a web phenomenon by the time I came on the scene. The first day I started work, the only thing I did was to answer emails in the Pyra inbox. This included everything from business proposals to feature requests to pleas for support.

It also included a lot of complaints about blogs that folks objected to for various reasons. It was in reviewing this category that I started to realize how widespread blogging had become. If there was enough content out there that someone's relatively unknown gay porn blog would get a random passer-by all hot-and-bothered enough to write in and complain, well, clearly Blogger must be doing something right. The disruptive power of the tool was so clearly demonstrated by the policy complaints we received. Pretty much right then I was in awe of Blogger and its users.

3. You've now worked at a start-up and one of the biggest and most powerful companies ever. Please give one good thing about start ups and one bad thing, and one good thing about a corporation and a bad thing.

I'd say immediacy is the biggest advantage of working at a start-up. All the folks you need are at arm's length and you can take bigger risks more quickly by virtue of being small. That feeling of "everyone who's here is here because of the same reason" is intoxicating and, as someone said back in the Pyra days, "we're all breathing each other's air." (I think it was actually meant as a "this is gross" thing, but I took it as a positive.)

The downside - at least from a product management standpoint - is that there are a lot of shiny things to distract you. When you're at a bigger company there's usually process or issues of scale that prevent you from zagging so dramatically. Of course, sometimes the zag proves to be the right path all along (Blogger itself was such a swerve).

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At a big company there are also a number of pragmatic issues that are solved through shared infrastructure. As the guy who ran Payroll and Accounting for Pyra, I was never happier than when I handed off those duties ... altho' I ended up working on Pyra's taxes for longer than I care to admit.

But that same infrastructure creates a large number of external dependencies for your project. So you end up relying on people who really aren't personally committed to your team's goals. This can be frustrating.


4. What's the most ridiculous thing you've ever eaten for free at the Google lunch room?

There was an all-you-can eat crab dinner back in 2003 that went a bit haywire. I dunno how much crab ended up getting consumed but I made the mistake of passing by the dumpsters later that evening and it was some sorta crustacean apocalypse.

5. You're leaving Google under good terms, but you're leaving them... how is it that Google was able to amass their great fortune while seemingly leapfrogging Yahoo almost over night. What did Google have that Yahoo didn't?

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I think Google won in search because of superior technology that would work at scale and a more compelling user experience. Google's philosophy of putting user needs above all is the not-so- secret of its success.

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6. Google has owned Blogger for a few years now, why is it that search.blogger.com, with all due respect, is inferior to Technorati? What has Technorati done that Google hasn't?

I don't think Technorati and Google's Blog Search are aiming for exactly the same market. Technorati has a great feature set and is rightly beloved by its users. I think Google's product is trying to solve the core problem and present an experience that's analogous to the one folks have with regular web search. And I hope that Google will find more ways to introduce Blog Search to more people over time.

7. Newspapers are developing blogs for their writers, their readers, and everyone in between; celebs blog; even homeless people blog - is there anyone who should be blogging who isn't?

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Everyone who's not blogging should be blogging. Creating and sharing are fundamental human drives and everyone has a perspective to share that at least one other person will find compelling.

In terms of specifics, five folks who should be blogging but aren't:

* David Goldman (my brother - he stopped but would start again if you told him to, Tony)
* Eric Schmidt (CEO, Google)
* JD Salinger (recluse)
* David Foster Wallace (writer)
* Adam 'Dose One' Drucker (musician)

8. Who was the coolest person you've met because of blogging?

The answer to this question should be Joss Whedon. Unfortunately, my years-long campaign to bring him to Google was completely unsuccessful. So, failing that ... Mikhail Gorbachev? That dude may have ended the Cold War but he can't write snappy dialogue for crap.

(Ok, I didn't actually meet Gorby - but he did come to work once.)

One night, I got to have dinner with Wikipedia-founder Jimmy Wales and un-suavely blurted out my complete obsession with the Wikipedia entries on the British monarchy (just to be clear, I'm not a royal watcher). He was sympathetic and not very weirded out at all, which I appreciated.

9. Name five great Blog*Spot blogs

postsecret.blogspot.com - very well known, but I would always include it when demoing Blogger. It shows how inventive the blogging form can be.

superelectric.blogspot.com - a good friend of mine from high school writes this blog; I love his writing.

taopoker.blogspot.com - I started playing poker earlier this year and was psyched to learn about the number of great poker blogs on Blog*Spot. This is one of my favorites.

mchammer.blogspot.com - one day I came back to my desk and MC Hammer was sitting in my chair working with Eric Case. This great blog is the result.

bestsentence.blogspot.com - each day Jane McGonigal would post the best sentence she wrote for her dissertation. She recently finished!
I like this blog as an example of blogs that exist for a specific purpose and have a conclusion.

10. What one thing will you do in the next few months that you haven't been able to do in the last years because you've been tied up making Blogger happen?

Eat lunch in San Francisco on a weekday. Despite having lived in the city for 6 years, I've only worked in town for the four months I was at Pyra before we got acquired. So I'm very much looking forward to feeling a little less like a weekend tourist in my own hometown.

Jason blogs at Goldtoe.net