The Origins of MethodShop
How a high school Zine grew into one of the oldest independent blogs on the Internet
Created: 01/15/2011 | Updated: 05/16/2011 | By: Marc Wasserman, BlogAds.com | Comments

Where were you 15 years ago? Waiting in line to buy a Palm Pilot or a Tickle Me Elmo? At an Alice In Chains or Toni Braxton concert? Maybe on a task force trying to locate and capture Theodore Kaczynski, the Unabomber? Not Jon Accarrino. He was busy publishing underground magazines and building the beginnings of one of the oldest, independent websites on the Internet, MethodShop.com.

A decade and a half later, and 2M pageviews a month, MethodShop is going strong. BlogAds.com is one of MethodShop's advertisers and to help celebrate their 15th Anniversary, we decided to turn the tables on them. Usually Mr. Accarrino and his cohorts are the ones interviewing other people. Not this time guys. Here's our interview with Jon Accarrino, founder and blogger extraordinaire at MethodShop.com.

 
 

Rubber Ducky Magazine - Isuue 1715 years? That's a big anniversary for a blog. When did you start MethodShop.com, and what was the inspiration that got you started?

Yeah, it's pretty crazy. On March 22, 2011 MethodShop turned 15 years old. But the inspiration and origins of MethodShop actually go back 5 more years to 1991 and an alternative print publication I started in high school called Rubber Ducky Magazine.

When I was a freshman at Montclair Kimberley Academy, my English teacher brought in an underground magazine of short stories, called a Zine, and made it part of our assigned reading in class. I was immediately fascinated by Zines and decided to make my own called Rubber Ducky Magazine. The content included things like satirical David Hasselhoff Valentine's Day poems about his chest hair, a South Central Los Angeles version of Where's Waldo? called Where's El Gwato? and a comic strip about a gassy baby called Fart Boy. Rubber Ducky was a cross between a twisted children's activity book and MAD Magazine. Sure it was ridiculous, but my classmates loved it.

The first issue consisted of 15 black and white photocopied pages stapled together and sold for $1.00. I probably made about $30 on the first issue selling them to my high school friends (and a few teachers). But I submitted issue #2 to Factsheet 5, a Zine that listed other Zines that you could subscribe to via mail. That's when I got my big break. R. Seth Friedman, the Editor of Factsheet 5, gave me a great review that, in hindsight, changed the course of my life. Before I knew it, I had my own PO Box and Rubber Ducky Magazine was a quarterly publication with around 500 subscribers (including a few C-list celebrities and a Fortune 100 executives).

Original content, a unique voice and the ability to make a profit.... Zines were in many ways the grandfather to the blog. And thanks to my financially successful experiment with independent publishing, I had a nice little nest egg to head off to college with.

NERD NOTE: R. Seth Friedman was the Editor of Factsheet 5 between 1992-1998 and introduced Rubber Ducky Magazine to the world.

 

Seth Friedman
Seth tabling at a zine convention in Seattle (circa 1992)

During my college years, the modern Internet that we all know today started taking form. By then, the year was 1994 and Mosaic, the first web browser was already a year old. One of my computer science professors at Ithaca College told me about a new program that allowed students to sign up for their own homepage on the school's server. I immediately applied. But instead of using my Ithaca College homepage for school work, I started making digital versions of Rubber Ducky Magazine. I immediately fell in love with Internet publishing. No more big trips to the post office with boxes of Zins to mail, or paying hundreds of dollars for photocopies and stamps. Plus I could publish content instantly online... and in color.

Rubber Ducky Magazine Online
A screengrab of Rubber Ducky Magazine (Spring 1996)

s. michael wilsonOver the years, I mailed somewhere around 6,000 issues of Rubber Ducky Magazine. But after a long debate and a lot of consideration, I decided to evolve my Zine. I migrated all my subscribers over to an online version of Rubber Ducky and spun off my remaining mail subscribers to my favorite humor Zine, S. Michael Wilson's Mongoloid Moose. S. Michael WIlson (pictured right) has gone on to be an amazing professional horror genre writer and we still keep in touch with each other via Twitter. He's @smichaelwilson if you want to tweet him about his vampire and crime novels.

When I graduated Ithaca College in 1998, I realized that it was time to evolve Rubber Ducky Magazine again. My student homepage, with all my Rubber Ducky Magazine content, was going to be deleted by the end of the summer to make room for new students. I needed a new web host, but I also needed a new name. The biggest hurdle I had with the digital version of Rubber Ducky was search. There were too many results for "rubber ducky.” So I needed to pick a unique name that no one else would use. I eventually came up with the name "MethodShop.” Instead of just being a humor site, I wanted to start featuring more technology tutorials and product reviews. I would still keep the humor elements, but just add it to normally boring types of content, like tutorials.

 

How many of your original Rubber Ducky Magazine subscribers are still with MethodShop?

That's a good question. Probably around 40. Most of them are high school friends but there are a few familiar names I still recognize from printing out address labels in the early 1990s. Actually, one of my original Rubber Ducky Magazine subscribers emailed me a couple years ago. Apparently, UCLA has a few issues of Rubber Ducky archived in their Performing Arts Special Collections Library. How cool is that? A photocopied "magazine” I made in high school is archived at one of the world's most prestigious universities. Going to UCLA and checking out an issue of Rubber Ducky is definitely on my bucket list.

UCLA Zine Collection
A 1994 issues of Rubber Ducky Magazine listed in the Online Archive of California

 

What exactly does the name "MethodShop” mean?

Back in the late 1990s, I had this whole theory around Internet shopping. I hated early Internet shopping sites like CDnow.com. They were lame. There were no user comments or independent reviews. All you got to see before buying something was a paragraph of boring marketing copy and a generic product photo. I really liked what Amazon.com was doing with user reviews and I wanted independent reviews to be the "method” to your "shopping” on my site. Thus the name "methodshop,” It's a loose connection at best. But I get offers from people all the time to either buy the site or just the name.

 

MethodShop is quite diverse; you feature videos, reviews, gadgets, interviews and more.  How do you decide what to write about? 

The diversity of MethodShop's content owes it's origins to Rubber Ducky Magazine. When I migrated my Zine from print to online, I broke down my existing print content into categories and just made folders for everything on the server. Then I added some new categories like "gadgets” and "tutorials.” I like the variety. We all contribute story ideas, but honestly almost any article can conceivably find a home on MethodShop.

 

To what do you attribute MethodShop's popularity?  Did you have a large following in the early years or did you see a big increase in traffic after social media sites started popping up?

MethodShop was basically in the right place at the right time. We were one of the first independent "gadget” sites on the Internet and focused a lot of our early articles on the Palm Pilot and iPod. I started documenting complex hacks in tutorial format and added some elements of humor to make the articles more entertaining. My college roommate, Josh Keller, was working at a digital marketing agency and called me one day in early 1999 all excited. He told me MethodShop had more traffic than most of their clients. I had no idea. I wasn't even using analytics software or monitoring my traffic. At the time, I was working full-time at NBC and just writing MethodShop articles in the mornings while I ate breakfast. But once I started tracking my traffic, I realized how popular my site was. MethodShop was getting more traffic than most of the websites I was building for NBC - and they had lots of content, dedicated personnel and major infrastructure resources. So MethodShop has always had a very strong following, but we did see a huge increase in traffic immediately after adding Facebook's Like button to our site template. Overnight we saw a 20% jump in our overall traffic thanks to Facebook. And now over 30% of our traffic comes directly from Facebook. People love sharing our articles, especially the tutorials.

jon
Jon Accarrino, founder of MethodShop.com

 

Do you have a staff of writers or contributors?

Yes. Over the years a small team of amazing writers have lended their voices to MethodShop. It helps to invite people already familiar with your content, so I usually invite writers who are already members of our Twitter or Facebook communities. I like to use the MethodShop social media community as a resource. They are always ready to help out with the site.

 

Which online tools (Facebook groups, Foursquare, Clickset, Sitemeter, Bit.ly, etc.) have you tried and gotten excited about?

feedblitzWe use a variety of online tools on MethodShop including Google Analytics, Earn MOJO, WordPress, Quantcast, Compete, Blip.tv and Bit.ly. But the two tools we're most excited about are Hootsuite and Phil Hollow's FeedBlitz. We use Hootsuite to manage and schedule all our social media communications and FeedBlitz to automatically grab content from our RSS feed and distribute it in our weekly email newsletter. They are both huge time savers and make communicating with our community much easier.

 

MethodShop has some big-name followers on Twitter [link to user graph].  What does Tweeting add to your blogging experience?  How do you decide who to follow back?

We are very fortunate to have so many celebrities and notable Twitter users follow @methodshop. You have to remember, famous people love gadgets and technology too. Just because someone is famous, or a CEO, doesn't mean their iPod never freezes or they don't want to rip a DVD so they can watch it on their iPhone. We try to make all content on MethodShop, especially our tutorials, fun and easy to use even for novice users.

As far as deciding who to follow back, we'll follow anyone who actively engages with us. It's good Twitter etiquette to follow people back when they engage or follow your brand. Also, having an imbalance between ‘following' and ‘follower' figures can result in poor Twitter reputation and grading on third party Twitter sites like Twittergrader.com. Following is just nice. Do it!

 

What is the most interesting thing you have learned since you started blogging?

That you can actually make money working from home in your pajamas.

 

How much time do you spend corresponding one-on-one with your readers?

A lot. We respond to all Facebook posts and Tweets. So probably around 10-20 hours a week. But I prefer social media communications over email. It's a better investment of my time. There's more community and SEO value in responding to a reader's question publicly using social media. Changes are, someone else has that same exact question, and when you respond publicly, your answer becomes both searchable and sharable, and will help lead people back to your site.

 

maddowWhat is something your readers do not know about you?

I was a liberal lesbian with a #1 cable TV talk show for 4 months... at least on Twitter. Between 2005-2010, I built NBC News' social media presence from the ground up, designed all the background artwork and created most of their accounts including @maddow, @anncurry and @todayshow. I also trained a lot of the staff and talent on how to use social media.

As far as the whole tweeting lesbian thing, back in 2008, Rachel Maddow and her staff were busy launching her new show on MSNBC. So with the guidance of her producers Bill Wolff and Matt Saal, I tweeted on the behalf of Rachel for about 4 months until she was ready to take over her already popular and successful Twitter account. She has almost 2M followers now, but I like to think that the first 50k are mine. smile

 

Has MethodShop undergone any major site design changes since you began?

No. Oddly enough, we really haven't changed a thing besides moving from Blogger to WordPress. Everything from the logo to the color scheme is exactly the same. My designer friends at Definition 6 ask me all the time why I picked "ugly mustard yellow” for the header bar color on MethodShop. The original color scheme for CNET.com back in 1996 used yellow and CNET was one of my favorite sites at the time. I picked yellow as a tribute to them. They now use black and red, but MethodShop stayed yellow.

CNET 1996
A CNET.com screengrab from 1996

 

What advice and/or recommendations do you have for other up-and-coming bloggers?

It might be easier to tweet, but tweeting is just a short term solution to bring traffic to your site. But a search engine friendly blog post is forever. Stand out from the crowd by concentrating on the quality of your content. Remember, hundreds or even thousands of people will probably write the exact same article you are writing. Make yours the best and you'll be rewarded with backlinks, search traffic and readers sharing your site using social media tools. And post a lot. Don't expect one blog post to bring you readers by the thousands. Blogging takes time, patience and dedication for it to pay off.

 
 
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