TED2006

Mena Trott: Meet the founder of the blog revolution

Filmed:

The founding mother of the blog revolution, Movable Type's Mena Trott, talks about the early days of blogging, when she realized that giving regular people the power to share our lives online is the key to building a friendlier, more connected world.

- Blogger; cofounder, Six Apart
Mena Trott and her husband Ben founded Six Apart in a spare bedroom after the blogging software they developed grew beyond a hobby. With products Movable Type, TypePad, LiveJournal and Vox, the company has helped lead the "social media" revolution. Full bio

Over the past couple of days
00:25
as I've been preparing for my speech,
00:27
I've become more and more nervous
00:29
about what I'm going to say and about being on the same stage
00:31
as all these fascinating people.
00:34
Being on the same stage as Al Gore, who was the first person I ever voted for.
00:36
And --
00:40
(Laughter)
00:42
So I was getting pretty nervous and, you know,
00:45
I didn't know that Chris sits on the stage,
00:47
and that's more nerve wracking.
00:49
But then I started thinking about my family.
00:51
I started thinking about my father and my grandfather
00:53
and my great-grandfather,
00:56
and I realized
00:58
that I had all of these Teds
01:00
going through my blood stream --
01:02
(Laughter)
01:04
-- that I had to
01:05
consider this "my element."
01:07
So, who am I?
01:09
Chris kind of mentioned I started a company with my husband.
01:11
We have about 125 people internationally.
01:15
If you looked in the book,
01:17
you saw this,
01:19
which I really was appalled by.
01:22
(Laughter)
01:25
And because I wanted to impress you all with slides,
01:28
since I saw the great presentations yesterday with graphs,
01:31
I made a graph that moves,
01:33
and I talk about the makeup of me.
01:36
(Laughter)
01:39
So, besides this freakish thing,
01:42
this is my science slide. This is math,
01:44
and this is science; this is genetics.
01:46
This is my grandmother, and this is where I get this mouth.
01:48
(Laughter)
01:51
I'm a
01:53
blogger, which, probably to a lot of you,
01:55
means different things.
01:57
You may have heard about the Kryptonite lock
01:59
brouhaha, where a blogger talked about how you hack,
02:02
or break into, a Kryptonite lock using a ballpoint pen,
02:05
and it spread all over. Kryptonite had to adjust the lock,
02:08
and they had to address it to
02:11
avoid too many customer concerns.
02:13
You may have heard about Rathergate,
02:15
which was basically the result of
02:17
bloggers realizing that the "th"
02:19
in 111
02:22
is not typesetted on an old typewriter; it's on Word.
02:24
Bloggers exposed this,
02:28
or they worked hard to expose this.
02:30
You know, blogs are scary. This is what you see.
02:33
I see this, and I'm sure scared --
02:35
and I swear on stage -- shitless about blogs,
02:38
because this is not something that's friendly.
02:41
But there are blogs that are
02:44
changing the way we read news and consume media, and, you know,
02:46
these are great examples. These people are reaching thousands,
02:49
if not millions, of readers,
02:52
and that's incredibly important.
02:54
During the hurricane,
02:56
you had MSNBC posting about the hurricane on their blog,
02:58
updating it frequently. This was possible
03:01
because of the easy nature of blogging tools.
03:03
You have my friend,
03:06
who has a blog on digital --
03:08
on PDRs, personal recorders.
03:10
He makes enough money, just by running ads,
03:12
to support his family up in Oregon.
03:14
That's all he does now, and this is something that
03:16
blogs have made possible.
03:18
And then you have something like this, which is Interplast.
03:20
It's a wonderful organization of
03:22
people and doctors who go to developing nations
03:25
to offer plastic surgery to those who need it.
03:28
Children with cleft palates will get it,
03:31
and they document their story. This is wonderful.
03:33
I am not that caring.
03:36
(Laughter)
03:39
I talk about myself. That's what I am. I'm a blogger.
03:42
I have always decided that I was going to be an expert on one thing,
03:45
and I am an expert on this person,
03:48
and so I write about it.
03:50
And --
03:52
the short story about my blog: it started in 2001. I was 23.
03:53
I wasn't happy with my job,
03:56
because I was a designer,
03:58
but I wasn't being really stimulated.
04:00
I was an English major in college. I didn't have any use for it,
04:02
but I missed writing. So, I started to write a blog
04:04
and I started to create things like these little stories.
04:08
This was an illustration about my camp experience when I was 11 years old,
04:11
and how I went to a YMCA camp -- Christian camp --
04:15
and basically by the end, I had
04:18
made my friends hate me so much
04:20
that I hid in a bunk. They couldn't find me.
04:23
They sent a search party, and I overheard people saying
04:25
they wish I had killed myself,
04:27
jumped off Bible Peak.
04:29
You can laugh, this is OK.
04:31
This is me.
04:35
This is what happened to me.
04:37
And when I started my blog it was really this one goal --
04:39
I said,
04:42
I am not going to be famous
04:44
to the world,
04:46
but I could be famous to people on the Internet.
04:48
And I set a goal. I said, "I'm going to win an award,"
04:50
because I had never won an award in my entire life.
04:53
And I said, "I'm going to win this award --
04:56
the South by Southwest Weblog award."
04:58
And I won it. I reached all of these people,
05:00
and I had tens of thousands of people reading about my life everyday.
05:03
And then I wrote a post about a banjo.
05:06
I wrote a post
05:09
about wanting to buy a banjo --
05:11
a $300 banjo, which is a lot of money,
05:13
and I don't play instruments;
05:16
I don't know anything about music.
05:18
I like music, and I like banjos,
05:20
and I think I probably heard Steve Martin playing,
05:23
and I said, "I could do that."
05:25
And I said to my husband, I said, "Ben, can I buy a banjo?" And he's like, "No."
05:27
And my husband --
05:30
this is my husband, who is very hot --
05:33
he won an award for being hot --
05:35
(Laughter)
05:37
-- he told me,
05:39
"You cannot buy a banjo.
05:41
You're just like your dad," who "collects" instruments.
05:43
And I wrote a post
05:46
about how I was so mad at him;
05:48
he was such a tyrant because he would not let me buy this banjo.
05:50
And those people who know me understood my joke.
05:53
This is Mena, this is how I make a joke at people.
05:55
Because the joke in this is that this person is not a tyrant:
05:58
this person is so loving and so sweet
06:01
that he lets me dress him up
06:03
and post pictures of him to my blog.
06:05
(Laughter)
06:08
And if he knew I was showing this right now --
06:12
I put this in today -- he would kill me.
06:14
But the thing was, I wrote this, and my friends read it,
06:17
and they're like, "Oh, that Mena, she wrote a post about,
06:19
you know, wanting a stupid thing and being stupid."
06:22
But I got emails from people that said,
06:24
"Oh my God, your husband is such an asshole.
06:27
How much money does he spend on beer in a year?
06:30
You could take that money and buy your banjo.
06:33
Why don't you open a separate account?"
06:36
I've been with him since I was 17 years old. We've never had a separate bank account.
06:37
They said, "Separate your bank account --
06:40
spend your money; spend his money. That's it."
06:42
And then I got people saying, "Leave him."
06:44
And --
06:46
I was like, "OK, what, who are these people?
06:48
And why are they reading this?"
06:51
And I realized: I don't want to reach these people.
06:53
I don't want to write for this public audience.
06:55
And I started to kill my blog slowly.
06:58
I'm like, I don't want to write this anymore,
07:00
and I slowly and slowly --
07:02
And I did tell personal stories from time to then.
07:04
I wrote this one, and I put this up because of Einstein today.
07:07
And I'm going to get choked up, because this is my first pet,
07:10
and she passed away two years ago.
07:12
And I decided to break from, "I don't really write about my public life,"
07:14
because I wanted to give her a little memorial.
07:17
But anyways.
07:19
It's these sort of personal stories. You know, you read the blogs about politics,
07:21
or about media, and gossip and all these things.
07:23
These are out there, but it's more of the personal
07:26
that interests me, and this is --
07:29
this is who I am.
07:31
You see Norman Rockwell. And you have art critics say,
07:33
"Norman Rockwell is not art.
07:35
Norman Rockwell hangs in
07:37
living rooms and bathrooms, and this is not
07:39
something to be considered high art."
07:41
And I think this is one of the most important things
07:44
to us as humans.
07:47
These things resonate with us,
07:49
and, if you think about blogs, you think of high art blogs,
07:52
the history paintings about, you know, all biblical stories,
07:54
and then you have this.
07:58
These are the blogs that interest me: the people who just tell stories.
08:00
One story is
08:03
about this baby, and his name is Odin.
08:05
His father was a blogger.
08:07
And he was writing his blog one day,
08:10
and his wife gave birth to her baby
08:12
at 25 weeks.
08:15
And he never expected this.
08:17
One day it was normal; the next day it was hell.
08:19
And this is a one-pound baby.
08:22
So Odin was documented every single day.
08:24
Pictures were taken every day: day one, day two ...
08:27
You have day nine -- they're talking about his apnea;
08:29
day 39 -- he gets pneumonia.
08:32
His baby is so small,
08:34
and I've never encountered such a
08:36
just --
08:39
a disturbing image, but just -- just so heartfelt.
08:40
You're reading this as this happens,
08:43
so on day 55, everybody reads that
08:46
he's having failures: breathing failures and heart failures,
08:49
and it's slowing down, and you don't know what to expect.
08:52
But then it gets better. Day 96 he goes home.
08:56
And you see this post.
08:59
That's not something that you're going to see in a paper or a magazine
09:01
but this is something that this person feels,
09:04
and people are excited about it.
09:06
Twenty-eight comments. That's not a huge amount of people reading,
09:08
but 28 people matter.
09:10
And today he is a healthy baby,
09:13
who, if you read his blog --
09:15
it's Snowdeal.org, his father's blog --
09:18
he is taking pictures of him still, because he is still his son
09:21
and he is, I think, at his age level right now
09:24
because he had received such great treatment from the hospital.
09:27
So, blogs.
09:31
So what? You've probably heard these things before.
09:33
We talked about the WELL,
09:35
and we talked about all these sort of things
09:37
throughout our online history.
09:39
But I think blogs are basically just an evolution,
09:41
and that's where we are today.
09:44
It's this record of who you are, your persona.
09:46
You have your Google search where you say, "Hey, what is Mena Trott?"
09:49
And then you find these things and you're happy or unhappy.
09:52
But then you also find people's blogs,
09:56
and those are the records of people who are writing daily --
09:58
not necessarily about the same topic, but things that interest them.
10:01
And we talk about the world flattens as being this panel,
10:05
and I am very optimistic.
10:08
Whenever I think about blogs I'm like, "Oh, we've got to reach all these people."
10:11
Millions and hundreds of millions and billions of people.
10:13
You know, we're getting into China, we want to be there,
10:16
but you know, there are so many people who won't
10:18
have the access to write a blog.
10:20
But to see something like the $100 computer is amazing, because it's a --
10:22
blogging software is simple.
10:25
We have a successful company because of timing,
10:27
and because of perseverance, but it's simple stuff --
10:29
it's not rocket science.
10:31
And so, that's an amazing thing to consider.
10:33
So,
10:37
the life record of a blog is something
10:39
that I find incredibly important.
10:42
We started with a slide of my Teds,
10:44
and I had to add this slide, because I knew that
10:46
the minute I showed this, my mom -- my mom will see this deck somehow,
10:49
because she does read my blog --
10:51
and she'll say, "Why wasn't there a picture of me?"
10:53
This is my mom. So, I have all of the people that I know of.
10:55
But this is basically the extent
10:59
of the family that I know in terms of
11:02
my direct line.
11:04
I showed a Norman Rockwell painting before,
11:06
and this one I grew up with,
11:08
looking at constantly.
11:10
I would spend hours looking at just the connections,
11:12
saying, "Oh, the little kid up at the top has red hair;
11:14
so does that first generation up there."
11:17
And just these little things.
11:19
This is not science, but this was enough for me
11:22
to be really so interested in how we have evolved
11:24
and how we can trace our line.
11:28
So, that has always influenced me.
11:31
I have this record,
11:33
this 1910 census
11:35
of another Grabowski -- that's my maiden name --
11:37
and there's a Theodore, because there's always a Theodore.
11:39
This is all I have. I have a couple of
11:42
facts about somebody.
11:44
I have their date of birth, and their age,
11:46
and what they did in their household, if they spoke English,
11:49
and that's it. That's all I know of these people.
11:51
And it's pretty sad,
11:53
because I only go back five generations,
11:55
and then it's it. I don't even know what happens on my mom's side,
11:58
because she's from Cuba and I don't have that many things.
12:01
And just doing this I spent time in the archives --
12:05
that's another thing why my husband's a saint --
12:07
I spent time in the Washington archives, just sitting there,
12:09
looking for these things. Now it's online,
12:11
but he sat through that.
12:13
And so you have this record and,
12:15
you know, this is my great-great-grandmother.
12:18
This is the only picture I have. And to think
12:20
of what we have the ability to do with our blogs;
12:22
to think about the people
12:25
who are on those $100 computers
12:27
talking about who they are, sharing these personal stories --
12:29
this is an amazing thing.
12:32
Another photo that has greatly influenced me,
12:35
or a series of photos, is this project
12:38
that's done by an Argentinean man and his wife.
12:40
And he's basically taking a picture of his family everyday
12:43
for the past, what is '76 --
12:46
20, oh my God, I'm '77 --
12:49
29 years? Twenty-nine years.
12:51
There was a joke, originally, about my graph that I left out, which is:
12:55
you see all this math? I'm just happy I was able to add it up to 100,
12:57
because that's my skill set.
13:00
So you have these people aging,
13:06
and now this is them today, or last year,
13:09
and that's a powerful thing to have, to be able to track this.
13:12
I wish that I would have this of my family.
13:15
I know that
13:18
one day my children will be wondering --
13:20
or my grandchildren, or my great-grandchildren,
13:22
if I ever have children --
13:24
what I am going to --
13:26
who I was, so I do something that's very narcissistic:
13:29
I am a blogger --
13:32
that is an amazing thing for me,
13:34
because it captures a moment in time everyday.
13:36
I take a picture of myself -- I've been doing this since last year --
13:39
every single day.
13:42
And, you know, it's the same picture;
13:44
it's basically the same person.
13:46
Only a couple of people read it. I don't write this for this audience;
13:48
I'm showing it now, but I would go
13:51
insane if this was really public.
13:53
About four people probably read it,
13:55
and they tell me, you know, "You haven't updated" --
13:57
I'm probably going to get people telling me I haven't updated --
13:59
but this is something that's amazing, because I can go back to a day --
14:02
I can go back to April 2005,
14:04
and say, what was I doing this day? I look at it, I know exactly.
14:06
It's this visual cue that is so important to what we do.
14:09
I put the bad pictures up too,
14:12
because there are bad pictures.
14:14
(Laughter)
14:17
And I remember instantly: I am in Germany in this --
14:18
I had to go for a one-day trip.
14:21
I was sick, and I was in a hotel room,
14:23
and I wanted not to be there. And so you see these things.
14:26
It's not just always smiling. Now I've kind of evolved it, so I have this look.
14:29
If you look at my driver's license
14:32
I have the same look,
14:33
and it's -- it's -- a pretty disturbing thing
14:35
but it's something that is really important.
14:39
And the last story
14:42
I really want to tell is this story,
14:45
because this is probably the one that
14:47
means the most to me in all of what I'm doing.
14:49
And I'll probably get choked up, because I tend to when I talk about this.
14:52
So, this woman,
14:54
her name was Emma, and she was a blogger
14:56
on our service, TypePad. And she was a beta tester,
14:59
so she was there right when we opened --
15:01
you know, there were 100 people --
15:03
and she wrote about her life dealing with cancer.
15:05
She was writing and writing and writing,
15:08
and we all started reading it, because we had so few blogs on the service,
15:10
we could keep track of everyone.
15:13
And she was writing one day, and, you know,
15:15
then she disappeared for a little bit.
15:17
And her sister came on, and she said that
15:19
Emma had passed away. And all of our support staff
15:22
who had talked to her were really emotional,
15:25
and it was a very hard day at the company.
15:28
And
15:31
this was one of those instances where I realized
15:33
how much blogging affects our relationship,
15:35
and flattening this sort of world.
15:37
That this woman is in England,
15:39
and she lives --
15:41
she lived a life where she was talking about
15:43
what she was doing.
15:46
But the big thing that really influenced us was,
15:48
her sister wrote to me, and she said, you know,
15:51
and she wrote on this blog, that --
15:53
writing her blog during the last couple of months of her life
15:55
was probably the best thing that had happened to her,
15:58
and being able to talk to people, being able to share what was going on,
16:00
and being able to write and receive comments.
16:03
And that was amazing -- to be able to know
16:06
that we had empowered that, and that blogging
16:08
was something that she felt comfortable doing, and that
16:11
the idea that blogging doesn't have to be scary,
16:14
that we don't always have to be attack of the blogs,
16:16
that we can be people who are open,
16:18
and wanting to help and talk to people.
16:20
That was an amazing thing.
16:22
And -- and so I printed out her --
16:24
or I sent a PDF of her blog to her family,
16:26
and they passed it out at her memorial service,
16:29
and even in her obituary,
16:31
they mentioned her blog because it was such a big part of her life.
16:33
And that's a huge thing.
16:35
So, this is her legacy,
16:37
and I think that
16:39
my call to action to all of you is:
16:41
you know, think about blogs, think about what they are,
16:43
think about what you've thought of them, and then
16:46
actually do it, because it's something
16:48
that is really going to change our lives.
16:50
So, thank you.
16:52
(Applause)
16:53

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About the Speaker:

Mena Trott - Blogger; cofounder, Six Apart
Mena Trott and her husband Ben founded Six Apart in a spare bedroom after the blogging software they developed grew beyond a hobby. With products Movable Type, TypePad, LiveJournal and Vox, the company has helped lead the "social media" revolution.

Why you should listen

Time's 2006 Person of the Year is "You," which is to say, everybody: "The many wresting power from the few and helping one another for nothing." The tools of this revolution have come in no small part from Six Apart, a 2002 startup that helped enable the blogging boom with its products. And co-founder Mena Trott, who rose to Internet fame with her own blog, DollarShort, has become a strong voice explaining the role of personal blogging in today's culture.

Trott and her husband Ben developed Movable Type for their own use in 2001, but it became immensely popular and they dove in full-time. By the time they were preparing their blog-hosting service TypePad, investors were knocking on the door. In 2004, the company grew from seven employees to 50, with Mena Trott serving as chief executive, as well as an interface designer. Today, having acquired LiveJournal and introduced rich-media sharing platform Vox, Six Apart's software gives online voice to millions of people and organizations worldwide.

More profile about the speaker
Mena Trott | Speaker | TED.com