15 Questions for Owen Thomas
We check in with the creator of Ditherati.
One of Ditherati's themelines is "So many quotes, so little time." How hard do you have to look to find pompous idiocy on the web?
It's everywhere, Jeffrey, simply everywhere.
Do the people you quote take notice? Have you gotten nasty letters, legal threats, or fan mail from your subjects?
The day after I ran a quote by Charles Conn, CEO of CitySearch, explaining the last-minute shelving of their IPO, I got a chatty email from a PR person asking if I wouldn't like to interview Mr. Conn "to get the real story first-hand." It was so amazingly clueless Ditherati is all about hearing the story second-hand, out of context, and snickering about it.
Do you hope that by exposing these people, you'll help raise the bar on web discourse? Are you on a mission, or just having a good time?
I'm on a mission from God. No, it's all for fun, really. I do it for my loyal readers - 1,200 strong and growing.
Are you yourself often quoted?
Very rarely. Rebecca Eisenberg likes to quote me in her wonderful Net Skink column for the San Francisco Examiner, even though I'm a troublesome interview subject. Oh, and Tony Perkins, the editor-in-chief of the Red Herring, once quoted me in his Angler column, to my amusement and discomfit.
Does your work at Red Herring help feed the work at Ditherati? Do your employers mind all the extracurricular activity?
Actually, my work at Ditherati has helped feed the Red Herring magazine. They asked me to supply a sampling of quotes - sans pithy insults - for our special Digital Universe issue.
How did you fall into the web, anyway? What made you want to be part of it?
I was going to sign up to be a graphics art intern at Mother Jones,
but by that time the fall of 1994 I had discovered the Web,
and suggested in my cover letter that it would be interesting to
work on their Web site. The original URL was www.mojones.com
I understand that "mojones" means something obscenely scatological
in Spanish, so they later changed it to www.motherjones.com.
Many people write on the web, but not many get paid for it. You seem to have bucked that rule.
You're on crack, Jeffrey and I mean that in the most loving way. I think you missed my internship at Mother Jones, where I was attempting to live in San Francisco on a "stipend" of $500 a month.
Was copy editing at Suck your first web gig? How did you get there, what happened, and why did you leave?
No, I spent a year at Publish magazine as their Webmaster. I went through two bosses there, and they never really did figure out what they wanted to do with the Web site. I started reading Suck obsessively every day, like every disgruntled Web worker out there.
Every day, I sent them an email enumerating
their errors of orthography, fact, and style. I did this for
four months. I remember apologizing to them when I took a week's vacation.
Does the web still move you? If you were offered a good salary at a print pub, would you take it?
Look, it's just writing, okay? The Web has raised the bar for all
publications. That's why the Industry Standard is a weekly - it
knows that for its chosen audience of Internet junkies, monthly
doesn't cut it. (How large that audience will be is another
You seem to know everything. What was your training?
I studied East Asian languages and civilizations at the University of Chicago. I took Calculus in 8th grade. I read voraciously. That's about it. There's no secret, I'm afraid.
You seem to know everyone. Are you good enough, and darn it, do people like you?
Or something. Feed that boy some cheese!
What haven't you done that you'd like to do?
Go to Japan and ride every subway line.
What do you believe in? Who do you love?
I believe the children are our future, which is why I'm trying to get
14-year-old girls everywhere to use the catchphrase "feed that boy
What do you want on your tombstone?
"Dammit, I asked you to cremate me!"