blog history 101
Hello everyone, Six Zero here with the final 2010 installment of:
SIX QUESTIONS WITH BRIAN
Inspired by the official site’s “Two Minute Drill” series and TomVH’s famous Q&A segments with potential recruits, this weekly feature highlights some of the more famous personalities here at MGoBlog. Without pulling back the infamous veil of blog anonymity, we’ll get to know some of your favorite posters better and possibly shed some light on their definition of why it’s so darn Great, To Be, A Michigan Wolverine.
Brian Cook. Or, to give his full given name, Brian Fielding Fritz Harmon Wistert Forest Hercules Oosterbaan Bump Bob Bo Ron Dan Jamie Monte Anthony Ali-Haji Brown Jim Desmond Elvis Hutchinson Todd Tom Drew Leroy Tshimanga Tyrone Charles David A-Train Chris Marquise Marlin LaMarr Braylon Mike Leon Brandon Zoltan Denard Demetrius Cook. The third.
All official namesakes aside, it’s no accident that Brian has found a way to make his living following the team(s) we have sworn our allegiance to. Like many of us, the pride and love and occasional ennui we share for Michigan has been bred throughout Mr. Cook’s entire life. His love of the maize and blue is a God-given gift, and like the way others have been blessed with the talent to sing, draw, or run without secured footwear, Brian has been found his calling in life to use his gift to make the Internet, if not the world, a better place. Let’s catch up with him for this exclusive interview:
1. Once upon a time there was a guy named Brian who decided to start something called a blog. Can you recall exactly when, where you were and what you were doing when you decided to start this thing called MGoBlog?
I'm pretty sure I was laid up on my girlfriend's couch hoping my ribs weren't broken. But first the Wayne's World flashback fingers...
In college I'd co-founded and edited the Every Three Weekly and kept telling myself that I'd only be an engineer for five years and then I'd be awesome, or something, and after I'd become an engineer I kept looking for ways to make that happen. One attempt was supposed to be a magazine about the "Art of the Letter"; a friend and I wrote a bunch of letters to celebrities and hoped they'd respond. No one did. Our letters had no art. Here's one:
WHAT UP MY DOGG JON VOIGHT,
Dude, you probably don’t really want to hear this, but your daughter is really fucking hot. And of course you know I have nothing but honorable intentions towards her, even though she’s as hot as previously stated. Not that I’ve ever met her.
But I was just thinking, dude, if she’s that hot her mom must have been really fucking hot too. Yeah, dogg, you’re the man. The motherfuckin’ man. Literally.
Anyway, in between discussions of how hot your daughter is and attempting to pause Tomb Raider just right so that we can reflect on this fact, we decided we should start a magazine dedicated to the art of the letter and ask you to write us a letter about anything—although if you wanted to talk about how hot Angelina Jolie’s mom was we would totally understand, totally—as long as it’s, you know, pretty interesting. And stuff. Yeah. Really.
So write us, pimpmasta playa JON VOIGHT. True dat.
They were all basically like that: insult some celebrity, ask for a letter. We actually sent these out. We got a PO Box and everything. No one ever wrote us back. In retrospect, obviously. By then I'd heard of blogging and started one with the same guy and some other friends that was directionless and spectacularly unsuccessful. I was the only one who wrote, and not often.
Eventually I decided I needed to do something on my own. Many one-sided conversations about Michigan football with friends that ended with glazed eyes and the little charts (charts!) of Michigan's recruiting classes that I'd doodle in meetings--Justin King featured prominently--made me think that if I was going to write about something it should probably be the thing I already spent too much time following.
The actual creation process was greatly aided by a pratfall. I was leaving my girlfriend's house, it had snowed over a coat of ice, the driveway was angled, and I was carrying my work computer. When I slipped, I instinctively tried to not shatter a 3k laptop and ended up crushing my ribs. They weren't broken but it felt like they could have been and I spent the next few days on my couch, 'working from home' by learning CSS and revamping a blogger template so that it didn't look generic.
Ah yes, the American dream of ‘working from home.’ If I did that I’d probably never be home. Anyway, describe what MGoBlog was like for the first, say, month of its existence. And, when did you realize that this was working, and that you could actually do produce MGoBlog for a living?
In the first month it was a series of short posts linking to other content. It was also very ugly. The long posts and columns that would become the site's trademark were largely absent; posts were frequent and along the lines of "here's a link to this other thing with maybe a sentence added on." It was kind of like Get The Picture except way worse.
I started throwing together longer stuff after that year’s Signing Day by assembling whatever information I could about recruits and linking it up on Rivals, and eventually a small readership formed. After that happened I stopped promoting the blog at all and settled down into content generation. A pattern that's held throughout the blog's existence started up where offseason traffic is pretty much flat, there's a big spike during football season, and then the next offseason's traffic is 2-4 times that of the previous one. I don't advertise at all.
After a couple of those cycles the blog was at around 2000 pageviews a day. I got fired from my job for not doing it--Tropico and blogging take up time--and was in idle, wondering if I should try to get another job or move to New York or what, when Jamie Mottram emailed me with an offer to be one of the lead bloggers for this new AOL Fanhouse thing. That plus the text links and nascent advertising on the site added up to a number somewhere around the poverty line, so I said okay and wrote a lot of eight-dollar posts for AOL. That was when I thought I might be able to do this for a living. I hedged pathetically when anyone asked what my job was, though, and I didn't "realize" it was working for another couple years.
The Lloyd Carr retirement and job search was probably the tipping point, where I was getting information from people who just liked the site and newspaper reporters were specifically debunking stuff I'd passed along and I was just laying everything I'd heard out there so that readers could judge what was happening for themselves. By the time Rodriguez was hired the blog had quadrupled its base traffic and having a tax return my mother would not be terrified by was a distant possibility. At some point I stopped hedging about what I did and developed a spiel about how I was not homeless (CPM advertising plus donations plus text links plus t-shirts plus freelancing).
2. You enjoy some degree of recognition from the Sports Information Department. How big of a victory was it to develop an official relationship with the university itself, and what does it give the blog that it didn’t have prior to that recognition?
The way that worked was pretty weird. I'd met Bruce Madej, the SID, maybe once or twice in passing and he'd talked about getting me into the press box for a game or two, something I was and remain totally opposed to. I'm where I am now because I've never been in a pressbox, and while I won't turn into Drew Sharp the instant I cross the threshold I don't see much value in it for me except from an anthropological standpoint. (See: Brian is pwned by Tom Dienhart, which should make it clear that someone's got to do it but it's not this guy.)
But I'd been thinking about adding some actual reporting into the mix and thought Tim, who knew Madej from his days at WOLV, was a guy well positioned to bridge the gap between blog and reporting. Meanwhile, I was in-studio at WTKA as John Bacon and Knight fellow Richard Dietsch discussed the demise of the Ann Arbor News. Dietsch winked as he mischievously asked Madej point-blank if he'd give MGoBlog a credential, and Madej said "yes."
So we emailed back and forth a couple times and set up a meeting. I expected skepticism. Michigan had a reputation for being extremely old-fashioned about things. The reason GBW has a magazine is so they could get access. Internet sites were denied at the time they started up, and "The Fort" was internet shorthand for Schembechler Hall for a reason. So I'd mentally prepared some talking points to deal with whatever concerns they'd have.
There weren't any. They had a list of requirements they wanted any website to meet to get a credential, which they presented to me just because they wanted my input on it. And they said the first year Tim might have a little trouble getting into big games because the press box was small, but after that he'd be fine. And that was it.
So... I'd like to say MGoBlog knocked the doors down but the News going down and Greg Dooley's existence (Dooley gets along with everyone and is the kind of extrovert that defies blogger stereotypes I largely live up to) were more important.
As to what it gives the blog: there is the obvious content. As we've gotten more established we've gotten more interviews for Hail to the Victors and hopefully we'll start getting more for the blog itself. We're trying to get a field pass, which would be another step. But we're still trying to figure out what makes the most sense in a world where press conference transcripts are immediately available in four different places; the stuff Tim did last year for Friday Night Lights, which requires no access at all, has been way more valuable.
3. How does being Brian from MGoBlog change your gameday experience? Are you recognized when you walk through the hallowed gates into Michigan Stadium? And what’s the best part of being Brian from MGoBlog??
Increasingly, yes. I remember the first time it ever happened. It was after the 2007 Northwestern game. I was helping matters along by wearing my "Zoltan For Space Emperor" shirt and some random guy walked by and said "Brian!" and I was like "I don't know you!" and he was like "MGoBlog!" and I was like "dude." Then an hour later someone bought me a beer. It was at that moment I knew exactly how Kathy Griffin lives her day-to-day life.
Now it will happen a couple times whenever I go to a Michigan sporting event. If you have done this to me I have probably been awkward, but this is not your fault. I am an engineer. I remember when I got my first friend. It was in fifth grade and he was just screwing with me. You are not the problem.
As far as the best part about doing this whole thing, it's the aftermath of an important emotional event for the fanbase when I have written something I think helps people wrap their head around things. I much prefer this to be a good event but of late it's been helping people cope instead of consolidating their joy. I'm still pretty confused by what Jim Carty first diagnosed as a cult mentality around the site where people openly despair at my inevitable graduation to the big time -- I'm just this guy -- but what I understand in it resides in those columns.
4. When have you been most proud of MGoBlog? And, being a creative person myself, I’ll ask-- are you ever satisfied with it? What is the thing you like the least about what it has evolved into?
The way I answered the previous question answers the first bit of this one, but to be really specific the column I'd put on the gravestone is The Age of Miracles. Secondarily, I'm not sure which guy it was but it was probably MCalibur or Misopogon or the Mathlete (block Ms all, eh?) who posted the tipping-point diary where I felt I'd gathered this community around the blog and set the gates open and these guys had stepped forward with outstanding content that would probably not have existed without that "create content" link. That's the accumulation of a lot of effort, and a validation of the entire painful move off of blogger. Since then the diaries have been consistently inventive and useful and I've marveled at the ability of people who just care a whole lot to produce great stuff.
As to satisfaction, no, I have a list of a dozen things I'd like to get done that hardly shrinks. A couple are getting towards a checkoff, FWIW, including a mobile site and some more database-oriented sections of the blog. Even so, things keep getting added to the list and the site keeps looking more dated and Drupal 7 is coming out...
As far as the thing I like least about the site: as it's grown the message board continually approaches MLive or the worst parts about the premium boards. I've tried to erect barriers that would keep this down, and they've been somewhat successful, but when Doctor Saturday posts something that's a tiny bit wrong about Michigan and gets raked over the coals for it I feel I'm losing a battle. I simultaneously loathe and understand the term "mgoidiots"; people who deploy it are not that distinguishable from the people targeted but they are somewhat. I wanted to have this bit of the internet where people would have serious conversations and hilarious interactions without animosity and that didn't happen even if Steve Sharik gets frontpaged at Smart Football. It happens in bits, and that's still better than a lot of places but the same tedious learning about who needs to be ignored and who needs to be attended to happens. You can't fight entropy.
5. Is this your job for life? Or, should I say, would you ever consider selling and/or walking away from MGoBlog?
I really hope MGoBlog is my job for life as long as we start going to bowls on the regular in the near future. Insufficient emphasis. I desperately want MGoBlog to be my job until I retire. I've rarely been so attuned with a fictional character as when Sterling Cooper was trying to get Don Draper to sign a contract, and when he actually signed it and was immediately slapped in the face with it I felt it was cosmically justified. So... yeah. It will take a lot to do something else.
Never say never, but it is extremely unlikely I'd ever walk away or sell the site. I love what I do, I have job security, I am my own boss, and the revenue is on a path where I should be able to support a family. I can't imagine wanting to do something else.
At some point I will probably start disconnecting for longer periods of time during the summer -- since the blog started five years ago I've taken one two-week vacation, days here and there for the 4th and other one-off holidays, and that's it. I'd like to be able to wander around a foreign country for a while at some point before kids make that an impossibility. But do something else? Not likely.
Obviously, this is your livelihood. Can you describe a typical workday for you? And, as always, what do you like to do for fun on your own time?
I wake up at 9 (season) or 10 (offseason) or 11 (offseason after Troy Woolfolk explodes) and immediately start assembling whatever the noon-ish post is going to be. Sometimes I've already put something together (or Tim or Tom has or there's a diary worth a bump) and it goes up soon after I get up, but most of the time those are afternoon things. After that I scan twitter, message boards, and Bloglines, then move on to the next thing I need to do. That could be something immediate or working on another post for the afternoon or working on a longer-term project. Depending on how much outside help there is that day and how much I've gotten done, I knock off sometime between 3 and 5 and do stuff around the house or just surf the internet; after dinner I'll usually start writing some more stuff up. During the season big hunks of Monday and Tuesday go to UFRs. I stay up late and get a lot of work done between 10 and 2 AM.
There's a lot of playing it by ear; things tend to be ready when they're ready.
My main hobby turned into my job, so now I have scant answers to the second question. Now my main non-internet hobbies are playing dorky German board gamesand being terrible at soccer. You have no idea how bad. The best shot I've ever unleashed was directly at my own keeper.
If it makes you any better, I’m sure all of us are bad at dorky German board games. Before we move on, describe the perfect meal.
Roasted chicken. My fiancee makes it and the last few times we've dispensed with the sides and even the silverware. We just flip the thing upside down and promise each other we'll never film the carnage. It is so good. Learn to do this.
6. Can you explain why the sky is blue? Or, why are you a Michigan fan?
Heredity and everything else. The family has had season tickets since the mid-50s and there's even a legend that my grandfather ushered at Ferry Field that seems apocryphal given the age he would have been at the time. The legend exists, though, and that's what's important. I remember falling asleep during that Rose Bowl we lost to Washington as my dad got agitated and staying awake through the one where Tyrone Wheatley cut a blazing swath through the subsequent, Emtman-free edition of the Huskies.
When it came time to pick a college, I applied to Michigan and MIT. MIT said no, but I wasn't going there anyway. Seriously: they deploy the acronym "IHTFP*" everywhere. Also it would have cost triple what M did. So I went to Michigan, saw a national title as a freshman, graduated with a computer engineering degree in 2001 when the dot-com bubble was imploding, got a masters in the same thing because of the bubble, and have not actually left Ann Arbor since 1997. Also now my job is dependent on Michigan someday not being terrible.
So... yeah. Every possible reason that has ever existed.
*("I Hate This Fucking Place")
So you’re saying there’s more than one reason, then. Finally, who's your all-time favorite Wolverine?
All sports: Jed Ortmeyer. He sealed that during the infamous "Molly" game when he delivered two of the most crushing legal hits I've ever seen in the first ten minutes, and then put it in a hidden tomb when he and Eric Nystrom played a give-and-go for the winner against Denver the next night. Carl Hagelin's got a shot to beat him this year, though. We'll see.
In football I have to give the obvious answer: Mike Hart. This is not interesting but it is true. If I was going to try to be interesting I would go with David Harris for reasons described in the All Decade Team, but it's tough to have the same sort of visceral reaction to a linebacker that you do to a skill position player. Hart was physically inadequate for Division I football but did not care. He was the sort of football genius that makes the detailed observer both enthralled and incapable of communicating exactly why. So he was sort of art. And he never fumbled except inside the five against Florida and we still won that game.
Jason Avant is a close second. If David Molk stays healthy the next couple years he'll be up there. I am developing a severe bias towards players I think are great before anyone else does.
My plans for MGoProfile never included Brian, actually. I initially wanted to focus on the everyday joes that sit at the same counter as the rest of us and shovel the manna of MGoBlog down their throats with the same silverware as everyone else. Plus, I’ve dealt with Brian a bit now, and I know he’s not a glory hound. The blog has never been HEY LOOK AT ME I’M BRIAN AND THIS IS MY BLOG ABOUT SOME TEAM AND OH BTW I’M AWESOME K THX BYE. I really didn’t think he’d want any part in these profiles at all.
But after the ball started rolling, I’d started focusing on some of the staffers here such as F/A and Tim, and it seemed kind of wrong that we hadn’t profiled Brian himself. So I asked him subtly and he was open to the idea—I was actually a bit surprised in fact, and even admitted to him that I didn’t think he’d want to be included.
In the end, Brian said yes precisely because of what I discussed above. The blog is NOT about him, or his life, or his interests, or only what he thinks about something. We read about Michigan sports in ludicrous detail, and there’s little room for what Brian had for dinner last night or what he thinks of True Blood. So when the opportunity came to spotlight him in a profile, it really was something we don’t actually know much about. Plus the historical aspect of the blog that Brian can offer is absolutely one of a kind. Jon Voight, bitches. Jon Voight.
And so it is my pleasure to announce that this season of MGoProfile has officially concluded. It’s been a fun ride, and I hope you all have enjoyed getting to know some of our most colorful personalities as much as I have. There are plans already in motion to continue next offseason, sometime in the spring or so after the hoopla of a Big Ten championship season finally dies down. Hehe, see you then.
I’d also like to personally thank TomVH and his lightning quick web accountability. This series began almost before my eyes as an informal exchange between us; all told the entire concept and first entry was knocked out in probably ten or fifteen minutes. But it all snowballed from there. Couldn’t have done it without you, Tom.
Yes, the season is less than 10 days away, and the offseason is all but over. Finally, gloriously, it’s time to stop explaining what happened and predicting what will happen—and instead live the dream again. Our Wolverines are 0-0, and-- regardless of wingless helmets, imploding ankles, and Martell Webb’s rhinological profile-- we are free to cheer and hope and believe once again. Most likely this will be one of the most important years we will ever experience as a fan of Michigan football—and either way the history of the program will be forever changed by the 2010 season. We will live and die together, my brothers. (And sisters).
I will see you all on the other side. Go Blue.