ThinkUp Insights Interview: John Gruber

Posted by anil

This interview is excerpted from the ThinkUp Insights Interviews series, which asks some of the most influential and innovative people on the Internet about the future of social networking and social media. You can get the full Insights book with all of these interviews when you join ThinkUp.


John Gruber is known as the unmistakable voice behind Daring Fireball, one of the most important and influential technology blogs in the world, which looks at tech and culture through the lens of Apple. But what’s less obvious is the insight it took more than a decade ago to realize not just that Apple would become a cultural force, but that a blog was the natural medium in which to articulate this view.

In the 11 years since Daring Fireball launched, John’s been able to become a full-time professional blogger, among the first people to make that leap. And he’s extended his opinionated view of the way technology should work to actually shipping apps himself; Vesper, his collaboration on a note-taking app with Brent Simmons and Dave Wiskus, has seen considerable success since its launch a few months ago.

Given his history as a pioneer of independent publishing, and how valuable we’ve found his unflinching positions on technology (even when we disagree), John was a natural perspective to seek out for his insights about where social media is headed.

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Photo: Ari Stiles

When did you first realize that social networks were going to change how you live or work?

JG: In the early years of Twitter, the Fail Whale era, Twitter would regularly go down during Apple keynote announcements. You can probably measure Twitter’s reliability by when that stopped happening.

In some ways this is just a historical curiosity — in the early years of Twitter, a relatively significant portion of the overall Twitter user base was comprised of the sort of technology enthusiasts who follow along *live* during Apple product announcements. But for me professionally, it was frustrating, because it was so obvious that I could better understand the truth of what was being announced if I could follow along with the collective wisdom of my Twitter timeline.

In short, it was obvious to me that Twitter made it possible to better understand breaking news and announcements. But what made it obvious was having it broken by the Fail Whale. The utility of Twitter creeps up on you; you had to have it taken away to truly appreciate how remarkable it is, how unlike anything that came before it.

In the same way that having been flat broke at some point in your life can (or at least should) make you better appreciate having money, it was the Fail Whale that made me appreciate having Twitter as an essential component of my work at Daring Fireball.

What moment or moments stand out to you as the most meaningful ones you’ve had online?

JG: Election night 2008, when Barack Obama was elected President.

2011, when Steve Jobs died.

Very different events, very different emotions, but both stand out to me as vivid memories of a shared, collective experience.

If you could know one thing about the people you’re connected to online, what would it be?

JG: Nothing more than what they’re already sharing.

What do you wish the people you follow did more or less of online?

JG: Less tweeting about live sporting events. Wait, sorry, that’s me.

Thinking about this, I generally unfollow people who I wish did less of something.

What’s the big thing that’s missing from today’s social networks?

JG: If I had a good answer to that, I’d probably be trying to build it. I don’t. I certainly don’t believe we’ve seen the end of social network innovations, but I’ll be damned if I can think of a good one.

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    Tearing up at mention of Steve Jobs’s death as a shared experience on Twitter.
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