Photo by Meagan Cignoli
We can access literally anything on the web. Looking for knitting tips? heirloom tomatos? tour dates? fashion advice? There's a blog for that. But sometimes searching for interesting content can feel like tumbling into a black hole in cyberspace. As we pore through the blogosphere, one topic leads to another, and we begin to feel crushed by the heap of content bearing down upon us. Luckily, long time friends Amber Lee and Hannah Kreiswirth have decided to tackle this problem, rescuing us blog readers from Internet-zombification. JoinBklyn is an attractive, user-friendly site that brings the best of the web straight to the home page where users can read, share, and further cull the featured content. Fueled had the opportunity to speak with blogger, musician, and entrepreneur Amber Lee about the evolution of this idea.
Fueled: How did JoinBklyn get started?
Amber Lee: A lot of projects come out of an issue that we want to solve for ourselves. I’m a musician and a blogger myself, and I was looking for blogs to write articles about me and promote my band. It got really cumbersome. I also realized that RSS feeds are kind of ugly—they don’t really provide a great user experience. We started thinking about a way to aggregate the cool blogs that we knew of. The idea kind of went along with what we were thinking in terms of community and working on something that would let us be greater than the sum of our parts.
So being that you're so community focused, do you recruit only Brooklyn bloggers?
We’re not focusing just on Brooklyn blogs—they can be from anywhere in the world. [There is, however, a section of the site, In Bklyn dedicated to the borough]. The deciding characteristic for us is that it’s just great content, content we think that Brooklynites would enjoy or are creating themselves. We have a diverse board of curators who search the web for the best blogs. We’re [Amber and Hannah] not savvy in every category of interest and we wanted to appeal to a wide variety of tastes.
Do you curate entire blogs or individual posts?
We curate on a blog level. We're looking at bloggers and we're saying “we think everything you're doing is awesome. We enjoy all that you're putting out there into the blogosphere.” We’re bringing through all of their posts and with the intention of having followers look at JoinBklyn as a destination space. On the site, the user has the opportunity to curate the blogs further.
How does that work exactly?
Well, for example, if you’re not into fashion you can hide that category altogether, or if you like fashion but you’re a dude and you don't want to look at women's fashion, you can remove the women’s fashion blogs from your feed. User names and log-ins will be a second phase development. Right now we're working everything off of cookies. Every person's experience of the site can be different as they begin to [further] curate.
How many blogs do you curate right now? Do you expect to reach a limit to the number of blogs you take on?
Right now we have around 200 blogs, over nine categories and we’re adding all the time. We do expect to reach a limit. The whole point was to get away from having to sift through thousands and thousands of blogs and content. We're not sure exactly what that number is yet. Our goal is not to get every blog into JoinBkyln. There are definitely a lot of blogs out there that we admire but don't have the style and content that we're curating.
Obviously JoinBklyn has a particular style. What kind of audience do you think you appeal to?
I think our core demographic is around 18-35. Kind of that affluent, young, interested in cultural topics crowd. We appeal to food and music lovers, artists, and creative types who are looking for interesting content. We attract more of a younger, hipper crowd but we definitely have people of all ages and backgrounds enjoying our site. JoinBklyn even appeals to people at work looking to kill some time or escape from their desk jobs for a little while. It’s a nice alternative to Facebook feeds.
What are the criteria you use to identify a good blog?
It’s not that cut and dry. We try to find blogs that are consistently following a particular scene, ones that have a brand themselves and aren’t just a bunch of reblogging. We’re not curating personal blogs, we’re curating professional blogs. For example, the food curated blogger is Liza Mosquito de Guia. She's a documentarian and she does videos on food, and gets all these amazing interviews. She has a specific voice and you come to expect that particular voice from certain bloggers. They're editors in their own right. Frequency is also a factor we take into a account. You don’t have to post every day but consistency is important. We’re not looking for someone who is going to post once a month.
What advantages do you think you have over other aggregators like Google Reader?
For one, we're a lot prettier! Both of us [Hannah and Amber] are focused on design and the user experience. I have a Google Reader but I don’t really keep up with it. And RSS feeds...I don’t know, I kind of think I'm a little bit of a nerd and techie and still I don't quite understand them. Blogging is all about the content—to give that content justice is really important for us. On top of that we're already doing the leg-work for you. A lot of people don’t have time to go searching around. It's a great place to start being introduced to different blogs.
Tell us what it was like launching your startup. What are some of the challenges you faced?
Having an idea is a really great start, but what separates good ideas from great ideas is actually going through with it. For us, we had a lot of good ideas that never became anything. This one struck a chord with us. We were both working other jobs at the time and eventually we just took a week off and went to the Hamptons...and really started moving through the process. We outlined all the steps. The biggest hurdle is following through on those steps, continually moving forward. For us it didn't mean quitting our jobs the next day—it took about a year after the idea came about until we were ready to dedicate ourselves full time to the project, but that second step really put us into full throttle—now we really need to put our balls to the wall and make a go of it.
How did you feel once your idea started becoming a reality?
It’s really scary when you come from a world when you have a steady paycheck and health care and all these nice things, but we thought, “if we don't take this this chance we're going to kick ourselves later.” As any entrepreneur will tell you, there are highs and lows. Some days you're scared shitless and the next day you think “this is the greatest thing in the world.” You figure a lot of it out as you go along and you realize that you don't need to have all the answers right away.
Sounds exciting! So What are your plans for the future of JoinBklyn?
Part of our goal is to form a community both online and offline. We'd like to participate in charitable events. We participated in the AIDS walk this year, for example. We also really want to profile the bloggers and showcase them on the site. Music is also a big focus on the site. The songs [on the live stream] all come from MP3s posted on the blogs. We eventually want to have a better music player. We just launched the site in open beta about a month and a half ago and we definitely have a lot of ideas about where we want to go. This is just the very beginning for us.
So you must be familiar with about a billion blogs by now, what are your fave five?
aphotoeditor– a really amazing resource for personal photographers
anchordivision– an awesome men's fashion blog
hyperboleandahalf– cute, funny cartoons
megancignoli– amazing international fashion photographer
foodcurated– cool videos about food