Rafe Needleman, Editor-at-Large of C|Net’s Webware Site on “Rafe’s Fav’s,” Being Happy and Brilliant Web Aps.
Susan Bratton

Episode 39 - Rafe Needleman, Editor-at-Large of C|Net’s Webware Site on “Rafe’s Fav’s,” Being Happy and Brilliant Web Aps.

Rafe Needleman, chief blogger, tech dweeb, new daddy, and ardent Twitterer has the best job in tech editorial. For a living, he gets to play with all the latest mash-ups and web applications and levy his opinion. Reviews editor turned web aps expert, Rafe and team have turned Webware into a black hole of fun. It sucks you in. The variety of applications is amazing. Entertainment, mapping, networking, media, search and tons of other categories have reviews of all the latest web applications for your fun and enjoyment. Plus he keeps you up with the Web 2.0 side of media machinations.

Rafe talks about his "conference strategy," since he must attend so many events. He shares his life lessons learned from interviewing more than 1,000 start-up CEO's during the dot-com bubble. Suz and Rafe talk about the best applications for robots and their impression of the Roomba/Scooba "janitorial" robots. Rafe bemoans the role of "player-coach" saying "When I'm the boss, I miss doing daily work (like writing)." "When I am a writer, I miss being the boss." "Therefore, I am never happy. Ask my wife, she'll back me up on that."

Rafe talks about "martini abominations," the book he as most given as a gift called "The Baron in the Trees," a book he wrote when he was 14 years old about Star Trek, being a hobby catalog and gadget lover, the time Suz scared him at the Web2 Summit ;), his exactitude at delivering exactly 200 words a day for two years for his "Catch of the Day" column and whether his "Make Hay-dar" is finely tuned.  Tune in to this episode of DishyMix to get the full flavor of the entrepreneurial spirit driving the Silicon Valley and the man that reports on it.



Susan Bratton: Welcome to Dishy Mix, I’m your host Susan Bratton. On today’s show we have Rafe Needleman. He is the chief blogger of WebWare, which is part of c-net.com, and he is a seasoned professional journalist, he’s a tech dweeb, a new daddy, a twitterer, and he has the most fun job in tech editorial as far as I’m concerned. You’re going to get to meet Rafe. The highlights of today’s show include:

Rafe Needleman: I will say this, of all the people who, of all the companies that I’ve discussed in my column, The Catch of the Day and Bubble 1.0 at The Red Herring, I would estimate 90 percent of them are out of business.

Rafe Needleman: When I was 14 I wrote a Star Trek quiz book, yeah. My parents were both authors. My dad was, lent me his agent who, we actually got it published considering the lousy grades, I think it helped me get into both high school and college later on.

Rafe Needleman: What I am at  WebWare and Mike over at Crave, we kind of feel like we’re, you know, player/coach both leading and trying to craft a direction of the editorial product, but also contributing much more than we would if we were at a normal, you know, giant website, like, you know, news.com or a publication.

Rafe Needleman: Google Docs, and, Google Docs it’s now called ‘cause they’re docking, their word processor and their spreadsheet is absolutely brilliant, and the reason it’s brilliant is because of the way you can collaborate with people in real time.

Susan Bratton: On today’s show we’re going to talk about live blogging, Rafe’s faves, the conference circuit, the day I scared Rafe, martini’s, being happy, they might go together, and may, maybe make Hadar. So I’ll let you know what all those things are, lets get Rafe on the show. Welcome.

Rafe Needleman: Hi, thank you.

Susan Bratton: It’s great to have you here. Now you’re in the C-Net offices right now?

Rafe Needleman: Yes I am.

Susan Bratton: Great. Well it’s good to have you there. You’ve been there a couple times I’ve heard now…

Rafe Needleman: Yes, this is my second tour…

Susan Bratton: Your second tour. You started at Info World as a reviews editor, you seem like you have a history of reviews.

Rafe Needleman: Yeah, in review, I started Info World long time ago, and that was IDG and then moved to (unintelligible) Davis to run a magazine called Corporate Computering and I went to Byte and then to C-Net and then to Red Herring and now back to C-Net.

Susan Bratton: So at Red Herring you were there during a big bubble…

Rafe Needleman: Yeah.

Susan Bratton: and you have literally interviewed hundreds of entrepreneurial CEO’s…

Rafe Needleman: Yeah, a thousand roughly.

Susan Bratton: Oh thousand, more than a thousand start-up CEO’s. So I want to know if, this is the make Hadar thing, you know how there’s radar, do you have any radar on people who are going to make hay? Do you have any make Hadar?

Rafe Needleman: Boy, that’s a tough one, ‘cause you look for so many different things together, you look for aggressiveness, intelligence, a real market, a person who is, you know, able to see an opportunity and execute on it. I mean, there’s so many people with great ideas that can’t execute on them…

Susan Bratton: Mm hmm.

Rafe Needleman: And so many people who are great executors but are doing something dumb, so it’s tough to say. I will say this: of all the people who, of all the companies that I’ve discussed in my columns, The Catch of the Day and Bubble 1.0 at The Red Herring, I would estimate 90  percent of them are out of business. So I would say getting interviewed by me is a really bad idea.

Susan Bratton: Well not necessarily ‘cause 10 percent of them are still in business, so maybe if they hadn’t interviewed with you…

Rafe Needleman: Yeah, well there you go.

Susan Bratton: So, I love Web Where. It’s to me just a wonderful website in that I think I, you get paid to spend your day assessing the value of web apps…

Rafe Needleman: Yes.

Susan Bratton: and writing about it.

Rafe Needleman: Yeah.

Susan Bratton: That’s so fun…

Rafe Needleman: Yeah it is.

Susan Bratton: Rafe, I love that.

Rafe Needleman: Yeah, well I’ve, you know, I’ve been doing product reviews, tech product reviews, you know for a very long time…

Susan Bratton: 25 years.

Rafe Needleman: Don’t, not quite, not quite…

Susan Bratton: 21.

Rafe Needleman: 20. But, with some breaks and I’ve done different types of reviews, I did, you know, small business reviews and straight up consumer tech and computers and stuff, so I love it. I mean, and I, I think it’s, it’s good work. I mean, you’re talking about peoples hard earned money, or in the case of web apps, time if not money, and where they should be spending it and I like helping people do that stuff. Plus, I just love tinkering with, with these things.

Susan Bratton: I noticed that you are a bit of a tinkerer. I know you got all excited when the Ramsay Electronics Hobby catalogue came in the mail one day.

Rafe Needleman: Oh yeah I did, it took me back to my old days of soddering ray guns together.

Susan Bratton: And what was the other thing, you wrote a book, a Star Trek book when you were little?

Rafe Needleman: When I was little, very little. When I was 14 I wrote a Star Trek book, yeah. My parents were both authors. My dad was, lent me his agent, we actually got it published and considering I had lousy grades, it helped me get into both high school and college later on.

Susan Bratton: So you’ve always been a writer, you got that handed down from your family. It’s in your genes. And you’re a writer and tinkerer, so you’re in a perfect place.

Rafe Needleman: Mm hmm, yeah. No, I’ve landed in my ideal career.

Susan Bratton: So one of the things that, you seem like it, you’re newly married, you have a little boy…

Rafe Needleman: Mm hmm.

Susan Bratton: so you’re a new dad.

Rafe Needleman: Yeah.

Susan Bratton: You have a, WebWare, which is a fabulous site working for a wonderful company, for everything everyone wants to say about C-Net, it’s an exemplary organization, especially from a journalists perspective. So you’re in a really sweet spot right now, but that must feel good.

Rafe Needleman: It does, it does. Well you know everything is overshadowed by the family of course, and I don’t know if you even want to go there, but I’ll, we could spend this entire time talking about my son. You know, tinkering and tech is one thing, but having a kid is a whole different thing, so it’s just like, it takes up your whole life.

Susan Bratton: Well, and it’s funny too because one of the things that you told me as well was that, you know, right now you’re, you’re doing some writing but you also have a team of people that write for WebWare and do all of the reviews in the various categories. You wrote to me and you said, “When I’m the boss I miss doing daily work like writing. When I’m a writer I miss being the boss; therefore I’m never happy. Ask my wife, she’ll back me up on that.

Rafe Needleman: Yeah, that’s true. Yeah.

Susan Bratton: I though that was so funny. I was emailing another, a publisher who is also a write, Tig Tillinghoust, he’s with Media Buyer Planner, and he said he hasn’t been writing very much anymore lately, and I shared your quote, your quote with him…

Rafe Needleman: Mm hmm.

Susan Bratton: and he says, “On a bad day you can have a mealy sense that you’re spinning around without focus. On a good day you think you’re freaking brilliant for having delegated in such a way. You’re touching things only on their edges and helping develop talent.”

Rafe Needleman: Yeah. Well, the thing is, it’s a new model we’re in right now, so the team of which you speak that I had is one guy, Josh.

Susan Bratton: Oh I thought, it looks like there’s a group of people that work for you.

Rafe Needleman: It does, doesn’t it, that’s the trick.

Susan Bratton: Yes it does.

Rafe Needleman: Yeah, the other writers are other reporters and reviewers and writers for C-Net in one form or another. A lot of stuff on WebWare comes from news.com writers. We have a network of affiliated bloggers that we host their blogs but they’re not actual employees, and I cherry pick those posts and put them onto WebWare. We do a fair amount of cross posting, so we put the right content in front of the audience that’s focused on what, on a particular thing.

Susan Bratton: So I would call that curating.

Rafe Needleman: Yes, so I spend a fair amount of time curating. But also the news.com writers compost to WebWare directly. So, so we do that, but then there’s me and Josh who are the, who are the contributors, the exclusive, I mean we write for Web Where first, not for the other things first and then cross post to WebWare. We could use more writers obviously. So, but this is a new model. I mean being a full-time editorial leader, manager or leader, that’s a great job, I love doing that. But what we’re, what I am at Web Where and Mike over at Crave is we kind of feel like we’re, you know, player/coach, both leading and trying to craft the direction of the editorial product, but also contributing much more than we would if we were at a normal, you know, giant website like, you know, news.com or a publication. So it’s a little of both, and it’s interesting. But it’s very frustrating because I’m not a hundred percent one or the other, so I don’t ever feel like I’m doing a great job of being a contributor or a great job of being a leader.

Susan Bratton: Well it’s interesting too because you are a seasoned journalist and yet your title at WebWare is chief blogger, which I think is interesting.

Rafe Needleman: Well I think that’s what it says on the About page, my official title at C-Net is editor at large…

Susan Bratton: Okay.

Rafe Needleman: which means either they love me and want me to do whatever makes me happy and contributes or they’re trying to hussle me out the door, I haven’t figured it out yet.

Susan Bratton: Well I think you’d be gone if they were trying to hustle you out the door ‘cause they know how to do that, so I think they love you.

Rafe Needleman: Yeah, well, it’s fun, it’s a fun job.

Susan Bratton: So I want to talk, I want to go back to tinkering ‘cause I want to talk about robots.

Rafe Needleman: Okay, lets talk about robots.

Susan Bratton: So I had Steve Wozniak on the show a couple of weeks ago, and we were talking about Romba’s and Scooba’s and things like that and we were fantasizing about what they could be…

Rafe Needleman: Mm hmm.

Susan Bratton: and I’d love to know if you can think of a really good application for those kinds of little robots, what would you make if you could make a little robot?

Rafe Needleman: Well, you know, I, like, I’ve noticed that the successful robots out there right now are janitorial, and I think that’s appropriate. I think we design machines to do the things that we don’t, that people don’t want to do…

Susan Bratton: Mm hmm.

Rafe Needleman: so I think that’s great. You know, I’d like a robot to change my cat’s litter box, I think that would be awesome, and…

Susan Bratton: Right.

Rafe Needleman: They make, you know, automated litter boxes, which get bad reviews, but…

Susan Bratton: Yeah, there’s like a clumping issue I’ve heard.

Rafe Needleman: Yeah, I really don’t want to…

Susan Bratton: That’s a bad thing to have.

Rafe Needleman: I really don’t want to go experiment with that. But that would be something I’d be very happy with. As far as, you know, higher functions, yeah, we use a lot of robots already. We’ve got cars that have robotic interruptions, I mean cars that, you know, automatically slow you down and there’s cruise control and there’s airplanes with auto pilots, so robotics are actually part of our lives already, we just don’t really think about it that much.

Susan Bratton: Mm hmm, I just love them. We got a Scooba from a friend, he had two, he had two, it was a huge event. We got beers and we watched it clean our floor. It was really fun. I love it. I think it’s an absolutely fantastic robot.

Rafe Needleman: Really?

Susan Bratton: Oh yeah.

Rafe Needleman: Well there’s another, there’s a lawn mowing one as well which I would also like very much, but considering the size of our lawn and how often we use it it’s a poor application of money. It’s hugely expensive.

Susan Bratton: Absolutely.

Rafe Needleman: Plus it’d probably end up ingesting the neighborhood cat or something.

Susan Bratton: You’ll see a tail sticking out of it. Like a little round thing with like cat tail sticking out of it. That’s a problem. So I want to talk to you about Rafe’s faves. Obviously your writing and you’ve got your hands in all this fabulous stuff all the time. I know you’re a big twitterer, that’s one of the places that I feel like I’ve connected with you and I know you a little bit because you share yourself, which is lovely. What are some of your favorite web applications, or even if they’re not things you use, what are some of the things you think are really smart?

Rafe Needleman: Well obviously I think Twitter’s great, it’s a wonderful, it’s a great community application…

Susan Bratton: Mm hmm.

Rafe Needleman: and, you know, if you use it to do stuff that it’s designed for. I mean, I don’t put deep thoughts on there, but, you know, it’s fun to share little snippets and then get feedback from people, I just love that. I think Google Docs and, Google Docs it’s now called ‘cause their docking, their word processor and their spreadsheet is absolutely brilliant, and the reason it’s brilliant is because of the way you can collaborate with people in real time. There are other apps that do this as well. It has a terrible feature set. I mean, it’s really feature limited, but the ease of collaborations is what makes Web 2.0 work for me, I just think it’s phenomenal. I don’t know why Microsoft hasn’t figured this out yet. Other online suites have, but Google, you know, everybody know how to use it, it’s so simple and just so easy to collaborate with people, it’s…

Susan Bratton: Mm hmm.

Rafe Needleman: it’s phenomenal.

Susan Bratton: So Google Docs is a big one. I also noticed that you do a lot of weather and mapping mash-up coverage.

Rafe Needleman: Oh we do, we cover a lot of that. I think mapping is just fascinating, and in the early days there was, I wanted a device, my fantasy device, you asked about fantasy robot, well my fantasy hand-held device which did not exist at the time was a device that you held in your hand and you would land, you’d take an airplane to a strange city for a meeting and you would look at this device and ask it somehow on a keyboard, voice, whatever, say, “Where is the nearest good Chinese restaurant?”, and it would know where you were and direct you to a well-reviewed Chinese restaurant, you know, go three blocks that way and hang a right and you’re there. Now we have GPS and we have Yelp and back then we had Vindigo, so we’re getting there. I mean that, those devices are beginning to exist or that seem to exist and anything around that I think is absolutely fascinating, anything around locating you and giving you information that is appropriate to exactly where you are at that moment.

Susan Bratton: Locations plus information equals happy.

Rafe Needleman: Yes. Location plus advertising equals annoyance though, so I don’t know how this is going to work out, so…

Susan Bratton: I hear that man.

Rafe Needleman: Yeah.

Susan Bratton: I’m in the ad business and I’ve always been worried about that. It’s not working for me. What else do you love?

Rafe Needleman: I don’t know, give me a category.

Susan Bratton: Oh, lets see. Lets do self-expression.

Rafe Needleman: Well blogging platforms…

Susan Bratton: Mm hmm.

Rafe Needleman: Both Word Press and moveable type, or Type Pads, which is a platform I’ve used.

Susan Bratton: Mm hmm.

Rafe Needleman: Vox is really interesting. I don’t use it regularly but it’s a really interesting product, and Ming is an unappreciated gem of the internet. This is the site that lets, that Mark Andreesens and Gina what’s her name…

Susan Bratton: Bianchini.

Rafe Needleman: Yes, thank you.

Susan Bratton: She’ll be on in two or three episodes.

Rafe Needleman: And as a matter of fact Dan Farber and I just interviewed her for Working WebWare, which is a video program that we’re starting, that’ll be out shortly.

Susan Bratton: Nice.

Rafe Needleman: If I could squeeze that plug-in.

Susan Bratton: Okay.

Rafe Needleman: So…

Susan Bratton: Of course.

Rafe Needleman: So there’s a…

Susan Bratton: We want to know all about you.

Rafe Needleman: Ming is a, Ming is great, it really is. It’s, it lets people create their own and it’s not hugely, it doesn’t get a whole buzz, you know, in the, on the tech coasts, but I think it’s a, it’s fairly popular among real actual human beings who are trying to form online communities around their areas of interest and it’s very nicely done, fantastic application.

Susan Bratton: I see it integrated everywhere.

Rafe Needleman: Yes.

Susan Bratton: Yeah, well the reason people don’t know Ming is it’s a white label OEM product, right?

Rafe Needleman: Yeah, pretty much…

Susan Bratton: Mm hmm.

Rafe Needleman: you know. You can make it look and feel like whatever you want. I hope they don’t let people, let people modify too much ‘cause then it’ll start looking like MySpace and that’ll be a disaster. Another site I really like, this has nothing to do with self-expression, but is Hulu.

Susan Bratton: Yeah, that’s new.

Rafe Needleman: Hooloo’s roundly maligned when it, they first started talking about it, it goes all stealth, but, you know, I go to a, when I travel now I take my laptop, I go to a hotel and I don’t turn on the TV, I fire up Hulu and I see old shows or shows I haven’t seen or I’m trying to catch up on, and it’s a really nice design. They don’t have enough content yet, but it’s getting better. And I, I just, it’s a nice app. The advertising model seems to work pretty well, the quality is good, and there are shows on there that, I think they, I was talking to the CPO the other day and he said there are a couple shows on there where the pilot aired but the rest of the show never did but they produced the whole series, and some of those shows are on Hulu, so there’s, you can see things on Hulu that never actually made it onto TV. Some of the shows probably deserved not to make it onto TV, but everything has an audience, so I think that’s pretty cool.

Susan Bratton: So has Hulu trumped Juist?

Rafe Needleman: You know, for me it has.

Susan Bratton: Mm hmm.

Rafe Needleman: I like Juist as well, Juist is really sweet, but the interface is a little slow sometimes, it’s too fancy. Hulu’s…

Susan Bratton: It’s so pretty though.

Rafe Needleman: It’s very pretty, but, you know…

Susan Bratton: So pretty.

Rafe Neeldeman: if you’re on, if you’re on a underpowered laptop, Hulu’s the better bet.

Susan Bratton: Now what about, lets go to travel, what about, I want to take a break soon too, what about Doppler?

Rafe Needleman: Doppler I don’t use.

Susan Bratton: Okay.

Rafe Needleman: We’ve experimented, I’ve experimented a little bit with Trip It, and they have a new feature that’ll help you find people…

Susan Bratton: Mm hmm.

Rafe Needleman: that are going to the same place or are at the same place you are.

Susan Bratton: Mm hmm.

Rafe Needleman: Some of those are interesting. I haven’t, you know, adopted any of those regularly.

Susan Bratton: I, it just takes all your friends to adopt one and that’s all you hear about, so it’s, it’d be interesting to, where I think a lot of the critical mass still needs to be created is that for a lot of these sites to become valuable it has to be your friends on them. That’s why for me Face Book and Linked In and Twitter have been so good…

Rafe Needleman: Mm hmm.

Susan Bratton: But it’s the invitation to get your friends to try it. Like what I see is that the web developers and the CTO and everyone involved in marketing, building a consumer web app, do a great job with the site and then they just completely fall down in general with a really highly polished integration to get you to get your friends to sign up…

Rafe Needleman: Well…

Susan Bratton: There are some exceptions I know, but in general, no, no.

Rafe Needleman: I would go a level up from that and say if you have to have your friends sign up for it it’s funk. I mean it’s, there are enough social networks right now.

Susan Bratton: Mm hmm.

Rafe Needleman: So anything where I have to, somebody else, if I want to participate with them I have to get them to get their own account, forget it. It’s, that, that doesn’t work. Now the open standard is to an extent an open social, though it’s not really that, but the extent that Face Book and Open ID and things make universal log on’s and make it possible for people to join without signing up in some way, that’s good. But if I have to, if I want to invite you to blahdy blah dot com and you have to go and create an account, forget it. You know, maybe I’ll have one or two friends, but it’s never going to take off. Twitter’s kind of the exception to that, unless there’s some seminal, you know, joining event where everybody gets on to it, then it can work, but those are few and far between, and when you talk about a site that’s super focused on a particular action or topic, it’s hit/miss if you’re going to get people to join. I just don’t, I just think that’s a really scary model.

Susan Bratton: So I want to come back and talk about the seminal joining events. Lets go to a break, and when we come back I want to talk to you about some of the conferences that you go to, like South by Southwest, which was the seminal joining event for Twitter.

Rafe Needleman: Yes.

Susan Bratton: So stay tuned. We’re with Rafe Needleman. He is editor at large and in charge at WebWare, part of C-Net. I’m your host Susan Bratton, and we’ll be right back to talk more about Rafe with Rafe.

Susan Bratton: We’re back. I’m your host, Susan Bratton and this is Rafe Needleman. He is the, what would you call him, chief blogger of WebWare, which is a fabulous site on c-net.com that talks all about the latest web applications, one of the things that I love in the, most in the world is to play with web applications, so it’s fun to talk about it with Rafe. We talked about South by Southwest being the place that Twitter got its traction. You go to a lot of conferences, as a matter of fact, the last time I saw you in person mono e mono or chicky e mono was at the Web 2.0 conference, I walked up to you, and that’s the day I scared you because I think you thought I was yet another PR chick going to pitch you on a web app that I wanted reviewed. And you saw me and I was like, “Hi Rafe. This is Susan Bratton”, and you’re like, “Hi.” You were so, so mean. You were like, “Ughhh.”

Rafe Needleman: Well listen, you know, if you were a PR person…

Susan Bratton: Yeah.

Rafe Needleman: and you can’t handle mean, you don’t belong in PR.

Susan Bratton: That’s probably true.

Rafe Needleman: There’s a, there’s a filter.

Susan Bratton: It’s absolutely true. And I said, “No, no, no, I’m not here to pitch you, I’m here to invite you on my show”, and you’re like, “Okay”, and we made that happen, and I totally understand the number of people that come up to you at every conference, but I want to talk about is not the day that I scared you, but the conferences themselves. You go to a lot of them, you’ve been to CES and Web 2.0 and South by Southwest and god knows what else, what are you going there for? What’s happening for you, what’s working for you, what advice can you give us for going to these conferences? Just tell us the Rafe, the Rafe plan.

Rafe Needleman: Oh boy, oh boy. So, well the conferences are fine. I mean, you know, you go to talk with other people and the information that is, you know, shoveled to you from stage, it, for the most part, not worth the price of admission. I mean sometimes it’s very good, but you can get it elsewhere, you can watch it, you know, online or something like that. If you go to a conference just network, it’s what it’s there for. Don’t be afraid to leave the room and go schmooze. That’s why you’re there, I mean to make, make personal contacts, otherwise you can do it online.

Susan Bratton: And who do you like to most schmooze with?

Rafe Needleman: Well, you know, people, I kind of like to hang out with people I know, you know, I’ve been in journalism for a long time, I know a lot of people in the industry, so I, it’s always fun to hang out with people in my field and share, you know, show each of our scars and share war stories.

Susan Bratton: Mm hmm.

Rafe Needleman: Of course it’s always great to meet new people and find somebody who shares an interest in something you do or is doing something cool that you want to explore. I mean to me everybody has a story that’s worth telling. I mean inside every, if, just talking about their work even, not even their personal lives, just their work. Inside every start up or every business period, there’s something really, really interesting, some way of looking at the business, some inside or some trick they have that if you dig into the details is just utterly fascinating, and one of the things I really like doing when I’m like, you know, getting my car fixed or I’m in a doctors office or whatever, is picking up whatever industry trade magazine is lying around and just seeing the culture or what is important to these people in their, in this small world, and I don’t mean that progoritively, but in the small world of blank industry…

Susan Bratton: A niche.

Rafe Needleman: Yeah, what is happening in that niche and what are people arguing about. And when you start to dive into it, it’s really, really fascinating. That’s one of the reasons I loved writing Catch of the Day, which is looking at the, the perspective from, that people had and the passion they had for whatever brilliant or hair-brained idea they were working on.

Susan Bratton: When you wrote Catch of the Day, you did something freakish. This was the funniest thing, and I bet you do this in a lot of ways. You wrote 200 words every single day, Catch of the Day, for two years?

Rafe Needleman: Yeah, I wrote Catch of the Day for three years, but after the first year I honed in on this 200 word thing.

Susan Bratton: Why’d you do it?

Rafe Needleman: ‘Cause I, you know, was experimenting with the format a little bit in the early days and finally figured out that about four paragraphs was about right and that was 200 words, then I thought, “Well, you know, if 200 words is right then 200 words is probably really right”, and I also wanted to make sure that I never suffered from bloat, so that I never let the thing get over time longer and longer and longer, ‘cause online, you know, where you’re completely unrestrained, you can write as much as you want, and I wanted to make sure that I kept it terse, that I made it approachable to the people who, as they were telling me then, read it every morning with a cup of coffee and wanted to make sure they knew what they were getting into, it was like a comic strip, right, it was four paragraphs, four panels, you’re in, you’re out, you know what you’re going to get. I also thought it was, it forced me to take whatever idea I was exploring and really whittle it down to its essence and leave it at that. And so, for two years I wrote 200 words, I handed into the copy editor everyday 200 words exactly. If it was, if I wrote a story and it was 300 words I would cut it down to 200. If it was 202 words I would find 2 words to cut out. If it was at 180 words I would find 20 words to put in, just to see if I could do it, and for two years I wrote exactly 200 words a day on some interview with a CEO, and it was, it was kind of great, it was just a great job, freedom from slavery. If you know what your format is then you can, and you can express yourself in that format, then why worry about the format everyday?

Susan Bratton: Yeah, that’s, it’s actually really smart. And to what other things do you apply this rigor and this level of exactitude in your life now?

Rafe Needleman: Oh, I don’t think anything.

Susan Bratton: Nothing? That was your one, your one golden moment of rigor.

Rafe Needleman: I keep thinking about bringing it back, but it took all day sometimes to write those 200 words and now with blogging it’s, you don’t have that luxury to write like that, to write so carefully. I don’t know, I guess, you know, I try never to lose my temper with my kid, that’s the one thing that I try to bring that rigor into. But it, it’s, in journalism it’s a very different world today than it was then. I mean it was changing then but today it’s, it moves so fast, there’s so much happening, there’s such a scoop mentality, there’s such a premium put on getting links and joining the conversation that there’s so very little time to sit back and think or, and even if you have the time to think, to sit back then another time and craft, so it’s, I wouldn’t say that journalism has that, at least not in this field, part of this sub sector of journalism has that thought being put into it unfortunately.

Susan Bratton: Well you may have to write a book, and I want to talk about the book you’ve given most as a gift, but before we do I want to end the show with that because I think it’ll be an interesting story, I, you told me one thing that I find fascinating. You think vodka martini’s are an abomination.

Rafe Needleman: Yeah.

Susan Bratton: Why?

Rafe Needleman: What’s in a vodka martini?

Susan Bratton: Vodka.

Rafe Needleman: Right. Just put it in a glass and call it a glass of vodka.

Susan Bratton: Mm hmm.

Rafe Needleman: I mean granted, you know, a real martini, a gin martini, has very little in it other than gin, but it does have symbol of Vermoose in it, which gives it a little bit of a sweetness…

Susan Bratton: And potentially some olives or a twist or what have you…

Rafe Needleman: Yeah, right.

Susan Bratton: Well with vodka martini you could too, so you’re a gin martini man.

Rafe Needleman: It’s a drink you can taste…

Susan Bratton: Mm hmm.

Rafe Needleman: It’s a drink that takes some skill to make.

Susan Bratton: Mm hmm.

Rafe Needleman: I, I just, I like gin anyways so, you know, when someone asks me, you know, when I ask for a martini and the bartender says, “Vodka or gin?”, I’m just like, “Come on, it’s a martini, it’s gin.”

Susan Bratton: And what’s your favorite, I’m a gin martini drinker too, and as a matter of fact my husband Tim makes the best martini’s in the world, so you’ll have to sample one sometime.

Rafe Needleman: Yes.

Susan Bratton: What’s your favorite gin right now?

Rafe Needleman: Sapphire with a twist.

Susan Bratton: Oh, Sapphire. So I’m not a big Sapphire lover. I am enjoying Hendricks right now, have you had Hendricks?

Rafe Needleman: I have to try it, no I have not.

Susan Bratton: It’s in a kind of crockery bottle and you can get it at high end grocery stores, but it’s excellent so give it a try and let me know what you think.

Rafe Needleman: Okay, I will.

Susan Bratton: It has that, it has more of a Juniper flavor that I like.

Rafe Needleman: Really?

Susan Bratton: Yeah.

Rafe Needleman: Alright, I’ll try it.

Susan Bratton: Yeah. So okay, lets talk about The Barren in the Trees. This is where we’re ending our session here today, our therapy session, and, it’s therapy for god knows who, people who like web apps probably, like, “Oh, there are people like me out there. They want to spend their whole day doing that too.” Oh, as a matter of fact I just got hooked on Vitler, have you tried that yet?

Rafe Needleman: Yeah, Vitler’s great.

Susan Bratton: Love Vitler.

Rafe Needleman: Yeah, yeah. That’s a great service, we’re doing a comparison on it right now with some other video sharing sites.

Susan Bratton: Oh great, I can’t wait to see that. I, what I’ve realized is I need so decent lighting ‘cause I’m getting a little old. I need some good lighting.

Rafe Needleman: Oh yeah.

Susan Bratton: If you’re going to videotape yourself at your computer you need to have something. But, yeah, so I want to talk about The Barren in the Trees. This is your favorite book, tell us why you love to give this as a gift.

Rafe Needleman: It’s my favorite book to give as a gift. It’s a, well Barren in the Trees is a story that, it a low Calvino and it’s in translation, I mean he wrote in Italian but it managed to be translated beautifully, and it’s a story about a young barren in 19th century Italy who gets set up with a whole crap of, you know, the life he’s living and his pompous parents and society and all that, and he one day say, “You know what, I’m fed up with all of you guys. I’m going to go live in the trees and I’m never coming down”, and he does and he never comes down. He lives his entire life, you know, at this level literally above society, falls in love, gets married, has, you know, a whole full life of doing work and living and never sets foot on (unintelligible) again and has a very fulfilling life. And it’s beautifully written and a lot of fun, but it’s also a bit of a message there and everybody I’ve given it to just loves it. It’s just a great book.

Susan Bratton: So what’s the message of his arborial existence?

Rafe Needleman: Well obviously it’s, you know, it’s a metaphor for something else which is you don’t, you don’t have to live the way other people live.

Susan Bratton: That’s good, I didn’t get that from that conversation but, so he’s living the life he wants to live in the place he wants to live it. God bless him. I’ll, hey, I’ll toast to that with my gin martini.

Rafe Needleman: And he manages to interact fine with the rest of the world. You don’t have to be isolated. You can be different without being isolated. You can live the life you want and still participate without giving in completely.

Susan Bratton: Oh man. That is what Dishy Mix is all about, people like you, the people that come on the show, they’re living their life the way they want and they are successful because they’re doing exactly that. I love that. Well Rafe, you’re in your sweet spot, I’m happy to see that. Thank you for coming on today and telling us a little bit about you and your life and the things you love. That’s important to all of us.

Rafe Needleman: Thanks so much.

Susan Bratton: It was my pleasure, so…

Rafe Needleman: Likewise.

Susan Bratton: I am your host, Susan Bratton. Thank you so much for tuning in today. I would love to encourage you to call in for the show anytime. You can leave a voicemail at 206-350-5333. My blog is dishymix.com, personallifemedia.com is the place you can find my show to download it or of course you can subscribe in iTunes as well. I’d love to have you listen to us every week and get another great insight like we got from Rafe. Have a great day and I hope I’ll see you next week. I’m Susan Bratton.