This Is How Gizmodo Started

There was a time before Gizmodo existed. It wasn't even in the primordial ooze of the internet, either. It was just 10 years ago. But even that recently, a blog specifically dedicated to technology was a pretty radical concept. Here's how a guy named Peter Rojas started it off.

Back in the summer of 2001, I was a broke, unemployed technology writer. I'd been recently laid off from my job as an editor at Red Herring, a business of technology magazine, and with my life pretty much falling apart I'd decided to move to New York City from San Francisco...

...and, long story short, begin a blog called Gizmodo.

Ten years after going into business with Nick Denton, founder of Gawker Media, Rojas took a few questions about his history with the site.


What would you do as that same young guy in 2012? If the 2002 version of Gizmodo began today, would it succeed? If it were to be successful, what would baby Gizmodo need to say or look like?

PR: The landscape is so different now that it's honestly hard to say what I'd do if I were starting Gizmodo today. What made Gizmodo so special when it started was that it was so different than everything else that was already out there. It did so much to shape how tech news is done today that you'd have to do something really different to stand out in a similar way.

The reason blogging was such a big deal in the first place was that it made it easy for anyone to start publishing their writing online. It's easy to forget that before blogging it was a pain for the average person to do simple things like update a site with fresh content. When I was an editor at Red Herring we spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a content management system that was way less sophisticated than what you can get for free today.

Blogging democratized publishing, and being part of that first wave that was part of what made Gizmodo so special. I had been working as a tech journalist for a few years, and suddenly being a one-man-show (I was the only person who wrote for Gizmodo during my tenure) meant I could write about tech in the way I wanted rather than the way someone else wanted me to. I didn't have to deal with an editor or having to justify why I thought something was important. I was able to write about gadgets from the standpoint of an enthusiast (which is what I am) and cover anything that I thought was interesting, and because I didn't have any editorial layers I could put up stories more quickly than anyone else.

Ten years later, we take all this stuff for granted, which is amazing, but it also means that simply starting a gadget blog in and of itself isn't especially interesting. So while it's not hard to imagine a broke young writer in 2012 starting a blog—I'm pretty sure that happens every day—it's also clear that we don't lack for sites where you can read up on gadget news. Today there just isn't the need for something like Gizmodo that there once was. (It might be hard to believe, but there was a time where this wasn't the case.) Now there are thousands of sites all covering the same stuff. I don't think there's much point to starting a tech news site today unless you were going to do something drastically different from everything that's been done before. I haven't seen anyone do that recently, but if I were launching Gizmodo today I'd sure try and figure something out.

What was your favorite Gizmodo post, as a writer or editor?

PR: Not sure I have a favorite, but the first post that went viral on Gizmodo was a picture of USB-powered toothbrush. There was something about the novelty of it and the sheer absurdity of having your toothbrush plugged into your PC that connected with people, and it taught me you could mix unusual stuff in with the more day-to-day news stuff and somehow get away with both.

Last, what do you think of what the site has become since you left? High points, low points? Do you still read it?

PR: Well, obviously, over the years I've had a complicated relationship with Gizmodo, but it's hard to not care about something you created and put years of your life into. I can honestly say that I'm really proud to have been part of it, and since I've left, it's been lucky to have a very talented string of editors and writers who have worked to grow it far beyond what I'd ever imagined it could be.

Peter Rojas is the co-founder of GDGT, the creator of Gizmodo, Engadget, Joystiq, RCRD LBL, and he is the chairman of Rhizome.

Gizmodo is turning 10. All week, we're going to be bringing you snapshots from the past.