Every once in a while I get questions on how exactly this little ole blog works, or where it came from, or what my goals are, etc… And I piece meal little answers together here or there. But I figured it was probably easiest to just put it in a short post, and of course, gather feedback. So I sat down to write it all up. Except, it ended up being longer than I expected.
A lot longer.
But, if you follow the blog – I think you’ll find it interesting. I try to give a pretty honest (and sometimes blunt) backstory to what I do here, and why I do it.
The blog back-story (aka: In the Beginning)
If you’ve been following long enough – you probably can ‘predict’ what I’ll post, or what I might be interested in. But, you’ve probably also seen a slow change over the course of the last year or two. When I first started, it was mostly just me – I posted about whatever I did that day, or every few days. Mostly just recounting my training, some cooking, some random techno thoughts – or even occasional thoughts on dating (yes, if you dig far enough). It was, in effect, what most personal blogs start out as.
Over time, I started to offer more and more tidbits of ‘how to’s’. Mostly because I enjoy explaining things to people. I stumbled on all sorts of random things that I feel could be better explained. For me, I like to be able to write something up, and know it’s ‘the definitive article on the whole internet’ about a given specific topic. To hope that I can nail it 100% right. Just a me thing I guess.
Along the way, I stumbled into product reviews – really, by accident. I had written up one on the FR305 for some friends at work, which I eventually just copied/pasted onto the blog one day. After a few months it started getting a bit of attention. Soon, folks wanted other reviews on gadgets. And soon, I found I rather enjoyed playing with new gadgets (I’m a computer geek by trade, what do you expect?). So, I bought gadgets and reviewed them.
Over time my following grew. One month at a time, 15% a month. Eventually my product reviews outranked even the manufacturers own rankings in search results. Not long later, I started getting occasional offers to review products. You know, gel packets and the like. As you have seen – I generally decline those. In fact, most of the ‘cool products’ that I initially review, I actually pursue those companies. I remember pestering Jake at Garmin for months to get products initially.
Now…well…it’s sorta the other way around. But we’ll get to that in a second.
The blog now-story (aka: Now)
Over time the blog has shifted a bit, into roughly three categories of posts:
1) Triathlon/Running/Sport Related – Essentially random thoughts/observations on the sport
2) Product Reviews – Pretty obvious, but basically in depth product reviews
3) Random Ray stuff – Everything from my travels, to my cooking to my training and race reports
Now, over the past three years, that ‘Ray stuff’ has slowly shrunk a bit from being 100%, to be about 20% of what I publish. Stuff like travel, race reports, weekend updates, food, etc… I don’t know if that’s what folks want – but, it’s what’s happened. These Ray posts are fun to write though, and I know some of you enjoy them. I’m sure some of the industry folks find that it’s just noise, but that’s alright. Someday I’ll do a survey on what you want and attempt to understand, as I really do listen to feedback via all means and I read every e-mail and comment. Perhaps I’ll split these post out into a separate RSS feed on the blog. The reality is – I don’t know what I want myself yet in this area.
The second group – product reviews – have actually stayed sorta constant in quantity – I do about one a month of big ticket items, with a handful of smaller ones. I’m most well known for my reviews – but it’s actually not what I spend the majority of time on most weeks, though I spend an inordinate amount of time on them when I do have one to publish. But the rest of the month – I work on other posts.
And finally, that third category: Sport & Technology related posts. These actually take up the majority of time from a weekly perspective. Lots of technical proofing, reading, validating facts, etc… But, it’s also the ones that I tend to enjoy the most (well, actually, I probably enjoy the ‘me’ posts probably the most). I love talking about angles of the sport people don’t talk about – or just barely touch the surface on. I enjoy diving into things like USAT’s Organizational Statements and seeing what they’re up to. I enjoy explaining why Garmin released the FR110 instead of a more advanced one, via analyzing their financial statements. That’s all cool to me.
Yet, I still have a LOT of things I want to write about! I’ve got a list approaching over 100 different topics to write on. And despite having a day by day post plan for literally months in advance – I end up adding 1-2 days of current event type things instead most weeks. There’s just so much cool stuff going on in the sport. Unfortunately, there’s just only so much time in my little world to write about it.
Product Reviews (aka: Lots of Toys)
Now, I get plenty of e-mail from companies that want products to be reviewed. All in hopes of a bit of spotlight. The vast majority, I actually turn down. I like to focus on the products that I think are ‘damn cool’, or products that you’ve requested reviews on. In fact, many times I’ll get e-mail from y’all to review some product, and I’ll go approach the company and get the product. Or I’ll buy it outright.
But here’s a bit of somewhat painful reality: If I understand enough about a product that I know it’s gonna suck – I’ll be honest – I shy away from fully reviewing it. I just don’t personally have enough hours in the day to spend 20-40 hours writing up a review for a sucky product. Or rather put more specifically – I have a very low desire to spend my time on something that sucks…when I could be playing with cool stuff – or even better – enjoying time with The Girl.
I’ll also be honest, I don’t know how to say – or rather – where to put, somewhere, anywhere – that a certain product blatantly sucks, which is why I didn’t bother actually reviewing it. Maybe I need a ‘Wall of Product Shame’. But I do know that I don’t want to spend so much time writing up a giant product review, only to have it say what I can punch out in a few paragraphs. Feel free to provide input here on suggestions that offer a good balance…
Identity (aka: Confusion)
Of course, the problem with writing product reviews is positioning. I’m often asked ‘Who exactly am I?’.
Well, I’m Ray.
But I’m a lot of things.
Sometimes – I’m ‘Media’. In this case, I become media and get access to product or events. Sometimes this means I’m subject to the same rules as organizations like Engadget or the NY Times, with specific press embargo’s timelines for when I can release information. For example, the Edge 800 or some Digifit announcements. This allows me to be able to publish amazingly in depth stuff at 7:00:01AM when a typical Garmin press embargo expires, at the exact same time the PR announcement occurs. Though sometimes it means I actually get less access, due to being ‘media’. So it’s a two sided coin. As I write this, I have half a dozen plus products in some state of NDA (non-disclosure agreement).
Sometimes – I’m a beta tester. In this case, my goal isn’t so much to write up a product review – but just to provide feedback to the company – just like any other product reviewer. Sometimes I’ll mention the product publically, but sometimes – you’ll never hear about it. Sometimes it’s under NDA, and sometimes it’s more free-flowing and up to me. In general, this all stems from me just being a geeky computer guy. Ever since I’ve been involved with technology (before high school), I’ve tested products and given feedback to companies. This is simply a natural extension of that. It allows me to provide feedback – and also channel your feedback, even if you don’t realize it’s happening. And, well, it allows me to be a geek.
Sometimes – I’m just Ray. That means you get all the random Ray stuff from travel to food to what I did that weekend, to Race Reports. It’s just me – just back to the days of what this blog started out as. In many ways, I like what folks like Pioneer Women has been able to do and segment off her personal stuff to the ‘Confessions’ session, or Food posts to the ‘Food’ section, and so on. But she also gets to do it full time. I have a job that I enjoy, which actually takes up the vast majority of my waking hours. So while I’d love to just write all day about random fun stuff – that’s not in the deck of cards today.
While I’m sure many would like to put me and my blog in a very specific category (like the ones above) – I don’t think I have to be in just one category. That’s just a made up rule. I’d rather just do what I want. Life’s to short to try and be in one category.
The circle of life (aka: What happens to all the toys?)
I was recently asked how it is that I have so many devices, if, as I usually state ‘I return devices to the vendor’.
The trick is that once the sample devices goes back, I end up purchasing the device myself. This allows me to continue to provide support on the reviews after my review has been published. If you check out any of the reviews you’ll see I keep answer questions all the time (some of them 200-300 comments deep). I simply couldn’t do this without the devices handy. I don’t like to ‘guess’ an answer, I like to be 100% sure.
Of course, this gets sorta expensive. Most of these gadgets cost between $150 and $400 – not exactly cheap! However, you always see my comments that ‘By using the Amazon links you help support the site’. And, that’s exactly what this supports. It helps to support buying back gadgets for future questions, and it covers things like flying out to Interbike and reporting on what’s going on there in a way nobody else does, and things of the like.
I’ve flirted with advertising – but haven’t quite found the right mix yet. I’ve always maintained that I don’t want you as normal RSS readers/subscribers to see ads in the feed – and that won’t change. That said, the bulk of traffic to the actual website itself is from search engines or referrals that drop by checking out a specific review. This are the visitor profile that ads (if I ever figure out the right mix), would target. Again, that’s a work in progress.
Giveaways (aka: Yo…the free stuff!)
As I’ve described in a fair bit of detail on the Giveaways page, I do actually fund virtually all my own giveaways. There’s some rare exceptions – but in general, I pay for them myself. It’s simply my way of giving back. I enjoy giving away cool stuff, though I’m not always sure if folks find the giveaways pestering, or awesome. I try and giveaway what’s cool – what you want. Pioneer Women (a blogger I love, and somewhat look up to) – for example, gives away a Kitchenaid or digital camera each month. Basically, the equivalent of me giving away the Garmin FR310XT each month. But, I prefer to mix it up a bit depending on what interests me, or what I hear feedback on.
The Future (aka: Crystal ball time)
So what’s in store? Heck if I know!
Actually, if you’ve read this far, you probably have a general idea of the direction I’d like to go in. But it all honestly comes down to time. If someone gave me a full week to just work on the blog only – I’d have so much cool stuff done.
But the more important part is understanding what you want to hear about. After all, I don’t want to write stuff that you don’t want to hear about. But I also want to enjoy what I’m writing about.
Maybe the answer is a survey…heck…everyone loves a survey! Right?
Thus, I put together this brief survey to hear what you like and don’t like. It’ll only take a second, doesn’t require any registration – but lets me hear all the feedback you have. Plus, you may find it entertaining (well, I tried anyway…).
In the meantime…thanks for reading – I really do appreciate it, and especially enjoy all the comments and e-mails – even if it does sometimes take me a bit of time to respond.