Environmental Graffiti’s Movers and Shakers: Alex Santoso from Neatorama

Image from the hit Neatorama post Top 15 Amazingly Fat Cats

To those who know anything about journeys through the blogosphere, Alex Santoso is something of a legend. From humble beginnings, Neatorama, the blog he founded and runs, has become a household name and a must-stop on the morning interube trip for anyone who wants to pick up some juicy little nuggets of “wowness”. Here, Alex talks frankly to us about how Neatorama was born – revealing exclusively how it got its name; how it has grown day to day; and what’s coming up in the queue. Read on for an interview with the original Neatoramanaut!

Photo of Alex with his daughter, Maddy: Neatorama

EG: What’s the story of how Neatorama got up and running? How was it born and how did it boom?

Alex Santoso: Neatorama began as a hobby blog of mine (and in a sense, it still is) back in late 2005. Earlier that year, I had an idea to start a blog about neat, strange, and interesting things on the web – and began thinking of the appropriate name for it: Neatopedia? Too much like wikipedia. Neatophilia? Sounds like a weird disease!

I settled on “Neatorama” – but at the time, Neatorama.com was already taken, though it was nearing its expiration date. I decided to backorder the domain name, and if I got it, it was meant to be – if not then I’d forget about blogging and try something else.

Months went by and I had forgotten about the whole blogging thing until I got an email from my domain name registrar saying that I had successfully scooped the domain name when it expired. And that’s the story of how Neatorama was born (and believe it or not, this is the first time I’ve ever told the world how the blog got its name).

EG: Tell us a bit about yourself and any particular experiences that shaped your life?

Alex Santoso: I’m a just regular guy ;) I moved to the United States from Indonesia when I was 15 years old (English is my second language – which should explain all the typos and grammatical errors in many of my blog posts – sorry, Neatoramanauts!).

Image from the first ever
Neatorama post, Cool Optical Illusions

EG: What do you think the secret of Neatorama’s success is? Is there some magic formula?

Alex Santoso: No magic formula – just a lot of hard work and a little luck. When I started Neatorama, I set a goal to post about five short posts a day. It’s not as hard as it sounds, because I could “bank” posts – when I had a long stretch of time with nothing to do, I’d write 20 or 30 posts that I’d use when it got busy at work and I didn’t have time to look for stuff to write.

Then I started writing original content for the blog. The first one is a compilation of weird and wonderful case mods, which I wrote in March of 2006. I hit pay dirt with the fourth one, a long post about fat cats that went viral and got more than 200 comments. Three years later, this post still brings in about 5,000 pageviews a month!

Image from first original content
Neatorama post, Case Mod: The Ultimate List

The engine of Neatorama’s growth is actually quite simple: we post short posts daily to keep the blog fresh, and long posts to bring in new readers (as these posts go viral and get posted at other blogs).

In October 2006, I invited Miss Cellania to write as a guest author – shortly, she was joined by several other authors (many of which came and went). Today, we have about 5 active authors on the blog.

All in all, we have about 600 long posts with original content on the blog so far (300 are our own content, another 300 or so come from our collaboration with Mentalfloss and Bathroom Reader).

Image from the hit Neatorama post, Top 15 Amazingly Fat Cats

EG: How does your typical day go, and how do you make sure it’s all about neatness – if not necessarily tidiness?

Alex Santoso: Well, I still have a day job (I run my own small business – so the hours are quite flexible) so technically Neatorama is still my hobby. I try to do a few short posts in the late morning, and a few more at night. I usually write long posts in the middle of the night, when the kids are asleep and it’s quiet!

There’s no formula to “neatness” – I, as well as Neatorama’s other authors, post about things that we find interesting. Most times they’re about “neat” things, but sometimes they’re not. My first “interesting-but-not-neat” post was about an elephant hanging that got quite a backlash. I try not to posts too many of those though I can’t help myself from time to time ;)

Image from Neatorama post, Elephant Hanging

EG: Tell us a bit about the Upcoming Queue and what plans you have for Neatorama in the near and not so near future?

Alex Santoso: Neatorama got really boring after a while because I wrote all the posts. So, as I mentioned above, I invited other people to write for the blog. That way, when I visit the blog, I’d be pleasantly surprised to find posts that are, well, new to me.

If several authors writing for the blog is enjoyable, then why not open the blog to everyone who wants to write for it? That’s when I started to think about an open submission process that ultimately became the Upcoming Queue.

Obviously, submissions have to be screened for spam and bad content – but how should this be done? Should people be able to submit just a link or should we try to get them to write actual blog posts? How do we make sure that there’s no hate-driven burying of submissions? These were some of the questions that we had to consider. Ultimately, we decided a combination of user votes and editor control (even then, we had to work hard to find the right balance between the two as the
Neatorama Upcoming Queue Revolt taught us!)

FYI, the Upcoming Queue was built with VaroCMS , the engine behind VideoSift . We have Rommel Santor of Sift Partners to thank for all the work behind the UQ.

Image of Neatoramabot T-Shirt, available here

Right now, I’m focused on growing the Neatorama Online Store in order to generate a non-advertising-dependent source of revenue for the blog. Hopefully, there will be a time soon that we can minimize the amount of ads the blog carries (and has to depend on to keep the servers hummin’).

As for the future, I think we’ll “channelize” Neatorama into a combination of the main blog and several sub-blogs focused on various topics like technology, science, art and so on. As long as the blog remains fun for me and its readers, we’ll keep going!

Thank you for this opportunity!

EG: And thank you Alex for being part of EG’s Movers and Shakers series!