Thursday, February 05, 2004

Kukral Rides the Wave

We're not supposed to have favorites in this growing community of bloggerhood (my own coinage, because I choose not to use the pretentious and awkward word in wider usage, blogosphere) . But I say to hell with that. The online world of writers and bloggers is the ultimate meritocracy (which makes traditional writers and journalists nervous, cause now they actually have to earn an audience with the power of their ideas and quality of their writing, a truly scary proposition for the lazy and talent-challenged who worry that the masses having access to a printing press waters down their place in the pecking order). Here, the cream quickly rises to the top.

And the cream is all around us. Inspired in part by my friend and colleague Lois and her splendid, grace-filled two-week experiment in guest blogging at her Hearts @ Work site, I'll be periodically highlighting the best of the blogs in the hopes of leading you toward what I consider some of the more interesting corners of the web. And what a surprise: those corners are ALWAYS a direct result of a single person with a fresh, smart, fearless voice. A few days ago I kicked that off with a mention of Marc Lefkowitz's impossibly brilliant Hotel Bruce, which speaks for itself. I've heard from a number of you who found it a really amazing site (a full-blown online magazine, really), as I knew you would. And when I at last get around to retooling this humble corner of web real estate, I'll be sure to put Bruce Blog in a prominent place, where no one can miss it.

But now it's Jimmy Kukral's turn. He's been at this longer than most, having begun with early iterations of blogs that pre-date the efforts of most everyone I know. In other words, he was a leader rather than a follower. At the same time, he's humble to a fault about both his knowledge and the mark he might make. And for me, that's an especially welcome change from the mass of web humanity, where self-appointed gurus typically think they're geniuses without having supplied much evidence to the rest of us. But here's the life-changing power of humility: since he has never (and still doesn't) think he knows it all, Jim has been in the far more productive posture of being an experimenter rather than an expostulator. Like Edison puttering around his Edison, New Jersey labs around the turn of the last century, Jimmy K. simply experiments with what is still really a young medium. He tried some of this and lots of that, and then blew that up and started something else. When one interesting idea failed to catch sustained fire (though after considerable initial buzz), he took a moment to grumble (though mostly to himself), and simply moved on, though having learned something from that electronic test tube.

But his real genius, I think, stems from his extremely unusual ability to both personally experiment with the technology and then put it into words himself at a similarly high level. Those two talents are rarely found in the same person. Years after I first became a fan of the smartly literate Click Z network, a legendary educational site devoted to teaching professional web workers how to do what they do better by providing some of the sharpest, most incisive commentary and tips on various related themes, I learned that he had been a regular contributor when the site was still in its prime (before a merger robbed it of much of its soul). Check his Click Z archive here. He later did some fine writing for a similar site,

Anyway, Kukral as I said has been at the web business for a long time, especially for such a relative pup of a guy. And he's thrived for one simple reason: he seems to understand at a DNA level (as most people to this day still do not) that it's the ultimate stage for constant R&D, a giant moving target which no one, no matter how smart or energetic, can ever begin to master. Instead, this medium belongs to the tinkerers, the innovators and fast-brained, those who are never happy with where things are at or what they've done, but who are constantly looking to improve and build upon what they know and thus what they can do, which is a constant and humbling voyage of discovery for most of us.

But of course it also helps to have a niche of specialized knowledge. And Jim's is web affiliate marketing, something he knows more about than anyone I know. And most importantly, he understands how that important niche fits into the larger web universe, which means he knows how to get things done and even how one might make some money from that knowledge. Anyway, the hits keep coming for Jimbo. He'll soon have a book out about the business side of blogging, which I've been pleased to be a small part of. And earlier this year he wrote a fine piece about the arcane (at least to some) topic of web usability, and it prompted the world's top guru in that field to quickly respond. His latest news, which he's just posted, is this nice write-up on the giant ABCNews site about his efforts to trim a few pounds. It's a sublime case study about the real power of the web: one modest guy, smartly leveraging one little self-authored website in a tiny corner of the universe (Cleveland), can get noticed all over the world, and for all the right reasons. So hats off to Jim. Keep reading him, and you just may learn something important yourself...


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