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Interview with Engadget’s Ryan Block at Inside ontheinside.info

Interview with Engadget’s Ryan Block

ryan-block.png

Ryan Block is the editor-in-chief of tech and gadget news blog Engadget.

Where did you grow up and when did you move to New York?
I grew up in Southern California, in Orange County. I moved to New York in 2001. I had like $400 in the bank account and I just figured I’d try to make a go of it. So I shipped whatever I could out here.

What neighborhood did you move to?
I was living in this rat nest in Jersey City. I could talk about that one apartment and my roommate there for an hour, that’s like a whole in and of itself. But I stayed there my first four months and then I spent the next three years moving constantly. I temporarily moved to the border of West Village/Soho on King Street, and then back and forth between the East Village and Williamsburg, which was my last stop before I moved to San Francisco last year.

How did you get started with Engadget?
My friend Peter [Rojas] moved out here just a couple months after I did and later started a new site called Engadget. We hadn’t talked for a while because we were kind of on weird, if not bad, terms, because the first time we’d met we’d gotten into an argument about Linux, which is totally random. I think we didn’t realize it at the time, but we were too similar and had a clashing of similar personalities. I saw that he’d left his previous site, Gizmodo, started Engadget, so I sent him a tip on some news item and he wrote me back and asked me if I wanted to try my hand at writing about technology. Which, looking back on it is so completely obvious, I love technology, I love writing, why did I never even think to write about technology, so you know I guess I’ve got to hand it to Pete for giving me some pretty obvious direction there.

And it makes sense when it all clicks into place, it’s just, it’s so beautiful. Everything started to take off, Engadget blew up really quickly, we were having such a good time and eventually we got acquired by AOL and we were able to really take the site and the publication to the next level. You know, it’s just one of those things where I feel unbelievably lucky and blessed to have fallen into it. I mean, I never would’ve thought that it would be like this, I just thought it was something fun that we would do and have fun and play with toys and enjoy ourselves.

At what point did Engadget become a full-time job for you?
I started in June of 2004 and I quit my day job to write full time in June 2005. So basically one year after it started. It was a pretty rapid growth overall. I think over the last couple of years everyone has really become a consumer electronics buyer and you know, in many ways everyone’s become really obsessed with consumer electronics in ways that they weren’t, basically ever.

How big is Engadget now?
We’re at about 10 million unique readers a month, we’re still growing. Surprisingly, we’re still growing. I thought that we were going to plateau or at least really slow down by mid-2006, and we did for a while, but by fall of 2006 we’d picked up growth again and we doubled our traffic and readership in about a year. So I mean either we’re doing something right or the amount of people who want to read about technology news is constantly growing—I have a feeling it’s a combination of the two.

Would you attribute some of this success to New York?
I feel like the things that Pete and I were able to do in the early days and the opportunities that we had had so much to do with where we were, in the sense that we were accessible to a lot of the companies who had presences in New York. It is such a media centered town and there are so many media companies here. So I think Engadget’s success, and my own personal success at Engadget, has had everything to do with New York. And if I’d have started doing Engadget, say from San Francisco, I don’t know how things would’ve been. At least not for me, you know. I might still have a day job, I might have never gotten really wrapped into this and eventually taken over as editor-in-chief and all those things. The reason that I agreed to do this [ontheinside.info profile] even knowing that I don’t live in New York anymore is because New York has really defined who I am as a person, you know, from the moment I lived here until today. And I think that it would be pretty naïve of me to suggest that I would never live here again because I miss it, a lot. And there are a lot of things that just keep me coming back, five, six times a year, constantly. And it’s become so intertwined with my own personality and my career.

How was it moving to San Francisco?
It was really emotional for me, because I did love, and I do love being here in NY so much and I do miss it. And I was in a lot of ways unsure that this was the right decision for me to make. I mean I know in hindsight that it was and I’m very happy in San Francisco. I just think that the city is kind of strange right now. I hadn’t really tried to think about it too much, or to codify it, but I was listening to that, I hate to drop the name, but I was listening to an LCD Soundsystem record, the new one, and he has that song, New York I Love You But You’re Bringing Me Down. James Murphy is a big New York scenester and he’s talking about how depressing New York has gotten and how it’s kind of just filled with boring people and he kind of writes the same song over and over. I think it really spoke to how important New York is but how it can just really wear on you after a while. It’s like living here is like being in a relationship, you have to really put a lot of work into it and you have to really love it a lot. And if you don’t just love it completely, and if you’re not really prepared to put a lot of work into it, then you probably shouldn’t be doing it. You shouldn’t be in it. It’s not a city that caters to you. I don’t necessarily think a city should cater to you, but as time went on, and as my personal life continuously got more hectic and my career got much more busy with Engadget, it started becoming a bit of a hindrance in some ways. You know, fighting the weather, ridiculously hot summers, unbelievably cold winters, how some things like shopping, getting fresh produce and things like that are so difficult, so I think there were a lot of appealing things about moving. But there’s no place that could ever replace New York, that could endear me to it like New York did. I think that’s how most New York ex-pats feel. Like they never get over living here.

What advice would you give to someone moving here?
You can’t just move to New York and not work your ass off, right? I mean, you have to be prepared to do that, you really have to be willing to step up your own game when you come here and just do whatever is necessary, because it’s so incredible and dynamic here but it’s also so much competition from all sides. So many people from so many walks of life with different perspectives on everything, different talents, different abilities—think of anything and you’re going up against a crowd to do it. That’s why it still kind of surprises me that we found this niche, this opportunity and it kind of blew up, especially given all of the talent in New York, but I guess we were some of that talent too.

Can you tell us briefly, what’s a typical day for you? Or is there a typical day?
No two days are alike. Everything is constantly in flux and there are so many balls in motion at any given time. I mean, a typical day is, wake up at 7:30-8 in the morning, head straight to my computer, read news feeds, triage email, write some stories, work on some features, and then you know probably take an appointment or two with a company that’s in town and wants to show a new gadget or something. I’ll probably get visits from FedEx, DHL, and UPS each delivering new products from whatever company, and if I’m not too busy I’ll try to sit down and play around with the new devices I just got and if I am too busy then I’ll ship it out to somebody else.

So you get first dibs on any product to play with it and then write about?
Yeah, I mean I’m not doing as much news content as I used to, we’ve got a pretty good team and they do a really amazing job at keeping the site going. There’s a lot of managerial overhead that goes into any publication, especially one that’s scaled to millions of readers. So I do have to spend a lot of time interfacing with our AOL side. And then you know, we’re also looking at all manner of things that come through, anything from content syndication deals to you know, getting Engadget integrated on devices. There’s just always so much going on. The demand and the number of companies that want a piece of your time, it’s just absolutely enormous in the consumer electronics industry.

What were some of the jobs you had before Engadget?
I was doing a lot of freelance technology, I was working at a software company doing system administration. I’d never really written professionally. I’d written a lot, but I’d never really sought to get it published. It was one of those things I figured I would do eventually, but it wasn’t an itch that I was burning to scratch. So yeah, I mean, things really, I’m kind of a believer that you find the best things when you’re not looking for them.

What should we look out for in 2008 from a tech perspective?
You know you never really know what’s around the corner. I mean, you do, and that’s why people read Engadget is because we tell you what’s around the corner, but in terms of like larger trends, it’s not so easy to say. What I will say, here’s something really interesting that’s going to go out in January—federal government is going to auction off a bunch of wireless spectrum, 700 megahertz spectrum that used to be used as UHF channels. The government has mandated that we’re all switching off analog broadcasts and switching to digital broadcasts. So they have all this wireless spectrum that they’re not using so they’re auctioning it off to companies. So a bunch of companies like AT&T, Verizon, possibly Google, Frontline Wireless, a bunch of these companies are going to bid on this wireless spectrum. And it also looks like the 700 megahertz spectrum could become a worldwide standard. If that happens, this might be the first time we’ve had a single ubiquitous worldwide wide range wireless standard. For most people it’s not going to matter for a while, but that could become a turning point for mobile electronics for the next 50 years. Devices would become more ubiquitous and open, they would transmit data faster and possibly use less power and best of all, everybody would be able to rally around a single standard. The way wireless works for most of the world, besides stuff like wi-fi, look at cell phones, it’s all very regional cause everyone has different wireless spectrum standards, especially America, we have like our own thing for everything, so it’s really fragmented and it’s really kept devices, like the ipod which for all intents and purposes should have wireless access, from doing that, because there’s no real standard to bring all the stuff together. You know, they add wi-fi and stuff, but it’s not the real deal. Think about what it would be like if your ipod was kind of like a cell phone and you picked up your ipod and you were able to just get on the internet anywhere. And maybe it was free, maybe it was really cheap, that’s what the future’s going to be like. And the 700 megahertz auctions next year are going to have a really big part in that.

- interview by Thomas Collardeau, photo by Scott Gordon Bleicher.

See Ryan Block’s profile and favorite NY places at http://ontheinside.info/ryan-block.

37 Responses to “Interview with Engadget’s Ryan Block”


  1. 1 Fred Paulsen

    His story is really amazing, I think that when we want something hard enough in life it’s always worth it to go for it. I am happy I stumbled on his bio and this interview tonight because like so many other people out there I’m looking for opportunity.I guess I can kind of relate to Ryan because i have like 600$ bucks in the account and I just gotta go for it. The problem was still the it, but iv been looking hard (for a long time now too long )and recently while i wasn’t really looking, a great opportunity has come up. About half an hour away from my place a new project is in development a 425 million dollar project at Lac Mirabel. This is a huge project by Gordon Group Holdings, well take a look for yourself. http://www.lacmirabel.com/leasing.php

    This aricle has inspired me even more to work on the plans iv been brainstorming the last few days.

    I have two Ideas for a site and i need to choose one, or perhaps I should even kind of combine both.

    My 1st Idea (business plan) is to open a tech store and internet cafe, with new and cool gadgets and in store reviews. A nice looking modern techy but kinda zen looking place.Peace full but techy (if that makes scence)

    The second is a tech and gadget learn/play area for the kids and adults. Orientated around trying out new gadgets or the latest video games (kind of like to replace arcades,) With awesome gaming experiences on huge screens with great sound, games like flight simulator with the best joysticks or great racing games… Also with the same kinda look of the internet cafe( but more techy looking).

    So as a big picture these are my two ideas that i am working hard on to turn first into presentable business plans, and then to reality.With what the Mirabel project represents i think my model would fit very well with their vision.

    So now,… This being the first reply blog? (i guess) I have ever wrote on the net, first anything over 50 words on the net (I hardly even write E-Mails)LOL. I can only try my hardest to make this work.

    If anyone actually reads this because i have no experience with writing and just don’t really know if someone looks at the reply’s… This interview and Ryan’s bio inspired me for the first time to write something to someone I don’t even know, about bigs steps I am about to take.
    I don’t know who will read this but I am looking for advice or possibly business partners in the near future.I will need help and will looking for any advice or feedbeack. So thats my response to “Interview with Engadget’s Ryan Block”

    Thanks you very much for taking the time to read
    If possible to send this message to Ryan Block or anyone you know would like to read this.

    Frederick Paulsen, February 4 3:48 in the morning

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