Gina Trapani got into computer programming because she was broke. In college, she was in a long-distance relationship but didn’t have a car and couldn’t pay her phone bill. Someone at the career services office told her the computer lab was hiring.
“I was always kind of awkward, which I think is kind of a requirement for any geek, so I spent a lot of time there,” Trapani said.
She was hooked. She pursued a graduate degree in computer science, started blogging and wound up programming for Gawker Media, a leading blog network that became incredibly popular last decade. In early 2005, she began editing Lifehacker, a popular blog about using technology to be productive. Trapani helped turn it into one of the leading voices in the field. She spent four years as Lifehacker’s editor until she stepped down in early 2009.
Now, at 34 years old, she’s one the foremost bloggers about Google and other technology issues. She continues to write for Lifehacker, co-hosts a weekly podcast about Google, co-wrote a book on Google Wave (a new Google collaboration tool) and does freelance technology writing.
We sat down with her this week to talk about internet trends, the San Diego tech community and her more than 40,000 followers on Twitter.
What about technology interests you so much?
The world is changing and it’s technology that’s driving us. It’s not the Industrial Revolution, it’s the next thing. Tech just makes sense to me. I’m really into problem solving. When I have a bug, I don’t even want to go to sleep until I figure out what’s going wrong. I have a little left brain, right brain going on. I’m not a genius on either, but I can connect the two a little bit. I think that’s part of the reason why I’ve had the privilege of being successful. Both of my parents got a job and got dressed in the morning and went to an office every day. My mom taught for 30 years in the New York City public schools system. My dad was a salesman at an elevator parts company for 34 years. So I just assumed if I were lucky, I’d get a job and live in one place, get up and go to the office every day. So I feel very lucky. I’ll continue to do more freelancing, put out this book, do some speaking, and will get back more into programming.
How did you get so many Twitter followers? What’s your secret?
I think it’s because my Twitter handle is on the Lifehacker sidebar and Lifehacker gets a lot of traffic. I’ve been using Twitter since early 2007. My best advice is just tweet interesting and fun stuff. Do it consistently and reciprocate when people reply to you and it helps if you have a really popular website with your Twitter handle.
What about people who feel overwhelmed by all the technology options out there, what advice do you have for them?
I would say just to simplify. Use the things that are good enough. A lot of people spend a lot of time looking for the perfect tool. Ultimately the tool that you use isn’t important, it’s you working.
San Diego is known for being a technology hub and I know you’re big on software being open source, so what type of that presence is there in San Diego?
I know less about the hacker community in San Diego than I should. This is one of the mistakes I made when I moved here. My wife isn’t in technology, and I think I separated the people I hang out with on the weekends and I kept all my internet online friends at work and on the internet. So only recently, after five years I was like: I need to meet people in the community. Compared to New York or San Francisco, I know that San Diego is at the forefront for a lot of different type of technologies and has a lot of big companies here but like, small startups and web applications and developers? I felt I kind of wish there was a bigger community of web startups here. I think the main thing a lot of people here in San Diego want to do is build the San Diego tech community.
What did you take from your experiences at Gawker and Lifehacker that you’re able to use in your blogging now?
I think what I learned at Gawker was to become a human filter, and to just consume a huge volume of information every single day. I was reading 250 RSS feeds a day, getting 100 e-mails a day from readers and then parsing out the interesting stuff.
Lifehacker gave me a platform where I could just go off and do my own freelance thing, just based on the value of my name, which I built in tandem with this brand.
What has the last year been like since you’ve been doing that?
It’s very strange going from having a singular purpose that you think about 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It was four years, two books, 10,000 posts. It was a relief in a lot of ways because I had more downtime, I could schedule in dentist appointments. It was time to try something else. I just didn’t want to lose sight of the bigger things happening on the Internet because I was so focused on my little bubble.
So what are those bigger things happening on the Internet?
Right now I’m really interested in the whole idea of crowdsourcing, and using the wisdom of the crowds to move forward. So I’m really into Twitter. I started to use it as a way to get information from the experts on my list. Now I can put out a question to the top minds in technology and get great answers.
I think Google is doing some of the most innovative things. I think they have a very strong geek sensibility about it. Sometimes I think they screw up because their geek sensibility is so skewed toward geek away from human. Like Wave. The thing about Wave that I love is that it blurs the lines of collaboration between working on a doc with someone and chatting with someone. All the internet tools we use are based on things we already have, like a phone and postal mail. I really like that leap. It’s the web coming into its own. It doesn’t have to mimic aging existing mediums.
So now that Twitter in the past year has gone much more mainstream and lots of people’s moms are on Facebook, you were talking about the geek sensibility you have and Google has. How is that becoming more mainstream, affecting the general population?
I think geeks are kind of like the canaries in the coalmine. They send birds in to go see if there are noxious fumes, whether or not the bird flies out. Geeks are the first people to get spam, first people to use email, they push forward and evangelize and things get better, easier. So that’s what happened with Twitter right? All kind of nerds and bloggers, and now we have Ashton Kutcher.
— DAGNY SALAS