Rise of the Tech Bandits: John Gruber & Josh Topolsky, the Cool Kids

Editor's note: In the Summer 2012 issue of SAY Magazine, Dan Frommer chronicles the history of tech blogging. For the rest of this week, Richard MacManus, who founded ReadWriteWeb in 2003, will be looking back on the early days.

In our final look at the leading tech bloggers of this era, we profile a couple of guys who have cornered the market in a certain brand of hipness. Gruber is the ultimate indie voice in Apple news, with his one-man blog Daring Fireball. Topolsky is the leader at The Verge, a new style of tech blog that makes heavy use of video and colorful imagery. I haven't met either of these two fellows, but I admire their blogs for a similar reason: both have established themselves by doing something unique and different.

An excerpt from Dan Frommer's Rise of the Tech Bandits:

Gruber, a Web programmer initially and now a storyteller, journalist and Apple-geek figurehead, started the site as a hobby in 2002 and made it a full-time job in 2006. “I’ve wanted to write about this stuff as long as I can remember,” he says.
Through his website, 400,000 RSS subscribers and 200,000 Twitter followers, he’s a healthy one-man media company — the shining example of how self-publishing can work online. In addition to running small banner ads, Gruber, 39, also sells a weekly sponsorship for $6,500 — and he’s almost always sold out. If he’s actually getting that rate, Daring Fireball could be pulling in at least $400,000 a year. To borrow one of Steve Jobs’ famous punctuation marks, “Boom.”

At first glance, Daring Fireball and The Verge have little in common. Daring Fireball has a minimalist design, based around the color grey. The Verge is bursting with colors and its homepage is crammed full of stories. Daring Fireball is written and designed by one person: John Gruber. The Verge has a large editorial and design team, with Topolsky at the reigns as Editor-in-chief. Daring Fireball focuses on one topic: Apple. The Verge casts a wide net across all technology.

But the two blogs have at least one important thing in common: they are originals. Nobody covers Apple like Gruber - his mix of Apple fanboy-ism and penetrating analysis is both endearing and insightful at the same time. The Verge may cover the same things as other gadget blogs, like Engadget and Gdgt, but it has brought a new design aesthetic to the tech blogosphere. Dan Frommer summed it up well in his Rise of the Tech Bandits article:

The Verge is not just another gadget blog. There is the look — an apparent nod to sci-fi novels. Topolsky, 34, and Patel, 31, cite influences such as early Wired, Computer Shopper and videogame magazines such as GamePro and Mondo 2000. There is the production quality, especially in video reviews, which far surpasses the competition. [...] And there is an offline talk show, On the Verge, shot in a New York theater.

Too often, success in the media is thought to be had by copying other, previously successful, tech publications. After Mashable got popular by covering anything and everything PR agencies sent its way, newer tech blogs followed suit. When TechCrunch bullied its way to some big stories, other bloggers raised their voices and began to shout too.

But the biggest success stories are usually originals. Sure those brave ventures fail more often than not, but every now and then we get a unique voice like John Gruber or a game-changing new product like The Verge. Thank goodness for independent media!