Of all of the art and design sites like It’s Nice That, there are a few that have been there since the very beginning. Jeff Hamada’s Booooooom is one of those, a reliable one-stop-shop for creative, visual inspiration that’s probably been a lot of people’s homepage since they can remember. It’s always fascinated us that Booooooom has been single-handedly created, curated and updated by one man, so we were particularly excited to speak to him about how he’s managed that over the years – particularly when at one point his page views were up to four million per month.
As someone who’s been on the front line for so long, Jeff’s got some interesting views on the state of art and design blogging them, now, and in the not so distant future. Here he is…
Why did you start Boooooom?
I really had no intention of Booooooom being anything more than a personal blog when I started it, but the more I worked on it, the more I became interested creating a sort of meeting place. Now somehow my job is essentially listening to stories and telling stories, that’s what I get to do everyday.
Why is it called Booooooom?
Boom spelled with two o’s was taken.
The site hasn’t changed much aesthetically since it started – why is that?
It’s weird because I can see how someone might think that the aesthetic hasn’t changed much but to me it’s changed a lot over the years. The actual design of the site has changed several times since I first created it, and the content shifts all the time. Maybe it’s more exaggerated to me though. The type of photography I select now feels to me to have a lot more subtle beauty in it, and I’m sure most of the images are ones that wouldn’t have resonated with me six years ago.
I think the part that hasn’t changed is the overall spirit of the work I choose. I’ve never really featured much work that was overly sexual or violent, and I’ve always tried to feature work that I felt was honest, and timeless (versus trendy, timely things). I like handmade things, anything imperfect, where the artist’s hand is apparent. I’ve always appreciated minimal design but to me it always feels cold; not the vibe I wanted for my blog or my home.
Booooooom has always been intentionally busy and imperfect (and sort of amateurish), like an apartment that actually feels lived-in, where you could sleep on the couch and not feel like you were ruining everything by being there. I think there’s an honesty and warmth to it that promotes sharing and is somehow welcoming. At least that’s how I see it.
“I’ve never really featured much work that was overly sexual or violent, and I’ve always tried to feature work that I felt was honest, and timeless (versus trendy, timely things). I like handmade things, anything imperfect, where the artist’s hand is apparent.”
Jeff Hamada, Booooooom
You were one of the first guys to have a big visual arts blogs; what was the atmosphere of the internet back when you started?
There were less than a dozen blogs that I would regularly visit. It’s Nice That, Fecal Face, Wooster Collective were all influences on me when I started my site. Swiss Miss was another. Actually I remember coming across Tina’s blog before I really understood what blogging was. She had featured something from the art school I went to and I commented on the post like “hey cool you came to my school." It wasn’t until later that I realised she lived in New York and her posting images of the design project didn’t mean she actually travelled all the way to Vancouver. It seems really dumb now, I just had no context for what I was seeing.
As my blog started to gain a bit of a following early on, I remember feeling like I was in boat with a bunch of people fast asleep and I was pulling up all these ropes with treasures tied to the ends. This is literally the image I had in my mind. I saw this window of opportunity to really establish the site as a sort of niche art site before everyone else realised how easy it was to start one. So I worked day and night on it for a couple years and sort of became addicted to making it bigger and bigger.
Tell me about the Hypebeast Echo Chamber theory you mentioned in your lecture?
I’ve noticed that a lot of us these days are trapped in what’s known as an echo chamber without realising it and it’s particularly dangerous for creative people. I used to work in the street fashion industry and Hypebeast was the main street fashion news site (it has since become one of the largest blogs on the Internet). I worked as a graphic designer for a fashion brand, trying to come up with fresh ideas for t-shirt graphics from really random sources. If Hypebeast thought what I made was cool they would post it, and lots of people would buy it because the site had influence. If they liked it, it was like a seal of approval.
As the site became more and more of a gauge for what was cool, designers for many brands stopped trying to take risks and make new things, they simply opted to make whatever they saw posted on Hypebeast because it had the best chance of being featured. So the news site suddenly became everyone’s source of inspiration, and rather than merely reporting on what was being made, Hypebeast began to dictate what was being made. So what was once a line was now a loop. This is when an echo chamber occurs; you see things you’ve already seen and hear your own voice echoed back to yourself.
“As my blog started to gain a bit of a following early on, I remember feeling like I was in boat with a bunch of people fast asleep and I was pulling up all these ropes with treasures tied to the ends.”
Jeff Hamada, Booooooom
So much of what we interact with online operates like an echo chamber. Netflix recommends a movie you’ll like based on other movies you like. Facebook’s feed reinforces political and religious views by showing people more of what they already agree with. Everyone is getting stuck in these really narrow ways of thinking and this is problematic for creative people who are trying to generate new ideas. I am not just being critical of Hypebeast, this exists everywhere. There may be artists who will make work that they think I’ll like just to be featured on Booooooom. This represents the same problem.
So the question I continually struggle with is how do I actually make Booooooom something that is helpful for people? How do I prevent it from being a pointless echo. If everyone likes everything I post, then I’m only doing what a computer could do better than me. I think a curator’s job is to gently push people, challenging them to look at things they don’t necessarily like in an effort to understand what it is that other people see in it. And most importantly a curator has try to help people understand things, share their own insights. Many contemporary art publications leave this part out and come off douchey, elitist, exclusive, and ultimately inaccessible.
“If everyone likes everything I post, then I’m only doing what a computer could do better than me. I think a curator’s job is to gently push people, challenging them to look at things they don’t necessarily like in an effort to understand what it is that other people see in it.”
Jeff Hamada, Booooooom
How many page views does Booooooom get per week?
It gets about two million page views each month now. At its peak it was getting around four million page views each month but I was sort of killing myself trying to post content all the time and not even really benefiting from it,so I let it get a bit smaller so I could manage it better. I ran the site by entirely myself for over five years and this last year was the first year I brought on someone. My friend Levi handles all the “business-y” side of things now so I can focus on the creative/content stuff.
What’s been the most rewarding part of publishing people’s work online?
Becoming friends in real life with all these artists whose work I originally admired from afar.
What do you love about online publishing as opposed to print?
There’s no rules. I have no credentials but somehow I’m allowed to do what I’m doing.
What’s the future of blogs like Boooooom, It’s Nice That, etc. etc.?
Take the time to connect with your readership or die. I’ll run Booooooom as long as it’s fun for me and it’s actually providing something positive for other people. The minute it’s not either one of those things I’ll go do something else. I’m not bored of it yet though.
Behind the Screens
The “golden era” of independent publishing has seen an awful lot written about magazines; their enduring influence as well as the challenges facing the industry. Sometimes those discussions have overlooked the amazing things happening in online publishing so in November, we plan to rectify that. For the next few weeks we’ll be speaking to the people who have been beavering away at making the internet a very pleasant and addictive place to visit, finding out their secrets and asking them why they do what they do.
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