On October 5, BoingBoing, the third-most-popular blog online and an a madly eclectic “Directory of Wonderful Things”—from steampunk sci-fi to handmade bike-lock sculptures—launched a video blog, BoingBoingTV. One short video is posted daily, in which BoingBoing founder Mark Frauenfelder and the globetrotting, technophilic journalist Xeni Jardin chronicle the lives of geeks and inventors and people who do weird and wonderful things just because. So far, Frauenfelder, also the editor of Make magazine, visits nerd conventions and tinkerers in their basements while Jardin, with her sculptured white hair (think early Annie Lennox meets Jane Jetson), roams everywhere else—most recently, donning a storm-trooper helmet for a couture show at NASA. Jardin spoke with New York about the state of online video, the process of determining what audiences want from a video blog (note: not a talking head), and, for the uninitiated, defines “Unicorn Chaser.”
Is the tagline for BoingBoingTV the same?
Yes, the whole thrust of the show is exploring these invisible worlds, these undiscovered subcultures, and mapping out a crossover between highbrow and lowbrow. Thinking people like to have fun, and the reverse is true.
It seems, even in these first months, your format has evolved somewhat.
In the first week, we were shooting in the studio against a green screen. We had to ask ourselves, what is a video podcast? What is that medium? Is it a host talking about recent headlines from the Internet? Is it goofy comedy stuff that you do? None of it really worked out. We ended up settling on the idea that we would never shoot anything in the studio again. Ever.
So you’re leaving the studio behind.
We’re going out into the world. The first good video we did, when we felt like we’d hit a groove, was when David Silverman, the director of The Simpsons, came in and he rigged up his flaming tuba in the parking lot. People who work here were holding up white boards that said “Free Bird” and “Stairway to Heaven,” taking requests. It was a good moment.
Who are all these weird and wonderful people you feature, and how do you find them?
BoingBoing the blog is a fire hose of ideas and people presenting themselves, saying, “I’ve created a functioning spaceship out of Popsicle sticks and rubber bands, would you like to see it?” That comes at us constantly. We get more than 1,000 suggestions like that every day.
At the end of each video, you pause for a unicorn moment. What, may I ask, is a Unicorn Chaser?
Mark, once upon a time, sold all of his belongings and he and his wife and two girls moved to a small island in the South Pacific. There were no doctors. Mark somehow managed to get [an] Internet connection and was blogging. He got some kind of weird sore, some kind of bizarre parasite that was attacking his leg, and he took a snapshot and posted it to the blog, saying, “If there are any doctors out there, can you please diagnose my leg?” He posted this around noon L.A. time and I was sitting down to a sandwich and I just about puked in my laptop. As a kind of a joke back to Mark, I posted a unicorn there, to cleanse the palate. So when people opened up the Website they would not see a giant picture of his rotting leg—they would instead see a happy unicorn. The world is full of harsh, ugly things; it’s sometimes nice to see something beautiful.
On a few videos, the unicorn is a robot playing an instrument.
I feel confident in saying that there may be nothing more beautiful in the world than robot playing a song. For you.
More beautiful than a unicorn?
If it was a unicorn robot playing the national anthem, with kittens, it would be more beautiful.